How To Solarize Soil

Now that its summertime and the family and I are consumed with thoughts of frolicking through rolling waves and sparkling pool water, my garden is at rest. July in Central Florida is simply too hot to grow most fruits and vegetables so we gardeners go dormant. Not completely, mind you. Peanuts and peppers thrive in the heat, but most beds have been closed.

But closed doesn’t mean “off-duty.” Quite the opposite. As any savvy gardener knows, work WITH Mother Nature and you will reap plentiful rewards! What are we doing this July?

heavy duty black paper

We’re solarizing our garden. Using heavy black paper, we cover our empty beds and allow the sun to do the work. What work?

Ridding our soil of microscopic varmints. Nematodes, to be precise. The kind that devour plants from beneath the surface. They’re a horrible nuisance in the garden. Absolutely horrible.

However, not one to despair, I vow to rid my garden of every last beast if it’s the last thing I do. I’ve got a fall garden to think about and I WON’T be put off.

So I’m solarizing my garden. I’m covering every last row with heavy black paper and using the power of the Florida sun to cook the beasts out of hiding.  If they want to survive, anyway, they’ll have to “abandon garden” and flee for safer—cooler—soil.  Solarize is the technical term. Basically it means to cover your beds with plastic paper–I’m going with hot black–and leave it in place for six weeks.  The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist.  Simple, eh?

effective paper weights

I do love simple. Key to remember in this process is to secure the paper. Florida summer means heat but it also means afternoon thunderstorms. Winds pick up and if you haven’t secured your paper in place, Mother Nature will whip it up and away and into shreds. She’ll toss it everywhere but where it was supposed to be. Remember: work WITH Mother Nature, understand her ways, and you can succeed. I used heavy white tile, miscellaneous rebar—whatever is heavy enough to keep the peace (read: the paper in place).

mound of dirt beneath paper

Occasionally one must be wary of other underground pests such as moles. Those babies can move a lot dirt and re-shape your paper. Be vigilant. You will prevail.

Come fall, everyone will be happy. Mother Nature will have cooled off, the varmints will have cleaned out, and my soil will be ready for seeds. Wunderbar!

Hot In YOUR Garden?

Great! It’s the perfect time to solarize your soil. By using nature’s heat, you can “bake” the gremlins out of your soil and prepare for the next planting season. Here in Florida, that means fall. (Yes, we’re lucky that way, reaping twice the gardening pleasure and sunshine.)

Solarizing is simple. Basically, you cover your beds with plastic paper (I’m going with heavy-duty black) and leave it in place for six weeks.  The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist.  Simple, eh?

heavy duty black paper

I do love simple.  And organic. No pesticides here! What I don’t love is doing things over and over which is what I’ve had to do in the past. Every afternoon, round about 4:00pm, the clouds would gather, the temps would fall and the winds would blow sending my paper across the yard, twirled and tangled…even hopped my neighbor’s fence once!

effective paper weights

The paper went everywhere but where it was supposed to be, so I decided to go heavy-duty and lined my rows with tiles and rebar and various other items I picked up around the garage. (Thanks, honey!) It’s not as pretty as anchoring the paper with pins, but summer winds are strong and tend to tear those puppies out. At this point in my gardening career, I’d rather have effective than pretty.  Once my beasts have been baked out of the garden, I’ll be back in business.  🙂

Inspectors in the Garden

Well, you knew it would happen.  Yes, our plants have come under attack.  By what, you ask?

Not sure.  But these kids are on the hunt.  Folded within the leaves of the beans are bugs, the kind with numerous legs and countless more eggs.  As you can see, once fully grown, these little fellas can do some damage!


Hornworms and Tomato Curls — We Have Issues!

BIG issues.  Look at this fellow, chomping away on my tomato plant.  Pig.  He’s the sixth one in two weeks!  Not only does he favor tomatoes, but he’s partial to peppers, too. 

Then I strolled by the black bean plants and spotted this little beast.  Can this kid eat, or what?

Of course there are the usual flies in an assortment of colors.  This one is blue, but they come in gold and green.  Lovely if they weren’t hurting my plants.  I’d show you the crickets hopping through my beds, but they’re a tad more agile than caterpillars and worms and hard to photograph.  Hmph.

Oh.  And don’t forget the aphids.  Pests.  On a brighter note, I did harvest my first two squash today — this one included.

My sweet peppers were happier on the patio.  Screens do a lot to keep the bugs away.  This transplant went into the ground green and healthy and now look at him.  Poor thing.

What’s a gardener to do?  I’ve sprayed with insecticidal soap.  I keep them watered, fed and healthy.   For the most part

Vigilance.  That’s the answer.  I make bug watch walks twice daily now, just to be sure.  And if the bugs weren’t enough, I have leaf curl. 

My tomato plants are curling at the leaves and I don’t know if it’s due to a virus or the climate.  Could be either, but hopefully not both.  That would be bad.  Very, very bad.

But I won’t despair.  The “middle” of any growth cycle is always trying.  Do you know what happens to your body during middle age?  It isn’t pretty.  It’s difficult.  Everything becomes harder; harder to lose weight, harder to retain muscle, harder to see, harder to hear…  

Not to mention sagging middles in your novel!  (That’s writer talk.)  The period between sprouts and harvest is no different.  It takes work.  Maintenance.  Weeding, feeding, watching and waiting, but then comes harvest.  One of my favorite times in the garden!

For now, I work, I watch, I prune, I pick (worms right off my leaves) until the time comes when I can pluck, and pull — and EAT! 

Yes.  Harvest is a great time in the garden, but it won’t happen if I don’t work through the middle.  Neither will my golden anniversary.  Or my golden years, my gold-rimmed glasses…

Golden, like this squash.  Okay, it’s yellow but you get the point.  Life is golden, no matter how you slice it.  Beats the alternative, anyway.