I want to think that most people garden for health benefits, but I see all these so-called "helpful" homestead hacks that make me shake my head. Many folks assume these garden hacks are safe for growing food in, and they are not. If you are planting for your health, please consider the following.
Planting in Tires
According to the EPA, benzene, mercury, styrene-butadiene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and arsenic, among several other chemicals, heavy metals, and carcinogens, have been found in tires. (1) When the material gets hot, it can increase volatile organic compounds or VOCs and can leach into the air and soil as the tire biodegrades. (2) The EPA found tire mulch and recycled tire pavers hazardous to use on children's playgrounds due to off-gassing alone. Watering plants inside these tires help them heat up and get steamy in summer, speeding up the biodegradation. They are so bad for the environment when you get new tires on your vehicle, you get charged extra to have your tires properly disposed of, and it's about the most toxic thing you can plant in. It's a giant ring of decomposing toxic chemicals. There is a reason we aren't making cereal bowls out of used tires.
Harvesting rainwater off the roof of a structure to water garden produce or animals isn't as clean as it sounds. (3) In Washington, the Department of Ecology investigated the toxic chemicals found in roof run-off. They found that total arsenic, copper, lead, and zinc concentrations were consistently measured in run-off from all new roofing materials evaluated. As petrol chemicals (TAR!) in shingles, paint, and metal in roof sheeting, and CCA treated cedar shingles degrade over the roof's life, they will release more chemicals. There is a reason camping gear and travel water bottles are now stainless steel and not galvanized tin. Stainless steel is a safe, clean, and healthy surface to hold potable water. If you are using a catch-tainment system a filter is necessary. I still have to use a plastic tank to hold water for my garden, but we use filtered pond water, and the water only sits in the tank for a day or two at a time.
Planting Next to the House
Most people harvest rainwater from the roof because they garden next to the house, which is another extremely toxic area to plant. (4) When homes are built, the dirt around the foundation is exposed to multiple environmental toxins such as metals from nails, caulking, and sawdust from contractors cutting treated siding and trim. As treated wood siding and paint degrade, it ends up in the soil next to the house. Often older houses need to have loose paint scraped before painting, these homes may have had lead or arsenic-based paint scraped off and onto the soil, before regulations were made for proper cleanup and handling of the toxic substances.
Treaded wood from decks and sidings also leach incredibly toxic chemicals into the soil. Chromated copper arsenate (arsenic) (CCA) is a pesticide/preservative used to prevent rotting in lumber designed for outdoor use. CCA contains arsenic, chromium, and copper. CCA-treated wood is used virtually anywhere outdoor lumber is on a home, including sill plates, decks, and picnic tables. CCA (pressure treated) treated wood can be hazardous to human health because arsenic is a known carcinogen. Raised beds made from treated lumber will leach these chemicals into the raised bed, even through fabric liners. (5) Public Health and Social Services advise against the use of treated wood for raised bed gardening.
Foundations around homes are heavily treated with pesticides. (6) Diazinon is a pesticide that was widely is used in the United States until 2004. (7) Diazinon adversely affects the nervous system but is still used on 40 crops in non-organic agriculture. Home Defense (8) anti-pest products contain the chemical Bifenthrin, listed as a "possible human carcinogen." Termite treatments are also placed around the foundation of a home that also contains toxic chemicals. These chemicals kill bugs because they are small. People take longer to show the effects because the toxic load takes longer to absorb enough to show symptoms, but it adds up over the years.
Some homes have toxic waterproofing plasticizers put on foundation walls to keep basements dry. These tar-like chemical products aren't designed for agricultural use, so they aren't made to be used near where food is grown.
Planting in Straw Bales or Hay
Straw seems like an all-natural substance. Is it just grass, right? Well, it used to be years ago before agricultural chemicals were developed for weed-free planting and speeding up the harvest. Now there are preservatives in the hay and straw. (9) Commercial hays and straw available at large box stores are treated with preservatives so the hay and straw can stay on the store shelf without molding or growing fungus. If the straw comes from a field that was sprayed in the last few years with a herbicide containing the chemicals aminopyralid, clopyralid, picloram, aminocyclopyrachlor, or glyphosate, it can harm your garden plants. Straw comes from oats, wheat, barley, buckwheat, and rye plants that often are treated with these antifungal chemicals in the field. Plants affected by these chemicals in bales of hay or straw get leaves that curl and look blistered, and the tops often die off when the flowers are starting to set.
A study in the Netherlands (10) found up to 13 types of mycotoxins in hay and up to 10 different pesticides and fungicides. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain molds (fungi) found in food that are harmful to humans in large doses.
