Join Our Farmer to Farmer “Tarp Talk” Webinars in March

Tarps are clearly a multifunctional tool for small farmers and are being sized, sourced, and applied to fit the farm. How much can we ask of tarps, how are they changing our tillage and weeds, and how do we handle and troubleshoot the shortcomings?

We hosted a series of lunchtime webinars in partnership with the University of Maine for farmers to share and learn about emerging tarping practices for organic vegetables. In this 3-week series, you’ll hear farmers from across the region talk about how tarping is fitting into their crop plans and what it looks like in the field, from holding beds to succession plantings to cover crop termination to spring field entry.  

All webinars were free of charge. For questions on webinars, contact Ryan Maher,

Reserving Beds With Tarps: Setting The Table For When It’s Time To Plant

Tuesday, March 16, from 12-1 p.m. ET

It feels good to know beds are reserved and ready to go, but the logistics can be ugly – moving, securing, and shedding water. How can tarps be used to hold beds in a busy rotation with less weeds and less mess? One way is to use tarps for succession plantings, where tarps are laid and peeled back over time. Rachel Cross (Spirit of Walloon Market Garden – Boyne City, MI) shared their system for salad green successions and how they are managing the timing throughout the season. Another approach is to go small, use a tarp size that is easier to manage and try materials that hold less water. Molly Comstock (Colfax Farm – Alford, MA) shared how they are using woven fabric to hold beds between crops, killing crops and suppressing weeds, and moving towards no-till. Both brought their observations about problem weeds and we touched on combining tarps with other strategies, like flame weeding, when they come up short. 

Watch the recording here

Pairing Tarping With Cover Crops: Getting Both On The Menu 

Tuesday, March 23, from 12-1 p.m. ET

Tarps can taste better when they are mixed with other soil building practices. Cover crops help keep soil covered, maintain active roots, feed soil biology, and add organic matter through living plants. How can we use tarps to reduce tillage while adding cover crops? Tarps are being used to kill winter hardy cover crops, like rye and vetch, and when it is too late to get those cover crops in the ground, tarps are covering bare soil overwinter in preparation for early spring. Hear from Ben Stein (Edible Uprising Farm – Troy, NY) and Janna Siller (Adamah – Falls Village, CT) on their cash crop and cover crop planning, what fall management looks like, and how they are setting up for no-till planting when tarps come off. We also discussed pathway management and how tarps are fitting in with different mulches, from the living to the leaves. 

Watch the recording here.

You Can’t Send Back Your Soils And Weeds: Tarping The Problems You’re Served

Tuesday, March 30, from 12-1 p.m. ET

It’s difficult to have cold, wet soils when you’re hungry to plant. Laying down tarps in fall and holding overwinter can help get beds planted earlier in spring. How can tarping help shift the timing of your plantings and start to draw down weeds? Maryellen Sheehan and Matthew Robinson (Hartwood Farm – Chittenango, NY) shared how tarps have turned into “raincoats” for their silty soil and how they are prioritizing crops for tarping on their 5 acres of vegetables. David McDaniel (Earth Dharma Farm – Jackson, ME) will discuss how fall bed preparation and overwinter tarping sets up their spinach successions for the following year, which weeds have faded away and which ones persist. It’s not easy to secure tarps when they’re applied for months at a time; we also talked about lessons learned in keeping tarps down and the logistics of management on larger fields. 

Watch the recording here.

This webinar series is supported by USDA-NIFA through Northeast SARE R&E (LNE19-382), Smith Lever/Hatch (1024235) and the Northeastern IPM Center (2018-70006-28882).

The Reduced Tillage (RT) project of the Cornell Small Farms Program supports farmers in adopting scale-appropriate RT practices that can lead to healthy, productive soils and greater profitability. Through the evaluation of novel tools and methods using systems-based field research and on-farm trials, the project helps farmers learn about the approaches that can work for their farms.

Ryan Maher

Ryan began with the SFP in the summer of 2013 and focuses on research and extension in soil health practices for vegetables. He is a Baltimore native with family and educational ties to CNY. After graduating from SUNY-ESF in 2003 he spent two summers training on diversified vegetable farms, first in SW Oregon and then in the Boston metro area. In 2007, he graduated from Iowa State with an MS in Sustainable Agriculture focusing on soils in native grassland restorations. He spent five years with the USDA-ARS in St. Paul MN, coordinating research on nutrient cycling in perennial forage crops. Ryan, his wife Jackie, and daughters Gia and Olive are happy to settle in CNY and enjoy the food, farms, forested hills, and water of the Finger Lakes region.