I love to garden. I love growing my own fruits and veggies, knowing where my food comes from, what chemicals have, or moreover, have NOT been used on the food we eat. But it doesn’t come without its challenges! Pests, weeds and diseases can show up no matter how much time and care goes into it. I’ve used companion planting, trap cropping, physical removal of weeds and pests, chickens and guineas for bug control, crop rotation, etc etc all in an effort to reduce or control pests and disease.
I have some success but also some epic failures! Last year, the squash bugs decimated my zucchini, this year, the leaf footed bugs have completely ruined my artichokes and peaches and did a number on my tomato crop too.
Yes, I am an admitted lazy gardener but this year’s wonderful Spring rains, which took a big load off of the watering chores, allowed the nutsedge and dayflower to take hold in abundance! So, I’m ready to take my Gardens UNDER THE PLASTIC.
No, I’m not talking about a greenhouse or hoop rows. I’m talking about SOIL SOLARIZATION. This will involve using a very passive but effective method of using the suns rays and corresponding heat to kill off weed seeds, insects, soil-borne diseases and other harmful soil organisms to give the plantings a boost.
Over the next few months, I will update on the process as I tackle this daunting task. See, we have not one or two beds that need this process but over 8 raised beds, ranging from 8′ x 10′ to 8′ x 40′. Not much I can do about the peach tree but hopefully reducing the pests in the nearby beds will also reduce those that affect the peach crop!
The process sounds fairly simple, though it does involve some preparation. Here is the full process outlined by AgriLife Extension.
To solarize your garden or flower bed, first prepare the soil. Eliminate all weeds and old garden plants. Next, rototill the soil as deeply as possible to produce a uniform soil texture. If your soil is too dry to easily work, irrigate, wait a few days and then rototill.
For solarization to work, the soil needs to be moist and damp to allow sun’s heat to penetrate the ground as deeply as possible. So, give the garden a good soaking before covering it with plastic. An ideal garden setup incorporates drip irrigation under the plastic to maintain soil moisture during solarization and later for watering your garden crops. The plastic used to cover the area should be clear, not black. Clear plastic lets light energy pass through and then traps it, much like a greenhouse. Black plastic absorbs most of the sun’s heat without letting it pass through to the soil below. 1-to-6 mil plastic will work fine – the thicker the better. Pull the plastic tight and cover the edges with soil to help keep the soil moist and to prevent strong gusts of wind from blowing it away.
Leave the plastic in place for at least a month and the longer you leave it on the better the results. Two to three months would be ideal, but good short term weed control can be gained in a month. The soil in the top several inches should heat almost to 150 degrees F. which is hot enough to pasteurize the soil and kill many of the harmful organisms. Apparently beneficial soil organisms bounce back quickly and are not greatly harmed by the treatment.
So I have my work cut out for me! We will likely tackle just a few beds in the next few weeks and leave them covered until well into the fall. My biggest issue will be securing the plastic in place as most of our raised beds are constructed of uneven rock borders. So laying 2x4s or rocks on top of the plastic won’t be enough to hold the plastic in place without gaps.