Is free dirt worth it?

Brewster, MN(Zone 4b)

A kindly neighbor has offered me free dirt that he has removed from the bottom of a dry holding pond in an ag field. It has been in a pile on his yard for a year. I know I'd have to add lots of organic matter to get it "alive" again. I'm intending to use this summer to sculpt the new flowerbed and and work on the design so no plants will go in until next year. I'm wondering if the ag chemicals that have washed in with the field run off will have any affect on this dirt. Free may not be as good as it sounds. Any input would be great. Thanks.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Many modern pesticides and herbicides aren't very persistent, so a year of "aging" might reduce the original residue levels (if any) to near-zero.

If you're only growing flowers, and not eating them, aren't herbicides the only thing you need to worry about? You could test-plant a few peas and pea seedlings in that soil. I think they are very sensitive to herbicides, so you might find out that it's already harmless to plants.

If you were to add a lot of compost and then age it for a year, spread thinly so it's aerated, surely that would let everything except the most persistent herbicides degrade.

But I'm not devoted to organic principles. Also, I'm old-fashioned enough to think that, if I don't SEE any harmful effect from something, maybe there ISN'T any harm, unless you're wondering about cancer or subtle medical effects from consuming things for decades. And you'd be growing flowers, not food, right? Unless it still has enough residual herbicide to kill flowers, what harm can there be?

One thing bothers me, though. The neighbor is giving soil away? If he's just kindly, as you say, fine. But if he's a savvy farmer, why would he be giving SOIL away? Kind of like a banker giving away money.

Dredgings from the bottom of a holding pond ought to contain lots of organic matter - sounds valuable to me unless there IS some known pollutant.

But if he's not a farmer, and has more soil than space, it sounds like a great deal.

Brewster, MN(Zone 4b)

Thank you so much for your input. I'll do the "pea test" and see what happens. That's a wonderful idea, by the way.

Yes, all my neighbors are treasures except 1. We all help each other just like the old days. Don't know what I'd do without them.

There are several piles of dirt in his grove. He has been using it to fill in low spots here and there and fill holes left after removing some big trees. I suppose in the end he'll end up putting any leftovers in the fields.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

That's great, to have helpful gardening neighbors!

Someone just moved into a house down a steep slope from my house. From certain places, I can see his yard, and he's put in raised beds and very practical-looking trellises. I have to meet him!

Columbus, MI

Soil is forever.
I've grown certified organic since the late 1950's. My greatest treasure is my soil. I am careful about bringing any addition to it without knowing its history. Once that questionable soil is mixed in with your soil - there is no turning back. You may grow vegetables some day. Then you would be consuming what? It's OK to stop and give this idea a second thought.
best of luck from Kate in Michigan

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

*Bump* to try to fix time-warp

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I agree that peas or beans (depending on time of year) are good sensitive test crops - it is what my dad used to use (with a preference for beans).
IF you were planning on growing edibles, you might want to do a heavy metal test, low spot of drainage is where they end up.

Beverly Hills, CA

It really depends on how you look at it. If there was a tornado near by it could blow a huge chunk of dirt into your house and kill you or seriously hurt you. Although people these days are centered around money. Everywhere you turn someone is billing you for something or you have to pay money to buy something. You have to pay for the waves that cell phone toweres sind out so you can talk on your cell phone. Radio is free, but some how, some day they are going to figure out how to charge you for it.

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