Seed companies are overwhelmed with orders again this year
Last year vegetable seed companies couldn't keep up with orders. Many had to close their websites for a week at a time just to catch up. Pandemic gardening was a real thing and people who had never even had a tomato plant were learning how to grow their own food. This also resulted in the canning jar and lid shortage later in the year as the new gardeners wanted to preserve their harvest. This year is shaping up to be a repeat of the last and seed companies are already feeling crushed by the surge of orders. Many gardeners are searching for alternative options for purchasing vegetable seeds instead of waiting on the mail order houses. Here's some options that you should be able to come up with locally. They may not be as special and exotic as the offerings from some mail order vendors, however they will be productive and keep your family fed.
Buy seeds at grocery/big box stores
First of all, the big box stores that sell everything from groceries to motor oil have an excellent stock of seeds. Many of the displays are from respected seed companies that also do mail order to the general public. They also offer seed starting mix, trays, peat pots and other items that gardeners need at this time of year. The selection is very good and there are many options for vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials. This would be my first stop. There's usually one of these in just about every town, big or small.
Buy seeds at big box lumber stores
The big box lumber and appliance stores also offer a wonderful selection of garden seeds every spring. You can purchase a new dishwasher, ceramic tile for your floors or lumber to build some new raised beds. Their offerings are a bit more polished than the discount big box grocery stores and you often have options for organic seeds, seed potatoes, onion bulbs and heirloom vegetables. They also offer summer bulbs and rhizomes such as caladiums, daylilies, cannas hollyhocks and ferns. I love shopping at my local store in late winter and I'm an old hand at buying and saving seeds. However, there's always something new I haven't tried there. Of course there are choices for seed starting trays, potting mix, tools and even cold frames and mini greenhouses if you are so inclined.
Look to local farm stores for seeds
Now, things get a bit trickier if you do not have either of these options handy. We have a local feed and seed co-op in our town where commercial farmers purchase seed and supplies for their agricultural businesses. It also sells horse tack and feed, hand tools and poultry supplies. They have a wonderful selection of garden seed and even offer larger packages than what are normally sold on-line. You can purchase a whole pound of corn, bean or watermelon seed if you wish. The staff is helpful and there is sometimes a Master Gardener offering advice on the weekends. If you live near a farming area, you should have one of these businesses and they are a great way to purchase seeds and get growing tips. Tractor Supply and Menard's are national chains of stores catering to rural needs and they also have a good selection of seeds. Southern States is a co-operative that caters to farmers and rural lifestyles. They have stores all over and have a huge selection of seeds and gardening supplies. Some might even ship, however you'll need to call a specific store to see if they will. There is a store locator by zip code, so you can see if one is near you. They also have larger packages of seeds that the serious gardener would prefer.
Even dollar stores and supermarkets sell seeds
If you live in an urban or suburban area and these options aren't available, you can still find vegetable seeds locally. Dollar Stores usually offer a small selection of garden seeds as do supermarket chains. My Kroger has a respectable display. Even a local grocery store could have a small seed rack, so pay attention. The selection isn't as glamorous as some of the other places. However, the good, basic vegetable and flower seeds they offer are just as productive and nutritious as the ones that often cost more and have fancier names. If you are on a budget, these are cost-conscious ways to obtain seeds as well. Often these places have racks with perfectly good seed for a dollar a pack or less. Many of these seeds are open pollinated, so you can save the seeds from the vegetables you grow this summer and plant them next year. A good activity for the kiddos.
The Garden Watchdog is a great place to find garden seed vendors
If you still need to do mail order, our Garden Watchdog database is searchable and we have a section just for vegetable seed. There are over 200 companies listed and some of these smaller vendors may not be stretched as thin as the larger vendors, so checking with some of them may help you find a new favorite place to buy seeds. Some of these family-run businesses actually have the owners answering the phone and they always enjoy making a real connection with their customers. Sometimes bigger isn't necessarily better.
New gardeners mean better care of the land
Locating garden seeds may take a bit of thinking outside the box this year, however it can be done. The large seed houses are still shipping, they are just running on a longer turn around so expect between 30 and 45 days for your order. It is a good thing that people are learning to grow their own food again. It was something that had fallen out of favor for so long. More gardeners in the world means more people taking care of their property and understanding that we need a balance. We need to feed our soil. We need the good insects and even the bad ones serve a purpose, feeding birds and wildlife. Children need to learn that vegetables don't magically appear in the supermarket. This is a new, old trend that is quite welcome in my eyes and if you are personally having trouble locating a place to purchase seeds, let me know in a message and I will be more than happy to help you try and locate a source for what you want to grow.