Plant Clinic

Test soil for metal before setting up community garden

Q. I’m helping plan for a community garden in Miami. Are there any soil tests that need to be done before we get started planting in the fall?

M.C., Liberty City

The soil test that needs to be done in urban areas in Miami-Dade and other counties is for heavy metals. Submit your samples to an independent soil testing lab for analysis. Contact them first to make sure you are collecting the samples correctly. You can call your UF County Extension office to obtain a list of labs. To find your local extension office, Google “solutions for your life”.

Many soils in urban areas are contaminated with high levels of lead. Lead poisoning is still a pediatric problem. This heavy metal, even minute amounts in a child’s system, can lower intelligence and slow neurological development. You can contact your county health department to find out if lead contamination is a problem in the neighborhood of your community garden.

Sources of lead in soils is old lead-based paint flakes and dust, especially in hurricane-damaged areas, and deposits from car exhaust. Leaded gasoline was phased out beginning in 1973. Lead does not move or disappear from soil and therefore can stay trapped in the upper layer of soil.

Even vegetables grown in raised beds in areas with high soil lead levels can be contaminated by dust when the grass is mowed or when exposed soil is blown about.

Soil pH tests are usually unnecessary in Miami-Dade County. The soil is very alkaline (high pH) in most of the suburban and urban areas and cannot be lowered since these soils are limestone based. Soils along Florida coastal areas are also usually alkaline. Contact your UF County Extension office for advice.

Insect samples

Send undamaged (live or dead) insects in a crush-proof container such as a pill bottle or film canister with the top taped on. Mail them in a padded envelope or box with a brief note explaining where you found the insects.

Do not tape insects to paper or place them loose in envelopes. Insect fragments or crushed insect samples are almost impossible to identify.

Send them to the address of your county extension office, found in the blue pages in the phone book under county government.

Adrian Hunsberger is an entomologist/horticulturist with the UF/IFAS Miami-Dade Extension office. Write to Plant Clinic, 18710 SW 288th St., Homestead, FL 33030; e-mail

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