Highly carcinogenic aflatoxin can grow in these water-soaked bails at high temperatures as they decay. The species of molds that combine to form aflatoxin grow in soils when conditions are just right, including when decaying food, plants, hay, and grains are piled together to decompose in areas with high moisture and high temperatures.
There are actually at least 13 different types of naturally-occurring aflatoxin toxic molds that researchers have been able to identify. (11) Of the 13 species, the type called aflatoxin B1 is considered the most toxic, capable of causing liver disease or cancer, autoimmune responses, digestive issues, and in rare cases, death.
This is another reason not to dump loads of lawn clippings in your garden, compost pile, or around your plants. Lawn clippings should not exceed 1/2 inch to ensure mold does not grow as the clippings dry. High compost temperatures can not kill all of the harmful mycotoxins so composting your old hay and straw bales can spread toxins. This is the reason I don't use hay or straw in my garden as mulch, much less try to grow food in bales of it.
Planting In or Using Cardboard
Paper tubes are fabricated from wood pulp from recycled paper, waterproof/water-resistant cardboard, paper-adhesive composites, kraft paper, paperboard, and fiberboard. Pulp from these products is blended using sodium hydroxide, sodium sulfate, and boron (Borax) to separate the fibers that link cellulose. If the tube or egg carton cardboard is bleached (has any white or grey color), additional chemicals, such as surfactants and defoamers, are added. The brown color is due to lignan or coniferyl alcohol which can form compounds with glucose in the same manner as benzaldehyde (glucosides or hemiketals or hemiacetals). Then the entire tube is slathered in an adhesive chemical to hold the paper roll in its shape. It's why they don't peel apart easily. Recycled papers and cardboard products used to make cardboard pulp, increase the number of chemicals making them more toxic.
Cardboard boxes and corrugated cardboard also contain chemicals to break down pulp and adhesives to get them to hold the shape (12). (13) Boxes with shiny print, glossy or waxy coatings have unrefined mineral oil in them and pose a risk to health even used as food containers. These unrefined mineral oil glossy printed boxes (cereal, crackers, noodles, and cookies, etc.) proved to leach into the food contained in them through the protective plastic bags inside. Mineral oil additives and contaminants comprise a highly diverse range of chemical entities. Endocrine-disrupting phthalates are in the lacquers, adhesives, and printing inks.
Would you grind up 100 toilet paper tubes or egg cartons, water it down into a slurry, and grow a tomato plant in it? -Sounds disgusting to me. If you are planting in toilet paper tubes, you are consuming toilet paper tubes in your food year after year. Plants grow from the soil they consume, just as humans grow from the foods they consume. I don't want to eat toilet paper tubes or egg cartons.
Newspapers (14) also have toxic chemicals in and on them. Newspaper ink is known to contain several toxic chemicals with nasty-sounding names like 2-naphthylamine and 4-aminobiphenyl. And some studies have linked the ink to bladder and lung cancers, at least among newspaper printing workers who experience high doses. Bleach s also used in the pulp. Glossy Recycled newspapers can have these chemicals compounded in them. The more chemicals I can keep out of my garden, the more chemicals I can keep out of my body.
I have been homesteading for twenty years living off of the "food-grid," which means we are beyond organic and 99% self-sustainable from the food we raise and grow here on our homestead. I have written a novel about our journey of achieving our American dream of living off the land. My book is available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback HERE.
For more homesteading information and free chapter by chapter book photos, visit my website @ growingbacktotheland.com
(1) Chemicals in Tires
(2) EPA Investigation into Chopped Tire Mulch and Pavers on Playgrounds as a Hazzard
Hazardous organic chemicals in rubber recycled tire playgrounds and pavers
(3) Department of Ecology / State of Washington
Investigation of Toxic Chemicals in Roof Run-Off
(4) Potential Chemicals Found in Building Materials
(5) Public Health and Social Services - Avoid Growing vegetables in Beds lined with Treated Wood
(6) Facts on Diazinon
(7) EPA Takes Pest Killer Diazinon Off the Shelves
Still Allowed for Crop Use
(8) Bifenthrin in Home Defense Products
(9) Preservatives in Hay and Straw
(10) The Occurrence of Mycotoxins in Hay and Straw Used as Animal Feed
(11) Aflatoxin: How to Avoid this Common-Food Carcinogen
(12) Are Cardboard Boxes Toxic?
(13) Food Sold in Recycled Cardboard Poses Risk
(14) Why You Shouldn't Use Bleached or Glossy Paper in Your Compost