Post-torrential rains: are your garden veggies safe to eat?

August 8, 2010

[Update: Illinois Extension Educator Maurice Ogutu recommends that gardeners who have experienced severe flooding err on the side of caution. Depending on their source, flood waters could contain pathogens, heavy metals, animal waste, industrial pollutants and other undesirable substances. If those plants haven’t already been reduced to mush, simply washing them won’t help, because it’s possible that contaminants have already entered the plant tissue. With fruiting plants (beans, for instance) the fruit can also uptake contaminants, even if it’s above the water line. In that case, he advises gardeners to pick and discard the fruits that were already growing and wait for the plant to blossom again and produce new fruits, which should be safe. However, he suggests washing those fruits carefully and cooking them thoroughly. As for the soil, as it dries out, pathogens will die off. Rototilling in compost to a depth of about six inches will greatly accelerate that process. But if your compost pile was covered in water, too, one should be careful about adding it to the garden. It might be safer to add new organic matter to the pile and turn it, to allow the pile to heat up enough to kill off the contaminants.]

I received an email this past week from my buddy Dan Kosta, a faithful listener, Vern Goers Greenhouse employee and bonsai offcianado (he’s president of the Prairie State Bonsai Society). He’s been a good friend of the program so I was unhappy to see how severely his suburban Westchester garden had been damaged by recent rains and flooding. Here’s in part what he wrote:

In my garden all the veggies were under water for 3 days and all are dead and rotted. I will not be replanting but I will get things from local farmers markets. I estimate 80% to 85% of the plants in my garden are dead or severely injured by the flood. I had 4 feet of water in the garden, as well as 4 feet in the basement. Looking at the garden now is depressing. The smell of rot is everywhere. Even plants that like moisture are dead or dying.

Finally, he said this:

As for me, I am giving up on gardening.

I can understand his despair but he’s a good, kind man and I hope he changes his mind. In another part of his message he raised some interesting questions about whether people who experienced flooding should be worrying about contamination of their fruit and vegetable crops.

That’s why I went straight to the experts at the University of Illinois Extension. Maurice Ogutu, PhD is an Extension Educator specializing in Fruits and Vegetables and works out of the Countryside Extension Center. He is also one of the contributors to Illinois Fruit and Vegetable News a terrific resource, as are so many of the Illinois Extension websites.

I haven’t talked to Ogutu yet so I can’t tell you at this point what his advice is. After the show this morning, I will update this part of the website and post the information on my BRAND-SPANKING NEW BLOG: Go Green or Go Home!
It’s the 2010 STIHL Tour des Trees Reunion! (Woo-hoo!)

Gosh, we miss each other so much that, three weeks after the event, we’re already reminiscing about the “Glory Days.” Actually, it seemed appropriate to recap this terrific event, which benefited the TREE Fund, because so many people worked so hard to make it happen.

Let’s start with Mary DiCarlo from the TREE Fund, who was behind the scenes, organizing so many different aspects of the tour–from lining up sponsors to creating the tour launch to bringing The Mike Nowak Show on board for the big broadcast in Millennium Park on July 18.

Of course, there is no Tour des Trees without the riders. Not only are they required to raise $3500 just for the privilege of joining the pack, then they must get on those seemingly slight and vulnerable machines and pedal about 500 miles in a matter of days. There’s a lot of bonding that goes on during that time, and three of the riders–Pam Pinkley, Mark Younger and Greg Cadieux–call themselves the “Tree Amigos.” Ironically, though, they hadn’t seen each other in 24 years before this event. However, they hooked up on Facebook last fall and decided that this would be a great way to get together.

Then there are the people like Jim Skiera, Executive Director of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and John Kirchner, Senior Forester for the Chicago Bureau of Forestry. And they’re all going to telling their stories on the show today. By the way, if you want to see some great pictures of the week-long tour, click on the photo at left or HERE. One of the stops was in Kewanee, Illinois, where we visited the historic Osage-Orange Tree. I shot video of one of the riders ascending the tree with new, cutting edge arborist technology and you can find it here on my Facebook page.

At Peak Harvest, what do you do? Celebrate!

Next Saturday, August 14, I’m having dinner at Angelic Organics Learning Center. If you’re a listener to the show, you know this is one of the organizations that is at the forefront of the national local food movement. Martha Boyd, program director for their Chicago Urban Initiative has been a regular on my program for awhile.

The Angelic Organics Learning Center fourth annual Farm Dinner benefit is being served, appropriately, at Angelic Organics Farm. Guests will be feted right on the farm, with a five-course meal made from freshly harvested local food and prepared by rising chefs

Angelic Organics Learning Center helps urban and rural people build local food systems. They offer opportunities to grow healthy food and a better quality of life, connect with farmers and the land, and learn agricultural and leadership skills. And since they’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, your contribution is tax deductible. Even if you can’t attend this dinner, you could do a lot worse than to send some money their way.

By the way, I have to come clean and tell you that I’m attending dinner as the guest of my good friends Rich and Suzie Eyre of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines in Woodstock (but I know that I’ll be bidding on a silent auction item or two.) I will be givng a talk at Foxwillow’s upcoming Hosta Happening on August 29…but you’ll hear more about that later.