This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Growing for Market Magazine
While silage tarps and other large “sheet materials” (row cover, landscape fabric, etc.) are important technologies for small farms, these materials can be infuriating and stressful to handle. Without proper techniques and good communication, these materials can get tangled and damaged, take an inordinate amount of time to sort out, and put a strain on your marriage. No joke. Megan and I built our house over three years while living in a 77-square-foot camper without any running water and things never got as heated during construction as they did the first time we tried to use silage tarps on our farm.
Using training from my off-farm job as a firefighter, we adapted a technique for folding and deploying tarps called salvage covers to work for silage tarps on our farm. We also use this method for landscape fabric. This method allows tarps to be folded neatly, stored efficiently, and deployed quickly. We have found this technique to result in such neat bundles that are so easy to deploy, that it is ALWAYS worth taking the time to put tarps away folded in this manner — even if it means taking time out to move a tangled ball of tarp to an open area of the farm to spread and fold for storage.
Please note that the tarp used in this demonstration is about 8 feet by 60 feet and can easily be handled by one person. Most of our tarps are 20 feet by 45 feet and they are easier with two people, one at each of the working corners, especially if there is a breeze.
Step 1: Unfold the tarp so it is flat. If necessary, weigh down one end with sand bags.
Step 2: Fold the tarp in half (Figure 1). When you finish, the two ends of the tarp should be flush with each other (Figure 2). Make sure the tarp is folded neatly and any bunched-up parts are smoothed out.
Step 3: Go back to the other end of the tarp and grab the fold. Fold it in half again (Figure 3), keeping it neat and smooth. Do not fold the ends flush. Instead, leave the ends sticking out in a 12 inch to 18 inch tail as in Figure 4. This makes it easier to properly orient the tarp when you are unfolding it.
Step 4: Continue to fold the tarp in half from the folded end (Figure 5), lining up your folds so they are flush but the ends continue to stick out. Do this until the tarp is folded into a manageable width of 3 to 4 feet. If done properly, the ends will line up as in Figure 6.
Step 5: Fold your tarp in the other direction so that it is roughly square (Figures 7 & 8). Your tarp is now ready for storage.
Step 1: Properly orienting your tarp is key to it unfolding easily. Lay out your tarp where you want it to be with the tail with the ends underneath the tarp and pointing away from the direction you wish to deploy it (Figure 9).
Step 2: Weigh down the bottom edge of the tarp and grab the working end (Figure 10).
Step 3: Simply hold the tarp and walk with it (Figure 11). If the tarp is wet, it may stick to itself and drag, rather than unfold. Try a few quick tugs, which may free it. Otherwise, add more weight or send a person to hold the stationary end. Your tarp should pull out neatly. You will need to straighten up the edges and weigh it down, and you’ll be good to go.
Having techniques and a system for doing something can be very helpful on a farm. I hope that showing you this method for handling silage tarps and other sheet materials improves efficiency and teamwork and reduces stress while handling silage tarps and other large sheets of material.
Jonathan and Megan Leiss grow half an acre of no-till flowers on their homestead, Spring Forth Farm, in Hurdle Mills, NC. Megan and Jonathan’s course, The No-Till Micro-Scale Flower Farm is available from The Gardener’s Workshop: www.thegardenersworkshop.com.