Tyres may seem handy to grow food in but they are one of many health hazards found in school gardens.
There’s a lot to consider when setting up a new garden – what soil to use, which plants to grow and how to maintain the garden. But just as important are the type of materials you use to build the garden and prepare the soil, especially when it comes to the health of your garden and students.
Car tyres can leach cadmium and other heavy metals into soil as they weather and should never be used for garden or compost containers. If your school is using tyres as food growing containers, you could keep the tyres in place for growing non-edibles but grow food plants in uncontaminated soil.
Treated timber is not recommended to be used as edging for garden beds in schools due to concerns about the leaching of chemical products, including arsenic (a known carcinogen), in the treated timber onto the timber surface and into the soil. Some alternative timber preservation methods contain pesticides, while others leach copper or boron and also are not considered appropriate in school gardens.
Natural fibres in carpet and carpet underlays are treated with persistent pesticides and many carpets contain toxic chemicals. If used to cover or suppress weeds, when exposed to the elements, chemicals from these products can leach into garden beds, compost and worm farms. Thick weed matting can be used to suppress weeds and if you are building a no-dig garden, see Curriculum Materials – Topic 3, From the Ground Up for information on preparing the ground to make an ‘instant’ and easy garden.
Getting manure from a local farm or racetrack?
When it comes to preparing the soil for planting, it’s wise to check the origin of the compost or manure. Make sure the compost does not come from pastures sprayed with pyridine herbicides and that manure is not from animals that have grazed on sprayed pastures. The herbicide remains active in both the mulch and the animal that has grazed on sprayed pastures until the chemicals are broken down by microbes. To avoid herbicide and general hygiene risks, use only well-rotted manures broken down through aerobic composting or purchase compost registered for use in organic farming or gardening. For composting methods and activities, see Curriculum Materials – Topic 2, Living Soil.
Herbicides should never be used to clear the garden area of weeds or other vegetation as they kill or inhibit a range of soil organisms, increase the incidence of soil-borne diseases and impact on the health of soil, humans and other animals. Many shelf-bought herbicides contain an active ingredient called glyphosate, a toxic weed killer linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and other ‘inert’ ingredients linked to human cell death, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. Be sure to check if your school is using these products on any part of the school grounds. Organic weed control uses physical methods such as weeding, mulching and grazing, and also the use of safe products registered for use within organic systems.
Australian Organic Schools is compiling a list of safe products to use in organic gardens so you don’t have to worry about whether you are buying something that’s bad for your health. See Garden Products for more information and if you have a favourite product registered for use in the organic garden, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if we can add it to the product list.
Click here to read about the how the Australian Certified Organic Standard outlines the minimum requirements for certification of organic or biodynamic produce and takes a whole-of-system approach to the health of people, animals, plants and soils. This is a good resource for making sure the products you use in preparing and maintaining the garden won’t compromise the health of your garden and students. When you see the Australian Certified Organic Bud logo on a product such as organic compost, you can be reassured that its product ingredients have been certified to the Standard and have met rigorous certification checks.