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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
www.groworganic.com .

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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