Is There a Seed Shortage?

Recently, as I browsed online seed catalogs, I noticed more varieties than usual listed as “Out of Stock.” In addition, some seed companies are warning that delivery may take longer than usual. Some are even shutting down periodically while they catch up on orders. I’ve wondered: “What’s going on? Is there a seed shortage?” At a National Gardening Bureau-sponsored panel presentation in March, I learned from seed suppliers what challenges they are facing and also their advice for gardeners.

Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the Bureau says that last spring, seed retailers were selling to 100-400% more customers than in previous years, and this year is headed in the same direction. Last year, the greatest sales increase was in vegetable seeds; this year, more people are also buying flower seeds and plants, fruit plants, and bedding plants.

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Packaging small amounts of seeds in small packets like these is more time consuming than selling seed in bulk.

The main reason for last year’s increased sales of vegetable seeds was probably insecurity—like the rush to buy toilet paper. Last March, people noticed food shortages at the grocery store and decided to take matters into their own hands. Then also, people were at home more, looking out the window at their gardens and imagining food growing there. (It’s telling that more time at home revived the urge to grow food, along with an inspiration to bake bread. It seems these enthusiasms are running just under the surface, only waiting to be daylighted by having more time to partake in them.)

            This year, many people feared that the mails would be slow, what with holidays and so much online shopping taking place, so they sent orders on early, in December and January. Meanwhile, seed companies are having problems filling so many orders while dealing with the pandemic. They have been struggling to keep employees safe—requiring temperature taking, masks, and handwashing; spacing workers farther apart and adding deep cleaning between shifts. Some of these policies slowed the processes of packing seed and filling orders, sometimes requiring work into the evening and weekend, or two shifts a day. If seed companies sought more workers, they found them hard to come by, especially in rural locations. Larger companies have automated filling seed packets, but smaller companies that can’t afford the expensive packaging equipment, are less able to increase seed packet preparation without additional workers.

            Add to this that very real Postal Service slowdown, the storm in Texas and the East that caused several FedEx offices to close down temporarily, a shortage of labor to unload container ships at ports, and a shortage of air transport, and you have a bottleneck that starts with wholesalers and then impacts retail customers.

            So is there a seed shortage? Seed wholesalers and retailers say mostly there is not. Seed retailers on the panel reported “Out Of Stock” situations for only 83 out of 2,300 varieties (Jung Seeds) and 136 out of 2,000 (Johnny’s Select Seeds). In some cases, the problem is just a lack of time to get the seeds out of cold storage and into seed packets ready to mail. In a very few cases, the seed has not yet arrived from a wholesaler. It could be in one of those ships waiting to be unloaded or could actually be not ready for to harvest. However, because seed production now is a worldwide business, and includes tropical and southern hemisphere locations, seed could be arriving soon to bolster the supply. While few shortages are expected this year, Jeannine Bogard, of Syngentia Seeds, said that seed of biennial crops, such as carrots, could be scarce next year because of this year’s high demand.

            Advice to this year’s wise gardener is to order seed well in advance of the date you plan to plant, avoid ordering more than you need or hoarding seed, and to read websites or catalogs carefully to learn how long delivery might take. (Don’t clog communication avenues by calling or emailing before this time has passed.) In addition, you may find, this year and next year, you’ll need to substitute a different variety for one that has been your favorite.

            It’s good news there are so many new gardeners, and especially good news so many of them are younger than the previous average age of Americans gardeners that they have lowered that average. There has also been more interest in organically produced seed—which is good news for the earth. Those of us who have been growing food a long time will have much help to offer new gardeners when they need it. Grow on!

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The harvest from my San Francisco community garden on one day in the early summer of 2020. 

Master Gardener Plant Sale Coming Up April 21, 2018

Each year the Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco counties has a spring plant sale and educational fair. This is their 9th year!

The event will be held on Saturday, April 21, 2018, 9 am to 1 pm at the San Mateo County Event Center, Sequoia Hall. There will be free parking at 2495 South Delaware Street, San Mateo. 

The plants available will be new and heirloom varieties of tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplants, herbs and more.  They will have top-performing selections for each microclimate. 

There will also be educational tables and expert advice. 


For more information, go to



Bay Area Citrus in Great Danger

If you have citrus trees in your garden, or know someone who does, listen up. A pest insect that has wiped out half of the citrus crop in Florida is spreading in California and has reached the Bay Area. Last year, a new quarantine area was created in the San Jose region, because the pest was found in trees there. Now the most recent quarantine area covers the northern peninsula and a swath of the southern part of San Francisco.

