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Solarization Revelation

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Solarization Revelation

Published: 04/18/2011 by Janet

» Gardening in Zone 10b: (Almost) Tropical Paradise

To solarize or not to solarize, that is the question. 




There are two different schools of thought about summer gardening in South Florida.  One theory is to grow whatever will tolerate the summer climate.  The opposing thought is to grow nothing, and treat your growing beds by a process called “solarization”.


Some of my gardening friends would rather be strung up by their gardening gloves than be idle for any amount of time.   There are vegetable that will produce during the Florida summer, such as collard greens, okra, black eyed-peas, sweet potatoes, yard long beans, watermelon and eggplants.  You know, “Southern food”. 


Personally, I never met a vegetable I didn’t like, but what happens when you don’t really care for those kinds of vegetables?  That is the story with my family.  And I am not going to grow stuff just to grow it.


Why Solarize?   Because it’s a win-win.


What I plan to do this year is to solarize my vegetable beds, so they are ready for fall planting.  Solarizing is a process where you moisten your beds and then cover them over with clear plastic sheeting.  In the South Florida summer, temperatures under the sheeting can raise to 140F degrees, and 100F degrees to a depth of 18 inches, effectively steaming to death all weeds, weed seeds, and soil-born plant pathogens such as fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and pests like cut worms.  The process leaves you with practically virgin soil.  Soil that has been solarized allows plants to draw on the nutrients in the soil, especially nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium more readily. Seeds germinate more quickly.  Plants grow faster and stronger, often maturing earlier with substantially higher yields than in unsolarized soil. Whatever had been growing in it has been destroyed or driven off so your garden vegetables or plants have a significant amount of time to establish themselves without competition from insects or weeds in their garden plot.  The beauty of living in zone 10b is that we really don’t miss much growing time.  If a northerner wanted to solarize, it must be done over the summer when temperatures are high, and they miss part of their growing season.  In zone 10b, we can solarize in the summer, and grow in the fall, winter and spring.  Also, solarizing in the summer solves the problem of weeding in the oppressive summer heat.  Seems like a win-win to me. 


How to Solarize


Solarization works best in June, July and August.   Plan to have your beds covered for a minimum of 6 weeks.  The longer you leave your beds covered, the better.  Till your soil and level it.  Now dig a trench about a foot deep and a foot wide around the area to be covered.  Thoroughly moisten the area (you might want to use a sprinkler for this and really give it a good long watering).  Cover the area with CLEAR construction plastic sheeting, 1 to 4 ml thick, including the trench.  Then backfill the trench with the excavated soil, burying the edges of the plastic, and making the plastic as smooth as possible.  Don’t use black plastic, or thicker plastic as they won’t absorb the heat like thinner clear plastic does.   Now sit back and let the sun do all the work.  Remove the plastic right before planting time.  You can reserve the plastic for next summer.   At planting time, you will have perfect beds to start off your veggies, free of bugs, pests and weeds.


This summer, I plan to lie around my pool, slushy-drink in hand, absorbing some sun while my vegetable beds do the same.  In the fall, when it cools down a little, we will both be ready for planting time.