One of the strangest things about the advent of COVID-19 has been its impact on so many aspects of life far removed from the virus itself. Who can forget the toilet paper shortage? Or work-from-home days punctuated by Zoom calls?
Or how about the astonishing increase of interest in gardening?
Nobody saw the 2020 seed shortage until we were right in the thick of it. As the lockdowns of 2020 wore on, people continued to search for productive ways to stay busy at home. Many turned to gardening.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a trend in younger gardeners’ interest in going ‘green’ and using eco-friendly products,” says Judy Seaborn of Botanical Interests, a seed company based in Broom- field, Colorado. “So when COVID-19 sent everyone back into their homes, we feel it accelerated that trend into gardening.”
“We are seeing many Americans starting vegetable gardens both to relieve stress as well as to grow food,” says Jaclyn Johnsen of Jung Seed, based in Randolph, Wisconsin.
But when everyone had the same idea in spring of 2020 (“Hey! Let’s plant a garden!”), the impact was unexpected.
Seed companies were inundated with orders and struggled to keep up with the unprecedented demand. Seed availability plummeted, and “Out of Stock” appeared on most of the favorite seed varieties.
Somehow or other, we made it through the growing season. Seed companies restocked their supplies as quickly as they could. Gardeners settled for substitute varieties or traded seeds with friends.
We planted, we grew, we harvested our garden (and we saved the seeds, too!). But here comes 2021. The seed shortage is (hopefully!) a thing of the past. And gardening companies will be ready to fulfill the coming need for seeds to jumpstart the 2021 season.
“We are doing everything we can to meet the demand,” says Kathy McFarland of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, based in Mansfield, Missouri. She adds that the company is packing more seeds and building a new warehouse and shipping facility to help them meet the demand.
“We pack seeds for the year based on previous sales, plus an estimated increase,” she says, adding they they “are now finding that our ‘year packs’ are selling out in about three months’ time!”
“We learned from last year’s growing demand for seeds and are prepared with new varieties, old favorites, and lots of seed for gardeners to choose from,” Johnsen says.
But let’s say you’re after a particular variety—Dragon’s Tongue beans or Sugar Magnolia peas, for example. What happens when certain varieties run out?
Well, as we all learned last year, sometimes you simply have to shrug your shoulders and select a different variety instead.
“What happened last spring is that we eventually ran out of all varieties of cucumbers—or eggplant or lettuce or whatever,” McFarland says. “Customers were often ready to settle for any variety of the type of vegetable they wanted.”
A Lasting Trend
This year, with sufficient quantities of seed in stock, companies are poised to meet the needs of consumers whose enthusiasm for gardening remains high. “I don’t anticipate the interest in the seed-gardening lifestyle to wane this coming season,” says Seaborn, who sees a trend of families moving to areas with more space now that more people are working remotely.
“More space means more room to garden!”
The last time Johnsen saw growth like this, it persisted for about four years before tapering off. “Seed sales tend to be counter cyclical, meaning people are more interested in seeds when the economy is down,” he says. “I believe the increased enthusiasm for seeds will continue into 2022.”
As you’re planning your 2021 garden, be ready to order seeds. The earlier you do so, the better. Here are 20 veggie varieties that we recommend you consider this year.
I initially chose these purely for sentimental reasons—they came from Småland in Sweden, which was where my great-grandmother was born. But now I grow them because they’re such a splendid variety.
They produce reliably, and the pods are quite tender and tasty when harvested young (and roasted in the oven with butter—yum!).
Calabrese Green Sprouting
There’s a lot to love about an heirloom variety that has endured since the 1880s. Calabrese broccoli originally came from Italy.
It is noted for its penchant for producing multiple side shoots. Calabrese is a delicious and delightful variety.
If you’ve ever thought that kale is somewhat boring, it just means that you haven’t grown Casper kale.
It’s packed with flavor and is stunningly beautiful besides. The frilly leaves are white in the center and framed by green. This gorgeous contrast makes it a showpiece for your garden.
