Like toilet paper, seeds are the target of panicked buyers

Erin Schanen

Seeds are the new toilet paper.

Not in terms of function, of course, although I suppose the envelopes could come in handy in a pinch, but in terms of panic buying. People were already getting anxious about seed availability in fall, even before most growers had finished harvesting and processing the seeds being ordered now. I even wrote a column urging calm, primarily because I didn’t feel like rushing my seed order in.

If you have ever ordered seeds, I can reasonably predict that over the past few weeks you have received no fewer than 10 seed catalogs, all of which will sit in a pile until you go through your existing seed stash to take inventory of what you need.

Well, that’s what you might have done in the past, but if you’re like a lot of gardeners, you’ve seen signs of “seed shortages,” and skipped straight ahead to buying seeds with little regard as to what you might actually need.

Seed sellers have been intermittently shutting down their ordering systems for a couple days at a time to catch up with existing orders. Many seed websites have bold warnings about shipping delays. It’s enough to make a gardener close her eyes and plunk down the credit card.

I stand on no moral high ground here. Despite the column I wrote in fall assuring readers that there are plenty of seeds, I too, got sucked into just ordering with no idea of what I already had or what I might actually need. Now, as seeds start to arrive in those telltale padded envelopes, I’ve been adding them to my stash, and the error of my ways is exposed.

As I started adding new packets of sweet peas to my seed organization system (yes, I graduated from zip-top bag to a “system”), I realized that even if I had not bought a single sweet pea seed this year, I’d still be in fine shape. But combining the old and the new, I had well over 25 varieties of sweet peas. I love sweet peas and I’ll never stop growing them, but I certainly do not have room for two dozen varieties.

And it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t have a problem ordering any of the seeds that have shown up in the mail. That’s because, like I wrote in fall but clearly forgot to make a mental note of myself, there is no seed shortage. There is, however, a staffing shortage at seed companies. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, many seed suppliers aren’t fully staffed, so ordering, processing and shipping is taking longer.

Gardeners panicked about seed shortages are making the problem worse by rushing in orders, just like the people who didn’t think there would be enough toilet paper to go around and hoarded it.

The seed-shortage rumors are so prevalent that even the nonprofit National Gardening Bureau launched a social media campaign over the weekend with a message to gardeners — relax, there are enough seeds for us all.

That’s good advice, but I apologize if you run into a problem finding sweet peas.


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