Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Four

The following is the fourth and final part 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, second, and third parts of the series.

Warm Season Grasses & Hedgerow
Saunders Brothers' warm season grasses and hedgerow, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

The Saunders family certainly cares about the Chesapeake and its tidal tributaries, but the family members especially love the mountains, the valleys, and the streams of their home county (just take a look at their blog). These are outdoor people, and it's important to them to take care of the wildlife and aquatic habitats around them. They are keen hunters and anglers who also take great delight in the richness of non-game birds, mammals, and fish around them. One look at the kayaks hung under the front deck of the hilltop home that Tom shares with his wife, Lyn, confirms the degree to which Tye River water runs through his veins.

It's no surprise, then, that over the years, Tom Saunders has developed some firm opinions about care of land, both agricultural and residential: "All farmers should have regular soil testing done on their properties. Applying nutrients without a soil test is like asking a doctor to prescribe a medication without seeing the patient. There are just too many people in agriculture who think annual application of the same amount of 10-10-10 and lime are the necessary tools for growing a crop of hay. Educating agriculturists to the soil's satisfaction of building-block nutrients like P [phosphorus] and K [potassium] is essential."

More words of wisdom from Tom Saunders:

  • In urban and suburban America, homeowners should test their soils every three to five years. (What if soil testing results were required by retailers before lawn fertilizers were sold?)
  • Homeowners must understand that application of nitrogen on lawns in the spring is not a good idea.
  • Applications of nitrogen on turf are best in the fall.
  • Also applications of fertilizers prior to heavy rains do not do any good.
  • Weed-and-feed products may have to be altered to not carry fertilizer components during the March-August timeline. (This prescription is especially true when growing fescue and bluegrass sod.)
  • Companies who produce lawn-care products must direct their advertising to discourage fertilizer applications during the spring-summer months. They also must encourage soil testing. Soil testing for all is the key before nutrient application.

Tom also walks his talk on the land around his home, paying special attention to wildlife habitat improvement: "On a personal level, I have seen a remarkable jump in the numbers of quail and rabbits on my own property since I started killing stands of fescue [field grass] on field edges and planting native warm season grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass. I started this practice in 2008, working with Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage of Easton, Maryland. The habitat change has been remarkable. This year, I intend on killing more fescue and adding more warm season grasses."�

By hard work and deep commitment to good stewardship, Saunders Brothers, Inc. brings long-term value to its customers and to the lands and waters of the James River system, even as it helps to bring jobs and tax revenue to Nelson County. This company and the family behind it richly deserve our thanks for their stewardship of their lands and the waters to which they drain.   

--John Page Williams

Nursery Road
The nursery road of the Saunders Brothers operation. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.


Emmy Nicklin

Issues in this Post

Agriculture   Community   Conservation   Locally Grown   Sustainability   CBF in Virginia  



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