Do I Really Need to Wash That? When, Why, and How to Wash Fruit and Vegetables

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UPDATE: This post was created on October 21, 2018 and was updated on March 25, 2020 to include current health recommendations for sanitizing fruit and vegetables from the grocery store during the global pandemic. 

It?s funny how perspectives of cleanliness can change based on relationships. As an organic gardener, I see the fruit, vegetables, and herbs that come out of my garden as the cleanest and healthiest food that has ever been. It?s similar to how I feel as a mother. I just don?t get grossed out by snot and slobber from my own kid as I can imagine other people would.

When I look at my relationship cool spot 11x11 popup gazebo tent instant with mosquito netting outdoor gazebo canopy shelter with 121 square feet of shade beige_700053 the garden, I think about how much care and effort I put into the soil, into every seed that is grown, and into the water and fertilizers that feed it. I know that each piece of produce has been nurtured in the most healthy way possible, because I?m the one who nurtured it. With this knowledge, when I?m out in the garden and a sun-warmed tomato is just begging to be picked and eaten, I pop it into my mouth without a second thought.

That doesn?t mean that it?s not a good idea to wash fruit and vegetables you?re going to consume.

Do I Really Need to Wash That? When, Why, and How to Wash Fruit and Vegetables

 

Washing leafy greens in the kitchen sink

Whether your fruits and vegetables are picked from your garden, arrive in a CSA box, or were chosen from a market, it?s good practice to give your fruits and vegetables a wash before you eat them. I took some time to look more critically at how and why to wash fruit and vegetables to provide you with some answers to your burning questions.

Washing Groceries During a Pandemic

Whether you are picking up groceries or getting them delivered, the rules around the world have been updated in the last few weeks for how to safely prepare your groceries for consumption. Health Canada hasn?t updated the for handling groceries at home, however; the number one recommendation is still to wash your hands for 20 seconds using soap.

More and more experts are now advising that the produce also be washed with warm, soapy water before putting it away. This is the process I have been using to sanitize my groceries:

  1. for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
  2. Unpack groceries from cardboard boxes, paper bags, or fabric bags. Fabric bags can immediately be put in the laundry, cardboard and paper can be composted. If you want to reuse the cardboard boxes, that they are no longer contaminated after 24 hours. Avoid plastic for both the waste and the potential for contamination up to 3 days.
  3. Unpackage and wash skin-on produce (like apples, avocados, beets, etc) for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water. For lettuce and cabbage, remove the outer leaves and compost. Wash the rest with water and spin in a salad spinner. For berries, remove from the packaging and rinse. Dry and store as usual. Not all produce is the same, just use common sense.
  4. For packaged products, wipe with a disinfectant wipe as long as it doesn?t come in contact with the food.
  5. Clean all surfaces, sink, and taps with disinfectant wipes or spray.
  6. for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
  7. Apply so your skin doesn?t break down (and feel like snakeskin!).

 

washing apples in the sink

How to Wash Vegetables and Fruit from the Garden

Unless your garden is in a public space or in proximity to exposure, garden fruit and veg don?t need the full soap and water procedure.

If you?re doing a big harvest out of the garden, then it?s worth setting up some washing buckets outside before you bring your produce indoors. Set up three buckets and fill them full of drinking water. Take your freshly harvested vegetables and dunk them in the first bucket, swish them around, then pull them out, give them a shake, and pop them in the second bucket. If your vegetables weren?t very muddy or soiled, then you can remove them from the second bucket, put them in a salad spinner, and spin out the water. If they were quite muddy in the first bucket, then move them over to the third bucket for the final rinse before putting them in a salad spinner.

This is really great for salad greens and root vegetables as they should be washed immediately when harvested and then they can be stored clean and ready to eat. There are some freshly harvested fruit like blueberries, grapes, tomatoes, apples, and some vegetables like kale that I don?t like to wash before bringing them inside because I want to keep the protective bloom on their skin as long as possible.

Vegetables that have bloom

You can see bloom on the outside of blueberries as a grayish coating that comes off when you touch the blueberries with your fingers or when you wash them. You might also notice it on some of the other vegetables in your garden. The purpose of it is to help protect the fruit from insects and bacteria, so when I bring in produce that has bloom I don?t wash it until right before I?m about to eat it, allowing the produce to protect itself as long as possible and stay fresh for longer.

Apples and nasturtiums on the side of a kitchen sink, ready for washing

Why Wash Fruit and Vegetables from the Garden?

I feel pretty good about the soil and the water that I use in my garden. I use a drinking-water-safe hose for watering the vegetable beds and I don?t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. That being said, you never know what might be lurking in the soil or water. While I feel confident that popping some fresh berries into my mouth while gardening is not going to be the end of me, I still practice washing larger harvests.

