I was reading this article this morning. According to the article, more people are gardening, because of COVID, which is both a positive and negative thing.
Obviously more urban and suburban gardeners in our world is a really good thing. The environmental impact of 1000 gardeners with quarter acre homesteads, who are cultivating a variety of plants for a diverse dinner plate, will be significantly less than one 250 acre monoculture of corn or soy beans. In fact, replacing lawns with gardens with have a huge positive impact on the ecological diversity.
The negative, as shown in the article, is that the demand on seed companies has been huge, and in the early days of the pandemic, many of them had a hard time keeping up, and in fact, there are many varieties of seeds that are now very difficult to come by.
Seed companies have had to get creative, doing all sorts of things from temporarily disabling the ordering function on their websites to less appealing responses – like that of Johnny Seed, which is favoring commercial growers over home-gardeners, and will not fulfill orders of the latter if there is a conflict.
If one is even thinking about (even, if it's a maybe) adding some edibles to the landscape, the time to order seeds was probably a few weeks ago, and while it's not too late, finding some varieties (like beef steak tomatoes or purple carrots) will likely be difficult. Some seed stock may be completely out, which means if the goal was to grow cucumbers, green peppers may end up taking that garden space.
While seed companies have proved somewhat resilient after last years panic buying, they will still probably have some deficits, but that doesn't mean that finding seeds will be impossible. Sometimes, we just need to look closer.
I used to love looking through the seed catalogs. The variety was impressive, but also a bit overwhelming. The problem for me was a little like a kid at a buffet – my eyes are bigger than my garden, and I would end up with $100 worth of seeds and only plant a quarter of what I'd purchased.
In my novice years, I figured it was fine. I could just plant them the next year … and for some seeds, yes, that's true. If the seeds are properly stored, they can be used the next year, but as anyone who sells/saves seeds will tell you, the efficacy of those seeds starts to wane over time. That's why seed packets have dates on them – and some seed companies will let you know up front that IF you plant the seeds THIS YEAR, you can expect an 80% germination (that is, for every 10 seeds you plant, you can expect that 8 of them will grow). The germination rate will vary (be lower or higher) depending on the type of seed, but the older the seeds are, the lower the germination rate will be.
The lesson, for me, was that I couldn't purchase a stock of seeds that I could just save forever, because they don't last forever.
And I stopped ordering seeds through seed catalogs, because I found that there were so many ways to fill my garden that didn't include ordering from Johnny Seed.
So where do I find seeds?
When I started looking, I started finding seeds in some places I hadn't never considered that they would be.
I'm not sure why this one was a surprise to me. Since their primary customers are folks who have livestock (and presumably a farm), it shouldn't have surprised me that they would also carry seeds. I'm no sure why it did. In season, they sell seed packets, but they also have seed potatoes, garlic, and onion starts. Sometimes I can get deals on other stuff there, too, like frozen beef, some bulk vegetables, vegetable plants, and local honey.
I usually prefer to shop local, as we all know, and I prefer the chicken feed from my local feed store, because it's a better quality feed, but the fact is that the feed store is less “local” to me than the Tractor Supply with regard to driving distances, and so, sometimes, when I'm pressed for time, I stop at the Tractor Supply, because it is on my way.
I guess this store is a cross between a feed store and a hardware store, at least that's what it is here. Ours has an incredible assortment of all sorts of homesteading supplies from tools to livestock feed. They even have outerwear (like jackets and coats), tee-shirts, jeans, and boots. In season, they have baby chicks and ducklings – with varieties suitable for both meat and eggs.
In a TEOTWAWKI situation, when everyone else is heading to the grocery store, I'm going to Tractor Supply. Just sayin'.
At my local TSC, I recently picked up several packets of organic, heirloom seeds from the Seeds of Hope company.
Not only have I
been able to find seeds at the hardware store, but the seeds I found
were both local and organic. My local Ace Hardware carried seeds
from this company here in Maine. The Ace Hardware is a locally owned
franchise and the seed company is a locally owned company, which
feeds my need to support local businesses. They also have canning
supplies – usually year round – and real straw brooms.
In TEOTWAWKI scenario, I will be stopping at the Ace Hardware, on my way home from TSC.
A few years ago, my local grocery started carrying packets of seeds – in season. I started seeing them around March.
