That is how we left it for most of the summer. Then in the fall it was time to cover the area. This follows the methods of Jean Martin Fortier and his wife, as laid out in their book "The Market Gardener." This is a very interesting and easy read on how to set up some systems in your backyard to improve production. He believes that soil should be covered in the winter to protect it from erosion and to help improve breakdown of organic matter underneath. This will draw in worms and other creatures you desire to help your soil. He uses silage tarps, found on most farm product websites, but I kept delaying on purchasing the stuff as I wondered if there was a better option. Then I came across . . . old billboards.
In my research online, I stumbled across the idea to use old billboard vinyls as a ground cover. They used to be free to whomever wanted to take them once "expired," but this is not the case anymore. I found 14' by 48' vinyls for $50 from a local advertiser. (The picture above has five of them laid out on our plot.) As many of you have now guessed, one of these vinyls may or may not have Mark Bernstein for University of Michigan Regent on it. Thanks for your face Mark! He is face-first into our dirt and organic matter as the key part of these vinyls is on the backside.
These vinyls have the desired advertising on one side, but the backside is black vinyl. In the spring, this black will absorb the sun and heat up the soil underneath to temperatures that will notify all seeds that it is time to germinate. Since we haven't planted anything, we will refer to most of these germinating plants as undesirables. After doing so, they will break through and meet the vinyl. The lack of sunlight will lead to them dying out since the vinyls will not be removed for quite some time. With most undesirable seeds germinated, than one big problem is gone! When the vinyls are removed, we hope that the soil will be much more workable, lacking weeds and ready for production. Fingers Crossed.
If I could go back, I would have primed the soil underneath with soil amendments to encourage breakdown and add to the soil. Items such as additional organic material (i.e. leaves, straw, manure), coupled with molasses and/or other amendments (you can even use milk!) would have only added to the soil bounty in the spring.
We are hoping to divide this plot up into ten sections and run a mini-Market Gardener plan on this plot. Fortier has ten rotating plots that are the size of ours, so we will use our one plot and divide into ten areas. If all goes well, we will look at adding another plot.