The following is the third in a series of blogs about how a third-generation family 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 and second parts of the series.
What about nitrogen, phosphorus, and the other nutrients that growing plants need? First and foremost, Saunders Brothers, Inc. bases all nutrient applications on soil tests from an independent laboratory. Meticulously analyzing the results of those tests, they import many grades of bark soils and potting mixes with ranges of pH and particle size that fit the needs of the huge range of plants that they grow. A majority of the nutrients for field application come from Shenandoah Valley poultry manure. The cost has been considerably less than that for commercial grade fertilizers. Once composted, the product has worked extremely well.
Keeping track of what’s going on in the greenhouses during the growing season is a critically important element in the business. One highly-trained (and fleet afoot) worker serves as the scout, inspecting the plants in the 375 greenhouses once a week (he does them all in three days!) and plotting the results on a custom spreadsheet. Yes, record-keeping and computer databases are very much a part of the Saunders Brothers, Inc. operation.
The scouting reports are especially important to determine when to apply pesticides in the greenhouses. This careful attention to plant condition results in selective Integrated Pest Management (IPM) spray pesticide applications and thus reduced environmental pollution. Once an insect infestation reaches an “economic threshold” of damage, based on the scouting reports, trained workers determine the linear extent of the affected plants and mix only the amount of pesticide necessary to match the spray distance. To accurately measure the spray, they use a water meter at the filling site. To improve the pesticide’s odds of working, they water the plants during the day before pesticide applications, with the next night’s irrigation cycle skipped for those plants. In addition, spray applications take place after hours to reduce the chance of contacting other employees. Most of the application takes place with an enclosed cab tractor using an airblast sprayer that is equipped with lights.
For post emergent herbicide application, selective backpack spraying is the ticket. Targeting the weeds present in designated areas and preventing them from going to seed has been the “ounce of prevention” at the Saunders Brothers nursery. All application equipment is calibrated annually.
Between the computer, the automated systems, and the skilled, hard-working personnel, it's easy to understand why Saunders Brothers customers see continuity in quality, even with a constantly evolving product mixture. Despite the current hard times for the landscaping industry, Tom says, “the phone keeps ringing if you sell quality.”
—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.