Feb 25, 2022
New guide helps Northeast farms learn tarping

A new publication helps growers understand how tarps work.

Cornell Small Farms Program’s Reduced Tillage project’s Tarping in the Northeast: A Guide for Small Farms”  provides comprehensive information on the emerging practice of tarping. To help weed and soil management, tarping is applying reusable tarps to the soil surface between crops and then removing them prior to planting. The guide is intended for beginning and experienced farmers.

Based on research and farmer experience, the guide covers a range of management practices from using tarps for weed seed depletion, minimal tillage, and cover crop-based no-till, and uses case studies to highlight the methods of farmers across the Northeast. By combining the details of tarp logistics and management alongside the science of the practice, it is designed to support farmers in learning more about tarping and how to implement it to improve soil and weed management on their farm.

Ryan Maher, our Reduced Tillage project specialist, is a co-author on the publication. Maher has led tarping research experiments and worked with farmers to learn how they work and how to use them in reduced and no-till vegetable production.

“Tarps are a really multifunctional tool for small farms that help us get past some of the basic challenges using less tillage,” Maher said. “When we ask farmers how they work, we come up with a long list, then add a few jabs about the logistics. This guide puts all this practical information into one place, highlights successful farmers, and adds what we are learning through applied research, where still have a long way to go to understand what’s happening under there.”

The guide is a product of the NE IPM Working Group on Tarping and Soil Solarization, a project initiated by Sonja Birthisel at UMaine, that brought together institutions, educators, and farmers across the Northeast region to connect the dots on what was happening with tarping in the Northeast, share resources, identify knowledge gaps and discuss future research directions. The guide was a collaborative effort, authored by Birthisel, Natalie Lounsbury at University of New Hampshire, Jason Lilley at UMaine Extension and Maher. 

You can find a link to the guide as well as other tarping resources on the Cornell Small Farms Program’s Reduced Tillage project’s tarping webpage.

Stephen Stresow is a junior in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a concentration in Organic Agriculture and minors in Soil Science and Crop Management. He managed a vegetable garden as a Master Gardener in high school and has now scaled up that passion to sustainable vegetable production on small-scale farms. He is interested in improving agroecological practices and making them more accessible to farmers with the overarching goal of creating a more resilient food system.
Tarps being used to cover beds and being integrated into field planning at Centurion Farm in Locke, New York. Photo: Nina Saeli /Cornell Small Farms Program

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