Sunn hemp

Retaining Soil Moisture at Lighthouse Herb’n Farm

By Luz Ballesteros Gonzalez, NCAT Agriculture Specialist

When will it rain again? How much will it rain? These questions are becoming more common—while such uncertainty has always existed, it’s now more prevalent. In the wake of unpredictable weather, the opportunity to work synergistically with soil and plants has opened up again. Farmers all over the United States are changing the way they farm to boost soil health, use less water, and reduce fertilizer and pesticide use 

Lighthouse Herb’n Farm is located at the base of Palomar Mountain in San Diego and is run by Damian Valdez and Jaime Williamson. In recent years, they have experienced harsh climates and constant drought.

“It kind of feels like you’re on the frontier of climate change,” said Damian.

However, this hasn’t stopped the pair from adopting conservation practices like cover crops, such as sunn hemp, to help fix nitrogen and produce biomass. They mow it down and use the mulch as an organic ground cover that breaks down naturally feeding the soil microbes. Mowing the cover crop leaves the roots in the soil allowing those air pockets and pores to be intact and for water to be captured. As Damian said, “It’s really about moisture retention.”

You can watch and learn about the work Damian and Jamie are doing in this video:

Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about what cover crop might work best for your situation, you can find more information in the following ATTRA resources:

Cover Crop Options for Hot and Humid Areas

Cover Crop (340) in Organic Systems

Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures

Episode 243. Cover Crops and Their Impact on Soil Health, Crop Productivity

Weekly Wednesday Workshop: Winter Cover Crops

You can also send your most pressing cover crop and soil health questions through ATTRA’s online chat, by calling 1-800-346-9140, by email, or posting it in the ATTRA forum.