Vegetables complement flowers for grower-shipper

04/22/2013 01:05:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

A northern California company known for its Dutch-style glasshouses and stargazer lilies has diversified into vegetables to make better use of facilities and provide nearly year-round employment for its 500 workers.

Sun Valley, Arcata, started out more than three decades ago producing field- and greenhouse-grown flowers for the cut floral and bouquet trades, said Bill Prescott, marketing communications associate for the Sun Valley Group, the umbrella organization.

artichokesCourtesy Sun Valley GroupWith the North Coast's typical cool, foggy weather, artichoke production runs from June through late October or early November.

R">During the past few years, the grower-shipper has expanded into vegetables, including artichokes and cucumbers.

“It’s really great for us,” he said. “The cut flower industry slows down after about Mother’s Day. But we can keep our greenhouses full with the cucumber crop, and the artichokes keep the work force working.”

Pleasant Valley Produce, as the vegetable arm is called, experimented with artichokes by planting a fallow section of a field last season.

“They took off, and we were able to sell them to some of our existing clients on the floral side,” he said.

This year, Pleasant Valley Produce increased the acreage significantly and has lined up several large retailers to help market them, Prescott said.

The cool, foggy climate in Humboldt County along the northern California coast is perfect for artichokes, and he said the firm expects to harvest them from about June 1 through late October or early November, depending on the first frosts of the season.

greenhouse-grown cucumbersCourtesy Sun Valley GroupCucumbers are grown in greenhouses after the Mother's Day flower business has waned.The flower side of the business slows during the summer and doesn’t begin to pick up again until September.

“So the artichokes out in the field don’t affect the flower side of things,” Prescott said.

Pleasant Valley Produce also grows slicing-type cucumbers in its glasshouses, planting the crop shortly after Mother’s Day.

In early May, the greenhouses may be filled to capacity with flowers, but production quickly drops off to about 60% by late May.

“That’s when we’ll bring in the cucumbers,” Prescott said.

Last season, the operation also planted a test crop of basil under some hoop houses — large structures that resemble Quonset huts over which plastic has been stretched.

Prescott said Sun Valley Produce hopes to add that crop to its offerings once a few production bugs can be worked out.

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