Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Our Soils, Our Gardens

February 21, 2024

I just wrote this summary and believe it might be of interest to gardeners and gardening groups.  I am working on a number of soil issues at Vermont Flower Farm and I will share what I learn along the way. I'll post this and follow up information on The Vermont Gardener blog ( as well as my two Facebook pages, George Africa (    and also Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens (

I am always glad to share experiences that will make gardeners better at what they do and love. I have been having many discussions with various Plant and Soil Science staff at UVM regarding the ramifications of the recent flooding—actually starting in 2011 with Tropical Storm Irene.  A staff member will be visiting Vermont Flower Farm this spring to assist me with soil sampling which I hope will consider heavy metals such as lead that came off buildings and old scrap piles of wood with lead paint, hydrocarbons such as gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, and oil, and the residues from municipal sewage treatment plants, private septic systems and farms, etc. My farm borders the Winooski River and has 5 different types of soil so there are challenges with what arrived, and what was washed away. I will be writing a summary of what I have learned so far and will keep the process updated this spring if you and others are interested. 

One of the big questions is PFAS-- Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances ( ( 4-CASA_PFASFactSheet4.pdf ( Although extensive testing was underway after the 2023 floods, PFAS were not included in most testing. This is something I will be working on with soil staff to get a better understanding at VFF. I do not know if you live on a mountaintop, a valley, or in between  but the opportunity to have had water flow from storms bring contamination to your properties was still possible. I have a still further reason to be interested. 

As many of you know I grow a lot of hostas. One of the issues hosta growers everywhere encounter is white-tailed deer eating them, hence the nickname "deer lettuce". Many years ago, I was introduced to a fertilizer named Milorganite which was made from dehydrated waters from the Milwaukee sewage treatment facilities. I was 12 years old and working in a hardware/grocery store in Woodstock when the store started selling the product locally and to the golf course, and it's been around as a product since 1925. Since I have been growing hostas I learned from growers in the midwest that Milorganite is not only a good fertilizer but the smell from the product which remains noticeable to humans for only a couple days after application remains noticeable to animals for over a year and hence helps keeps them away.  It works!......... But the issue of PFAS is of concern and the State of Maine prohibited the sale of Milorganite three years ago and that's where the Vermont supply came from. Milorganite is still available in New Hampshire at Lowes and Home Depot. I have been trying to establish the testing levels that Maine certified Milorganite at as they removed a locally made organic fertilizer that used to be sold at McSherry's Nursery in Conway NH. That nursery posted this announcement about PFAS levels of the product they sold and it was "less than 7 parts-per-billion". ( . I wonder where Milorganite falls in this evaluation? (

Sometimes when we think we are doing the right thing we are not. That's why it's important to share information and try to reach sound decisions. The State of Maine is one of the most environmentally sensitive states and that's a great thing. The pulp processing industry of the past +200 years contaminated many water supplies and until recent years many farmers did not know that they and the products they raised and sold were contaminated. Try to keep these things in mind as you build and plant new gardens. Share what you learn with others and over time we'll all be doing a better job!

George Africa

Vermont Flower Farm

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