The following is the second in a series of blogs about how a third-generation nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read the first part of the series here.
The Saunders Brothers' macro-site-design was only the first step. Next, the brothers switched the 200-acre nursery’s growing surface from gravel to plastic. They found that the plants’ containers dried out slower, thus reducing the amount of irrigation water needed, as well as the need for herbicides. Once a plant canopies the pot, its need for herbicide is reduced significantly.
Two more techniques for improving watering efficiency are grouping plants by container size and water requirement and using drip irrigation whenever possible. The Saunders Brothers distribute the ponds’ water through a sophisticated, computerized irrigation system designed to show vertical inches of water applied over a particular area during a set time. The computer program has helped them know the exact amount of water scheduled for irrigation. As often happens with such conservation practices, Saunders Brothers, Inc. has realized significant operational cost savings from these investments.
Last year, the family took a step further in irrigation efficiency. Tom takes up the tale: “During the summer of 2011, we invited two research professors from the University of Florida to help establish ET (Evapotranspiration) levels for all plants we grow. The work was the first of its kind in the United States and helped us establish definitive amounts of water needed by specific plants during the hottest times of the year. We plan to continue the work for two more years. Already we are seeing where we can cut irrigation levels, and we have found out that lower fertilizer levels due to the lower water requirement will actually grow an equally good plant at a savings.”
Between growing plants in plastic pots under plastic greenhouse covers and using plastic sheeting as the growing surface, the brothers found themselves accumulating a lot of that material. They are, however, innovative thinkers, so it’s no surprise that Saunders Brothers, Inc was the first container nursery in the United States to send its greenhouse film to Tyco Plastics in Monroe, Louisiana.
“In the early years,” Tom says, “our purchase of their plastic was dependent on them accepting our used plastic, which they then turned into garbage bags. We started this practice in 2002. For years, we have palletized and shipped our plastic propagation trays to the Canadian Poly Recycling Association. We also recycle plastic containers that we are not planning on reusing. Finally, we recycle all cardboard that plants or other products arrive in.”
—John Page Williams
Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how the Saunders Brothers work to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time.