Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Uh Oh (Maybe)

I went to the park at Harlem and I-290 yesterday to take some soil samples. We want to make sure there aren't any toxic heavy metals in the soil that can sometimes be caused by car emissions or past land use on or near the site that would be harmful to us as we work in the soil or eat the food we grow. To take the sample, I was supposed to dig down six inches in five different spots, gather dirt from each spot, mix it all together, and send it to central Illinois for a lead test.

What's the problem, you ask? The problem is, in four of the five holes I dug, the shovel hit gravel about four inches down. We knew that there were homes in this spot prior to the expressway, so I can only assume that the gravel we're hitting is the pulvariezed remains of those homes.

What does this mean for the garden? Well, it means that in order to use this location at all--regardless of what the soil test tells us about soil toxicity--we will have to build raised beds with at least 12 inch high sides and we'll have to buy clean topsoil and compost to fill them. This could actually be really awesome. Personally I like the look of raised beds as well as the control that starting with all new soil gives us. A lot of the community gardens you can read about on Google use raised beds, so its not an uncommon practice. Some of them even use raised beds over concrete to create gardens in abandoned parking lots so its definitely technically do-able. However, raised beds and the soil to fill them will definitely add costs for us. The beds should probably be built out of cedar boards, since it weathers well naturally and doesn't contain any potentially harmful chemicals that treated wood or railroad ties can have. But cedar is also pretty expensive. And, of course, we'd also have to build the beds, which isn't too hard in principal, but would be quite an undertaking at this large of a scale. Building one bed in your backyard is pretty easy but building 50 beds could take a while.

So, we need to decide whether this discovery is going to mean that the Harlem / I-290 location wont work and start looking for another property.
What do you guys think?

Leave comments to this post and tell me what your feelings are.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Jessica,
    Maybe I'm too optimistic but the park on Harlem Ave seems small. If your idea takes off won't we soon outgrow it? I'm also concerned that it may be too shady. I don't want to be overly negative but I thought I would throw it out to see if those issues had been discussed.
    If we have to build boxes, might this open up other areas as possibilities. Converting concrete or a large expanse of grass to gardens seems appealing to me. I'd also suggest trex or some other "recycled lumber" as a material for the boxes. I'm a scenic carpenter so when we get to the point of building boxes I would love to contribute.
    I also have thoughts on harnessing rainwater, but I'll save that for later.

  2. [...] under-used and under-appreciated and I personally plan to use it every chance I get for a while.)  As Jessica described in her post about taking the soil test samples, there is only about 4 inches of dirt, then she hit rubble in every spot she sampled.  I know [...]

  3. Hi Dave! Thanks for taking the time to comment wayyyyy back in July. I'm really sorry I had no idea that there were comments awaiting moderation. We should have gotten an email letting us know that you'd left this but never did.

    Anyway, on to your concern. We thought the same thing about the Harlem site being too small. And as you stated, the two large shade trees further limit our planting area. But, like Jessica so nicely said last night at the Recreation Board Meeting, we'd rather have a small well-supported, well-run community garden than a huge one that the community may not fully support. We were thinking that, if the Harlem site is huge success we could look at expanding to other locations, right?

    I'm trying to get the map that Jessica did posted here which would show the potential planting areas we'd have AFTER the shade is accounted for. So, check back for that soon.

  4. planghtred... planghtred...

  5. Hi Jessica,

    Can you tell me more about your soil test. I would like to test the soil in our garden to plan some tomatoes and want o make sure it is safe.

    Hope to hear about your experience on when to get the soil tested.


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