Solar energy is beginning to encompass almost every aspect of our lives, and even if you do not have solar panels in your own home, you probably know someone or the other who has gotten them done. The solar revolution is growing and we must become the people who support it because we are all writing history as we know it.

Even if you do not have the money to invest in solar panels, there are still small solar-powered appliances that you can start using in your daily lives, so this can include lights, water heaters, and solar-powered torches, and so on. You can start making small changes and eventually start moving up from there. This way you can slowly start saving money off your electrical bill and produce clean energy that is not harming the planet.

If you happen to enjoy gardening, then you should consider solarizing your garden bed because this is something that is slowly beginning to take the world by storm, and this can get you a healthy garden at less of a cost.

Solarizing happens to be a renowned technique amongst gardeners and farmers throughout the world, and it is a really old technique that dates back to centuries ago. This is because gardeners, farmers, and people who work in fields and crop production have always had to deal with an array of obstacles like pests, different kinds of weed, bacterial or fungal infection, and so on. All of these nuisances end up leading to inconsistent yield, bad crops, and in worst-case scenarios, crop failure that can bring their production down to zero. One of the best solutions that they were able to come up with to deal with these issues was soil solarization. This is a non-chemical and eco-friendly solution that can still be used and is especially relevant today.

So What Is It?

Solarization is essentially a non-chemical process that involves using the radiation that comes from the sun to help eliminate bacteria, fungi, pests, and so on. What’s great about solarization is its effectivity and the fact that it does not involve having to use any harsh chemicals. This way you find an eco-friendly way to take care of your garden and soil without worrying about anything else.

What Are The Benefits?

  • The process of solarization ends up improving the efficiency of your soil. Since you do not have to resort to harsh chemicals or other such measures, you can maintain the efficiency and overall running life of your soil.
  • Pesticides, insecticides and the like are all still relatively new creations and since they did not exist before, farmers back then would make use of this technique to help raise the temperature of the soil. By making the soil hotter, they would in-turn kill any pest or pathogen in the soil. While there are still debates about where this technique originated from, it was first reported in Germany in 1888. The process then started being used in the USA in 1897 and the process also started being known as soil decontamination via sunlight.
  • Soil solarization is the best alternative to the other commonly used approaches which are soil steaming and soil fumigation. However, both of these processes tend to leave chemical residue and are harmful to the soil and environment. However, what is great about soil solarization is the fact that it does neither of that. It does not involve going and buying fancy chemicals and equipment, and you certainly don’t have to worry about messing with your soil either, making soil solarization the best alternate for both gardeners and farmers.

The Process

Like we mentioned above, the process of solarization works when we raise the temperature of the soil to a desirable level for a certain time, so just long enough for it to disinfect and kill any pests, pathogens, or weeds in the soil.

Of course, the process of solarization is still one that needs work so you cannot expect to just have sunlight over your soil and think that is enough. You need to think of things like time, the amount of moisture in the soil, the seasonal temperature of the soil, how you can fertilize with raised temperatures, and so on.

You have to keep a careful eye on your soil to make sure that it is well-maintained and is ready for the procedure. You need to make sure there is moisture in your soil, and you will then have to keep your soil covered so that the thermal treatment takes place. You cover the ground with net or polyethylene and the sunlight will end up heating the covering to its highest temperature and this temperature is usually enough to kill pests and any other issues and decontaminants in the soil.

When done correctly, you can keep your soil healthy, ensure that it is free of pesticides, and you get to grow organically. This is usually done to ready the soil before every planting season. This is a process that anyone with a garden can follow and it can prove to be a real game-changer.

Solarization & Artificial Heating: The Difference

A lot of people might equate solarization as artificial heating or the other way round, but that is not the case. Yes, the soil being heated is a common trait between the two things, however, it is not the same.

During solarization, the heat reaches the soil in any medium without having to use any source. In the case of artificial heating, you need a separate source to move the heat to the surface of the soil, and then convert the heat into the artificial variant. If you solarize your soil, then the process is providing mild heating to your soil, and when artificial heating or solarization is carried out, the heat ends up being carried through a separate source that is producing anywhere between 70C-100C.

Of course, some guidelines need to be followed to make sure that you are solarizing correctly or else your soil will continue as is and your next garden, the field will be at risk of disease and damage.

Why is Solarization So Important?

We now live in a world where polarization is more important now than it ever was. This is a process that can benefit crop producers, farmers, gardeners, and anyone else that might be involved in the industry.

Dealing with weeds, pests, parasites, fungi, and so on have all become a part of any gardener or farmer’s life. Most of these pathogens and pests end up lingering and growing within the soil, which in turn ends up affecting crop yield and quality. Sadly the fumigants and pesticides that we use today are not effective enough when it comes to reducing pathogens in the soil, and they continue to linger in the soil.

