Let it Snow

Winter’s natural fertilizer.

After moving from Australia to Virginia, Nicole Schermerhorn knew she didn’t want to raise animals on the nearly 40 acres of land that had been in her husband’s family for six generations.

Too much work, she says. “Well, it turns out the herb plants need as much care and attention,” Schermerhorn admits with a chuckle, her Australian accent coming through.

Though Lavender Fields Herb Farm in Glen Allen employs more than 20 people March through May to do that work, as any home gardener knows, there’s still plenty to do in the colder months. Says Schermerhorn, the foundation for a lively herb garden is laid in the dead of winter.

“To me, that would be organic compost,” says Schermerhorn, adding that the soil-building concoction can even be applied atop a layer of snow.

“Snow is poor man’s fertilizer,” she says. Unlike ice, “it’s an insulator for the herbs.”

The 12-year-old wholesale business grows starters for 250 varieties of USDA-certified organic herb and vegetable plants, which are sold at garden centers throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Mint comes in flavored varieties from chocolate to pineapple that can all inspire their share of cocktails. Stevia can be grown alongside as a natural sweetener and Sweet Annie as medicine for the common cold.

The farm’s top-selling herb is basil, which, surprisingly, Schermerhorn says is probably the hardest for home growers to keep alive. That’s partially because many plant it in March when they should wait until Mother’s Day.

What about the herb after which her Lavender Fields Herb Farm is named?

It naturally prefers a dry, rocky climate, but, says Schermerhorn, “it can be done.”

Lavender Fields Farm offers classes year-round on the art of growing herbs. LavenderFieldsFarm.com

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