On August 2, 2023

How to rescue food gardens after floodwaters recede


Heavy rainfall followed by flooding in early July had a devastating impact on communities throughout the state. Not only were buildings, roadways and bridges damaged, but vegetable gardens were impacted as well, leading many home and community gardeners to ask, “Are my vegetables, berries and edible flowers still safe to eat?” 

The answer is, it depends.  If your yard did not flood, and the soil in your garden is just saturated from rainwater, your produce is fine to consume. Plants that took a beating from all the rain should bounce back in well-drained soil. 

However, if any edible parts of vegetables and berries or edible perennials came into contact with floodwaters, either above or below ground, do not consume. Edible parts include fruit, stems, roots, berries and foliage. 

Why?  Because floodwaters likely contained debris, household and hazardous waste, heavy metals, chemicals and other contaminants. Or there could be disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites from raw sewage and animal manure. Any garden crops that have been submerged or splashed by floodwaters are considered adulterated and should be discarded in the landfill or tilled under to avoid food-borne illnesses. 

Cooking does not eliminate the risk posed by industrial pollutants. 

Do not attempt to make produce from an unsafe, flooded garden safe by using chlorine bleach.

 The safest option for flooded gardens is to till to a depth of at least 6 inches, adding in compost to increase tilth and dilute contaminants. Then plant cover crops, such as winter rye or oats, to speed the decline of pathogens before replanting next season. 

However, if you are considering replanting this year, wait at least 30 to 60 days, and then weigh the health risks of replanting certain crops. For example, leafy greens, melons, cucumbers, root crops typically consumed raw (such as carrots and radishes) and other crops that have direct contact with flooded soils are at a much higher risk from microbial contaminants than crops with no direct contact with the soil.

 Before replanting, have your soil tested for heavy metals at the University of Vermont (UVM) Extension Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab (go.uvm.edu/soiltest). 

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