EWG’s Dirty Dozen Fruits & Vegetables: How many can you grow in your garden?

The Environmental Working Group has released their 2015 list of the Dirty Dozen, the 12 fruits or vegetables commonly available in grocery stores which carry the most pesticide residue.

dirty dozen pesticide fruits vegetables

Click for the full size image of Cherry tomatoes growing in my garden.

Otherwise known as EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,  the report calculates that USDA tests found a total of 165 different pesticides on thousands of fruit and vegetables samples. This is an amazing fact, considering the explosion in demand for organically-grown produce.

After looking at the 2015 list, I counted 7 which I regularly grow in my garden and rarely consume from any other source. The others I purchase organically, and preferably locally-grown, whenever possible. Eating pesticide-free produce is especially important, as a new report from the World Health Organization has determined that the most-used herbicide in the world, Roundup (chemical name: Glyphosate), is a probable carcinogen. (The EPA revealed this month that they may start testing food products for Glyphosate residues.)

So which of these do you grow yourself?

Key findings:

  • 99 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece

Dirty Dozen™ 2015

1. Apples

Apple trees are abundant at garden centers each spring. But growing apples succesfully with organic controls is quite difficult, unless you’re blessed with perfect weather conditions and few pests, including airborne and waterborne fungal spores. Same goes for pears, which I spent years enjoying, until fungal infections wiped out my three trees in two seasons.

2. Peaches

Oh, how I love fresh peaches. As a young gardener, I took my shot at growing peaches, but gave up after three seasons. The straw that broke the peach tree’s back was a Japanese Beetle invasion which wiped the peaches out, along with the tree’s foliage in a matter of days. That, after finally figuring out the hard way that thinning had to be done weekly while fruits were developing, and that pruning had to be done judiciously each winter. I figured it was easier to support my local organic farmer and buy his/her peaches.

3. Nectarines

Same cultural concerns as peaches, although I never tried these.

4. Strawberries

dirty dozen pesticides strawberries

Click for the full size image of a Sarian strawberry in my garden.

There are dozens of varieties of strawberry seedlings available at garden centers and online every year. And strawberry plants are easy to grow if you follow a few simple guidelines and invest in bird netting (because I guarantee that our winged friends will beat you to the harvest). Strawberries can also be grown easily in  containers, especially a strawberry pot, which allows more room in your garden for other things.

5. Grapes

Grapes are high on my list of “next food crop to experiment with”. But I’m cautious, as grapes require a perfect location, lots of sunlight, vigilant pruning, and strict cultural controls.

6. Celery

I’ve been growing celery organically for years in my garden with no real difficulties or disappointments. In fact, each year I freeze dozens of jars for use over the winter. Yet, I hear complaints from many gardeners that celery is difficult to grow. The key is to start seeds indoors over winter, and plant well after your last frost date. The key is water – the roots of celery plants are very shallow, so they dry out very quickly. But if you stay on top of your irrigation schedule, and mulch the root area with compost, you shouldn’t see any problems.

7. Spinach

This crop couldn’t be simpler. Plant a seed, water it in, add compost to the soil, and cut as many leaves as you like as often as you like until frost. Or harvest the entire plant at one time and plant another seed in its place. I start spinach seeds indoors over winter, plant in mid-April, and enjoy it late April into November. Grow a variety acclimated to your local weather and give it a little shade, as some will go to seed in the heat of summer.

8. Sweet Bell Peppers / Hot Peppers

dirty dozen pesticides sweet peppers

Click for the full size image of this spectacular garden harvest of sweet peppers, spicy peppers and tomatoes.

I love growing my own sweet peppers. I start them indoors from seed the first or second weeks of March and plant them in my garden around Memorial Day to avoid any late frosts which will terminate the plants abruptly. Sweet Peppers are one of those vegetables (fruit technically) that tastes sweeter and fuller when it’s fresh-picked and eaten immediately. Fresh just can’t compare to store-bought, much like tomatoes. Read my advice on growing sweet peppers.

9. Cucumbers

There’s nothing quite like cucumbers fresh off the vine. And there are so many varieties to grow which simply aren’t available in stores (but perhaps at farmer’s markets). And the good news is, these are also easy-peasy. When you plant cucumber seeds, be sure to water them daily until germination. They also like a trellis to climb on, which keeps the fruit out of the soil where it may rot or be eaten by insects. Cucumbers love sun, but the leaves are very susceptible to fungal infection, so water the roots of the plants only, and keep the leaves as dry as possible.

10. Cherry Tomatoes

Weeds. Cherry Tomatoes grow like weeds. If you fail at growing cherry tomatoes, then we’ll have to revoke your license to garden. I don’t think I’ve ever planted one seed that didn’t germinate, or didn’t find a gazillion new cherry tomato plants in my garden late each spring from tomatoes that were dropped the previous year. Plant the seed, water it, watch it grow, eat the tomatoes. Cherry toms also grow well in wide containers, as long as they have a trellis or other upright support to grow on. Check out my posts on growing tomatoes.

11. Snap Peas

Peas can be little finicky to grow. It’s a “snap” for some gardeners and difficult for others, as much depends on local weather conditions, how fast your winter turns to spring, and how quickly your soil warms and dries in spring. In my garden, it’s absolutely hopeless to start peas from seed in spring, as the soil is way too cold and wet.  Even planting seedlings is a challenge, as they just sit there waiting for the soil to warm. Unfortunately, the pea plant then comes into flower in June, and is quickly wiped out by the summer heat. Peas are cool weather crops and if you have soil which just won’t warm up enough to plant in March, it’s best to start peas indoors in February and plant seedlings as soon as the snow melts.  Or plant seeds late in the season for a fall harvest.

12. Potatoes

Potatoes are a very low maintenance crop, once you get the hang of it. Buy seed potatoes (basically cut potatoes, each of which has an “eye”), plant them the appropriate distance apart, and harvest in fall.  The really cool thing about potatoes is that you can start harvesting and eating them when they’re small. But they’re best after they put on a little mass, usually halfway through summer. After that point, you can harvest potatoes as you want them. Come fall, and before frost, you must harvest your potatoes, let them dry, and then store them properly to eat all winter. Read my post on growing potatoes in your garden.

13. Kale / Collard Greens

Kale and Collard Greens are simple leafy greens to grow. Just be sure to buy varieties which are suitable for your climate. Some varieties of kale will die out as soon as the weather turns a little chilly, and some will keep producing right up until it snows. Others will slow down in the summer heat. And all leafy greens benefit from a little afternoon shade.

So which of the fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list have you grown in your garden?

About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google
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2 Responses to EWG’s Dirty Dozen Fruits & Vegetables: How many can you grow in your garden?

  1. rebekah says:

    how do you freeze your celery in jars?

    • Todd Heft says:

      Rebekah:
      Celery is easy to freeze. Chop it up, blanch it for 1 minute, plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking, and jar it. I use small jars which hold about 1 cup.