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Riding a new wave of demand during COVID

The go-to source for organic gardeners, Peaceful Valley sees boon in interest

Before reopening to the public, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply installed
several precautions, including plastic protectors at its checkout counter. (Photo
courtesy PVFGS)

Will renewed interest in gardening continue after COVID is gone?

If the experience of one popular supplier is any indication, it’s highly likely that the pandemic has given root to a new generation of serious gardeners.

Synonymous with all things organic and a go-to source for gardeners (and farmers) for decades, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply has ridden spikes of orders and lows of shutdowns during this year like no other.

“We knew in the very beginning of March that we were running out of seed,” said Peaceful Valley owner Patricia Boudier. “That seed should have lasted us all year.”

Headquartered in Grass Valley, Peaceful Valley ranks as the nation’s largest organic farm and garden supply company, with tens of thousands of customers nationwide.

“We started to see a huge surge in seed sales in February,” Boudier said. “People were listening to the news and those early reports about (coronavirus).”

Boudier recalled other news-driven boons in seed sales. There was a spike in advance of Y2K and another right after 9/11.

“People worry about food sources,” she said, “and they start to garden.”

Founded in 1976, Peaceful Valley has withstood many challenges during its long run as an organic pioneer. But nothing could prepare Boudier and her 60-person staff for this pandemic-fueled demand. Even putting a $100 minimum on new orders didn’t stop the surge.

“We couldn’t deal with thousands and thousands of orders at one time,” she said. “We couldn’t get our seed packets printed fast enough. We worked all night to fill orders. We sent out seeds in plain brown wrappers.”

What were people buying? Peaceful Valley’s best sellers of 2020: Scarlet Nantes carrots, Genovese basil, cilantro, Bloomsdale spinach and Calabrese broccoli. Apple and pear trees were popular, too.

When California declared a statewide shelter-in-place order March 19, Peaceful Valley’s whirlwind business came to a sudden halt.

“We closed completely for one day so I could gather my thoughts and do some research,” Boudier said. “As a farm supply, we’re an essential business, so we could stay open. We closed our (Grass Valley) store and nursery until we could be sure we could open safely.

“Then, we had all these employees who couldn’t come to work because they have little kids and needed to stay at home,” she added. “We still did online orders, but we had to close that down for a week just so we could catch up.”

Peaceful Valley gradually reopened its store and nursery. Only five or six people are allowed inside at a time. Masks are required. Plexiglas and plastic shields shroud the counters.

“We fully reopened our call center, but we still didn’t have enough people,” Boudier said. “Some of our (employees) took leave; they didn’t want to risk exposure.”

Four months into the pandemic, Peaceful Valley has found some peace. “This (crisis) has actually helped us be more efficient,” said Boudier, adding that her company took this opportunity to migrate its online business to a new web platform.

This summer, business has remained strong. Sales for July are up about 22% compared to last year.

“Anything edible is flying off the shelves,” she said. “Even sprouting seeds (such as mung beans and alfalfa); I was surprised by how many people wanted to do their own sprouts. Even if they have no room for a garden, they can grow their own microgreens.”

Boudier expects this boom in organic gardening interest to outlast the pandemic.

“I’ve talked to so many people who put in their first garden ever; they’re so excited,” she said. “People are gravitating towards keeping their food sources protected. They want to grow their own food.”

Planning a fall garden? Check out Peaceful Valley’s website at .


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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