Soil Solarization... Good or Bad?

applebuilder(North Orange County (SoCal))May 20, 2009

I first came across permaculture while researching organic methods and have since become very interested in its philosophy. I'v starting to move more and more towards gardening methods that promote natural and balanced eco systems but that move has also left me undecided on the subject of Soil Solarization. On one hand it's on the forefront of organic methods and while I have not researched the topic extensively, there seems to be many merits towards its use. I have a tendency to reference gardening methods to how people in early history used to do it, as a way of understaning how its use came about. What's so appealing about permaculture to me is it seems to resemble people's abilities to observe and use natural processes in a balanced way. Instinctively, Solar Solarization doesn't seem natural (boosting sun's effects), but before I learned about permaculture it seemed like a very appealing alternative to chemical soil treatment. In reading about no-tilling methods I've come to learn that while something may be organic, it might not be good for the balance of an ecosystem. So rather than spending hours online trying to determine whether Solarization is good or bad, I thought that I'd get the firsthand opinion of a Permaculturist. There might be a wide array of mixed opinions, but that's what I'm looking for. With the diverse range of reasoning as to why Soil Solarization is good or bad I'll be able to look at and study the different angles so that I can decide for myself what makes sense. Thanks.

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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day applebuilder,

to me it seems like it is a trendy process with no real need, i have never felt or seen the need to do the process and our gardens work well, plus also in permaculture it is adding in another process which is more work to do, goes against the least work for the most results.

with permaculture be carefull not to get caught up in the philosophy of it and lose the practicality of it, it all comes down to action and common sense. basically it is doing things naturaly organically with a twist.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 2:45PM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

I wouldn't write solarization off as being totally useless, as their may be some spots where it could be appropriate for specific uses. It's used to mainly kill off weeds and sprout/kill weed seed, if done properly. But what about other effects? What does it do to the soil flora and fauna? Does it kill everything? Killing off soil microbes would seem to be a counter-productive thing to do.

On the other hand, it's kind of hard to think of a weed issue that a good layer of mulch wouldn't handle better. Mulch will not only shade out weeds, but it will help maintain soil moisture and ameliorate wide temperature swings, and let the microbes and worms work at a steady pace. And it feeds the soil as it stabilizes it.

One problem is simply getting enough mulch. It's hard to find free anything around here. One of the local dairies sells composted manure, but despite having a small mountain of it, the price doesn't make it easy to take a lot of it if you are on a restricted budget. Leaves are often loaded with parts of plastic toys, plastic bags, car parts, dog poop, etc. Straw and plain old grass hay costs a minimum of $3.50/bale. Alfalfa is like gold.

Like Len says, don't get caught up in the philosophy of permaculture. You do what you can do, with what you've got. Just think about what affect it will have, and do the least damage you can.

Even Bill Mollison has said in his books that using a tractor or tiller to break up some sod (or incorporate lime or other minerals) or to rip certain areas is just one of those things. Just don't keep doing it, as it ruins the life of the soil.

Solarization is probably the same. If you've pulled up all the poison hemlock, solarizing it may be a perfectly good way to kill any seeds and the roots you didn't get.

Permaculture is a guide, not a religion.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 2:33PM
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applebuilder(North Orange County (SoCal))

Belgianup and Gardenlen, thank you both for your responses. I'll definetly heed both of your advice to keep things practical. One of the points brought up was actually why I asked about solarization, whether or not killing a few weeds and pathogens is worth disrupting the overal fauna and flora. Normally I'd like to preserve the natural balance in any system, but like I said before there have been many tests that promote its use. I'll keep in mind to use permaculture as a guideline to my own objectives. I guess moderation is the key. I'd still love to properly learn more about permaculture and self-sustaining systems. Are there any "must have" resources I should take a look at, particularly books? Oh and thanks for the link Gardenlen, I'll be sure to take a look at that when I get a chance.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 4:31PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

"applebuilder asked,
Are there any "must have" resources I should take a look at"

nup just a big dose of reality in the form of "common sense", by all means read some of some of the books that are around, borrow them from a library, anything that can cultivate latteral thinking and outside the square thinking and you will go ahead in leaps and bounds.

like me initially when the mystery of it shrouded me i bought mollesons "intro' to permaculture" soft copy and i thought maybe i should save hard and buy the much more detailed hard copy, ended up attending a tech' college 2 day intro to pc course to find that i was already doing 98% of it as an organic gardener. did i learn anything? of course i did anyone who never learns must be asleep hey chuckle? would i then go onto pay for an expensive course to obtian a piece of paper to hang on the wall "not likely".

looked at the book a couple of times and then it dawned on me it was all basically common sense, the book collects dust on the shelf.

you'll get all your answers in forums like this and then some.

reckon it's all a mind set once you tell yourself you can do it, it will happens, no such thing as mistakes just new lessons to learn.


    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 2:58PM
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applebuilder(North Orange County (SoCal))

Again you make a good point. The main point of permaculture already made sense to me so I guess it would be pointless to concentrate on the details of just a specific agricultural practice. It probably would be better to learn about my local ecosystem and see what I can do to incorporate that into my gardening.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 10:23PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

yes work with what you have, don't create something that isn't there or else it just becomes another man made process in a world full of man made processes. lots get caught up in the hype of design and implementations and never realy get much done on the ground.

K.I.S.S is what is needed keep it simple hey, the hardest work is probably in the mind set.


    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 2:58PM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

An additional thought:

Even if you solarized the soil and killed all the weeds and weed seeds there, if you don't plant it and cover it, more weed seeds will be blown in (and brought by birds), and you'll be right back where you were in the beginning, even after all the time and work.

In retrospect, it seems like a good idea that really isn't.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 7:18PM
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I'm considering solarization to get rid of some tomato wilt that has infected my raised beds. I have some really nice soil there. I'm curious about what happens to the worms during solarization. Do they die? How long does it take for them to come back?

    Bookmark   August 13, 2009 at 10:21PM
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