Summer’s here: It’s time to solarize your garden beds
Since we moved to our new forever homestead in Fayetteville NC, we’ve been inching to get planting.
The property, however, wasn’t entirely ready to cooperate.
The land is wild and woolly to begin with, and since we didn’t actually move until March 1, it was a bit late to get much of anything in the ground.
Despite having an excellent start on the potager garden in the front yard, the heat means that it isn’t producing much (here in the South, it’s not unusual to get above that 85 degree cutoff well before Summer officially hits).
We also got a pretty good start on clearing out about 800 square feet of planting space in the back yard — thanks to our partners who put together a crop mob at Farm-A-Yard — but most of the leftover soil is sand, so we decided to wait on planting in it.
So, I spent the better part of last week clearing as much of the property as possible — for my banging birthday bash — but a lot of weeds and grasses are still growing back there.
So, what do you do with a piece of property you aren’t planting, when it’s too hot to plant and when the only thing determined to grow is the weeds?
Solarizing a garden bed entails taking a piece of clear plastic (the heavier the better — I prefer at least 3.5 mils) and covering the ground with it in order to combat weeds and pests.
The radiation from the sun — and the heat and light — are trapped under the plastic cooking weeds, weed seeds, pathogens, insects and their little eggs, too (insert cackle here)
It has to be done when the weather is right — the hotter the better — and you have to be careful to seal the edges of the plastic.
You can dig a trench around the bed, tuck the plastic into the trench and then cover it up. I prefer to shovel handfuls of earth onto the edges of the plastic and then cover the edges with mulch. This gives it a bit more coverage around the edges, looks better and prevents weeds from coming up on the edges of the bed.
If the edges aren’t sealed, the moisture and the heat will escape and can actually encourage weed growth.
After about three-four weeks (or more, the University of Florida suggests six weeks) of good, hot weather, the soil is cooked up to 6 inches into the ground.
Don’t worry about earthworms. Research shows they’ll actually burrow deeper into the soil to escape the heat, returning when the heat’s off.
You may be concerned, however, with the fate of beneficial microbes in the soil.
Research from the Rodale Institute states the process will kill beneficial microbes. They suggest using compost, compost tea, manure and other amendments to the soil as soon as you’re finished solarizing it.
Others argue over what type of plastic to use when solarizing your beds: Some people use black pastic, others use a thinner clear plastic and report higher temperatures.
Again, Rodale states farmers/gardeners get higher temperatures with clear plastic, while the University of Florida states the thickness of the plastic is only important regarding it’s ability to withstand your climate.
The only other drawback is the plastic itself. It’s made of relatively icky stuff, so you’ll have to determine your own comfort level regarding it. Just be sure to recycle it when you’re done.