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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 Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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