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Lemons on a Healthy Lemon Tree in San Francisco

The insect itself will not kill the tree, but it often carries a deadly disease, and if a particular individual insect is carrying that disease, it will infect the tree while it is feeding. And then there is no cure. Other Asian citrus psyllids will pick up the disease from that infected tree, and will spread it.

So far, none of the insects found in our region have been carrying the disease, but it seems like only a matter of time till one does. Scientists are looking for a cure, or a way to breed resistance to the disease into citrus trees, and would like to buy as much time as they can by keeping the problem in as small an area as possible.

What to do? Inspect your trees. Spring is a good time to do it, since it is a time when there is much active growth on citrus. Look carefully at as many of the growing tips, with their small, new leaves, as you can. The insect, which is called the Asian Citrus Psyllid, or ACP, lays very small yellow-orange eggs in new growth. They will be easier to see with a magnifying glass. The eggs hatch into yellow nymphs that average sesame seed-sized. They are also distinctive in having long, white "tubules" with bulbous ends that extend from their bodies. The adults are aphid-like, mottled browns, and stand with their rear in the air, heads down, sucking sap.

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Nymphs

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Adult Feeding on Citrus Leaf

If you find the insect on your tree, and are not in an area already quarantined, you should call the California Food & Agriculture (CDFA) Exotic Pest Hotline at 800-491-1899. If you are within  the quarantine area already, you should try to kill the pest.

To see an interactive map of the quarantined areas and more photos and learn the best ways to control the pest, see the following UC  website:

Also, be sure to buy citrus only from responsible sources. (Major citrus tree growers are now growing trees for the market only in covered production areas that the pest can't get into.) Don't accept plants, cuttings, or grafting material from other gardeners.

And if you are in a quarantined area, don't take any leafy branches outside of it. (You can share your fruit outside of the quarantined area if it doesn't have any stems or leaves attached.)

The insect can also infest some plants that are related to edible citrus, like calamondin (xCitrofortunella microcarpa), box orange (Severinia buxifolia), orange jessamine or orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata), and Indian curry leaf (Murraya koenigii). They should also be inspected and are subject to the same quarantine rules.

The disease we are trying to avoid, and that I hope we never see, is Huanglongbing, or HLB. It is also known as yellow shoot or yellow dragon disease. The leaves of infected trees have yellow blotches, usually starting in one section of the tree. The blotches don't look like most nutritional deficiencies in that they cross the leaf veins, and are often arranged asymmetrically on the leaf. Fruit develops unevenly, asymmetrically, ripens poorly, with little juice and a bitter flavor. The disease will kill the tree. If it appears, the only recourse at this time is to remove the infected tree before the disease spreads to other ones.

So let's get out there and look now, before it's too late!

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Yellow-blotched Leaves of a Citrus Tree Infected with HLB Disease.

Master Gardener Spring Sales--Mostly Tomatoes

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Master Gardeners will be holding spring markets in three Bay Area counties in April. As reported in my SF Chronicle Column of April 5, they will be as follows:

San Mateo/San Francisco Master Gardeners will hold two sales. The first is on April 11, 9-1, at Redwood High School, 1968 Old County Road, Redwood City. The second is April 18th, 10-2, at Central Park in San Mateo, and is part of an open house at the park on that day. For more information: 2015 San Mateo/SF Spring Garden Market Information

Marin County Master Gardeners are having two sales on the same day, April 18th, both 9:30-12. One is at the Bon Air Shopping Center, 50 Bon Air Ctr., Greenbrae, the other is at the Pini Market, 1535 S. Novato Blvd, Nave Shopping Center, Novato..For more information: 2015 Marin County Tomato Market Information

Santa Clara Master Gardeners are having their sale on April 11, 9-2 at History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose..:For more information: 2015 Santa Clara Spring Market Garden Information

All of the sales include tomato plants galore and Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions and the  April 11th sales in Redwood City and in San Jose include other kinds of seedlings and garden talks, and  a "green elephant" sales.

