TRURO — For the people who grow vegetables and manicure lawns, it’s definitely not a garden variety spring, as the coronavirus closes retail garden centers and seed catalogs are selling out.
The Souza sisters, who run Bayberry Gardens & Landscaping in Truro, are working out new ways to meet customer demand, and have found that people are particularly interested in vegetables. They are working with a smaller crew than usual in order to limit their exposure to a safe nucleus of family and friends. Natalie Van Staden, her sister Brittany Souza, brother-in-law Tom Kane, and bookkeeper Kolby Blehm are doing everything for the business right now, from maintaining the website to caring for plants and handling orders. Because the garden center on Route 6 is closed, they’ve set up online ordering of seedlings and plants and then curbside pickup or delivery.
“This has been a huge challenge for us, like for all small businesses,” said Van Staden. “We do daily brainstorming, because it’s like running a completely different type of business. We are brick-and-mortar people. But here we are, trying to figure it out.”
Besides caring for tender seedlings, Van Staden, Blehm, Souza, and Kane all have toddlers and babies. There is no child care.
“This is not a childproof environment,” Souza said through the chain-link fence of the garden center.
It’s uncomfortable having to keep customers away. Selecting plants is very tactile, but it’s better to be safe, Van Staden said.
Cape Coastal Farm Products owner Uli Winslow, who grows mushrooms in the woods of Truro, has never had a busier spring. Even though he can’t sell to restaurants right now, he’s still getting three or four calls a day. Winslow, 24, has run his own mushroom business for four years.
“The New Yorkers are here and, yes, there’s a lot of demand,” he said. Someone contacted him on Facebook to order 20 pounds, which he cannot do right now because it’s still too cold.
Usually, Winslow doesn’t get this kind of interest until May. That’s when his season really kicks in, because temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees mean the mushrooms clinging to his oak logs can grow to full weight in just a few days.
Winslow produces mostly shiitakes, which are grown outdoors on local oak trees that he’s cut when they are green and dormant. Fresh shiitakes (and some oyster, lion’s mane, and chestnut) sell at farmers’ markets for a little over $20 a pound, he said. Last year, Winslow was producing about 200 pounds a week during the season.
April is a work month. Winslow gets the logs ready by boring small shallow holes in them and filling them with mycelium, a mass of interwoven filaments. He soaks the logs and counts on rising humidity to spur the mycelium to produce mushrooms. The 1,200 logs ready for production this year will bear fruit four times in a season.
Soon, Winslow hopes to be selling to restaurants as he has done in the past and to farmers’ markets, too. But despite the unknowns about when his usual avenues will open, he said he has no plans to do deliveries, as it seems his customers have found him.
There has been confusion about whether or not landscapers and nurseries are in fact essential services. Nurseries are, as long as they sell pet food, according to Gov. Charlie Baker’s list. At first, however, Baker declared landscapers nonessential and advised them to not work in the community. In late March, Baker reversed that decision.
Megan Spoerndle, owner of Stix and Stones Landscaping in Provincetown, said she’s grateful to be allowed to work during the stay-at-home advisory. But she has lots of clients on Commercial Street and has found that it’s been tough to stay away from people as they wander down the narrow street.