How to Garden in Bad Air Quality

One thing I am adamant about is not being active outside while the air quality is unhealthy. Lately in Northern California we have had some bad air quality across all tiers, yes even hazardous (the distinctions are excellent, good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous). The Dixie Fire is north of us and the Caldor Fire is south of us. So no matter which way the wind blows (unless directly east-west), we get smoke.

Smoke is terrible for our health. Wildfire smoke contains worse pollutants than a campfire or fireplace. You’re talking about burned cars, plastic toys, chemicals, and more. You are breathing in smoke from burned items other than wood. Imagine what that is doing to your body. You’re making yourself more susceptible not just to viruses (weakened immune system), but to many other serious health issues.

A 2020 Harvard study found that “On average across all counties, the study found that a daily increase of 10 µg/m3 in PM2.5 each day for 28 subsequent days was associated with an 11.7% increase in COVID-19 cases, and an 8.4% increase in COVID-19 deaths.”

In other words, wildfire smoke increases COVID cases and deaths, according to this Harvard SPH study.

I think it’s rather ironic to see someone outside for a prolonged time (other than the necessary work of course or from car to store, which should be fine) at unhealthy air pollutant levels (and in past weeks, up at max 500 hazard level), but then they do it wearing a paper/cotton mask. No common sense there. Reduce your wildfire smoke inhalation as much as you possibly can. Paper P95 masks, if they don’t have a rubber seal on your face, are letting smoke into your lungs. This has been several weeks of unhealthy levels–please be safe and use common sense: don’t focus myopically on the pandemic and then ignore common sense for your health in other serious areas.

So now to how I take care of my plants’ needs while minimizing damage to myself.

Set up an irrigation system on Wifi

First, most of my garden is on irrigation, so I can control that from my phone with a Wifi-enabled timer. We use a Rachio Smart Controller and it works well. I love how easy the app is to use.

Wear a Reliable Respirator

Despite our Wifi-enabled watering system, there are some fruits and vegetables that need picking. And a few potted starts I need to tend. For these tasks, I wear a respirator—specifically a GVS Elipse Respirator. If you want to garden in smoky air, this will be a life saver.

Picking raspberries while wearing a respirator

I am a thin female, taller than average for my gender, and I wear the “small/medium” size. My husband has a bigger head than me for sure and he wears the “medium/large” size.

This seals against your face, which makes it much more effective than any paper mask, yes even those that seem to fit the contours of your face well. If your mask doesn’t seal/stick, then air is not going through the filter to your lungs because as you inhale, air will get to you the easiest way possible. The filter has too much resistance on a cheap mask and so the air sneaks in on the sides.

Wash your produce well

Please remember to wash your produce well! Ash is often not seen but it’s there and bad for you when ingested. When I go outside and wipe a washcloth on my patio furniture, even though it looks clean, my washcloth comes away black with ash/soot/whatever it is.

I hope these tips are useful for you! Stay safe! I pray every day that the rain will come and that the fires will stop as soon as possible.

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