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Any info on Soil solarization

 
Derek Willson
Posts: 18
Location: Redfield, NY, zone 5, average snow fall 184", elevation +/- 1,072', tug hill
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Looking to add a few garden plots on our homestead. With no power equipment, just our backs we r trying to get an easy way to bust at the soil. Hoping that this process would clear it enough to get some green manure start to loosening the soil. And yes soon I will have the aid of pigs. But don't have them yet.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 1997
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Didn't work for me when I tried it in Northern Utah during the hottest part of the summer. I just ended up with a lot of really expensive shredded plastic by fall. The UV light degraded the plastic in a couple months.
 
Aljaz Plankl
Posts: 384
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What is the vegetation on future garden plots?
Mine was grass and compacted dead clay soil underneath.
I used clear plastic foil and windows to solarize the grass, that killed it in april in about one week, then i removed the plastic/windows and cover with fresh grass and compost.
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Derek Wilson : The secret for people living above the Mason Dixson line is Two layers of plastic The one new two the ground should be black and the one on top
of that should be clear plastic if possible !

Any thing to make an air gap, old clay pots with the bottom knocked out, larger food cans with both ends cut out empty plastic water bottles clear or translucent
1 gallon jugs !The ist heats up the soil and the second layer helps hold in the heat $ or 5 hot sunny days should kill all your grass then ether move the plastic to
a new site or pick it up and store it !

My neighbor just across the road had what is usually called Japanese or Chinese Bamboo, a hollow stemmed invasive that will propagate from very small root
fragments, he did the double layer killed the J.-C. Bamboo and then covered the area with black plastic covered with ornamental round stone this was over 10
years ago and his neighbors on two sides still have it while he doesn't Hope this is helpful and timely ! Big AL
 
Derek Willson
Posts: 18
Location: Redfield, NY, zone 5, average snow fall 184", elevation +/- 1,072', tug hill
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The future plots is an old field gone wrong with very low if any upkeep til we bought it in 2012. We are planning on 3 plots this year to clear up and start building up the soil starting with buckwheat in each then turn that under and in the fall plant winter rye & wheat with a harvest in the year to come. I really like that idea of the double layer plastic Allen, that makes a lot of sense to me.
 
Jessica Padgham
Posts: 95
Location: Denver, Co 6000ft bentonite clay soil
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I did it once when I lived in Pennsylvania and it worked pretty well. Some of the nutsedge around the edges survived but that was all.

I tried it again this summer here in Colorado and I got the same shredded plastic that Joseph did. I guess the UV intensity in this part of the country is just too much for plastic sheeting.

I may have to give the double layer a go here. Maybe I can get enough heat fast enough to kill the bindweed before the plastic degrades to uselessness.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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Just consider that along with cooking undesired seeds in the soil, you are also killing off a major portion of your soil organisms that you want to encourage. I am not sold on solarization as a beneficial approach.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Peter Ellis wrote:Just consider that along with cooking undesired seeds in the soil, you are also killing off a major portion of your soil organisms that you want to encourage. I am not sold on solarization as a beneficial approach.

I totally agree.
When you generate enough heat to kill the weeds/seeds, you have also created enough heat to kill almost every living thing in your soil. Soil without the microbial life is just plain dirt - not living soil.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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I inadvertently solarized one of my hugelbeds last summer during my efforts to warm the soil for planting sweet potatoes in the mountains of Colorado. It nuked the soil! After I removed the plastic after about a month, I got virtually zero germination for the rest of the summer. It was super bizarre. So the catastrophic results definitely validated my initial skepticism about soil solarization. I would not do it again, as my experiment made me feel like it absolutely killed the life in my soil. Of course, YMMV.

good luck!
 
Isaac Bickford
Posts: 101
Location: Okanogan County, WA
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Using scraps of UV-resistant 6 mil greenhouse plastic will reduce the plastic-shredding problem. They should last for 5-6 cycles of solarization. Regular hardware store plastic is not stabilized for UV, and will wear out quickly.

Regarding nuking the soil - I think the important thing is to get the scale right. A lot of the microorganisms in weedy patches are those that live nice with weeds. If your goal is to convert to a non weedy and beneficial plant mix, it will probably result in/necessitate a shift in the soil microbiotic community. Beneficial microorganisms will recolonize quickly if you get the plant community in there quickly, and if your patches aren't too large. I would stay away from anything larger than the canopy width of dominant trees/shrubs in your area.

The best process I have seen is to:
1. Till the top few inches of soil in the spring. This will stimulate weed seed germination. Note that this is a one-time tillage operation. I'm not advocating annual tillage. If you are going to plant in beds, shape them now. Otherwise smooth the soil surface and remove large and/or pokey residue.
2. Immediately afterward, wet the soil to about 12 inches deep. The extra water in the soil will aid in transferring heat downward in the soil profile.
3. Cover with UV stabilized plastic. Make sure the plastic is as close to the soil surface as possible. Bury all four edges so that wind doesn't cause you problems. Leave for 4-8 weeks depending on the climate.
4. Remove in early fall and immediately sow a diverse mix of fall germinating plants. This could be a mix of annuals and perennials if you're doing a permanent planting, or just annual cover crops for a garden. Do your best to minimize soil disturbance here - you don't want to bring any viable weed seed to the surface to germinate. The goal here is to occupy all the growing space for the fall and winter to prevent recolonization of weeds.
5. Maintain the planting by hand weeding.

