Soil and Rock
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Soil and Rock
We rent a house in West Berkeley, and I've not been allowed (by my husband) to
plant food crops in our yard ever since I got pregnant and a couple of friends
suggested that due to my west Berkeley location, the soil may be contaminated
heavy metals. We have a toddler whom I am still nursing, so the prohibition
eating food from that soil remains. I have bought a few wine barrels and potting
soil, but that is an expensive way to garden, and I really just want to put stuff
ground. Also, my toddler plays in the dirt, and I really don't want to teach her
doing so is ''dangerous.'' So my questions are 1) What is the likelihood of my
being dangerously contaminated for food consumption or just playing in the dirt,
and 2) How can I test it?
want to garden
Unluckily, a lot of the soil here does have lead. But I am also
not willing to give up all gardening and playing in the dirt. You
can have it tested for free by the Alameda County Lead Poisoning
Prevention Program (510-567-8282). I am pretty sure the owners
need to request it. They check the house and you can request they
check the soil. Ingesting high lead soil is NOT good - but you
have to decide what level of precaution to take (no playing in
the dirt; play, but wash hands, clothes, etc before putting
fingers in mouth, eating, etc). Gardening has a few
considerations: lead does not get into some parts of the plant
(fruit/seed plants like tomatoes, peas, etc are fine - leaf
veggies might be more problematic, but I am not sure - root
veggies would not be good); amending the soil can reduce the lead
level where you are planting; wash before eating with a
water/vinegar solution to get the lead/dirt dust off the food.
You can do some internet research and find much of this and more.
We bought an old victorian when our oldest was 6, and before
starting construction had the Alameda County Lead Abatement folks
come out and do a thorough inspection. They found one area of
soil that was extremely contaminated with lead right where a
lemon tree was, insisted that we stop drinking any lemonade made
from that fruit AND cut the tree down. (It was a strange
malformed tree anyway). All the other areas were not bad, but we
removed much of that soil. They will give you a kit - here are
Yes, you can test your soil through a variety of places.
The Berkeley Ecology Center has this list online.
My friends who garden in urban backyards usually garden using
raised beds. This gets you above a variety of pests, while
allowing you to control what's in the soil. It's a project, but
you'd be surprised how much amazing produce can be grown in a
small 3x5 plot.
A lot of places will try to charge you a lot to test your soil but that's bunk
- There are
two major firms in the country and test run from $35 to $100. Contact me if
want to end up paying for the middle man.
I would have your soil tested. I also live in West Berkeley and just got my
from Timberleaf Soil Testing (which you can find online). We have levels of
aresenic that are higher than considered safe for growing leafy or root
but it is not considered unsafe for fruiting veggies. The greatest danger is
from the soil itself. It is suggested that small children do not play in dirt
ppm for lead because they often put their hands in their mouths. Fruiting
can be grown up to 400 ppm (according to some), but you have to wash them very
carefully with water and vinegar because dust from the soil is actually more of
concern than anything inside the vegetable.
The tests are a bit expensive, but I am glad that I found out. We are just
to look into solutions, possibly putting in planters or removing the soil.
Hope this helps. Feel free to email if you have any questions.
What's the best way to obtain large rocks to augment a rock garden? Not huge
maybe about the size of a suitcase, or smaller. Is there a place where they can
found and collected for free (ethically and environmentally OK, that is)? If
can they be purchased?
I've bought all sizes and manner of rocks, from stepping stones
up to the size of an ottoman, from Diamond K Supply
(www.diamondk.com) on Mt. Diablo Blvd in Lafayette. Pretty
reasonably priced, although delivery for the bigger ones adds
up. Closer to home, American Soil (www.americansoil.com) in
Richmond is also good and a fun place to browse. Both places
have always been friendly and helpful with all my newby DIYer
If you want large rocks, I recommend American Soil Products at
2121 San Joaquin St, Richmond, CA 94804. Their number is (510)
292-3000. I do not know about the methods by which they collect
the rocks, ie sustainability. They have everything from small
rocks to very large boulders. If you order enough, they will
deliver to you in the area. In the past, I have found some
large pieces of serpentine by the side of the road up on
highway 101 near Ukiah, but that was a long time ago, during
road work, and I can't really recall specific location.
Sometimes, when they make a new road cut, there will be big
rocks just lying around, in an already disrupted environment.
Not to be mistaken for the neatly piled rocks on the side of
the road which are being used for erosion control and should be
left in place. Since having a baby, I have just bought the
rocks at American Soil. Unless you are planning a long day of
scenic curvy rural highway driving anyway.
You can't take rocks anymore from anywhere without asking
permission these days. But you can get a great boulder locally at
either American Soil & Stone, 2121 San Joaquin St, Richmond, or
at Acapulco Rock & Soil, 3251 Jacuzzi St, Richmond. They are only
a couple of blocks from each other, so you can visit both easily.
American Soil & Stone is bigger and has more selection, but
Acapulco will have some things that American Soil won't.
We are just venturing into doing our own landscaping and are
looking for a good source for some medium-sized boulders to
create a bit of a retaining wall. All I've found are places a
good distance away. Any ideas?
We like acapulco sand and soil in Richmond.
DeAnna in North Oakland
Hi--does anyone know where to buy bags of top soil? Home Depot sells dark
soil mixed with manure, but not plain soil--any suggestions?
American Soil has a variety of choices.
American Soil Products has all kinds of soil blends in bags or by the
truckload. They are at 2222 Third St Berkeley, on Allston just over the
American Soil Products on Bancroft and Third in Berkeley has every type of
soil mix you can possibly want. In bulk and in bags. Also stone, paving of
all sorts...it's a neat place just to walk around in. Go down Bancroft just
over the RR tracks. It's entrance is on the right immediately over the RR
American Soil is my favorite place for all things soil-related. I've never
gotten plain topsoil myself, but imagine they'd have it. They have huge
piles of soil, sand, mulch, plant beddings, redwood chips, etc., plus a
large variety of gravel, rocks, paving stones, and fountains. You can buy
by the bag or cubic yard (they'll dump it into your open pickup -- I advise
bringing one tarp for under and another for over your load!!), or they'll
deliver if you're buying, say, a pallette load of rocks. Stones are sold by
the pound -- I have a lovely large green and white one called Sierra Mist
in my yard, which weighed over 100 lbs and cost about $40 -- 'twas quite a
challenge to get it out of the hatchback but we finally rolled it down a
plank ;> Really fun to visit, nice people.
They're at Bancroft and 4th in Berkeley (going down Bancroft off 6th St.,
take an immediate right into their driveway after you cross the railroad
tracks). Happy gardening!
The best place to buy soil is American Soil Products at 2222 - 3rd in Berkeley.
Their # is 883-7200. I think is it where Bancroft crosses the railroad tracks, down
by Aquatic Park. You can buy it in bags or load a pickup truck or have them
deliver a truck load.
this page was last updated: Apr 16, 2009
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