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How Coastal Sun Uses Cover Cropping to Cultivate Sustainability

Under the beautiful Santa Cruz county sky is Coastal Sun’s organic cannabis and blueberry farm. Here, we utilize two different cultivation methodologies. One is our greenhouse flower, grown year-round in bioponic pots beneath the state-of-the-art climate-controlled greenhouses, nourished with organic compost. The second is our sungrown cannabis, grown in harmony with the seasons.

While the sungrown fields are sun-kissed in the spring and summer, their soil must be nurtured and protected in the fall and winter. To do this, we utilize the age-old agricultural technique known as cover cropping. This method ensures that when we plant your cannabis in the spring, it takes root in the healthiest soil possible, yielding a plant with rich flavors and potent experiences.

A farmer in cannabis field moves soil between hands

There are several reasons organic farmers choose to implement a cover cropping system. Each plant is strategically selected due to its unique attributes, but they all are key players in boosting organic matter – the fuel of organic cultivation. They can be selected to enrich the soil with nutrients, curb erosion, foster biodiversity for beneficial insects and pests, prevent soil compaction, reduce water runoff, and protect the soil against diseases.

These crops play a crucial role in sustaining the overall well-being of the surrounding ecosystem.

In this article, we will delve into the reasons to use cover crops, the basic principles of the practice, and unveil some of our preferred cover crop choices.

Reasons to Use Cover Crops

The primary distinction between conventional and organic farming is the approach to soil and crop maintenance. Traditional farming relies on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to replenish the nutrients in the soil during the winter seasons after crops are harvested; organic farming prioritizes organic inputs for these purposes.

Crops grown by conventional farming can leave behind residue and synthetic chemicals that can negatively affect soil health. The use of heavy machinery during harvesting further exacerbates issues, leading to soil compaction and erosion. These combined factors reduce soil biodiversity, leaving it dull and dead, negatively impacting the crops' overall health and environment for future seasons.

Moreover, it is widely known that consumption of synthetic chemicals is also harmful to human health. While exposure to pesticides in today’s world is inevitable, it’s essential to limit our exposure to reduce the risk of adverse side effects – so we've got your cannabis (and blueberries) covered.

Cover cropping is the organic approach to post-harvest soil treatment. This method enriches and protects the soil, keeping it healthy and alive in preparation for the next round of crops. 

Once fully grown, the cover crops are chopped down and incorporated back into the soil, where they decompose to serve as a rapid source of organic fertilizer.

In contrast to traditional farming, our soil gets better with each harvest season. Farmers strategically select species like buckwheat and mustard to improve the soil structure and feed the microbes that break down the organic matter of these crops, releasing nutrients vital for plant growth.

Cover crops in a field on Coastal Sun farm with views of the hills in the distance

Incorporating techniques like cover cropping is how we get the high-quality cannabis we cultivate. Our vibrant and flavorful buds deliver consistently potent experiences, directly reflecting our soil nurturing practices.

Cover Cropping 101– “Add Organic Matter”

Cover cropping is an ancient technique used for centuries, and it’s an easy process with advantageous results. After crops are harvested, typically in the fall months, farmers distribute seeds of various cover crops into the barren soil, rake them in, and add a layer of straw, leaves, or woodchips on top to Initiate the cover-cropping process.

This process is followed by irrigation. As these crops grow, the roots of the cover crops play a dual role, anchoring the soil to prevent erosion and maintaining its openness for nutrient absorption. Additionally, they contribute to biodiversity, creating natural pest control and suppressing weed growth.

Once fully grown, the cover crops are chopped down and incorporated back into the soil, where they decompose to serve as a rapid source of organic fertilizer.

A farmer chops cover crops, incorporating them back into the soil in preparation for the next planting season

This nutrient-rich fertilizer becomes a cornerstone for cultivating healthier plants and emphasizes a mindful approach that considers human health and environmental sustainability. Organic farmers recognize the significance of organic matter as the lifeblood of healthy soil maintenance and embrace the mantra to always "add organic matter."

After chopping and incorporating these crops back into the soil, we sow our cannabis seeds.

Cover Crops on Coastal Sun’s Farm

Depending on the season and region, several types of cover crops are utilized on farms.

Our farmers experiment with cover crops that best suit our Santa Cruz County region in winter when flooding and erosion are prevalent concerns.

We use a custom mix of wheatgrass, vetch, bell beans, oats, and barley. These cover crops are often called “green manure,” which protects, nurtures, and keeps our soil alive and ready for the next harvest while contributing substantial amounts of organic biomass to our cannabis crops. (They also provide tasty treats for our sheep.)

  • Wheatgrass is the shoots or sprouts that look like green blades that emerge before the wheat plant reaches full maturity. It has a fibrous root system that improves the soil by promoting aeration, preventing compaction, and enhancing water filtration. This cover crop attracts beneficial microorganisms, acts as a nutrient-rich source for soil fertility, and aids in weed suppression due to its dense growth.

  • Vetch is a type of legume. As a cover crop, it offers a sustainable nitrogen source to benefit subsequent crops. It acts as a natural mulch, preventing weeds, improving soil structure, and enhancing water flow. Additionally, vetch serves as a food source for beneficial insects.

  • Bell beans are another type of legume that helps fix atmospheric nitrogen by turning it into a usable form for the plants. Like other cover crops, they reduce soil compaction, increase water absorption, and provide shading effects, creating beneficial habitats for microorganisms.

  • Oats are a grain well suited for covering cropping during the fall and winter months. They quickly grow, have a fibrous root system to prevent soil erosion, and can have allelopathic effects that help suppress certain soil-borne diseases and pests. Oats also make an excellent grazing crop for farm animals like our sheep.

  • Barley is another type of grain that is great for winter months. It can create a thick root system and protective canopy to help suppress weed growth. Like other cover crops, it helps to accumulate, absorb, and release nutrients in the soil to support its overall health.

Sheep graze in field of cover crops among surrounding hills and vegetation

The primary distinction between conventional and organic farming is the approach to soil and crop maintenance.

After chopping and incorporating these crops back into the soil, we sow our cannabis seeds. The soil, enriched with nutrients, nourishes these sungrown plants, yielding cannabis with dynamic flavors and potent characteristics.

Cover Cropping for Sustainability: from Our Farm to Yours

Cover cropping is a simple system that unleashes many benefits into the soil. Beyond its impact on soil health, these crops play a crucial role in sustaining the overall well-being of the surrounding ecosystem. This is precisely why we embrace this system on our farm. The beauty lies not only in its positive effects on the planet and human health but also in yielding the healthiest, most flavorful, and most potent cannabis possible.

Utilizing cover crops isn’t limited to large farms. It can seamlessly integrate into your home garden. Instead of allowing your garden to lie bare after harvesting, incorporating cover crops ensures your soil remains nutrient-rich, setting the stage for the next plentiful harvest. Your garden's choice of cover crops will depend on the season and your specific gardening goals. Among the top selections are those we utilize on our farm – bell beans, vetch, and wheatgrass.

Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more about the different techniques we use on our farm and how you can seamlessly apply them to your home garden. Stay updated on the latest happenings at Coastal Sun and enjoy a wealth of valuable insights and exciting updates.

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