How to Have a Great Garden Anyway

February 22, 2021 With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, resulting in shortages of basic commodities, seed companies saw a sharp and sudden increase in demand. It’s not surprising considering the undeniable benefits of gardening: fresh, nutritious food; physical and mental exercise; and a sense of control and security during a very challenging time. As more people turned to “Victory” gardens to grow at least some of their own food, seeds became treasured assets.

Gardeners, especially those who were new to growing food, were dismayed to discover that the seeds they needed were in short supply. Unexpectedly high demand pushed fulfillment operations past capacity.  As a result, sales had to be suspended by most suppliers as they strove to catch up.

The good news is that growers are still producing plenty of seeds and seed companies are adjusting their projections for the future to ensure that enough seeds are packaged to meet demand. Additionally, gardening businesses are thrilled that people are discovering gardening and are doing everything they can to enable their success. However, it will take some time for seeds to be as readily available as they were pre-pandemic.

Backyard gardeners can certainly help the situation. Below are several suggested gardening habits that can help to relieve stress on the seed market.  These habits benefit gardeners, as well, by improving the sustainability of their own gardens.

Tips for gardeners:

  • Order early, but don’t buy in a panic. Take inventory of what you already have. Perhaps you have enough to grow your garden this year.  If not, stock up only on the particular seeds that are in short supply in your collection.
  • Buy from smaller seed companies.  When the bigger, high profile seed suppliers are sold out of popular seed varieties, lesser-known vendors may still have some in stock.  
  • Plan out your garden space.  Order the amount of seed that you need to carry out your garden plan, but avoid over-buying.  If you find that you have more seed than you require, consider sharing some with another gardener.
  • Want to enhance your sense of personal seed security? Order some open-pollinated varieties, not just hybrids (which may not reproduce true from seed), and save their seed for 2022.
  • Seeds readily adapt. Gardeners should be prepared to adapt, too. Seed companies are vigorously working to meet demand, but there is a lot of catching up to do.  In the meantime, stay flexible.  If your favorite variety of tomato is unavailable, be willing to try another.  You may discover a new favorite.   
  • Improve your chances of success with adaptable seeds that are appropriate for your climate.    It may be fun to try to grow the occasional specialty item from elsewhere.  But growing varieties that are known to thrive in your area will increase the likelihood of an abundant harvest of food and new seeds. The current lack of availability certainly highlights the importance of saving seeds from your own garden to plant next year.
  • Be patient with seed orders. Generally, a seed company will ship your order within a couple of days for arrival at your door shortly after that. Several factors have made that currently impossible.  Increased demand is simply too much for their existing staff to handle and it has outpaced the time required to add and train new staff.  Additionally, social distancing limits the number of employees who can work in a space.  Time has to be spent to sanitize surfaces, slowing down normal systems.  And once seeds are shipped, delivery delays are a common occurrence.
  • While waiting for your order to arrive, take advantage of educational resources from seed catalogs and companies.  The educational support seed companies provide has only deepened with the creation of digital resources.
  • Share seeds. Pass on your extra seeds to another gardener. Or make a plan with your buddy to buy seeds together and divide them between you. Or split up the planting tasks — one of you starts tomatoes, one starts cucumbers Then, at planting time, swap a few so you both get what you need. Resilience grows with cooperation, especially in stressful times. – 2021 Fedco Seed Catalog

Many of these steps will immediately impact this year’s seed supply. Others will impact future supply. The hope is that so many new home gardeners and growers will stay in the game, despite short term shortages.

The mission of the Great American Seed Up is to get seeds into the hands of gardeners and support the resilience of communities across the country.  The heirloom seed varieties that we stock are easy to grow and suitable for seed saving.  We love to hear about our customer’s gardens.  And we are even more thrilled when they save seeds from the harvest to plant the next season. By doing so year after year, these gardeners may never need to buy seeds to those varieties again.  And they will undoubtedly have plenty of extra seeds to share with others.  GreatAmericanSeedUp.org