Home Improvement Store
I'm not a fan of shopping at Big Box stores, in general, but last year, when I couldn't find garlic seed anywhere else, I was able to find it at Home Depot. It wasn't great seed, and I ended up with a lot of tiny garlic heads. The seed wasn't well labeled, and after I had planted and harvested my garlic, I discovered that it was a soft neck garlic (I was waiting for the scapes that never grew ;)). I discovered that for storage purposes, I prefer the soft neck garlic, which can be braided. It looks pretty hanging in my kitchen. So, this year, I was proactive, and when I ordered my garlic seed – back in September, not from Home Depot – I ordered the soft neck variety.
They have other seeds and plants, also. I am not comfortable purchasing plants for my garden, because I am not confident that their plants are not treated with bee-killing pesticides, like some of their flowers reportedly are, but in a pinch, I could be compelled to purchase some seed from them.
I suppose this one is a gimme. Obviously anywhere that sells plants will also have seed for sale. Makes sense.
We have several nurseries in my area, and I have always been able to find a fair selection of seeds at most of them. I've even found some unique seeds (like nettles) at one of the higher-end nurseries.
But what happens when one has exhausted all of those options, and the seed companies have a back log of weeks? The growing season is short, here in Maine, and if one has waited too long and ends up on the back-order list, the season may be winding down before the seeds even germinate.
So, what do we do?
This isn't the most economical option, obviously. I can get a six pack of tomato plants at the nursery for $2.50, and I have six plants. I can get a packet of tomato seeds for $1.79, and I could have 20 plants. The issue, for me, is that I don't, necessarily, have the space for 20 tomato plants. As such, some plants are a better option for me, and in fact, I do plant a variety of both plants and seeds.
Also, while some plants will do well with direct sowing, some seeds need to be planted in a protected place before the last frost to give them the best opportunity to develop fruit (or produce those tomatoes) during our short growing season here in Maine. I can direct sow lettuce seeds, and even do subsequent plantings, because lettuce is more cold hardy, and I can direct sow the seeds earlier than I can tender tomatoes, and also, lettuce matures much faster than tomatoes. I might need 75 days from seed to harvest for a tomato. From seed to plate for lettuce, I need 28 days.
That means I can direct sow my lettuce seeds in mid-April and have a fresh salad from my garden by Mother's Day. Common wisdom here in Maine is to not plant the warm-loving plants until after Memorial Day, which means I can't even hope for a tomato until August, if I direct sow the seeds. If I buy tomato plants that have been grown in a greenhouse and hardened off, and put them in my garden on Memorial Day, I might have tomatoes for my Independence Day celebration.
Buying plants is more expensive than buying seeds, but it's still less expensive to grow your own than it is to purchase them.
Unfortunately, the nurseries only grow so much, and only have certain plants available at certain times. Once they've sold out of those vegetable plants, that's it for the year.
So, what to do if you've missed the boat on buying plants, and the seed companies STILL have a back log of weeks?
Go to the Grocery Store
I realize I have already mentioned that the grocery store has seed packets – in season. What they also have is vegetables and fruits, many of which have seeds or are seeds. There are a surprising number of plants that can be grown from scraps or from seeds saved from vegetable scraps. For starters, pepper and tomato seeds can be regrown from “organic” peppers and tomatoes purchased at the store.
I have grown potatoes, onions, and ginger from grocery store purchases.
Look beyond the produce aisle, though. A fact many people don't know is that the dried beans can also be sprouted and grown. As this article points out, many of the seeds won't be viable, but some of them will be. In the absence of other choices, a pound of dried beans costs $2.50 and might produce several plants. Worst case, the beans that were soaked, but didn't sprout, can be cooked for supper.
Another potential food source is raw peanuts, which can be grown from peanuts purchased at the grocery store. They have to be raw though. They don't have a great success rate, but any are better than none.
Also check out the bulk bins and the grain aisles for chia seeds (remember “chia pets”?) and flax seeds, which might sprout. And if you have a health food store near you, you might also find a seed sprouting mix. If the seeds will sprout, they will grow a plant.
When planning a garden, obviously, the best option is to plan the garden well in advance of the growing season, and to order or otherwise procure any supplies one might need before the ground is even ready to plant.
Unfortunately, in our very busy world, sometimes stuff happens, and we don't get done the things we intended to do. If that's the case for your seed ordering, don't despair. You still have options.