Solarization was a success!

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Earlier this summer, we started solarizing our new garden expansion.  Basically, we plowed and tilled up the next section of hay field that’s going to be next year’s garden and laid a bunch of tarps over it. The tarps prevent weeds and hay from re-growing there all summer long. The basic idea is that all that summer sinshine heats up the ground under the tarps and fries all the grass and hay underneath.  It also prevents a buttload of cursing next summer when we’re trying to weed. So the tarps were all spread out and so we waited. And waited. And waited. But now it’s time to pull off the tarps and see if this whole solarization thing actually worked, then we’re fixin’ to get our fall garden on!

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Taking the tarps off the new expansion

I’m not gonna lie to you, pulling the tarps off was a pain in the ass! When we laid out the tarps this spring we weighted it down with dirt. It seems that the tarps and dirt have developed a symbiotic relationship since then. They have become like one. So when we were trying to take the dirt off the tarps there was a lot of tarp tearing and such. In hindsight, we probably should have taken the time to collect a bunch of rocks, or brought railroad ties or cedar posts down to the garden and weighted the tarps down with something heavy instead. Oh well.

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The new garden expansion, completely solarized! Minus the survivors. They MUST be destroyed! THERE CAN BE NO SURVIVORS HAHAHAHAHA!

Zach and Dave had been doing a little experiment with the tarp colors to see what color would solarize the soil better. Dave was on team black tarp, and Zack on team clear tarp. Dave felt black tarps would solarize better because the heat from the sun would be absorbed by the black color better. Zach said clear tarps would create a greenhouse effect and solarize better. Well, we had black, blue and clear tarps and it turned out that they both were right. Clear tarps would definitely work better, however the particular clear tarps we had were clear but also very white in color. Because of their white color, they also reflected a lot of light. And never got as hot as the black tarps. When we pulled the tarps off, everything under the few really clear tarps we did have was completely dead. Then the black tarps with a few stragglers, third was clear/white tarps and in last place, the blue tarps which actually still had a few asshole weeds hanging out underneath them. For the most part, it fried any sort of nasty weed that was even thinking about coming to the surface of the soil. All in all, solarization was about 85% successful. Not too shabby! We also found that the black tarps we could find were also thicker and held up better than the thinner white translucent tarps. Those things tore when you just looked at it funny. So if you can find a really, really thick clear plastic tarp, that might work the best. But when we were looking, the thinnest tarps were usually clear.

In case you’re wanting to do this yourself, we got the white/clear and black tarps from Home Depot/Lowe’s paint section. If you remember from our first solarizing post, we also used some old billboards that we got from Advanced Craftsmanship in Festus, MO. These actually worked pretty well, probably because they were so heavy. They worked better than the blue tarps, however, that puts them solidly in second to last place.

Mapping out the section for our fall garden
Mapping out the section for our fall garden

So with the solarization complete and the tarps pulled off, we were ready to get the fall garden ready. It’s crazy to think that in July we’re thinking about frost dates and cold weather crops but it’ll be here before you know it! So we sectioned off a part of the new garden expansion. We have a 25’x200′ section of fall garden to work with. That will give us five 3′ rows with walking paths in between. The rest of the expansion will get cover cropped with sorghum sudan grass.

Getting that sweet BFC compost dropped off
Getting that sweet BFC compost dropped off

A few months ago, this fall garden used to be a hay field so we’re gonna need to feed it lots of nutrients and organic matter. Enter BFC Compost in Perryville. We first used their compost in this year’s garden and we can really tell a difference in the quality of our plants. BFC is the only place in the area that’s licensed to do butcher’s waste compost. Meaning, they grind up bone meal and blood meal. Their facility is very impressive, even though it smells the way hell probably smells. Huge piles of roadkill, deceased cattle, deer carcasses and other dead animals. But hey! The plants love it. Death = life. Go figure.

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We rented a compost spreader from BFC as well. A lot better than shoveling and raking by hand! Probably saved us 58302010298473929048 man hours.

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We spread the compost about 2″ thick and then tilled it all back in.

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So with the garden ready to go, we made the beds for our fall garden and mulched the walking paths with straw. The rest of the expansion will get covered in sorghum sudan grass cover crop seed.

The new fall garden section! The T-posts trellises are for our sugar snap and snow peas
The new fall garden section! The T-posts trellises are for our sugar snap and snow peas

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Sudan grass is already starting to take off. We’ll keep ya’ll posted!


9 Responses

  1. July 31, 2013

    Oh man. You have me going with so many new ideas for weed control. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. February 26, 2014

    Nicely done. I’m so used to T-posts for fence, I didn’t even think of them for trellises.

  3. r. robinson
    February 26, 2014

    How did this affect the worm population? I’ve gotten compost from a local site and ended up with a horrible weed problem! So why did you not also solarize the compost? Is your source strictly carcass-based? No manure or stomach contents? Or do they cook it hot enough to kill all the weed seeds?

  4. suchandsuchfarm
    February 26, 2014

    We have an excellent worm population! We didn’t solarize compost because we like to add the compost after we already have the beds shaped, as to not waste the compost in walking path or have it leech out nutrients while it’s cooking under the tarp. The place we get the compost from is butcher’s waste and food waste, and man.. it is HOT compost! We haven’t had any problem with weed seeds as of yet. But then again, we also use weed cloth in most of our beds so it’s hard to say.

  5. Rainy Days Gardens
    February 26, 2014

    I think you are probably destroying some necessary organisms for healthy soil. Nothing works better than compost. Grass clippings, leaves, hardwood chips. helps keep weeds out and feeds soil.

  6. suchandsuchfarm
    February 26, 2014

    The reason why we did this was because we were converting a really dense hay field into a garden. After we solarized, we added compost, summer and winter cover crops as well as mulch. Each season we add nutrients into our soil by these methods. Solarization was the best way we knew at the time to kill all of the johnson grass rhizomes, underground tubers and hay seeds. The year that we didn’t solarize before adding compost, mulch, etc we were pulling up hay and these crazy tubers around all of our plants. They were a really bad problem and headache.

  7. suchandsuchfarm
    February 26, 2014

    Plus, it’s a better alternative than spraying Weed-B-Gone (or something) over everything.

  8. Sandra
    February 26, 2014

    I love the idea. I have a brand new, never been planted, tilled or touched plot to garden this summer and am not looking forward to the virgin earth! But, I see how to prepare next year’s sections while I’m tearing my hair out this year! Thanks so much!!
    And, black tarp it will be!

  9. June 22, 2014

    […] we want to, so we picked a spot that has room around it for an expansion or extension of rows. We solarized the area, then planted sorghum sudan grass as a cover crop. Then this spring we plowed and tilled and used […]

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