Each of the Master Gardener Organizations have prepared lists of the tomato varieties they will be selling, with information on the qualities of each variety. Here are links to the three 2015 tomato variety lists:

2015 San Francisco/San Mateo Tomato List

2015 Marin County Tomato Varieties

2015 Santa Clara County Tomato List




Chronicle Drops Garden Columns

A letter to readers of my Chronicle/SFGate Column:

As of July 29, 2014, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, and has dropped all garden columns, including Golden Gate Gardener. They are combining the Food/Wine section and the Home/Garden sections into one section, and plan to cover mostly design and food. Gardening will be an occasional topic, mostly based on interviews with garden-related business owners or about particular gardens. There will be an occasional book review.

I am told that this decision is based on a marketing study showing readers prefered more on home design and food, and weren't particularly interested in gardening. I was also told that if they got a lot of letters from people who missed garden coverage, they might reconsider. So what do you think of this decision? You can send comments to [email protected].

I will still appear in the Chronicle from time to time. I have a book review scheduled for late summer, but no more Q&A column. I will miss being able to help gardeners with questions and get good gardening information out to the Chronicle readership.

I will continue to give talks around the Bay Area, and keep my lecture schedule at the top of this blog.I will also continuer to write in this blog and can offer short answers to your questions here if you send them via comments.  (And if you come to a lecture, please let me know if you are a column and/or blog reader.)

Thanks to all of you who wrote questions to me at the Chronicle and to those of you who told me in persion that my advice was a help in their garden! It was great fun helping you all out!

Pam Peirce



Garden Photo Class About to Begin

Sample garden shots--David 004 at 72

Only a week left before a new garden photography class will begin at UC Berkeley Extension in San Francisco. Taught by Horticultural Photographer David Goldberg, who shot the images in Wildly Successful Plants, this class will definitely help you improve your shots of flowers and gardens. It consists of 10 classes, 4 of which will be practice shoots in private or public gardens. (One shoot will be in the newly restored gardens of Alcatraz, where students will be allowed into some garden areas off limits to the public. Ferry fare will be waived for the class.)

This class will meet 10 times, from March 19th through May 21. Sessions in the classroom will be taught at the South of Market Extension Building, on Third Street near SF MOMA, with validated off-street parking.

This class is a steal when you compare the price of one-day or half-day shoots offered at other venues. Register soon to assure space.

You read the course description on the extension website, and you can enroll online.

To see more photos by the instructor, go to To ask the instructor questions, you can email him at [email protected].


More Change at the S.F. Chronicle

As you may know, I write a weekly column for the SF Chronicle, and the paper has been going through great financial difficulty recently.Part of the result of their financial difficulty has been a restructuring of sections that moved most of the Home and Garden content from Wednesday to Sunday. Another part has been that they have been trying to reduce their staff. Changes continue.

After longtime Home and Garden editor Lynette Evans left the paper at the end of 2008, Simar Khanna, who was previously editing the 96 hours section, took it over. Yesterday, I got an email explaining that she had taken a buyout and had only stayed on for the past two months to help with a transition. And she said that Laura Thomas, who has been in the department for some years, has also taken a buyout and left.

The new Home and Garden Editor is Deb Wandel, who has been working in the Food Section for many years, and whom Simar says is experienced and good to work with.

I just write the columns and hope they are treated well. In the past couple of months, the H&G section has sometimes been so tiny--one sheet, 4 pages--that they have not been able to run my column every week. Then, last week, they cut a couple of paragraphs from the middle of an answer, adding a bit of mystery as to how we got from the first part of the answer to the last part. But I still think the Chronicle is an extremely valuable resource and hope they/we can find a way to keep it in print. 

In the garden, we are transplanting onions, collards, tomatoes, leeks, and lettuce, and sowing seed of arugula and Spigarello broccoli. That last is a broccoli grown for leafy shoots. I want to compare it to gai lan, or Chinese broccoli. Seems like the Italians and Chinese have a few similar greens, which each culture stir-fries with different condiments.

First Column

My first column was printed today in the SF Chronicle, under the headline: Pam Peirce; Golden Gate Gardener. It is being fun to write, but the writing of it is taking time from other pursuits. I have been writing answers to enough questions, too, to see me through my trip to see my dad next week. so it feels nonstop at the moment, but it will settle down and leave me time to blog in a week or so. You can find it at The direct link is if that works.

My New Column

My big news this week is that I will be doing the garden question and answer column for the San Francisco Chronicle. It will be on Wednesdays, in the Home section, under the title "Golden Gate Gardener." I have started to write the first column, which is scheduled to appear on May 31st.

Of course, the biggest challenge is going to be writing answers that aren't too long for the space allowed. So if I have more to say about certain topics than I can fit, perhaps sometimes I will put some of it here. In any case, I'm off and running, and I think it is going to be fun.

