Vegetable sales help garden centers grow

Owen and Cara Ohira typically spend $30 to $40 per week on vegetables to feed their family of four. This spring, the Reno residents built a planter box and planted tomatoes, carrots, onions, squash and lettuce to cut costs at the grocery store.

The Ohiras aren't alone in their green-thumb efforts. Garden shop owners and managers say they have seen a significant spike in the sale of vegetables and seeds as area residents seek to control grocery expenses by growing their own produce.

Ed Bath, owner of Garden Shop Nursery, which moved from Gentry Way to a four-acre site at the historic Caughlin Ranch at 3636 Mayberry Drive, says the garden supply industry expected an uptick in sales.

"With the downturn in the economy, the industry as a whole expected people to get back to basics and grow a lot of their own stuff," Bath says. "At grocery stores, the produce is expensive and typically doesn't taste as good. It saves money and time, and a lot of people to some degree may not have a job and can't afford the food they might buy normally."

Sara Schopter, manager of Truckee River Rock and Nursery Co. at 5200 W. Fourth St. says she can't keep vegetable plants in stock. Last year Schopter was selling a truckload of small vegetable flats per month. This year, Truckee River Rock and Nursery sold a truckload a week through the month of May.

Tomato varieties are always the top sellers, followed by staples such as peppers, basil, cabbage, corn, melons, berries and even pumpkins. But everything has been flying out the door, Schopter says.

"We got a shipment in on Thursday, and we were out of supplies by Monday. We are selling them pretty quick."

The increase in vegetable sales also has boosted the company's sales of specialty potting soil mixes and other gardening essentials. Additionally, Truckee River Rock and Nursery has seen a significant number of newcomers poking around its nursery center which in turn has boosted sales of perennials, annuals and flowers.

"A lot of people are spending more money on their yards," Schopter says. "We have been doing pretty good with people planting their own gardens and making it nice."

Bath agrees that customers who come in to purchase vegetables, berries or melons often buy flowers, shrubs and other plants.

Bruce Geschieder, owner of Moana Nursery, says his business has seen a 40 to 45 percent increase in vegetable and seed sales.

"The uptick in sales is quite dramatic," he says.

Vegetable sales account for about one-third of Moana Nursery's sales of annual plants. Moana Nursery also has seen a significant increase in first-time gardeners coming into its stores, as well as a big increased interest in its gardening seminars.

"Vegetable gardening and square-foot gardening were all monster seminars," Geschieder says. "The interesting part for us is that it is driving people into the nursery that we have not seen before, especially young professionals and young families. It is a great family bonding exercise to have a garden, especially a square-foot garden where you give two or three plots to the kids."

Square-foot gardening is the method of planting a four-foot by four-foot garden in 16 one-foot by one-foot squares.

Nancy Strickland of Dry Creek Garden Company in south Reno and Washoe City also says newcomers to gardening continually come into the stores seeking advice.

"We have seen a pretty big increase in people building there own vegetable boxes and buying their own vegetables this year," she says. "It is not just regular gardeners and your average homeowners; a lot of people are coming in who are new to gardening."

And many of those new gardeners seek to learn as much as they can about horticulture through the University of Nevada, Reno's Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program. The program, which doubled its number of volunteer gardening counselors this year to 50, provides northern Nevadans with free horticulture information.

Volunteers put in at least 50 hours of classroom instruction and volunteer a minimum of 50 hours a year to pass along their newly acquired knowledge.

"The program always seems to be in high demand, especially in the Washoe County area," says Wendy Hanson-Mazet, master gardener program coordinator. "We do have a waiting list and definitely have more people wanting to learn vegetable gardening and becoming volunteers."


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