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After historic Vt. flooding, toss any edible garden veggies touched by or under floodwaters

 An aerial image of flooded farm fields and buildings
The University of Vermont
Historic flooding from heavy rains caused several Vermont rivers to jump their banks this week. And with nowhere to go due to already-soaked soils, the water covered streets, filled basements and ruined gardens and crops.

Vermonters experienced historic flooding this past week. After heavy rainfall brought rivers statewide to new heights, many left their banks.

And with the ground saturated from previous rains, water washed out roadways, flooded homes and businesses and covered farms, fields and gardens in many Vermont towns.

The rains and flood came just as many home gardens were cranking out lettuces and herbs and just beginning to produce tomatoes, peppers, and more.

As the waters recede, many home gardeners and composters wonder what can be salvaged and what needs to be tossed. And for some, how to start all over again.

There are some things you can salvage, depending on the flood water's proximity to your gardens and crops. And there are some things you should definitely throw out.

And you can make a plan to rehabilitate your flooded garden to get your soil ready for next season.

For early season crops

If your edible leafy green crops were under the flood waters - even for a short period of time - the rule of thumb is to throw them out. Also soft fruits and berries should be thrown out.

Even if the water only splashed onto your crops, you should toss them. They just aren't safe to consume.

Many different kinds of contaminants -like industrial chemicals, petrochemicals, e-coli from sewage systems - could be lurking in the flood waters.

You may notice some vegetable plants that survived, like root crops such as carrots, beets and potatoes. Though the plants made it through the flood, you still should not consume them. The safest thing to do is to toss everything out.

More from Vermont Public: Flood safety and other key resources

There are a few caveats though: If the plants in your garden were above the water, like trellised-up tomatoes or pole beans, firstly, do not consume those veggies that are already set on the vines.

Any vegetables that get set after the floodwaters recede should be safe to eat. And things like pole beans, eggplants, tomatoes, that set and grow after the waters receded, should be cooked before eating, just to be on the safe side.

Soil remediation for next season

After the water has receded, you may be left with a layer of silt in your gardens. And though the waters have gone, that layer may be contaminated.

Testing is available through UVM Extension's soil-testing lab. Another method is to just entirely skim off that top layer of soil.

After the soil is removed, go in with a fresh layer of compost and topsoil onto your gardens. That new layer should be safe to plant some things for a fall harvest.

Come autumn, you could have a small crop of leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard. In some warmer parts of the state, a small fall crop of bush beans would even have time to grow.

And doing a cover crop is also a good idea. When soil floods, all the oxygen gets pushed out of the soil. By introducing a cover crop, you can help build up that oxygen in the soil once again.

For home gardens and borders that had ornamentals, perennial flowers, annual flowers, trees and shrubs that got flooded, how they fare depends on how long the flowers and bushes were underwater.

More from Vermont Public: What to know about returning home after a flood

Over the next few weeks, you may start seeing signs of yellowing leaves on the plants and flowers. That is the plant showing you that there isn't sufficient oxygen in the soil.

Remediate that by opening up air pockets in the soil by poking a pitchfork into the ground around the plants. You can go in with a layer of compost or any organic matter around the plants to add even more oxygen.

Adding oxygen back into the soil will help the roots recover, too. And most plants should recover from this flooding.

Compost bins or piles that were flooded should be taken out of commission. Again, the flood waters could have left behind a host of contaminants and things that you don't want to be adding to your edible veggie gardens.

By taking stock of your gardens after the floodwaters recede, you can salvage the safe-to-consume veggies, add oxygen and organic matter back into the soil and even replant in time for a small fall harvest.

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Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources

View or share a printable PDF version of these resources.

      Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
      Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.