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The Benefits of Using a Silage Tarp

Starting a garden from scratch can be back-breaking labor. Turning a patch of established grass into a loose and fertile plot of soil isn’t easy!

Person using a hand scythe to clear grass and weeds.

If you have the time to spare, using a silage tarp can make prepping your garden a breeze. Read on to learn how you can maintain healthy soil with these versatile and durable agricultural tarps.

What is a Silage Tarp?

If you live in a rural area, you may have seen huge black tarps covering fields along the road. What are those plastic tarps, and why are they stretched out over swaths of cropland?

These heavy-duty coverings are called silage tarps. They might be the best-kept secret in effective permaculture practices.

As the name implies, silage tarps were initially created to protect silage—roughage for livestock—from the elements. However, their benefits extend far beyond feed storage.

A large silage tarp covering livestock feed.
A tarp covering livestock silage.

How are agricultural tarps different from the all-purpose ones you buy at the store?

Since they are made from heavy-duty, UV-resistant polyethylene plastic, they are much more durable than everyday tarps. They will not degrade in extreme weather and last for many years.

The Benefits of Using a Silage Tarp

These durable tarps serve as critical permaculture tools for organic farms. Still, you don’t need to be a commercial farmer to take advantage of them!

You can use one in your backyard garden to combat weed pressure and improve soil quality. If you sow cover crops over the winter, these tarps make prepping your garden much easier in spring.

Organic matter breaks down in the humid, warm environment. This improves soil health significantly. The resulting conditions are perfect for beneficial soil microbes to flourish.

If you aren’t growing cover crops, you should use a silage tarp to combat soil erosion. Doing so will leave you with healthy earth and rich topsoil.

It is easy to purchase an affordable agricultural tarp online. They are generally larger than traditional tarpaulins you’d grab from the store, and many sizes are available.

You should start with a high-quality black tarp fitted for your garden. Hoss Tools carries durable silage tarps that stand up to many years of heavy use.

How to Use a Silage Tarp

There is no easier way to create a stale seed bed primed for planting. A simple, sturdy tarp effectively breaks down plant matter and eliminates weeds in the soil.

All you need to do to reap these benefits is cover your entire garden spot with a tarp and pin the edges down with stakes or bricks.

A tarp covering a garden, held in place with bricks.

Covering the soil with a silage tarp creates a dark and moist environment. These humid conditions encourage microbial activity, which accelerates the composting process.

The composted vegetation then nourishes subsequent crops. At the same time, weeds are forced to germinate and die off.

Before you get started, remember to rotate crops when using this method to minimize the spread of pests and pathogens.

Using Silage Tarps for Weed Control

After harvest, your soil will be ridden with weed seeds. Silage tarps are an excellent passive weed management tool. They effectively eliminate stubborn weeds without using any chemicals.

The black plastic traps heat and moisture, creating humid conditions. This spurs rapid germination of weed seeds, which then emerge into a dark environment.

Without a source of sunlight, weed seedlings die, and microbes quickly break them down.

Closeup of a garden weed.

If you have a full year to prepare your garden, you can eliminate most weeds in your chosen plot. Furthermore, tilling will be much easier when you don’t need to break through grass and weed roots.

Keep the tarp securely in place throughout an entire growing season, preferably spring to spring. This way, weeds that germinate at different times can all be tackled.

Once you remove the tarp after the last threat of frost, you will have fertile earth just waiting to be seeded.

Preventing Winter Erosion with Silage Tarps

Cultivating cover crops is one of the best ways to keep soil healthy during the winter. You can sow a combination of frost-tolerant grasses and legumes.

These plants work synergistically to improve your growing environment. This mixture is commonly called green manure, and it can save you so much time and effort.

pea and oat blend fixes nitrogen in the ground and aerates the soil, respectively. Let these plants dominate your garden and choke out weeds all winter long.

A cover crop of peas and oats.
Cover crops mixture of peas and oats.

Throw a silage tarp over your cover crop about a month before planting. You will have an incredibly fertile and loamy garden plot in spring.

If you cannot take advantage of cover crop benefits, you should still utilize silage tarps. Shielding your garden from rain and snow has beneficial effects on soil quality.

Heavy precipitation during the winter months freezes in the ground. When the spring thaw comes around, the soil conditions might not be ideal for sowing crops.

In fact, your garden may be soggy, flooded, and stripped of critical nutrients.

In most climates, October through March can be rough on bare dirt. Plant roots typically keep topsoil in place during storms, but a silage tarp is adequate protection too.

By preventing the rich topsoil from getting washed away, you are left with healthy dirt that is prepped for spring planting.

Silage Tarps and Layered Beds

Not all soil microorganisms harm your plants. Many beneficial soil bacteria help your crops absorb nutrients.

Conventional tillage can disrupt these microbes while increasing the risk of soil erosion. However, crops without tillage are generally outcompeted by weeds.

Some sustainable tillage practices minimize the destruction of existing soil, providing vegetable seeds with essential nutrients for healthy growth.

Permaculture techniques like lasagna gardening improve farming sustainability. They allow farmers to save money and increase crop yields.

Tarps being used in a crop field.

Silage tarps help compost green manure mix in place. The decomposition of crop residue creates the perfect environment for prolific growth. Once you remove the tarp, you’ll be left with rich, fertile beds for planting.

To prevent spreading disease among crop successions, you must use crop rotation to starve pathogens.

Suppose you sow the same type of crops multiple years in a row. After each harvest, harmful pests, bacteria, and fungi can multiply under the silage tarp.

To avoid such complications, ensure you rotate-in unrelated plants to halt the reproduction of pesky bugs.

Using Silage Tarps in Backyard Gardens

Now that you understand how a silage tarp can help your garden, it’s time to get started! Soon your garden bed will be fertile and rich.

A person using a garden tiller.

Want more garden content? Visit our gardening page for in-depth guides, explainer posts, and great ideas!