Solarization is currently standing as the only effective solution since it raises soil temperature to be high enough to destroy any pathogens or pests lingering in the soil, which in turn helps to maintain the health of the soil. This is an eco-friendly way to deal with pests and weeds that won’t cost you a lot of money and will also keep your soil healthy since no harmful chemicals are being added to the soil.

These processes also help speed up the breakdown of organic materials in the soil, which allows for important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, nitrogen, etc. to be present in the soil and allow for better plant growth. This way you get a faster and healthy yield of crops, plants, or flowers every time, and your soil can be reused again and again since no harmful chemicals are effecting its chemistry or make.

The Advantages

  • Solarization, unlike pesticides, insecticides, and weed killers, does not have any harmful effects on the biotic and abiotic components of the soil, keeping the soil healthy.
  • Solarization does not cost a lot of money, and this is why it makes for such an affordable solution that can be used by poor, underdeveloped, and developing countries.
  • Solarization can help remove parasitic and other harmful species of nematode since they will have to move from the soil to escape the heat.
  • The high level of solar radiation also helps to inhibit and control the production of weed.
  • The yield will be healthier since it will not contain any insects or harmful chemicals, making it organic.
  • Tomato canker, southern blight, fusarium wilt, damping off and phytophthora root rot, and many other diseases can be tackled with solarization.

The Limitations

Solarization is a great process, but like everything else, it also happens to come with its own set of limitations.

  • You are kind of dependent on the climate and temperature of the area around you.
  • You will have to consider the implications of plastic residue since that will become a pollutant that you will have to deal with.
  • You cannot put in any crops or seeds for a few days or even weeks following the process, so that can put some people behind schedule.

Solarizing Your Garden Bed

A daily cycle needs to be repeated to heat the soil in a given period for the solarization process to work. The more soil depth, the lesser the overall efficiency of the heat’s temperature.

To make sure that you improve heat conductivity, and to keep your soil active while targeting your problems (be it pests, pathogens, fungi, etc.), you will need to make sure that your soil has enough moisture, and that all other conditions are favorable. In case your soil does not have enough moisture, then you can irrigate your soil once before you put the plastic over it. Once this has been done, it is recommended that any extra or additional irrigation be avoided until the solarization process is complete since the extra water and moisture can end up disrupting the process.

You carry out all the necessary preparations for your soil, and once you start the solarization process, you should not disturb your soil in any way until it is complete.

A thin film of clear polyethylene can be used to cover and trap the soil. As the plastic heats, the added heat will end up affecting the physical, biological, chemical, and all other components in the soil, helping to remove any pathogens and pests and making sure that you get good a good and healthy plant growth and overall yield.

Prepping For The Solarization Process

The best time to start the process of solarization is when the temperature of solar radiation is at its peak. You essentially want to go for a day where the air temperature is high, it is reduced or minimal wind flowing, and the sky is clear.

  • You want to make sure that your soil is prepared, and for that, you need to make sure that the soil surface is clean, so it should not have any debris. You will also have to avoid air pockets (as they can hinder the soil’s heat absorption and even cause the plastic to fly away) so always check for air pockets in the soil and then get rid of them accordingly. Flat areas are considered to be best since they can absorb the most amount of heat possible, but leveled and raised beds can also take advantage of the solarization process. You also want to make sure that your beds are laid going North to South instead of East to West since that will allow for more consistent heating and radiation.
  • You want to make sure there is enough moisture in your soil, and for that, you can irrigate your soil till a depth of 12 inches minimum. You can even use a soaker hose or a solar pump to irrigate your soil before covering it with plastic or net. Once you are done irrigating the soil, you can cover it with plastic and then you cannot irrigate your soil or disturb the soil in general anymore to avoid disruptions and other problems.
  • When choosing a plastic covering for solarization, you should always go for transparent and thin plastic films. If you go for black sheets of plastic then the black will end up absorbing the heat itself and your soil will not get heated properly. You can find thin, clear plastic films at most hardware stores, and you also want to make sure that the plastic can easily be removed later as well. The only time you need to go for opaque or black plastic films is if you are solarizing in a coastal area.
  • You have to make sure that you secure and place the plastic tightly over the area that you want to solarize or else it can get blown away or disturbed easily. This is why you will need to dig a trench around the area. This trench should be between 4-6 inches and you basically place one end of the soil in the trench, pull till it is tight enough, and then cover the edge with soil so that it can weigh it down. You will then pull the other end of the plastic over the other side of the trench and repeat the procedure. This will be done for all of the sides to securely and tightly fasten the plastic.
  • Try not to disturb the area throughout the solarization process and wait before you start planting on the soil again.

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