Yet another reason I’m not a huge vegetable gardening fan… heavy metal contamination. According the New York Times, tomatoes don’t leach the lead from the soil as much and are slightly safer than root crops like potatoes and carrots. Herbs for some reason do absorb lead, so use common sense about where you plant your herb garden.
You can get your soil tested for lead and other heavy metals in Wisconsin for $37 from the University of Wisconsin. There is more information on soil testing in Wisconsin at this site.
If you live in a pre-1978 house that has chipping or peeling paint, you should know that this poses a risk to children for lead poisoning. If you decide to repaint or are scraping the sides of the house to prepare the surface for painting, you should cover the ground with a heavy-duty (9mm or greater) sheet of poly to prevent the chips from entering the soil. Your county health department has a lot of information on repainting older homes, and it is worth taking a look at it BEFORE you begin painting or replacing windows.
Although I’m not usually a fan of mulch (unlike Pomona, who adores it) It is a good idea in older homes to allow grass to grow up to the house or cover any bare soil around the house’s foundation with plant matter and mulch. And keep little ones away.
But first things first– test your soil. Then you’ll know.