Alternate Seed Sources

With the current shift in the economy, there has been a massive – massive! – spike in the number of people interested in growing gardens. Hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of new plots are springing up across the country. Some are large, some are small, and all are important.

Normally the renaissance in gardening would be good news. However the surge of interest is stretching seed businesses to the limit. Many companies have stopped answering phones and are putting up online pleas for understanding as they try to handle back orders with limited capacity and inventory.

If you find yourself unable to order seeds online, here are some alternate sources to consider:

• If you’ve planted non-hybrid seeds in previous years and have saved your seeds for replanting, congratulations (and be generous with your gardening friends). This is the ultimate way to obtain seeds – by saving your own.

• Ask your gardening friends for any surplus seeds they can spare.

• If you can’t find seeds in big box stores such as Home Depot or Wal-Mart, think small. Local hardware stores, animal feed stores, smaller home and garden stores, grocery stores, even dollar stores often carry seeds.

• Speaking of small, consider purchasing from smaller mom-and-pop enterprises such as Seed Treasures ( They have hand-packaged inventory which larger dealers may lack. Look through classified ads in the back of rural-themed magazines to find small suppliers.

• Check farm supply stores for bulk seeds such as corn, beans, peas, seed potatoes, and onion sets. These can be divvied up among gardening friends and neighbors.

• If you have seed packets that are several years old, don’t hesitate to plant them even if they’re “expired.” Germination rates may be lower than with fresh seeds, but who cares?

• Try seed exchanges. These are non-profit or volunteer groups of passionate gardeners who conserve and share seeds. Seed exchanges can be local, regional, or national.

• A surprising number of ordinary items from the grocery store can be grown. Think in terms of dried beans (any type), popcorn, raw peanuts (do NOT remove the paper skin or they won’t grow), raw sunflower seeds (in the shell), and spice seeds such as poppy seeds, coriander, fennel, and mustard seeds.

• Harvest seeds from grocery store produce. Tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, melons, fresh corn (let the kernels dry on the cob first) – all have seeds which can be planted. Of course you won’t know if the produce is hybrid or not, but plant them anyway. What do you have to lose? The worst that can happen is the resulting plant may not be identical to its parent plant.

Glenda, Lehman’s VP of Marketing, had some fresh garlic that was sprouting. So she planted it!

• Sprout new plants from leftover root ends of grocery-store produce. This method often requires nothing more than a jar of shallow water (into which the root end is placed) and a sunny windowsill. Change the water when it gets cloudy. People are growing leeks, green onions, cabbage, lettuce, celery, bok choy, mint, basil, rosemary, and fennel fronds. Commercial potatoes and sweet potatoes are often treated with a sprouting inhibitor, but many people have fine success in growing them anyway (make sure each planted piece has at least one eye). People have even sprouted avocado pits, raw coffee beans, and pineapple tops.

It’s time for everyone to tap into their Inner Gardener and “sow the seeds of victory,” to use the old slogan. Now get those seeds in the ground and see what happens.

Patrice Lewis is pleased to announce the availability of the complete collection of 52 Country Living Series ebooklets, representing over 17 years of homesteading experience. Subjects include preparedness, gardening, frugality, rural skills, food preservation, and more. Click this link for details.

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