Slow painting

Thursday, 24 March 2011

To plastic or not to plastic?


...isn't actually a question I ask myself. But I see so many plots swathed in plastic sheeting over the winter months that there are obviously plastic afficionados out there. I know that it keeps the weeds down. I know that it means that you don't start the spring by weeding. But I can't reconcile growing with smothering the soil for months at a time. I want to see frost sparkling on the hard earth, puddles shining in a sudden shaft of weak sun, Ted Hughes' 'attentant sleek thrushes' stabbing at worms. It seems the gardening equivalent of keeping the plastic covers on the suite in the front room.

Our winter cover this year was a mass of dead phacelia, flattened under the December snow. I feared a strenuous job of digging in wiry stems.


But the first forkful revealed a clean, bare, fine tilth. It was the tilth of seedbeds, which I have only read about but never achieved. 'I have a tilth', I kept saying to myself as I swept away more stems. No digging in, or up. Just a bit of sweeping, and underneath healthy soil which had been rained, snowed, frosted and sunned upon.


The other thing that puts me off plastic is that you have to do something with it for the rest of the year. And our shed is full already. But are there any bloggers who have answered 'yes!' to the plastic question?

16 comments:

Happyone : ) said...

I would think the natural would be best.

黄清华 Wong Ching Wah said...

Biodegradable plastics ...

Mark Willis said...

I'm with you on this one Linda. I think the plot in your first picture looks awful, and the soil under that plastic may well be sour and covered with algae. The natural effects of the atmosphere on the soil have to be better.

RobD said...

I think it depends where you are at with your plot and what type of weeds you have. I have some areas I'm still clearing from when I took on the plot and covering them with weed fabric does help make it easier clearing the ground for the first time.

On my other plot I have ground elder and bindweed, and not wanting to use chemicals it's easier to control certain areas with weed fabric where it's not easy to keep digging it out from or stopping it spreading to - like around the fruit trees and bushes.

Obviously in an ideal world though I wouldn't have to use it and the ground would always have something growing in it, but that's not going to happen is it ;>)

Green Lane Allotments said...

The only place that we use black plastic on our plot is to protect the dahlia tubers which we leave in the ground under a pile of straw and with the black plastic cover. It's to keep them dry and also keeps then a bit warmer. When we uncover we have known the straw to have been colonised by overwindtering bumble bees which fortunately leave before we remove the straw. Allowing weather to the soil is a good thing isn't it?

Why I garden... said...

It ain't pretty but sometimes it gets the job done. I'm using old carpet at the minute in various areas of the garden to keep weeds down and it's not too pretty either. I prefer your way if possible.

Linda said...

Happyone, I thought you might be on the side of nature!

Wong, there would be a huge market for biodegradable plastic of this size. I might be tempted if I thought it would break down gradually through the winter.

Mark, when I see the soil after the plastic comes off it does look lurid with algae.

RobD, weed fabric would be preferable, but so many plotholders around us seem to use industrial strength plastic, with no permeability.

GreenLaneAllotments, sounds like you've got a good eco-system going for the bumble bees.

Kelli, we used old carpet when we were reclaiming the plot, and then I read about chemicals present in some carpets which could transfer to the soil. So out went the carpet. But apart from that it started to break down quite dramatically, so it didn't do it's weed-supressing job too well. Hopefully you have a better quality carpet.

The Sage Butterfly said...

We mulch heavily in the winter to keep weeds down...works fine and adds nutrients as it breaks down.

Hilde said...

I have never tried covering with plastic. I keep it the natural way. Sometimes I cover with leaves.

Bridget said...

Definitely no to plastic!

Peggy said...

We do cover some beds with a weed suppressant fabric which I do refer to as black plastic, usually one which has been dug and is waiting for something to be planted!
Interesting the way your soil was in such great condition underneath, Phacalia is one which I thought needed digging in, you may have discovered a new way of using it!

Maureen said...

Sorry ! but I use black plastic as do most of the plotholders on my allotment. The soil underneath is weed free and full of earthworms (they must like the warmth I guess) I have just uncovered most of mine and it's great as it hardly needs digging, just the top surface.

I don't go to the allotment in the winter unless it's a quick visit to dig some parsnips or gather some sprouts, so I wouldn't see puddles, sunshine or any other niceties anyway. So I'm a YES for plastic.

Babzy said...

we don't like plastic , and we let the allotment without protection of any sort, nature works for us , we let the grass and weed grow to protect the soil and then we dig at spring :)

clairz said...

Here in the desert, all plastic blows away, no matter how it might be weighted down. Some have even suggested that a plastic grocery bag stuck to a cactus be called the state flower of New Mexico.

I can't say that there was any bare soil when we moved here--it's all little stones used as a mulch over that black landscaping cloth. The dogs dig up the cloth, so we are always moving rocks around to cover it back up. When we garden, we rake back the rocks, cut a hole in the black cloth, and plug in another cactus--or we do a little soil improvement and stick in a tomato plant. It's a very different gardening method when compared to yours, isn't it?

Mary Witzl said...

I'm one! I think it looks God-awful, but we had such a bad ground elder infestation, I bit the dust and used great sheets of plastic. Two years later, that area is ground-elder free, but the celandine moved right in.

Next year, I'll split open cardboard boxes and use those instead, lightly covered with soil.

Janet said...

We did cover what was to become the veg garden initially with black plastic and it helped in the clearing. But it got very torn and I felt incredibly guilty having to throw it out.
Four years on we use green manure,cover the plot with rough compost or leave it bare.