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We had a late start on our vegetable gardening this summer. That is why I am only posting about it now. When my husband, our daughter Anna and I came to Germany two springs ago I desperately wanted to have a garden here of the same magnitude that I had in Upstate New York, where I’m from.

My Former Garden In Upstate New York

This proved to be a difficult feat as land is not as easy to come by in the suburban areas just outside of the city of Cologne as it was in my little part of upstate NY.

Our community garden plot

So in the summer of 2010 we rented a small piece of a large organic community garden plot and had a great crop of organic vegetables that year but the garden was about 15-20 miles away from where we lived. After a summer of “commuting” to our garden to water and weed it it didn’t seem reasonable to manage a vegetable garden so far away from our home as we were offsetting our sustainability efforts with the cost and carbon imprint of driving so far at least once or twice every week.

Our Secret Garden

Luckily in the spring of 2011 we happened upon a lovely spot for a garden only a few minutes walking distance away from our home! Also to our great surprise the curator of this land allowed us free and unlimited access to this secluded space to put a garden and to pretty much do with as we pleased. (You can read about how we found our secret garden here)

Anna Hard at Work

My husband, Anna and I worked hard last summer pulling up the sod and tilling the soil, planting, having deer eat most of our plants, replanting and then putting up a fence to stave off the deer, then building a raised bed with a slug fence around it when rabbits and slugs ravaged our second attempt at a garden and finally in the end having little to no luck with anything growing as it seemed the plants just didn’t want to grow in our little secluded garden.

After erecting a raised bed and two different types of fences to keep all these pests out I thought for sure my plants would definitely thrive… but nothing happened. I ended up with some kale in late November and then called it a wrap. We suspected that something might be wrong.

In April of this year Thomas and I looked into different labs where we could have the soil tested not just for PH levels and nutrients but also for heavy metals and other toxins. We took several soil samples.

Lots and lots of small samples actually from all over the garden plot and from the raised bed. We mixed all the samples together in a pail and sent a small zip lock bag full off to the lab to be tested. And then we waited, and waited and waited…

Anna waiting for us to move some more sod

I really wanted to start my garden. I wanted to go out there and till the soil, add compost, plant the seeds that I had been saving from the year before and perhaps even some seedlings. I was dying to get started but I though it best to wait until we got the results back in case we needed to supplement or fix some of the nutrient levels in our soil.

Slow moving slug on his way up the side of our raised bed

Finally in mid May after waiting for nearly a month we got our test results back from the independent lab we had sent them to. And it wasn’t pretty.

Here’s what they found:

We had Twice the optimum amount of Zinc  (223 mg/kg)

Four times the amount of Boron that’s recommended as being safe  (8.7 mg/kg)

Nine and a half times the recommended limit of Cadmium  (9.5 mg/kg)

Ten times the recommended limit of Lead  (325 mg/kg)

And the amount of Magnesium in our soil sample was pretty much off the charts…  (14,100 mg/kg)

I was devastated. And shocked. How could this be? How could the soil here be so badly contaminated? Was it from acid rain or from air born pollutants settling themselves in the soil? Could someone have previously dumped large amounts of these contaminants in the area and it leeched through the ground into our soil? Is it a build up of possible pesticides from a pile of compost materials (grass, leaves, hedge and wood clippings etc.) that the landscaper who loaned us the land keeps nearby from jobs that he has done? Are we all living with elevated levels of poisons in our soil and ground water supply? I don’t know what it is but I definitely don’t want to eat anything that would grow in this soil, even if it would grow that is. It scares me and makes me wonder just how much we know and don’t know about our food supply, where it comes from and where and how it is raised or grown.

This brings me to my current situation where I am planting as much as I can in the space I have on my balcony with fruits, vegetables and herbs tightly growing amongst one another in the planters and overflowing into various pots. We’ve also started another project which involves an abandoned playground and some raised beds but you’ll have to wait for my next post to hear about that!
Until then here’s a peek at my balcony Garden