Did you find yourself picking more weeds out of your spring garden than zucchini or cucumbers? Were your hopes of daily visits to your garden to retrieve a fresh spring bounty dashed when you were greeted instead with diseased plants? Although we were offered an abundance of rain this spring, we were definitely short on the bright sunny days our vegetables crave and need. Some of us found it difficult to control certain creepy crawlies in our gardens because it felt like we would spray our insecticides and the rain would wash it right off the very next second. The rainy, cloudy, and humid days also provided the right breeding conditions for soil-borne fungus, and many weeds to thrive and spread; especially if your soil wasn’t prepped adequately before you planted your spring crop. The good news is that fall planting will be starting before you know it. The bad news is that if you don’t take care of your soil problems now, you will have the same types of issues with your fall veggies. But wait, the good news is also that you can take some fairly easy steps to help reduce harmful soil organisms like weeds, insects, and those soil-borne diseases. How can we do this? Enter the sun, stage left.
( A great free source of energy is shining right above our heads.)
People view the summer sun in many different ways. Some see the sun as a provider of energy to our plants and some see it as a blowtorch frying them to a crisp. Some enjoy the warm glow it can give our bodies, while some recoil in fear at the thought of it turning their skin beet-red. While some people love to be out frolicking in the sun every chance they can get, other people are zapped of energy and prefer to wait it out with the air conditioner inside. The one thing we all agree on is that the sun is a source of great power, and today I’d like to explore a way of harnessing that power to help prep our soils for our fall veggie gardens.
(A great harvest starts with great soil.)
It’s called soil solarization. And it’s a method where you use the sun’s power and heat to basically “cook” the undesirables out of your garden soil. Studies have shown that gardens which have been solarized also yield more produce than those that haven’t. This process needs to be completed in summer when the sun’s rays are the strongest. You’ll just need to do a little prep to your current garden plot, and then sit back in your lounge chair, or in your recliner in the AC, and let the sun go at it. Go out to your garden and pull up those withered summer squash vines, or leaf blight infested tomato plants. Even if your plants aren’t all that ugly looking right now, remember that now that we are in those 90+ temperature days your spring veggies will stop producing. So if you are planning a fall garden, go ahead and dispose of your old plants. Pluck out all the weeds that you can by hand as well. Get up a little earlier one morning to till your garden in the cooler hours. At this point you might want to add some active soil microbes to your soil mix with a product like Happy Frog’s Jump Start 3-4-3 Fertilizer or Espoma’s Biotone Soil Activator, because active soil microbes benefit from solarization too. You’ll want to really get down and dirty, and by this I mean you want to get down as deep as you can and mix up your soil nice and evenly so you have a very consistent texture. After you’ve achieved the right texture, you’ll want to water your garden plot. Really give it a good soak because in order for the process of solarization to work, the soil needs to be moist.
(Mix a little of this in your soil before you cover it to get even more benefits form solarization.)
Now that you’ve got the soil prepped, you’ll want to cover the entire garden with a clear sheet of plastic. The thicker the plastic, the better it works. And it must be clear because clear plastic allows the sun’s energy and heat to pass through, and then it traps it in the soil. Think of it like that old experiment where you used a magnifying glass to burn holes through a piece of paper or unsuspecting ant (What, you never did that?), but without the pyrotechnics or sociopathic tendencies. Black plastic won’t work because it absorbs the heat before it can get to the soil where you need it. Secure the clear plastic tightly on all edges of the garden. The goal is to “seal” in the heat and energy from the sun, as well as the moisture from when you soaked your garden.
(A thick, clear plastice works best. Opt for 1-6 mil plastic.)
Now you can go make your glass of lemonade and sit back for at least a month, two is better, while the sun’s rays work like a spaceship in a video game, zapping weeds, soil-borne disease, and insects. Use this down time to plan out your fall garden, and get excited about the prospect of giving your veggies a healthy start with your new solarized soil! Even if you struggled this spring, you may find that by trying this technique, your fall planting could yield you completely different results. In the words of my favorite band, The Beatles, “Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say, It’s all right.”
The Happy Gardener