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What Happened to Vegetable Seeds This Spring?

I found this fascinating article in the June blog of Renee’s Garden, a well-known seed company and am republishing it with the permission of Renee Shepherd, the author. Many gardeners, myself included, have had trouble this season with our seed orders: delays, seeds selling out, companies shutting down temporarily, etc. and I wrote about this on April 13, 2020: Gardeners, Expect Mail Order Complications This Spring

Here’s Renee Shepard’s more detailed and personal explanation of this spring’s very special situation.

There are a few items have been difficult to find during the coronavirus emergency: whole wheat flour, sanitizing wipes, toilet paper, and, oddly enough, vegetable seeds! It’s heartening to know that stay-at-homers are entering the ranks of bread bakers and food gardeners, and it makes perfect sense. But what happened that limited seed choices? Here are some answers to many questions about what happened to the home garden seed community during the last few months.

Is there a seed shortage?

No. There is not a seed shortage. The “supply-chain problem” with getting home garden seeds is a temporary one: seed companies like ours project by variety the numbers of seed packets home gardeners will want based on past experience, and fill seed packets based on those projections. All packets are prepared in the months prior to the shipping season, which runs from late winter through spring. This season, by mid-March, seed companies experienced unprecedented order volumes 8 to 10 times greater than any year in history, so demand hugely exceeded that the supply we had in stock which was based on historical projections.

Will seeds be available soon and for next season?

YES! We have received plenty of seeds from all our seed growers and are working very hard every day to get all varieties into their packets and back up on the website! As of this writing, you will find the majority of varieties are once again available on our site. We plan to be fully stocked within the next week or two.

Here’s Marielle, a member of the Renee’s Garden team, at work preparing an order.

Why have seed orders been taking two weeks and sometimes more to get delivered?

Our standard turnaround time to process, fill, and pack your order is within one day of receipt. Once your order leaves our warehouse, delivery usually takes 6 to 8 business days via UPS and USPS—except for this season!!

  1. During the months of March and April, the increased order volume was simply too much for our staff to handle. Our seed company is family owned, with a core of full-time employees and a number of seasonal helpers that return year after year. Even in normal times, increasing the staff enough to deal with a large increase in orders would be difficult. During this year’s pandemic, people have been understandably reluctant to enter an unknown work situation, making new hires practically impossible.
  2. As with all businesses, keeping employees safe during the pandemic has taken precedence over efficiency. Social distancing means that fewer people can work in a space and it takes time to continuously sanitize surfaces and common areas, etc.
  3. Inevitably, delivery services nationwide in general have been slower due to the ongoing surge in online ordering across the US and Canada. While we have completely caught up and are once again processing orders within 24 hours, once orders leave our warehouse, shipping delays are still occurring at UPS and USPS that we cannot explain; specifically delivery is still taking up 10 to 21 (business) days to: Michigan, Maryland, Washington DC, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

Why were varieties I had on my order not shipped during the height of the pandemic?

As noted above, in normal times with a 24-hour turnaround, this would never happen. However, because overwhelming numbers of orders created a backlog this year, there was a lag in time between when your order was received and the time it was packed, so that all varieties on your order were often no longer in the available inventory when we filled it. We carry over 850 individual varieties, so creating a system that allows for packets to be reserved when ordered would be difficult if not impossible. AND in normal times it has never been necessary in the 35 years we’ve been in business!

Can’t you just make substitutions, the way grocery delivery services do?

This is easier said than done, considering the large number of offerings. While we understand your frustration, going over each individual order and agreeing on substitutions would have added even more to the backlog. And, in normal times, this is rarely necessary.

Was the problem of unavailable seeds happening with across the board?

Vegetable and herb seed varieties accounted for most of the unprecedented increase. Home garden favorites, such as tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers have been especially in demand.

Will this be a problem for gardeners next year as well?

NO! We have adjusted our projections for 2021, and are filling many more packets. We are thrilled that people are discovering gardening in response to the stresses of this health crisis, and will do everything in our power to enable this. Whether you grow in pots on a balcony or in a big backyard plot, the benefits of gardening are undeniable: delicious, super-fresh food; physical and mental nourishment; and an element of control during difficult times.

What if I want to order right away and we don’t have your preferred variety?

If you can wait a week or two (note: this article was published on June 1, 2020), we will be caught up and all varieties will be available on our website. If you need to order right now, please consider trying another variety. All of our selections are carefully curated, have been trial-grown rigorously, and are well worth growing. You may discover a new favorite!

Larry’s note: Thank you, Renee, for this wonderful behind-the-scenes information! And best of luck with your upcoming seed season!

You can order your seeds from Renee’s Garden at

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

6 comments on “What Happened to Vegetable Seeds This Spring?

  1. Pingback: 2020: What a Year in Gardening! – Laidback Gardener

  2. I’m lucky. My December hobby is choosing seeds!

  3. How do they get enough seed available for next season? The process must be started at least a year in advance.

    • Well, Renee says they’re almost up to date, so, yes.

      • They will always have some bulk stuff left over it just won’t be packaged. Short season like radish lettuce and spinach can be bolted within 8-10 weeks I suspect although biennials like carrots may be harder… they may be robbing Peter to feed Paul on those whilst sowing additional now to restock next years seeds.

      • It must take a lot of organization to run a seed company!

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