Friday, February 22, 2008

The Benefits of Cooking Your Soil...Yes, Cook It!


As many of you know I'm addicted to raised garden beds. Although, now that I know the difference I'm determined to call my beds by their proper name: framed beds. (Thank You, P. Allen Smith) Because I love framed garden beds so much I tend to have a lot of soil trucked in. I'd love to say that I buy only the finest in garden soil, rich in nutrients and completely bug free... BUT it just isn't so. I am the ultimate garden scavenger. I've gotten topsoil from construction sites, the town DPW at ditching time, anywhere that has free soil. Which means I spend a lot of time removing unwanted "stuff" from my garden soil. Although, it is time consuming to remove bottle caps, stones, etc. it's always the other stuff in the soil that worries me.
I don't know where this soil has been, and I don't know what's living in it. EEWWW! Which means that pest removal is my biggest priority. If I told you that there is a easy and fool~proof way of eliminating practically every harmful insect egg/larva in your garden would you do it? What if I told you that by doing this you also provide other garden benefits? What if I told you that it is LOW to NO cost?
I bet that you're pretty interested! The process itself is called Soil Solarization. It's a fancy term meaning to use the sun to cook your soil to a temperature of 140 degrees at the top of the soil to over 100 degrees as far as 18" deep!
  1. Prepare the soil: You know the drill. Clear debris/weeds, Add amendments, Rake to remove any trapped "air pockets".

  2. Water thoroughly. This creates 100% humidity. Without the humidity it's like trying to steam your veggies without any water...it just doesn't work.

  3. If your working with a ground level bed then dig a trench about 6-8 inches deep around your garden. If your working with a raised/framed bed usually you have about that much soil above ground so you can skip this part.

  4. Cover with clear plastic (6 to 8 mm) overlapping the trench/framed sides. Fill in the trench with soil weighing down the plastic while pulling it as tight as possible. In a raised/ framed bed you can also use soil/rock to weigh down the plastic or you can staple it to your frames. Remember the key to success is a air tight covering.

  5. Patience....Patience! 4-6 weeks of sunshine and you have healthy soil. No matter where it came from.

This process is cheap and easy. Although if you have a patience problem like I do...Good luck. Soil Solarization has many benefits. According to one of my long time favorite books: Storey's Basic Country Skills "It kills insects, nematodes, harmful fungi, weeds seeds, and eliminates plant diseases. At the same time helpful microorganisims within the soil apparently benefit, possibly from lack of competition. Soil that has been solarized allows plants to draw on nutrients, especially nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium more readily. Seeds germinate more quickly. Plants grow faster and stronger, often maturing earlier with substantially higher yeilds, than in unsolarized soil." All I know is that I can't ever remember having any of my gardens infested with anything. I generally never have to worry about bugs or disease. So does it work? I'll let you try it and judge it for yourself.

I love this book. Like I said it's one of my all time favorites. But if you don't own an old beat up copy like I do...Try The Green Man (warning it's a PDF) for some good soil solarization info.

13 comments:

Apple said...

I'll have to start looking for a pickup truck - ditch cleaning season will be here before we know it! I get compost from the transfer station but I never thought to talk to the DPW guys - they might even drop a load in the driveway. This was a great article and I'll give it a try on my new bed this year.

Dave said...

Good post! It's an excellent way to kill off those weed seeds that may have blown in.

Frances said...

Great, informative post. I have never tried it and it is too late for this year, maybe in the fall. It is the weed seeds we would like to be rid of, so this may be the answer. Thanks.

Frances at Faire Garden

Nancy J. Bond said...

Excellent article...clearly written! I'll save this one.

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

What a wonderful post. I've done solarization before. It does work. You and I have a lot of things in common. I also loved "framed" beds, and I get soil from everywhere. My husband is a paving contractor. Thanks for faving my blog on Blotanical.~~Dee

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Great idea!

Anna--Flowergardengirl said...

Thank you so much. This is perfect timing for me. I had never heard of cooking the soil but it makes perfect sense. Wonderful info!

kate said...

My parents are big proponents of cooking soil ... during the hot summer months, it's incredible to sneak a peek and feel the heat coming off the soil.

historiana said...

Yes, this is great for any patch you plan to begin...kill the grass roots before tilling. For some reason we had more black plastic on the farm than clear, so for us, using black plastic cut down the wait time a bit.

robbinscabin said...

WOW! Thanks everyone for your great comments. I've never had a post get this much attention before. I'm glad my musings were helpful to some of you. And I've found even more great blogs to go visit! Thanks again.

Meems said...

Even though I am just now getting started with some raised bed planters for my first ever veggies I do have a friend who has practiced this method for many years and swears by it. This was a great post - so clearly written with step by step --which is what I am looking for right now - anything that pertains to help with raised beds errr... framed beds. Thanks. Meems @ hoeandshovel

Kylee said...

Oh my goodness, this is great stuff! Thank you!

Bamboo said...

Would this also kill the parasites that might be in the soil due to dogs using that part of the yard?

Thanks,
Beth