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Rae 04-26-2010 07:41 PM

raised garden on septic tank
I'm in need of advice! I live in New England in a very shady area with many tall pine trees bordering a lake. We have had limited sucess growing tomatoes on our semi-shaded deck and are now considering a raised bed in our only sunny area which happens to be over our drainage field. This area is a drainage area with a "matress type" drainage field. I'm wondering if we can put a small raised bed (4' X 8-10')over this area for vegetables. We would not dig into the drainage field.

I would put a permiable fabric down with an 4' X 8' raised bed (8' X 12") over the top using landscaping timbers. I'd like to plant tomatoes, cukes, beans, lettuces and herbs in the bed (no root crops).

Any comments/direction would be appreciated as I'd like to start a "test" garden this spring. Would you consider veggies from this type of garden edible? Should they be washed/processed (canned) in any special way?

I have health concerns about this area of gardening....

Thanks to you who may respond with experience in this type of gardening!

Gary in WA 04-26-2010 08:56 PM

I THINK the drain field needs to percolate or breathe to get rid of the gasses being made. I could easily be wrong here. I would not compress the soil there with more soil, starving oxygen from it or retarding it in any way. My $0.02's. Did you do a search, above?

Be safe, Gary

Rae 04-26-2010 09:59 PM

Garden on septic field
Hi Gary,
Thanks for your reply. I realize that the ground over the leach field shouldn't be compacted, but do you think a 4' X 4' (6') space would be too much? The leach field is about 20' X 25' as a guess. I had planned to put down a length of the poreous black weed prevention cloth then lay the 4' X 4' beams on top of that and fill with garden soil, compost and a mulch. I must admit I have no idea how much this would weigh..... It would be at the edge of the leach field if that would make a difference, since I realize it might have to be moved if repairs were necessary.

Daniel Holzman 04-26-2010 10:19 PM

We have had a vegetable garden over our septic field for 20 years now, and I too live in New England, and it hasn't killed us or the field yet. "Breathing" of the field is not much of an issue, since the pipes carry air, however it is correct that you should not add much soil above the field, since compaction of the soil is not a good idea. However, the pipes are typically buried at least 14 inches below grade, so a few inches of topsoil will not make any difference, given that the field is always buried 14 inches anyhow.

As to your concerns about health, the vegetables are not going to pick up and retain any bacteria or viruses from your field. E-coli issues are almost always caused by spreading raw sewage on fields of vegetables, causing bacteria and/or viruses to be retained on the leaves. Either that or improper handling of the harvested produce, allowing pathogens to come into contact with the leaves or stem.

You should not grow any trees or bushes on a septic field, since the roots could damage the pipes. However, normal garden vegetables such as melons, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, peppers etc., all of which we have been growing for years, work great on a septic system. Assuming of course it functions correctly. Totally different story if your system has failed due to overflow of sewage onto the ground. And once you start growing vegetables, make absolutely certain you do not allow toxic chemicals to get into the system, i.e. NEVER drain toxic chemicals down the drain, such as paint, solvents, petroleum products, bleach etc. You will literally eat what you dump in that case.

Rae 04-27-2010 10:27 AM

Gardening on septic tank
Thanks, Daniel, for your informative reply. Our septic system is only 6 years old so I don't anticipate any problems/failure in the near future (famous last words!) so I think we'll go ahead and put in a small raised bed this spring. If it turns out well, we'll add to it next year.
Good luck with your gardening!

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