We live in tenuous times. Things we always took for granted have either changed dramatically or disappeared entirely. Prices on literally everything have soared and there is no end in sight. Unfortunately, this trend also affects not only prices on garden materials, seeds and plants, it also affects availability.

Here we are, then, at the beginning of another year, and while most of us wait until midwinter to plan for the following season’s garden, we would all do well to begin now, since dramatic changes can take place at a moment’s notice, and often with no notice at all.

Labor shortages and interruptions in the delivery chain seem the norm now. Will that new hybrid vegetable you discovered last year and loved so much be available this year? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Because of this uncertainty, it will behoove all of us to do our gardening season shopping early, while stocks are still available.

Getting Back to Basics

We saw it in 2020. People on lockdown took up a renewed interest in gardening. And because of supply-chain shortcomings, prices on common items increased considerably. That trend has not diminished one bit, and, in fact, things have gotten even worse with each passing month.

The same stands true for other outdoor activities. Fishing and hunting, solo sports, saw a dramatic increase in participants, many of them first-timers. Even astronomy, once a solitary hobby for a select few, has become a favored pastime. I recently checked out prices on telescopes and found that the same scope sold in 2019 now costs nearly a hundred bucks more. The same for accessories.

One reason for the increased interest in amateur astronomy is that since more and more people are compelled to remain at home, a solo nighttime activity such as astronomy has begun to look more interesting all the time. It beats staying inside and watching T.V.

The same stands true for gardening. Lockdowns were the initial reason for this renewed interest. Today, many people refrain from going to supermarkets unless it is absolutely necessary, since doing so entails wearing masks and social distancing, and, even at that, who knows if the person next to you in line has COVID-19? A better alternative is to grow your own. And so, people who have never gardened before are now breaking ground, setting seeds and hoping for the best.

If there is anything good about all of this, then perhaps it is more and more people are getting back to basics, appreciating nature and getting outdoors more.

I notice an increased interest in useful wild plants, a topic that I have spent a lifetime studying and many years teaching and writing about. Now that people have more time, or many people do, they want to know if that funny weed out back has any uses. Most times it does, too.

Foraging it’s called, the act of harvesting wild crops for food and or medicine. I am old enough to remember when in spring, newly green fields would be alive with people harvesting dandelions for that first, fresh, green treat of the season. That sort of thing is coming back with renewed vigor. We are re-discovering the wonders of the natural world that we had for so long ignored.

Order Early

Not only should we order our seeds and seedlings early, we should do a thorough job of comparison shopping. Some seed companies have raised prices dramatically.

I am rather promiscuous regarding whom I buy my seeds from. It all boils down to who gives me the best deal. This year, I had entertained thoughts of buying my vegetable seeds from Gurney’s, a favorite, old-time seed and nursery company. Imagine my surprise, then, when while perusing their new catalogue, I saw a price of $7.99 for a packet of their Gurney Girl’s Best Hybrid tomato, a great, all-round favorite. My eyesight isn’t what it once was and I adjusted my glasses, thinking that price was for a ¼ pound of seed. But no, it was for a packet.

Likewise, other staples from Gurney’s were priced far above other outlets. Standard fare such as Blue Lake bush beans cost $2.99 per packet, as opposed to $1.95 for the same item from Pinetree Seeds, a Maine-based company. Green Ice Lettuce costs $3.99 per packet, as opposed to $1.95 from Pinetree.

To sum it up, I would rather go out and buy a supermarket tomato, save the seeds and plant them and hope for the best, rather than spend about eight bucks for a packet of inspected and named seeds.

This points out the wisdom of growing heirloom, or open-pollinated varieties of all veggies and saving the seeds. The day may come, and it may already be here, when you will need to get a bank loan just to buy your garden seeds.

So, shop early and good luck. We will all need it.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.