At the beginning of a garden season, you will have high hopes for your garden production.
Along the way, things like weeds, garden pests, and even some soil issues can crush those dreams. That’s why it is important that you solarize your garden beds to prepare them.
Solarizing garden beds is done by using plastic soil solarization film, and the power of the sun, heating the soil to a high enough temperature to eliminate those pests, weeds, and soil issues. It is also important to do this if you think you may have had cats using your beds as a litter box, as their fecal matter may contain contaminates that do not compost.
The idea behind solarizing is to raise the soil temp to 120° or more. This can be effectively done with clear plastic. Black plastic may also work, but the sunlight may not be able to penetrate as well. Clear, thinner plastic (1-2 mil.) is most often recommended. Let’s look at one of the simplest soil solarization methods.
To begin solarizing your garden beds, simply remove all the plants and debris.
If you are adding compost from the chicken coop, rabbit cages, or the compost pile, add it now. Solarizing will help eliminate unwanted weeds or seeds from growing in the compost. Gently water the soil until moist, but not soaking. The moist soil will hold the heat in better. Lay your plastic sheets over the beds and smooth as tightly as possible. Secure with rocks or bricks to keep the heat in the soil and allow the sun to do its work. You will see the plastic begin to heat up almost right away on a sunny day. Allow the plastic to remain 4-6 weeks for best results.
Solarizing the garden beds is best done in the hot summer months, but most of us cannot sacrifice garden space to do so in this season.
It can be effective if done in the Spring before planting, and in the Fall after the harvest. Solarizing in the Spring can also help you get a jump start on the season by warming up the soil for planting. After 4-6 weeks, remove the plastic and either plant your garden or mulch it for the winter.
The disadvantages of soil solarization are that it CAN kill off some beneficial bacteria. However, the benefit of removing the weeds and bad bacteria are going to outweigh this. You can add beneficial bacteria back into the soil by adding good compost later. Also, don’t forget to add worms if you can. Read more about growing worms here. That will help repopulate the soil with beneficial bacteria.