Good Gardening: Smoke and Ash

Sep 22, 2020

Credit John Fischer

Hi, Master Gardener John Fischer here with some good news about your backyard, and commercial food crops growing in our smoky ashy region.

The small amount of ash and the relatively short time the smoke has been around mean you should need little more than a good rinse to make your harvest safe and tasty.

According to Brooke Edmunds of the Oregon state extension service, if your produce was very close to a structure fire, it could be contaminated, but the vast majority of the smoke and ash came from burning trees and brush, and poses no danger to you when you eat your fruits and vegetables

Brooke also suggests a 1 part in ten vinegar rinse for rough leafed greens like kale- to help get the dirt off.

Credit John Fischer

If you are worried, consider peeling things like cucumbers and tomatoes. Corn, winter squash, potatoes and root vegetables all have protection from the ash and smoke through husks or soil.  

A quick spray of water has cleaned most of the ash off my garden, but I still wash things well before eating them.

Wood ash is actually good for your garden. It helps sweeten our acidic soils.  Slash and burn agriculture has been practiced for thousands of years. The fire releases nutrients that crops need to grow.

But the amount of ash we have received is far less than the one pound per hundred square feet recommended by the extension service to sweeten soil, and will make no measurable difference to your soils fertility or acid level

There is an effect known as smoke taint that can flavor wine grapes, and over time might impact your fruits and vegetables.  

I've been harvesting fruit for the dryer while wearing a hepa filter mask for breathing, and goggles to keep the ash out of my eyes. I'll have to wait until winter to see if the dried fruit has a flavor.

In a creepy, but unsurprising development, the agricultural company Cultiva has developed a product called Parka that is “composed of food-grade phospholipids that supplement the plant cuticle.”

It is sprayed on your crops to reduce the effects of smoke pollution in advance of a fire. What will we have to think of next?

Copyright 2020, KLCC