Monday, December 31, 2012

Guest Post - Seed orders and barren gardens

A Warning About Seed Orders and Barren Gardens

By Steven Gregersen

I love it when the seed catalog arrives with the Christmas cards. We used to spend hours drooling over the latest offerings, comparing growing days and zones, resistance to diseases, prices and other data relevant to our location and needs. Although we made our seed orders early we were never in a hurry to receive them because most years we have snow on the ground until at least the end of March. We had plenty of time we thought.

Then one year our languorous affectation was blown completely away! We'd made our normal seed order in early January then waited. Waiting was nothing new to us. In our northern climate we often specified that fruit trees be shipped in the spring after the snow was gone. We usually got our order in parts and we'd never experienced problems in the past. But this time it was different!

That year in particular, after rising fuel prices made everything else expensive a lot of people began gardening to alleviate the skyrocketing price of fresh vegetables. And I mean a LOT of people. Even in our area we met dozens of people who were planting their first garden. We were so thankful that so many were going to experience the joy of eating actual fresh vegetable that we never considered the problems it would cause nationally. At least we didn't until January slipped past, then February, then March, and then April, and we still hadn't received our seed order.

Inquiries were made and each time we were reassured that our order would be shipped "in season." Finally we got our package from the seed company with about half of our order in it. The apology and explanation was short. It seems that they'd underestimated demand and had run out of the seed we'd ordered. They shipped out orders to the warmest places first, expecting to have more seed available for the colder climates but the new seed never materialized. They were sorry for any inconvenience and encouraged us to order the missing items from other suppliers.

To say we were angry would severely understate our emotions at the time. We'd done business with this company for years! Naturally every other seed supplier was also out of the varieties we wanted. Some were out of almost all of their seed. We were relegated to purchasing from the very limited selections at our local merchants and chain stores. What a disaster! Especially when we depend on the garden for most of the food we eat.

But that disaster brought some needed changes in our lives. We now save our own seed instead of depending upon suppliers a thousand or more miles away.

I'm not going into the "how-to's" of seed saving because it would be too lengthy for this type of forum. I just want to sound a warning to those who rely on outside sources. If for some reason you cannot replenish your seed yourself be sure to include instructions to ship your order immediately. Second; try ordering enough extra to save some for the next year. Rotate your stock and make a new order every year and you'll always be a year ahead ... just in case!

If you've never saved your own seed now is a good time to start. By that I mean ordering heirloom and non-hybrid varieties that reproduce themselves. Most seed companies have them and you can also look for seed exchanges in magazines like Grit and The Mother Earth News. Plus, by starting now you'll have time to study and learn the seed-saving process before harvest time.

If, like us, you are striving for self-sufficiency saving your own seed is one more step forward on the road to independence.
Thank you, Steven.
Steven, by the way, is my husband.  He writes for magazines, including Backwoods Home Magazine, Backwoodsman, Back Home Magazine, Fur Fish & Game, Primitive Archer, Traditional Archer, and others.  He has two published books and is working on another.
As always, please leave comments or questions below, or by email at
 PS:  There's been a tremendous amount of mail lately and I'm working my way through answering everyone's emails.  Please be patient!


  1. Saving seed is one of the many joys of gardening! There's just something satisfying about sifting your hand through a pile of bean seeds as they dry, or seeing your repurposed pill bottles filled with seeds and lined up in a row.

    I've even started working on developing my own plant breeds, starting with hybrids and carefully selecting the traits I want to keep. It takes several years to get the charactoristics to stablize, but it's more fun than the lottery :)

  2. Yes, saving seed is fun! We let beans and peas dry in their pods until they're crackly and the 'seeds' are falling out of them. We also save biennial seeds like carrot and celery, as well as many others. We usually have enough to share with friends, family, and neighobrs, and sometimes trade with people for other varieties. It's a fun hobby that is also life-sustaining in it's renewal.

    That is very cool that you are working on developing your own plant breeds. I never thought of it and I'm not sure I could. If you ever want to share some of your ideas and experiments on a larger platform, I'd love to put up a post from you.