Growing Low Lead Vegetables While Cleaning Garden Soil

Jenn Hoskins
5th April, 2024

Growing Low Lead Vegetables While Cleaning Garden Soil

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Study in Nantes, France found certain veggies like tomatoes and beans grow safely in lead-contaminated soil
  • Brassica juncea, a plant used for soil cleaning, didn't absorb enough lead to be effective
  • Soil management may help reduce vegetable lead uptake, ensuring safer urban gardening
Urban gardening is a growing trend, fueled by the desire for fresh produce and the therapeutic benefits of gardening. However, this green practice comes with a hidden risk: soil contamination, particularly with lead (Pb). Lead is a toxic element that poses health risks, especially in urban soils where past industrial activities or traffic emissions have left their mark. The challenge is to maintain the benefits of urban gardening while minimizing the dangers of lead exposure. A recent study conducted by researchers from Nantes Université, Université d'Angers, Le Mans Université, and CNRS has shed light on this issue[1]. The research aimed to explore a cropping system that could produce safe-to-eat vegetables and simultaneously cleanse the soil of lead through a process called phytoextraction. Phytoextraction involves using plants that can absorb contaminants from the soil and store them in their tissues. The idea is to harvest and dispose of these plants, thereby gradually removing the contaminants from the environment. The study took place in an allotment garden in Nantes, France, where the soil is known to be moderately enriched with geogenic lead. The scientists selected four vegetables with a known low propensity to accumulate lead: tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), cabbage (Brassica oleracea cv. "Capitata"), potato (Solanum tuberosum), and bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Alongside these, they planted Brassica juncea L., a species previously identified for its potential to accumulate lead from the soil[2]. The results were promising for urban gardeners. The analyses confirmed that the edible parts of the four vegetables contained minimal levels of lead, suggesting that they can be safely grown in moderately contaminated soils. However, the lead uptake by Brassica juncea was insufficient for effective phytoextraction, with the highest concentration reaching only about 1 mg/kg of dry matter. This finding echoes earlier research which found that washing vegetables before consumption is an effective way to reduce exposure to certain contaminants[3]. While washing can significantly decrease the presence of lead on the surface of the vegetables, it is less effective for elements that are taken up by the plant and incorporated into its tissues. The study also reinforces the notion that the bioconcentration factors, which indicate how readily a plant will absorb a contaminant from the soil, are crucial in determining the effectiveness of washing and the potential risk of exposure[3]. Furthermore, the research builds on the understanding that soil parameters, such as pH and organic matter content, can influence the uptake of trace elements by vegetables[4]. This suggests that managing soil conditions could be another strategy to ensure safer urban gardening. While the study at hand did not achieve its goal of using Brassica juncea for phytoextraction, it did demonstrate that certain vegetables can be safely cultivated in soils with moderate lead levels. The research opens up avenues for future studies to improve cropping systems. One potential direction could be the identification of other plant species that are more effective at phytoextraction, or the development of cultivation techniques that enhance the phytoextraction capabilities of Brassica juncea. In conclusion, the research from Nantes Université and its partners provides valuable insights for urban gardeners and policymakers. It shows that with the right choice of crops and perhaps future improvements in phytoextraction techniques, it is possible to enjoy the fruits of urban gardening without the bitter taste of contamination. As urban populations continue to grow, and the demand for locally grown food increases, such studies will be crucial in ensuring that the urban agriculture movement can flourish safely and sustainably.



Main Study

1) Maintaining the cultivation of vegetables with low Pb accumulation while remediating the soil of an allotment garden (Nantes, France) by phytoextraction.

Published 4th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Growth and accumulation of Pb by roots and shoots of Brassica juncea L.

3) Managing health risks in urban agriculture: The effect of vegetable washing for reducing exposure to metal contaminants.

4) Urban kitchen gardens: Effect of the soil contamination and parameters on the trace element accumulation in vegetables - A review.

Related Articles

An unhandled error has occurred. Reload 🗙