Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Proper Time to Salt Veggies

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! But let's just skip the treacherous freezing rain. Unfortunately our increasingly warmer winters are resulting in icier surfaces. Over the last 20 years, the sale of road salts has skyrocketed. Certainly there are more roads and parking lots, but there is also a growing expectation by the public that our roads and parking lots are completely ice-free. In the name of safety, salt use is on the rise. Churches and shopping centers fearing lawsuits are known to spread unconscionable amounts of salt. The catch is, more salt doesn't necessarily translate to less icejust more soil contamination and water pollution.

Salt is an environmental concern because it contaminates soils and waters. It reaches our waters either by percolating through the soil or it travels directly via storm drains. The problem is pretty simple. Salt accumulates and sticks aroundbasically forever. Consider mixing a glass of water with a spoonful of salt. The salt will eventually settle out, and the water will evaporate, but the salt will remain.

A water body is considered "impaired" at 230 mg/l. In practical terms, this is one teaspoon of salt per five gallons of water. A water body "impairment" means that the body isn't meeting the standards for its designated use, i.e a swimming lake is no longer a great swimming lake. Even this small amount negatively impacts our freshwater aquatic systems, depletes oxygen levels and even changes how lakes naturally mix. There are also negative implications for our groundwater and soil salinity. As a gardener, healthy soil is the crux of a healthy gardenand I prefer to add salt to my food in the cooking stage, not the growing stage.

"More is better" is a prevalent attitude, but more salt doesn't melt ice any faster than the correct amount of salt. All that is needed is enough salt to break the bond between the ice and pavement. Consider also that regular salt (sodium chloride) won't melt anything if the air temperature is colder than 15ยบ Fahrenheit. For cold weather, other deicers containing, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride or potassium acetate are better options. Sand provides traction, but poses other environmental problems.

Tips to Reduce the Need for Salt

    Shovel. Tried and true, it's effective and a great way get winter exercise.

    Timing is everything. If a storm is coming, apply a liquid deicer.

    15°F is too cold for salt. Which deicer to use is based on pavement and/or air temperatures. Consider investing in a nifty temperature gun for ($20) to eliminate guessing the pavement temperature.

    Slow down. Drive for the conditions and leave ample following distance.

    Be patient. Deicers may not be visible and they take time to work.

    More salt does not mean more melting. One pound of salt is approximately a12-ounce coffee mug. Use (less than) 4 pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet. A hand-held spreader helps in applying evenly.

    Sweep up and reuse extra salt.

    Become an educated salt product user. Salts range from simple table salt to calcium chloride. Whatever product you chose, make sure you know at what temperature it stops working.

As if environmental impacts weren't reason enough to limit salt use, it is estimated that every $50 of salt applied causes about $750 in property damage, e.g. burned vegetation, rusted cars and pitted pavements. Points to ponder instead of throwing down some salt "just to be safe."

Pape, Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District Communications Specialist, author, Master Gardener and mother of two young boys. She holds a Master's degree in environmental education and can be reached at

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