Published Feb 14, 2023

Magic Tarping Ride: Perspectives on a System for Soil Quality, Weed Control and More on Vegetable Farms

By Practical Farmers of Iowa

On many small vegetable farms, tarping can be close to magic. This practice to control weeds and improve soil quality makes tarps a multifunctional – and increasingly indispensable – tool for vegetable farmers around the country.

Farmer Hannah Breckbill, who has practiced tarping for a couple of years, leads us on an exploration of tarping practices, tips and techniques with Ryan Maher of Cornell University’s Small Farms Program.

Hannah Breckbill has been farming since 2009 and started Humble Hands Harvest in Decorah, Iowa, in 2013. In 2018, Emily Fagan joined as a partner. The farm sells primarily at farmers markets and through a CSA. Hannah and Emily are developing a perennial polyculture system and incorporating livestock.

Ryan Maher joined the Small Farms Program at Cornell University in 2013 to support vegetable farmers in building soil health on their farms. He is interested in how farmers use reduced tillage, cover cropping, crop rotations and other practices to protect and promote productive, biologically active soil. Ryan has worked on vegetable farms in Oregon and Massachusetts as well as with the USDA in Minnesota, where he coordinated research on nutrient cycling in perennial forage crops to help farmers reduce nitrogen fertilizer inputs using legumes in crop rotations.