Spend too much time pouring over seed catalogs and plotting out every square foot of your raised beds and the seeds you need might be sold out.
Vegetable seed sellers experienced skyrocketing demand last spring as concerns over potential food shortages drove some of the demand; gardening also helped pass the time during quarantine—leading seed companies to post virtual “out of stock” stickers on some popular seed varieties. As seed starting season begins again, sellers say demand hasn’t slowed down.
“The demand has been massive,” says Mike Lizotte, co-owner and managing director of American Meadows and board president of the Home Garden Seed Association.
There is no seed shortage—yet—but some seed companies are already starting to report issues.
Earlier this month, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds announced that it planned to close its website to online orders from January 15 to January 20 to catch up on orders, which were five times higher than last year. On Instagram, the Missouri-based seed retailer noted that order volume “has unavoidably created significant delays in shipping…[and] delivery may take up to 30 days in the United States.”
Wisconsin-based Jung Seed has a note on its website alerting customers, “We are experiencing some delays in seed shipments. We will continue to…ship orders as it becomes available,” and a surge of orders led Johnny’s Selected Seeds to limit home gardener orders to Tuesdays and Wednesdays (commercial farmers were still able to place orders at any time). At Johnny’s, seed starting supplies, including adjustable lights essential for starting seeds indoors, are already sold out.
Plan Now, Plant Later
Like other seed companies, Burpee anticipated the pandemic would create sustained demand for seeds in all product categories from cucumbers to cut flowers with president and CEO Jamie Mattikow noting, “We have increased our resources and capacity.” Still, Mattikow advises placing seed orders early to ensure deliveries arrive in time for planting.
Lizotte also suggests ordering online. Seed catalogs, he admits, are great for reading up on varieties but it often takes longer to fill orders placed through the old-fashioned mail order catalogs.
If seed companies sell out of popular varieties, experiment with alternatives. At Renee’s Garden, certain varieties, including Italian bush beans, butterhead lettuce “rhapsody” and edible pod snow peas are all temporarily out of stock, but several other varieties of beans, butterhead lettuce and peas are still available. You might also be able to source seeds through seed libraries, Facebook seed swap groups or garden clubs. Seed Savers Exchange operates a gardener-to-gardener seed swap to help gardeners access rare seeds.
If you are lucky enough to secure the open-pollinated seed varieties you want to grow this season, consider saving seeds to ensure a supply for next spring. These 10 tips will get you started.
This season, timeliness is essential. Lizotte advises ordering seeds now, even if your garden plan is still a work in progress and you won’t sow seeds until spring.
“Get the seeds now and plan later,” he advises. “You’d be foolish to think you can wait until April to go to a big box store and still get all of the seeds you want; there might not be a seed shortage now, but that may not be the case two to three months from now.”