COVID-19 pandemic spurs surge in gardening activity

Special Reports

When the going gets tough, the tough get growing

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — When the going gets tough, the tough get growing. Anxiety surrounding COVID-19 and the often bare shelves at grocery stores has prompted many Oregonians to pick up a trowel and put down some seeds.

“Fortunately, gardening is one of those hobbies that doesn’t need to be put on hold — warm weather is coming and people can garden while following all the social distancing practices,” a spokesperson for the Oregon Association of Nurseries wrote in an email to KOIN 6 News.

That has meant extra business for some nurseries and seed companies.

“With the craziness of COVID-19 and the pandemic that’s going on, we’ve had a lot of people reach out,” said Elliot Dasler, owner of Season’s Harvest LLC.

Dasler and his wife Kaitlyn started their small nursery just this year in Oregon City. They grow everything from fruit trees and berry bushes to vegetable starts, all out of their yard, Dasler said. And while the coronavirus pandemic has crippled other small businesses, the effects seem to have gone the other direction for Season’s Harvest, driven in part by social media. A simple post in a local Facebook group about the new business garnered more than 100 comments.

Elliot Dasler and his wife Kaitlyn started a nursery out of their yard this year. They say it’s taken off “like wildfire” (Skype interview)

“I can’t believe how many people we’ve been in touch with,” Dasler said. “It has been like wildfire.”

Like many nursery owners, the Daslers are offering to deliver starts once they’re ready. They have everything from tomatoes and cucumbers to kale, corn and peppers, Dasler said. They’ve also decided to donate $2 from the sale of every strawberry plant during the month of April to OHSU’s COVID-19 pandemic response fund.

“We are blessed to be financially stable in this time of crisis,” Dasler said, adding that OHSU has been “leading the charge locally for testing.”

“Our country and the entire world are being challenged in a way we have never experienced. In response many Americans are … striving to be as self-reliant for as much of their own fresh food as possible.”

Tom Johns, president of Territorial Seed Company

Established nurseries and garden stores are also adapting to doing business during COVID-19. Cornell Farm in Southwest Portland has implemented strict social distancing rules in store and is making its catalog available to shop online, changes it announced in a blog post titled “Gardening is Not Canceled.”

Al’s Garden and Home is closed to in store shopping, but is still open seven days per week for call and pick-up orders and is offering free delivery within 10 miles of each store on purchases of $75 or more. Second generation Al’s owner Jack Bigej even posted a video reflecting on a time when everyone he knew had a Victory Garden and “how a return to the garden may be just what we need.”

Vegetables And Fruits_305890

Those who want to garden from scratch are causing a run on seeds.

Territorial Seed Company, based in Cottage Grove, says it is experiencing shipping delays as a result of “an unprecedented surge of orders.”

“Our country and the entire world are being challenged in a way we have never experienced. In response many Americans are taking appropriate measures by cocooning at home and are striving to be as self-reliant for as much of their own fresh food as possible,” the company’s president Tom Johns wrote on Territorial’s website.

Interest in free resources skyrockets

Prospective gardeners are also taking advantage of free advice from the experts.

In late March, Oregon State University announced it would waive the usual $45 fee for its online vegetable gardening course through April in response to the increase in people interested in growing their own food. The course covers basics like soil, care and harvesting.

More than 15,000 people enrolled in the course during the first week or so after the announcement, according to a spokesperson for OSU. Under normal circumstances, they would have expected 2-5 people to sign up during that same time span.

Portland Parks & Recreation also has a community gardens toolkit that includes advice for home gardeners, and Marion Polk Food Share has links to a number of resources including planting calendars, information on composting, and raised bed advice.

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