How to (and not to) Tarp

The first purchase we made last year were 9 giant plastic tarps - each 50x100’, black on one side and white on the other. They weren’t cheap - but we’ll use them for years to come, and for good reason!

Tarping does the following:

  • Controls weeds. Think about that kiddie pool you left out all summer, and you’ll understand…no weeds to kill is a huge bonus, and makes this a great alternative to using an herbicide for small-scale farming.

  • Keeps soil the right moisture level - heavy rains in this area meant most farmers couldn’t plant early this year, but we could!

  • Warms soil in the spring . We keep our tarps on the black side up so they maximize energy from the sun, also contributing to early planting.

Pretty great, right? We definitely feel that our first use of tarps was effective…but boy are they a bear to move, and if you don’t use enough weights (we didn’t, at first!) they will fly all over your field. We had to fix and adjust them at least 15 times over the winter, and it’s just not fun work! While we want people to move away from plastics, this is an example of a product where the benefit outweighs the cost and alternatives.

Lessons from the tarps:

  • Never try to reposition a tarp on a windy, or even breezy day

  • Use a heavy (~25-20#) weight bag every 6 feet, both on the perimeter and interior!

  • Water on them is helpful when you want them to stay in place, but makes moving them take 4 times as long. Try to move them when they’re dry, or lift from the uphill side to remove water…and wear clothes you expect to get very dirty in!

Sarah Waybright