A good free webinar with information on using solarization to establish pollinator/beneficial insect habitat. The close up photos of amazing insects is worth it alone to watch this:
http://www.conservationwebinars.net/webinars/conservation-biological-control-habitat-management-to-control-pests
 
Rick English
pollinator
Posts: 254
Location: Central Pennsylvania, USA
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I have done solarization on lawns a few times to start wildflower meadows. It works great for that. They way I did it does not loosen the soil. I mowed the grass as low as I could to weaken the grass, and then covered with clear plastic and covered the edges with scrap lumber, rocks, bricks, etc. It is important to do it during the warmest, sunniest time of year. In Pennsylvania, that is July & August. As soon as you pull up the plastic, spread your wildflower seed. The grass is dead, and most of the weed seed does not germinate.

I have tried a few types of plastic, and even the cheapest stuff you can find will work, but timing is really important. Your really want to solarize during the 2-3 warmest/sunniest months of the year, and then pull the plastic and sow seed right away before new weed seed blows in. The cheapest/thinnest plastic I tried did last the 3-ish months before shredding. "Sunny" in Pennsylvania in July/August is rather hazy, so a drier/hotter location might kill the plastic faster.

Regarding nuking the soil... Call me an optimist, but I hope that some of the creepy crawlies escape to soil that is less warm. The ones that don't end up as fertilizer. If figure it does not take long for for the life in the surrounding soil to start moving back into the solarized areas as soon as the temperature cools off. The good thing with this technique is that it does not destroy the structure of the soil, so I hope the soil can recover more quickly. In any event, the soil is not too "dead" for wildflowers to thrive.

I solarized my lawn to reduce the amount of lawn work and to bring in beneficial insects, birds, etc. The flowers were a nice benefit too. The first time I did this was in a very suburban neighborhood. Every last neighbor thought I was crazy during the process, but every single one then admitted how cool it was to have months of flowers instead of a sea of green grass. My yard became the neighborhood public garden. I am really happy with the results and love my wildflower meadows, so I will likely continue to do this until most of my mowable lawn is replaced.

Solarization for a wildflower meadow works well, because wildflowers do not need rich soil. They actually prefer the soil that the grass has destroyed. My hope is that the meadow is helping build the soil with very little input, and then all the beneficial critters the meadow brings in will help my other permaculture efforts. The wife also likes the flowers. Did I mention no mowing?

Back to your original question... I don't think solarization would be a great technique for a garden bed location. Solarization does not improve the soil, it just kills the existing vegetation and weed seed. Maybe you could follow up the solarization with some type of cover crop to improve the soil, but then you need to do something to the cover crop to get those nutrients back in the soil. That means a few seasons until the the soil is really ready to grow anything.

If you want to start garden beds, seems like deep mulch or hugelculture might be better approaches.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 666
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I have done large areas of my land. I use pieces of rubber roofing that are torn off commercial building roofs. You can get very large sheets for free and they will last at least 30 years. You are also keeping them from going to the landfill. I spread it out over the land I want cleared, put a few rocks on the edges to hold it down and leave it for a month or two, longer if I get busy. By that time, all the vegetation is dead and the ants, voles, moles, etc have softened the hard clay soil to a degree that has to be seen to be believed. As soon as I pull the cover off, I plant some kind of crop to bring the soil to life and get organic matter in there, usually tillage radishes. I put the seed down and cover with a layer of wood chips to keep the moisture in and keep the ground from hardening up again. Every time I have moved one of these sheets of rubber in preparation for planting, I have found numerous baby snakes and the occasional adult. I can't think of any other way I would use to clear land at this point. I also think it is far less damaging than tilling.
 
allen lumley
pollinator
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Todd Parr : With the general flow of comments running negative to soil Solarization, your comment goes against the trend ! Your comment is one we need to hear !

In the Vernacular " There is more than ONE way to skin a cat !!!""

For the good of the CRAFT ! Big Al
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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- We are told regularly that every time we cut bacon the aboveground part of the plant that a commensurate part of the ''Root-ball'' dies back too !

This will actually increase the number of organisms within the 1st few inches of the soil, If temperatures are ether temporarily too high or too low -

a period of time must pass in the flow of the seasons, - this does not mean that the soil is dead, marly that it is Quite ! Big AL
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Todd, I like the method you use, the rubber sheeting works far better than solarizing the soil.
When you lay down those rubber sheets you deprive the seeds and plants of sunlight, seeds don't germinate and plants die off.
The soil may heat up but there is a lack of UVA and UVB getting to the soil (the actual culprits used in solarizing soil).

I much prefer to block the sun out and heat the soil, not cook it.
Black rubber sheeting, cardboard layers, old tin roofing are just some of the items that will work for this.
If I have an area covered in grasses I tend to remove the sod so it can be used in pastures or turned over so the roots are up, then I can plant the deep root remediation plants to loosen the soil below.
I also water the area if I have turned the sod, that helps get the living microorganisms back down where they like to live.

 
Zach Muller
gardener
Posts: 777
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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When i tried this I used a tarp, and had the specific purpose of killing grass. All i did was cut the grass and cover. After a number of weeks the grass was so weak that i could use my hand to scrape all the clumps loose. I planted inoculated clover seeds in their place and they took off without a hitch. I dont see why this couldnt have become a productive veggie plot. With a tarp though maybe i was blocking all the sun light and just warming the soil. Worked like a charm anyway though, i wouldnt hesitate to try it again if needed.
 
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