The other reason to wash fruit and vegetables you harvest from the garden is to remove any little bits of soil, debris, and insects that might be hiding. You know the old saying that the only thing worse than finding a worm in your apple is finding half a worm? Well, the only thing worse than finding a caterpillar in your salad is finding half a caterpillar. I?m not that squeamish about bugs and I know I?ve probably eaten my fair share. And, frankly, more people eat bugs in the world than don?t. But I still give my kale and lettuces a good wash and send the aphids down the drain.

Fall garden Harvest of Pumpkins artichoke squash carrot

What About Organic Produce from a CSA or Market?

While you know what goes into the fruits and vegetables that you?re growing in your garden, it?s unclear exactly what is going into plants that come from other sources. Even when something is marked ?organic? it doesn?t necessarily mean that the soil, water, and land where it grew will meet your expectations. Plus, after the plants are harvested, then they can be touched by many hands and be exposed to many different environments, none of which you get to be privy to. I would say that it?s just as important, if not more so, to wash purchased produce, especially considering the fact that come from produce. Some people use baking soda or vinegar to remove pesticides from store-bought fruit, which you can read more about

Washing leafy greens in the sink with tap water

What About Boxed or Bagged Salad Mixes and Pre-Cut Vegetables?

In some cases you may purchase boxed or bagged salad mixes or pre-cut vegetables that are labeled ?pre-washed.? I?m more skeptical of the cleanliness of these prepared products than I am of the whole, unpackaged vegetables. In many cases, once you cut up a vegetable it begins to decompose more rapidly than if it was left whole. And yet the shelf life of these prepared foods seems to be much longer than fresh ones I can keep in my fridge, which makes me suspicious.

I always wash pre-cut salad mixes and I?m shocked that when I wash them in the salad spinner, the water often comes out green or cloudy. When I wash freshly harvested greens from my garden there may be a few aphids floating in there, maybe even a spider, but the water is clear. I suspect that there?s some sort of fumeric acid or anti-fungal treatment added to extend shelf life and that?s not something that I want to consume. After all that pre-washing and adding chemicals, that the pre-washed salads still probably need to be washed anyway, so I just skip them and go for a whole head of lettuce from the market instead.

greens in a salad spinner

Water or Produce Wash?

In non-pandemic times, the research says that using plain tap water to wash fruit and vegetables is effective at removing the majority of the contaminants that could be on them. When I wash sprouts I usually add a few drops of into the water just to be extra careful. You may have heard it?s a good idea to use special produce washes to clean your produce, but that produce wash doesn?t clean fruits and veggies any better than regular old tap water. If you?re washing produce from the garden and want to get rid of contaminants like dirt and other debris, tap water is the way to go.

washing apples with tap water

Can I Eat Bruised, Past-its-Prime Produce?

I don?t believe that things from the garden have to be perfect, but it?s also important to use your common sense and not eat things that are spoiled. It may be tempting to salvage a crop if you?ve grown gorgeous produce and all of a sudden, just before harvest, it got munched by a critter or attacked by a fungus. Use your judgement to see if cutting off the affected portion leaves you with something that is still edible, but remember that even if it?s edible that doesn?t necessarily mean you should eat it.

bruised apple

If you cut off the undesirable section and what you have left is a piece of nice, tasty produce, go ahead and eat it, but keep in mind that often when a fruit or vegetable has succumbed to damage or disease, its flavor has also been affected (see more on that ). There?s an Ayurvedic principle that states you should not eat anything unless it?s delicious. I try to live by this. If the food is no longer fresh and delicious, then it probably isn?t going to serve me to eat it. It will, however, make excellent

Washing produce in the kitchen sink

Can I Wash Off Bugs and Still Eat My Vegetables?

What about bugs? Wormy apples, aphiddy kale, and leaf-mined lettuce sure aren?t pretty but they also aren?t the end of your harvest. Insects on garden-grown vegetables are a certainty, but eating them is not so black and white. It depends more on how much you can stomach. In most cases the insects won?t hurt you to eat them, despite the fact that they might be somewhat unappetizing.

Probably the worst thing they?re going to do is suck all the delicious flavor out of your food, leaving it less tasty than it would have been had it not been shared with some six legged friends. In most cases I?ll just wash off any bug damage and remove any discoloration or unappetizing looking parts. The insects should come right off in the wash and the rest is just fine to eat.

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Container gardens are wonderful solutions to small spaces but they come with built-in challenges. Without the expanse of an in-ground garden, containers need to become their own sustainable ecosystem. But you can become a container gardening pro with this extensive guide. Learn about the soil, drainage, fertilizer, choosing containers, and, arguably the most important thing: how to regulate water.

Successful Container Gardening Made Easy

There are so many things we love about container gardening. Here are just a few! You can have a garden no matter where you live. Containers can be hung from a roof, suspended on hooks, or mounted on walls, opening up a whole world of growing spaces.

