When it comes to seeds (plants, too, but that’s not relevant here), I’m always thinking of 1 (or 2 or 3) more things I meant to buy. No problem: fire up the laptop and put in one more order. But around the middle of March, I noticed suddenly that lots of seeds at lots of seed companies were out of stock. What’s more, orders that were usually filled in a few days would now take weeks.

'Black Cherry' Tomatoes
A cluster of unripe ‘Black Cherry’ tomatoes.

An explanation is provided in a recent New York Times article by Kendra Pierre-Louis, “Panic Buying Comes for Seeds”. Pierre-Louis talked to a bunch of seed company owners and discovered that there’s been a giant spike in seed-buying. The spike became most noticeable on March 13th, the day Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the coronavirus.

My first reaction was that this is certainly a wholesome development. People facing the restrictions of life in the time of Covid 19 must be seeking the satisfaction, tranquility and beauty that can be found in the home garden. And what could be wrong with more home-grown vegetables?


The new demand was driven mainly by an increased demand for vegetable seeds. Apparently, something similar happened during the 2008 economic crisis.

A darker possibility is that people, driven by some apocalyptic vision, are hoarding seeds, just like they hoarded flour and toilet paper. Apparently some people are buying in quantities that they could never use, certainly not in a single season. Are people driven by the prospect of phantom food shortages, shortages that are nowhere on the horizon?

How many of these seeds are going to end up in a drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day?

download (1)
Please don’t hoard toilet paper. Or seeds.


You have to wonder how many of these purchasers are experienced vegetable gardeners – though the more gardeners, of course, the better.  And are they aware that they can save their own seeds from standard or heirloom varieties?

Still. I’m choosing to consider the seed shortages to be a positive development, on balance. People are coping with stress and isolation by doing something beneficial at home, many for the first time.

The seed shortage hasn’t affected us too badly. In our garden, herbs are the only edibles we grow these days. Otherwise, we’re all about the flowers (although some of those are edible, actually).

And for those who are panic buying: please just calm down and don’t buy more seeds than you will actually use.



60 Comments on “Where Have All the Seeds Gone?”

  1. Thanks for the link to that interesting article. I must admit that anxiety drove me to order a second batch of seeds from Pinetree, that I was warned would be slower to ship than usual. My garden is pretty much all ornamental except for herbs, but I used to be able to grow veg, so I hope I can again, at least a nice fresh salad.

  2. Well, my experiences with growing food in the garden have been disastrous thanks to rabbits and groundhogs. Even now with everything just emerging the rabbits are running wild. Too bad there isn’t a virus just for them. If I had to grow my own food I’d be super thin.

  3. Jason, I noticed this a few weeks ago when I started seed shopping. My initial thought was that people are panicking and thinking they are going to need to grow all their own food. We all know how that will turn out! Let’s hope they are just looking for wholesome, educational activities for their families to do in lockdown.

  4. Oddly, there was a run on varnish and sandpaper in my world. I think in the beginning all the breathless reports about supply chain disruption brought about some semi-rational behavior. I couldn’t help noticing and rephrasing your title, of course. “Where have all the good seeds gone? Gone to hoarders, every one. When will they ever learn…” I’d not thought of that song in quite a while.

  5. I know someone whose knee jerk reaction was to plow up his yard and plant corn. I thought, really? A yard full of corn is what will save you from whatever apocalypse is coming? He’s a rational man and came to his senses. It is fascinating to see how people process and respond to crisis.

  6. I wondered the same thing about flour shortages. How many people thought, now I have time for baking, be it bread, cake or whatever. People who never did baking before. I hope like you that it just means people are now turning their attention to things they never “had time for” before and all that flour, like all those seeds, gets used. More baking, more vegetables. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

  7. I’m a seed procrastinator. I pour over my catalogs in January but then get lazy. Come March, I’m always scrambling to get the order in. So when I saw there would be a probable long wait for the seeds that were still in stock, I decided to skip this years order and use left over and saved seeds from last year.

  8. I wanted to read your NYTimes link before making a comment. Long story short, although I subscribe to the NYT, I couldn’t read the article. Spent 45 minutes on phone with NYT customer service, (also under house arrest) but I hope to be able to read the piece. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to hear that people are hoarding seeds! I grabbed a packet of Burpee lettuce seed at the supermarket the other day, but must have preordered my other seeds by mail ahead of the rush. Onward!

  9. Same here Jason! I decided to order some herb and salad seed now it is warming up and found a very limited choice. And today I got a mail from the company – the biggest chain of garden centres in Germany – apologising for the long delivery times. Just hope they arrive before the summer heat! 😜

  10. Yes, seeds and seedlings are in big demand in Australia too. It would be nice to think that more people will turn to gardening as a result, but, if people want to grow vegetables…. I have my doubts. We have been growing vegetables for years, and it is a very unpredictable hobby, especially with the vagaries of the climate, these days. At least with flowers and shrubs you usually get some colour and joy..

  11. I don’t grow a lot of plants from seed because of my shady property. But for the sunny spots, I did have some seeds from last year that were still viable. Like you, I hope those who purchased all those extra seeds will actually use them, or share them with friends and family. What a great hobby, though, for more people to embrace in these crazy times!

  12. Hello Jason, I haven’t looked, but I expect it’s the same here in the UK, the seed suppliers are probably out of stock from a mix of hoarders and people trying “grow your own” for the first time. I hope it’s more the latter than the former. I wish there was a way to force hoarding-people to have to use up their existing stuff before they’re allowed to buy anything new, including whatever short-term perishables they’ve stacked their cupboards with.

  13. And another very enjoyable post, Jason! (The comments are fun to read as well.)
    Here gardening is one of the highly recommended activities for the well being in these stressful times, so I prefer to think there are now many happy families learning together to grow vegetables.
    Stay safe! And remember to post a photo of the teddy bear! 🙂

  14. Yup. I noticed the same thing. Fortunately, most of the few seeds that I purchase are for common varieties that were still available from the seed rack at the supermarket. I could have done without them if necessary, and grown other vegetables.

  15. I read blog and Instagram posts urging us to “grow our own” at times like this. Be “self sufficient” and become “urban homesteaders!” My question is, how many of these new gardeners realize it will be months and months before they can harvest any food! I also wonder how many of the dried bean buyers at the grocery store have ever bought dried beans before, and if they even know what to do with them!
    I am actually avoiding ordering online from small companies. I don’t want them to have to go out just to mail me my packages. I bought an item on eBay last week, told them I was in no hurry and hold it until things are better.
    Keep well.

    • Judy does use a slow cooker to make bean-based stews and soups, but I wonder how many people can make the adjustment from convenience foods. Well, if people improve their familiarity with gardening and cooking basics, that’s all to the good.

  16. I’ve heard similar stories from fellow gardeners who can’t get seeds online anymore. I suppose many gardeners went online when the garden centers closed. I bought mine over winter but use old seeds in the hope they’ll come up, they usually do. I can’t get my head around people actually hoarding seeds!xxx

  17. Wow! I had not thought of this. I’d gotten my seeds back at the end of January. I felt like I was pretty well set, but I’d considered maybe getting more now that it looks like I’ll have a lot more time for gardening. It’s good to be mentally prepared in case it’s a bigger challenge to find seeds now.

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