For over a century growers have been using steam to heat the soil to help eliminate many pests of soils. Many greenhouses utilized this method of sterilization in the early 1900's and before. Back then there weren't very many alternatives to eliminate pests other than steam heat. Today there are far fewer users of steam sterilization, but to those who do it can be a great tool to manage insects, weeds and diseases.
Heating soil up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit for a certain amount of time doesn't eliminate all pests; there are some pathogens that are resistant. But for many of our common diseases, this method works well. In addition, many weed seeds are destroyed as well as most forms of insect life.
Unfortunately there are drawbacks to steam, mainly that it can't be economically feasible on acreages. It can be extremely useful in small scale situations however, including high tunnels and greenhouses. It can be especially useful for organic growers who have few alternatives.
We've scheduled several demonstrations of steam sterilization to provide a basic understanding of the use and reliability of this tool. If enough interest is found amongst potential users, there are possibilities of writing grant applications to fund tools such as these.
Two demonstrations are scheduled in central Illinois. Tuesday Oct. 20th at 5pm in Hancock County and Wed. Oct. 28th in Shelby County. You can register for either session at: web.extension.illinois.edu/abhps