Violaceo Di Verona
If you’ve ever thought that some cabbage varieties seem a bit humdrum, turn your attention to this eye-catching Italian heirloom.
Presumably named for its color (the leaves are green, laced with violet) and its region of origin (Verona), this variety is beautiful and hardy. It’s somewhat tolerant of frost, too
I’m not sure there are enough superlatives in the dictionary to fully describe the wonder that is the Lemon cucumber. Its flavor is mild, its production impressive and its shape unique.
It’s one of my favorite heirlooms, and I love to grow the seeds in my garden.
If you’d like to add some color to your garden, this vibrant variety of Swiss chard is just what you need. The stems are stunning in shades of red, pink, orange, yellow and white.
And they’re an absolute joy to have in the garden.
I guess you could grow orange carrots if you really want to. But why would you when you can grow purple carrots instead? These stunning carrots have it all: flavor, color, beauty and marketability.
If you’re looking for the total package, this is it.
Hidatsa Shield Figure
This beautiful variety produces an abundant crop of dry beans that rank among my all-time favorites. These beans are well known for their mention in the book Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden, as well as for their inclusion on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.
They are simply gorgeous and delicious, too.
For pure beauty and exquisite flavor, it’s difficult to improve on a yellow wax bean. But the Roquencourt bean takes wax beans to the next level.
This early and productive producer makes a delightful choice.
Louisiana Green Oval
Take that stereotypical eggplant image and set it aside. Because here’s a variety that will give you a fresh appreciation for the surprising delights of this member of the nightshade family.
Louisiana Green Oval produces beautiful green fruit that reach approximately 6 inches long. It’s a prolific variety and tasty, too.
Buttercup squash are delicious, and this delightfully sweet variety lives up to its candy-inspired name! Perfect for smaller gardens and noted for its disease resistance, Bonbon is an excellent choice for anyone who loves winter squash.
It’s easy to see why it’s an All-America Selections award-winner. Definitely try these seeds in your garden!
Leaf lettuce is a treat because it’s easy to grow and easy to harvest, and Green Ice is especially wonderful because it tastes so good. I’ve heard it described as the best lettuce ever.
Everybody loves the Moon and Stars variety of heirloom watermelon. But this award-winning hybrid provides some impressive upgrades.
The flavor is even better than the original. It produces excellent yields, and it’s seedless! Harvest Moon is definitely worth some space in your garden.
Here’s a brightly flavored and crunchy radish that has stood the test of time.
In 1949, it was named an All-America Selections winner, and since then, it has impressed gardeners with its early maturity and excellent flavor. It’s a tried-and-true variety that belongs in the garden of anyone who loves radishes.
Here’s a lovely, old-fashioned classic!
A garden staple since the mid-19th century, Stowell’s Evergreen Sweet Corn is an heirloom with white kernels and abundant production.
If vintage charm appeals to you, you’ll love this variety.
Grow these seeds in your garden. Just do it. They never disappoint, producing until the branches overflow with gorgeous ribbed tomatoes in varying sizes.
This is a classic Italian heirloom that has amazed me time and again.
How would you like to harvest turnips in just 40 days? Market Express is a versatile white turnip that is quick to mature and simply popping with flavor.
Give it a try and see for yourself.
This has a well-earned reputation as an excellent example of cauliflower. As the name suggests, it originated in the Tuscany region of Italy. The plant produces lovely, large, round cabbage heads.
What’s more charming than baby beets? You can discover this for yourself with this delightful variety.
Harvest these beets when they’re 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Then try roasting them for a particularly delicious dish.
Colorful and delightful, these charming sweet peppers are less than 2 inches wide and provide a kaleidoscopic effect in shades of orange, red and chocolate. They’re the perfect size for making stuffed peppers.
Good luck planting seeds, growing plants and harvesting vegetables in your garden this year! This article appeared in Hobby Farm‘s Urban Farm 2021 annual, a specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Living off the Grid by following this link.
This article appeared in Hobby Farm‘s Urban Farm 2021 annual, a specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Living off the Grid by following this link.