Gardening During Fire Season

Navigating Fire Season in the Bay

Learn about fire season, how it can impact your garden, and best practices for growing healthy, safe plants.

Wildfire Season in Context

Fire season typically runs from June through November. California receives most of its rainfall in the fall and winter. Vegetation dries out in the summer due to the increase in temperature and lack of moisture. This, in addition to record-breaking heat and drier summers; as well as freak nature incidents–like lightning strikes to set off a spark or more times than not, human error–such as uncontrollable campfires– cause severe wildfires that spread across terrains damaging land, air quality and food production Thus, increasing the scale of wildfires and length of fire season [1].

Wildfires and the handling of them are not a new phenomenon, Indigenous people have been practicing controlled, deliberate burns in North America, and around the world, for millennia. For example, the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Tribes of Northern California use human-managed fires across their traditional lands to promote the growth of traditional food sources.

Between lightning strikes and Indigenous burns, most landscapes in North America were shaped by fire, and many landscapes need it. For most of the 20th century however, U.S. federal fire policy was guided by a strategy of fire suppression, designed to protect watersheds, communities and commercial timber supplies. Recently, there has been increased recognition for how past policies of fire suppression destabilized U.S. landscapes and Indigenous cultures, and an understanding that controlled burns are one of the best methods to limit catastrophic wildfires. The dominant fire agencies and regulatory frameworks today still pose significant hurdles to the setting of cultural fire [3].

Learn More about Elizabeth Azzuz of the Cultural Fire Management Council as she opens a fire-training exchange, or TREX, on Yurok lands in 2019. © Kiliii Yuyan

How Wildfires Impact Food Growing


Ash from wildfires can float and land on plants from your garden. The plants can absorb toxins that fire releases into the air as well. Woody plant crops (fruits & berries) are more likely to be contaminated topically by soil dust landing on top of plant. Non-woody plant crops (annuals/greens and roots) can be contaminated both externally (topical) or internal (root uptake) [2].


Post fire soil contaminants can inhibit plant growth and soil health. Contaminants can persist in soils long term and can be present without farmers and gardeners knowing, causing negative implications for family and farm health. When ash contaminates urban farms and areas, the potential for smoke deposited ash with heavy metals are greater [2].


Not only can your soil and food be impacted by wildfires, but your farm animals can as well. Chickens, for example, pick, scratch and eat off the ground, which can negatively impact their health, eggs and anything else you may use your chickens for (i.e. compost) [2].

Tools & Tips for Food Growing After Fires


  •  Wash!
    • Before consuming produce wash your hands and wash your produce (white vinegar can be used to lift off contaminants from leafy greens)
    • Wash your hands before and after harvesting
  • Cover!
    • Covering crops with Reemay, floating row cover, or another light weight cloth can reduce the amount of ash the plant and soil absorbs. Make sure the cloth is light weight and not black, as you want your plants to get enough air circulation and stay cool
  • Wear Protective Gear
    • Wear gloves & boots while gardening
    • Wear a fitted P100 or N95 mask while outside


Best Practices for Covering Crops


  • Build raised beds & import clean soil
    • Contain and protect soil with mulch
  • Import and use clean compost
    • Amend soil with high phosphate compost or clean soil
  • Promote good drainage
    • Use drip irrigation to reduce up-splash
  • Test your soil
    • Scientists and food growers suggest you utilize a map of your landscape to test multiple areas in your garden. Some places in your garden can be more susceptible to contamination than others due to wind, location and proximity to larger fixtures.
    • The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources has a list of labs that test soil, that they recommend; however gardeners can also purchase test kits at their local gardening/hardware stores.



  • Test!
    • Test the water you use to feed your chickens 
    • Send California Animal Health Lab your eggs to be tested, tests runs about $60, and/or send your chickens ($25)
  • Keep food confined and off the ground
  • Keep chickens confined to particular areas
  • Create a raised bed for your chickens


Learn More about Poultry and Wildfire

General Health Tips During Fire Season

Frontfline communities– those impacted, first and worst by climate change–are the communities City Slicker Farms work with and are the majority population in our garden program. Therefore, we urge folks that have different abilities & disabilities, communities of color, children, elders, people who work outside, unhoused people and people living alone to stay indoors during fire season if they can can. Smoke can irritate eyes & airways, worsen common respiratory conditions, and more.

Track Fires, Smoke and Air Quality with Air Now

If you do need to go outside, take precaution by wearing fitted P100 or N95 masks. We also suggest looking into Hepa Air Purifiers and Merv 13 Air Purifiers for your indoor spaces.


With that being said, small-scale gardening and farming is a good way to take ownership of your health, since we don’t know how big agriculture distributors are protecting their crops and soil during wildfires. It’s easier for individuals and families to protect their gardens, than for farmers to protect many acres of land under the pressures of making a profit. Whatever decision you make, please take the necessary precautions to put your health and well-being first. [7]

Herbs for Respiratory Health

Broadleaf Plantain

No it’s not the banana like fruit but a plant. It’s used in Europe and North America to create an immune system and have strong lungs and a healthy respiratory system.[5]


Peppermint helps prevent foreign bodies and allergens from causing inflammation in the respiratory tract, which is useful by keeping airways open [6].

Osha Root

The root of this herb is used to cure coughs and colds as well as other lung related conditions [6]. 

Helpful Resources

Click the image, to learn more!


[1] Pierre-louis, Kendra, and John Schwartz. “Why Does California Have So Many Wildfires?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Aug. 2020,

[2] UCCESonoma. “Post Fire 🔥 Soil Webinar.” YouTube, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, 22 Oct. 2020,

[3] Buono, Page. “Quiet Fire.” The Nature Conservancy, 2 Nov. 2020,

[4]  “Food Safety after Urban Wildfire.” Food Safety after Urban Wildfire – UCCE Sonoma County,

[5] 6, Gaia Herbs  •  January. “11 Best Herbs to Support Lung and Respiratory Health.” Gaia Herbs,

[6] “6 Best Herbs to Protect Your Respiratory System.” Holistic Allergy Treatment Center in the Midwest, 1 Nov. 2019,
[7] Mok, Hoi-Fei. “Heat Waves, Wildfire Smoke, and Power Outages: Community Organizations Train-the-Trainer Workshop from the City of San Leandro Sustainability Office.” Facebook, 29 June 2021,


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