Does anyone remembers the snap peas my class put in the ground way last February? They are starting to be ready to harvest now. It seemed to take forever, but they are climbing up the branchy prunings (pea sticks), bearing white blossoms, and ripening fat, sweet, juicy peas. Mmmm.

In other demonstration garden news, the fava beans are blooming, the scarlet runner bean roots have begun to grow after their winter dormancy, and the lettuce is full and beautiful. The Swiss chard is going to seed, but still tastes good. Since the chard is a biennial, and so will die after blooming, I am taking it out. We have so much that I took bags of lettuce, chard, and herbs to a senior lunch center last week, and the server who looked in the bags said ""Oh, this is the GOOD stuff." That's so true.

Snail Control, Seed Swap

Where is Wednesday's blog you ask? Lost in cyberspace. I was writing late at night in real time and lost the connection with most of the unsaved blog. Too tired to start over.

What I was writing about was snails. Snails that were, a week ago, devouring the flowers on one of my Pacific Coast Iris hybrids. We were having a dinner party, and I was looking forward to showing it to the guests, so I knew it was time to begin serious snail hunting. I went out twice after 10 at night, twice early on foggy, damp mornings, and once in midday. I don't have an exact count, but I think the total catch was between 50 and 75. The flowers looked nice for the guests, and I have congratulated myself on hunting now, because later in the year these snails would have had offspring.

Snails live several years, breed during warm weather, and, because they are hermaphroditic, they all lay eggs (an average of 86 eggs per snail!). At this time of year, I am finding almost entirely large snails, but later, after the year's snail eggs have hatched, there will be many smaller ones. And the young ones are both a lot more trouble to hunt and eat more of your plants for their body weight than the adults.

The new snail bait based on iron phosphate is also a really good way to get snails to leave your garden alone. A common brand name for this product is Sluggo, sold by Monterey Lawn and Garden (the label is at ). It consists of tiny pellets that you spread at a rate of a level teaspoon per square yard of garden. Snails and slugs eat it and stop feeding immediately; they die in 3 to 6 days. They crawl to hidden places, so you may not realize how many you have killed with it, but it is effective, and remains effective after watering or rain. I think they work better now, on the adult snails, which more often crawl on the ground than later, on the young ones, which may stay up in plants for several days at a time.

To see if a bait is of this type, read the "Active Ingredients" in fine print on the label and look for Iron Phosphate, or Ferric Phosphate. This should be the only active ingredient. The inert ingredients in this product are mainly wheat flour.

I spent some time yesterday and today trying to figure out if Sluggo was permitted to organic farmers. When California had its own list of permitted substances, one could read it online, but now that the list is federal, seems like you have to request the list in print and have it sent to you. Because I was impatient, I finally decided to call the manufacturer. I spoke to Tom Thompson of Monterey Lawn and Garden, in Fresno, who told me that Sluggo is not on the list of allowed substances at present, but is being considered by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), and Monterey Lawn and Garden thinks it will be approved. The OMRI is currently studying a "binding agent," that is present in miniscule amounts.

So the question is, is Sluggo organic? Well, organic has two meanings. In the sense the chemist understands, the flour part of the material is an organic substance in that it was once a living thing (wheat), and the iron phosphate is an inorganic chemical compound. In the sense meant by the organic farming laws, Sluggo is not approved at this time as a pest management method for use by organic farmers.

I feel strongly that Sluggo will be approved for organic farmers, since its ingredients are not harmful to the environment or to creatures other than snails and slugs. In time, the active ingredient becomes a fertilizer, since plants need iron and phosphorus. For gardeners who have been using metaldehyde bait it is a far better choice, since Sluggo isn't toxic to pets, and is applied so thinly that pets aren't likely to even notice it. I suggest that noncommercial gardeners who consider themselves "organic" go ahead and use Sluggo now, assuming it will be approved.

And, while I had a dinner party to think of last week, and needed the certainty that only a snail hunt could provide, now that the emergency is past, now I think I will go sprinkle some Sluggo.

In other news, the Garden For the Environment, in San Francisco, is starting a seed library. They are looking for home saved seeds and are also currently accepting donations of packaged seeds to get the project going. For more information, see the website or call 731-5627. They are planning their first seed swap on June 24th, 5 to 7 pm, at the Garden for the Environment, 7th and Lawton. This will also be a Solstice potluck barbeque party.