Seed Shortages and Seed Saving
by Howard Boldt
I had no idea there might be vegetable seed shortages this year due to unprecedented consumer demand. I didn’t hear about it until my sister sent me an article about it in early February. I mean, as a prepper, as one who thinks we’re heading into hard times, I expect this sort of thing to happen at some point, but didn’t realize it might already be happening. However, a quick internet search revealed many more such articles. Okay, it’s probably real. Many people are warning of possible shortages. A part of me feels delighted about it, as I love to see more people gardening, and a part of me feels concerned. Of course, we’ll find out how real it all is as we approach and enter the 2021 gardening season.
Increasing demand seems to be a trend, so if a shortage doesn’t happen this year, then maybe next year, or the next. How long does it take to deplete suppliers, at least of the most popular vegetables? They sometimes ran out of things in normal times, so with skyrocketing sales, perhaps not long. They can gear up to grow more and more seeds, but can they keep up? One thing we can be certain of is that if there are shortages, or even just rumours of them, speculators, hoarders, and gougers will soon be involved, if they aren’t already. Garden seeds could become the new toilet paper. Anything scarce and valuable can, it seems. The world is changing and many will undoubtedly attempt to profit excessively from other people’s needs, sadly. So, whether it’s realistic or not, I now have visions of paying 10 or 20 dollars for what was a three-dollar seed pack. Too bad, but if it happens, we’ll simply have to accept it as another harsh new reality, adapt, and move on.
What drives the gardening surge? The pandemic, naturally, along with other global uncertainties. All told, they bring up more food security issues, so more people are becoming interested in increased self-reliance and prepping. Globally, I’d guess that the number of people who self-identify as “preppers” grows by thousands per day. The ability to raise your own food, from eggs to meat, to milk, to vegetables, and more, is a big part of it. What’s more vital to surviving and thriving than having better, more secure food sources? If not your own, then at least local ones. Your grandparents likely made it through the Great Depression because of them. Thus, with uncertainties only building, there’s no indication that the new explosion in gardening, along with the desire to purchase from local market gardeners and producers, will end any time soon.
There are likely other reasons for it, too. For example, people who have no prepper worries, but just want a wholesome hobby and good, tasty, fresh, highly nutritional food, seem to be ever on the increase. Who can’t relate? The flavour and quality of homegrown vegetables compared to store-bought often leaves no room for argument.
Whatever the reasons, the big question is how can we counteract potential seed shortages, besides quickly getting our seed orders in before it may be too late? By raising our own seeds, of course! This is most commonly known as “seed saving.” You acquire good heirloom or open-pollinated seeds, raise the plants, bring some or all of them to maturity, dry and harvest the seeds, and save them for future use. The number of years that seeds remain viable will vary according to variety of vegetable, the quality of the seed, and how you store them. The main advice is to keep them in a cool, dry place. You can do a germination test to see what percentage of your seeds will sprout. Over the years, it will slowly decrease. Avoid hybrid plants as they may not produce seeds which will grow a “true” plant.
Seed saving is something I’ve done for years. Mostly, it’s simple and common sense. See those dried up peas and beans? Pick 'em and shell 'em. Done. However, some plants have more to them. Biennials, for example, such as carrots and beets, must be replanted and then you get seed in the second year. So, it means storing the carrots or beets in a root cellar or fridge or other cool place over winter, without cutting the tops completely off. Those which survive well enough, I then plant in cool ground under a few inches of straw in early spring, as it’s too much of a shock to introduce them immediately to heat and bright sunlight. As they begin to sprout and flourish, I gradually remove the straw until they can make it. You can get thousands of seeds from just one carrot. The quantity of seeds produced varies widely with different types of vegetables.
The information on all this and more is out there. Fortunately, there are many articles and books on seed saving. I’ve only used these a little, but presumably most will inform you reliably on how to optimize your chances of raising and harvesting great seeds. For example, a friend has recommended a book from Seeds of Diversity called How To Save Your Own Seeds, available for $15. Find it at seeds.ca/sw8/web/books.
Lastly, I invite people to join my Facebook group called Prairie Provinces Off-Grid, Homestead and Prepper Network, where we talk about many aspects of gardening, including seed saving, and many other subjects. It’s a group which is mostly for rural people, or those thinking of going rural, but of course many country things relate to urban living as well, and gardening and food issues are certainly among them.
If seeds become like gold, don’t worry, but do join the efforts to supply our own seeds. Many gardeners are already aiming to begin seed saving, or increase it. We can buy, sell, swap, and donate extra seeds locally. It’s unwise to rely on distant sources anyway. So, the current problem is also spawning better solutions. Happy planting!
Howard Boldt lives on a family farm near Osler, Saskatchewan, where he gardens, and keeps honey bees and chickens. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.