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Flooded Vegetable Garden

Flooding has been a major problem in some areas ravaging fruit and vegetable gardens. The safest practice is to discard all flooded plants and produce.
Photo credit University of Wisconsin

A flood is devastating to homes, livelihoods and infrastructure. After waters recede there’s one area of concern that might be overlooked – the safety of garden produce.

There are a number of pathogens that could contaminate a flooded vegetable garden. The biggest concerns are listeria and E.coli from manure and dead animals.

John Fech is an Extension educator at the University of Nebraska. He says for safety sake, you have to assume the contaminants are there.

"The concentration is variable, but the persistence and the likelihood of the soils being contaminated in vegetable growing areas and fruit growing areas is very high," says Fech. "So, the recommendation that we have is that you not garden in those areas for 90 days. If you want to grow leafy green vegetables that are going to come into direct contact with the soil, we boost that up to about 120 days."

If the garden was already growing when flooding overtook it, don’t eat anything from it because there is no way to properly clean the produce and remove all the contamination. In general, any produce where the edible part was directly touched by flood water could be a health risk if consumed.

This doesn’t mean you can’t grow fresh produce this year.  Fech says there are alternatives.

"It brings a great opportunity to think about fall gardening, as well as container gardening," he says. "You can certainly grow a lot of stuff in a whiskey barrel and five-gallon buckets and grow your tomatoes and peppers in those as an alternative, but ground beds are probably hands-off."

Late-season fruits and vegetables that result from flowers produced on growth that develops after flood waters subside should be safe.

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