Containers also have the added benefit of being beautiful, acting as showpieces in the garden or decorative accents. These tips for successful container gardening will get you well on your way to becoming a small-space gardening pro.

How to grow a beautiful container garden

Is A Container The Same As A Flower Pot?

No, a flower pot is different than a garden container. You see, a garden container is larger and set up with the right amount of drainage for the water.

A pot, however, is generally not the ideal space to grow a plant. Pots that are too small, have improper drainage, or are not weather-safe will quickly cause the demise of the plants within.

The secret to creating the perfect container garden is to create a healthy environment for plants contained in a pot. To do this we need to look at the soil, drainage, water needs, fertilizer, and the pot itself.

Garden gloves, terracotta pots and a plastic bucket filled with soil placed in front of a yellow mum

Container Gardening Tips

This is the only guide you will ever need. I?ll share everything you ever wanted to know about how to grow plants in containers. From the soil to the type of container, I?ll share it all.

Watering Maple Tree in a large container

Soil

The first thing you need to know is how to choose the best soil for your container garden.

Plants are used to having endless boundaries for their roots in the soil. Unless the soil has structural issues, it will allow for water to flow freely but retain enough moisture that the roots can absorb if they desire. Container soil is limited to a relatively small space and, as such, it needs a few extra items to allow for the proper balance of air pockets, water flow, and water retention.

Two containers filled with soil with garden gloves and two small flowerpots

Container gardens need a soil mix specially formulated for holding the water while allowing for good drainage and keeping the roots healthy. Soil mixes formulated for containers can be purchased at a garden center, which works well if you are only creating a few pots.

If you are planning for a large container garden with multiple pots, it?s easy to make your own garden soil. In fact, I wrote an entire post .

Close up of flowers blooming in a beautiful container garden

Drainage

Next, you need to set up the correct drainage for your container garden.

Containers used both outdoors and inside should have appropriate drainage to ensure the health of the roots. Here are the different types of drainage and when to use them.

  • Indoor plants in containers with bottom drainage holes can be set on plant trays to allow the water to run off.
  • Outdoor plants can be set on trays in the dry season to help retain some extra water in warm weather. In wet seasons, set the plant up on a few bricks or stones so that the drainage hole is free-flowing and doesn?t become blocked with soil.
  • To re-hydrate a plant that has dried out, soak it in a sink or bowl filled with water for two hours.
  • Prevent soil from leaking out the drainage holes by lining the inside of the pot with a coffee filter or a sheet of newspaper.

Water

Container gardens also need to maintain adequate moisture to ensure that the plants thrive. The type of container you choose will affect how much water your plant retains.

Terracotta or unglazed clay pots wick away moisture from the soil and dry out rapidly. Glazed clay pots, fiberglass, and plastic pots will keep more moisture in the pot and need sufficient drainage holes.

Some pots could need to be watered multiple times a day in hot summer weather. To address this, choose larger pots to hold more soil and thus more moisture, or purchase self-watering pots with a reservoir for holding extra water.

Close up of pink flowers growing inside a pot

Fertilizer

Container soil is not the ideal space for critters like worms, insects, and microbes that convert the decomposing material in the soil into rich nutrients for the plants. Adding compost to your potting soil will go a long way in feeding the plants but as the plants grow and bloom, the nutrients will deplete.

Search for organic fertilizers like worm castings and fish emulsion to add to your containers throughout the season. Replant your containers each year with a fresh soil mix of compost, garden soil, and coir for more nutrition.

Container Care

What size of container do you need for your plants? It all depends on the size of the plant.

Choose a pot that is large enough to hold the plant at its mature size by envisioning that the plant needs as much room for the roots as it needs above the soil. This isn?t true for all plants, as some have shallow root systems or do well as a container plant with restricted root growth, but in general, buy the largest pot you can for your plant.

Container garden growing on a paved patio

Wash Your Pot Before Planting

Here is an important tip that is one of the most crucial factors to a healthy container garden. before planting. It is such an important point that I wrote a whole post about it. Do not skip this step, it will make all the difference to your garden.

Choose The Right Plants

One final tip for the perfect container garden is to look for plants that are suitable for container growing. Some have a container icon on the seed package or plant label, or they could be identified as ?container,? ?pot,? ?dwarf,? or ?micro? varieties.

Great Read: Garden Alchemy

I go into a lot more detail and give some additional tips and tricks for growing gardens in containers in my newest book, . It has 80 recipes and concoctions for organic fertilizers, plant elixirs, potting mixes, pest deterrents, and more!

Garden Alchemy Cover

Container Garden: Final Thoughts

There is a lot of details that you need to consider before you start a container garden. Flowers, perennials, trees, vegetables, fruit and even hardy herbs need proper water and nourishment. I hope this guide helps you prepare for your upcoming garden. If you have any further questions, please leave me a comment!

More Container Garden Resources

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