solarizing and cover cropping new beds

sorry for the delay in posting, but this will be the new normal.  as i type this a three week old is in one arm, greatly reducing my typing speed.  having a newborn has certainly refocused me, and changed how much i can get done in the day.  work around the house and garden has slowed to a crawl, and i would expect that time between blog posts will be even longer.  maybe you can help keep me focused by providing feedback in the form of comments?

with so much going on around the house, and knowing that a newborn was on the way, this year’s garden was focused on the couple of raised beds that were already in place.

in anticipation of next year, i focused much of my efforts on preparing beds for the future, rather than trying to plant more this year.

when trying to decide my options for preparing beds, i considered many; i could use a rototiller, i could cut out the sod, i could mulch everything, or i could solarize.

because i had seen plenty of quackgrass and bindweed in other beds, i decided that solarizing would be the best course of action.  a rototiller would just spread the rhizomes , cutting sod mulch was too much work, and mulching is generally ineffective with quackgrass and bindweed.

our house came with one and a half extra lots, but the best soil was to be found directly behind the house, as it was the only soil which has not been disturbed though demolition.  since it is directly behind the house, it also means it’s the most accessible and likely to get the most attention.  in permaculture design, those areas that you visit the most often and need the most attention should be places as close to the areas you frequent.  it was obvious to me that this was the area to focus on putting beds in.

because the soil was not disturbed, and was original to the house, levels of contamination were likely to be low, but i really need to pull a soil test to confirm, but since i would put perennial crops in this space if it had contamination, i soldiered forth.

beforethis is the area where new beds are to be developed mid may.  as you can see it is covered with a thick layer of sod.  first step in solarizing is to cut the grass so that it is not too long, i did this using my trusty reel mower.  then you cut a trench around the area you want to solarize, lay down the plastic and put the sod you cut out for your trench back in inverted.  plasticbed1this doesn’t actually take all that long, this area is about 200 sq feet and only took an hour and a half to complete this.  then you just wait.  condisationi always do my solarizing in the summer, as this is when you trap the most heat.  you need to use clear plastic as it heats up much more than black plastic.  the whole idea is for it to act like a little greenhouse that doesn’t vent, so it gets really hot and kills the sod on the top.  you want to make sure that the edges are sealed well so no heat escapes.

a few weeks later i dug up and solarized the other side of the sidewalk, digging a trench and laying out the plastic.  bed2beforediggingbed2bed2plasticby the end of july, the plastic was getting brittle and cracking, and the sod beneath was brown and dead.plasticcrackall other times i have used old greenhouse plastic which has uv stabilizers to keep it from breaking down in sunlight.  this time i just used some builders plastic.  i was frustrated that it broke down and couldn’t be used again, but by the time it did breakdown, it had done it’s job.  next time i’ll be sure to use greenhouse plastic.

with the sod all dead, it’s time to remove it – some folks till it all in at this point, but considering my fears of quackgrass and bindweed, i wasn’t gonna take any chances and just removed the dead sod.  i also didn’t want to chance bringing up more weed seeds from deep below.  if you have ever tried to cut live sod, you know that it’s a tough job, cutting sod that has died is actually pretty easy, it only took me another hour and a half to cut this.  sodremovalsodremovedwith the sod removed i did our usual bed prep, using a broad fork to loosen , followed by the claw tool to break up the clods, and finally raked smooth.  since it was august, i seeded buckwheat into the bed.  the buckwheat will scavenge for nutrients, add organic matter, and break up the soil compaction.   buckwheatbed2prepedbuckwheat flowering on the left side of the garden.

buckwheat unlike most other crops does well in the summer heat, but it will be killed by frost.  i wanted crops to continue to grow over the winter into spring and also provide some nitrogen fixation.

once the buckwheat had flowered i cut it down and into the stubble i sowed hairy vetch and oats.  these both should provided plenty of organic matter and fix nitrogen.


in the spring these will be incorporated into the soil, and then the planting can begin.



One response to “solarizing and cover cropping new beds

  1. Congratulations on your new arrival! You will be busy but as you have done during the summer, you just refocus and prioritise. I have had to do the same in my garden as I am going into hospital this week for a hip op and needed to get everything done for winter before this week and also make sure that anything that involves bending or carrying was done or was in a position to wait until early spring when I will be up and running again!! I too have found that clear plastic is best for solarizing – warmed my soil up nicely for my parsnips which are now growing well for the first time in three years! – They didnt germinate in the cold soil in previous years. Have fun with your new little one and your new garden (oh and keeping blogging when you can!)

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