We couldn’t be happier to see so many people taking up gardening this spring! We can’t think of a healthier, more nourishing occupation (on many levels!) to engage in while spending a lot more time at home, especially with kids. We continue to do all we can to supply you with plants, soil-building products and other gardening supplies. Yet we know there will be some disappointments as we run out of some items prematurely.
But we have to tell you that this great surge in demand was not anticipated; not by us, not by our suppliers, and not by their suppliers either! Harlequin’s Gardens is perhaps uniquely flexible, resourceful and able to respond because we grow many of our own plants on-site, we employ two off-site custom propagators, and we also order from a number of carefully vetted small Colorado growers and producers.
In general, we make our decisions about what to grow and how much to grow for the next year as we observe and review customer response in the current year. At the same time, we are always seeking out and researching new and promising introductions.
Here’s a little background on the situation.
In summer and fall, we collect seeds from the wild and from our own plantings. We order seeds from many sources in fall and early winter, both for our own growing operations and also seeds for retail sale. The bigger seed companies from which we order have made their orders from seed-growers all over the world far in advance. And guess what? There has been so much corporate consolidation in the world of commercial seed production that most seed companies are sourcing from the same finite amount available from a small handful of global wholesalers. As much as possible, we try to support small seed suppliers that breed, select, grow and sell their own seeds.
A complicating and time-consuming factor in the seed business is that the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture requires that edible crop seeds for resale must be tested for their germination rates before they can be approved for packaging and sale.
As soon as the COVID 19 pandemic was recognized early this year, seed sales skyrocketed and shortages were apparent as early as February. The Bottom Line: plants are living things and only produce seed when their life-cycle dictates. New seeds can’t be created in a factory to fill the gap. The Good News: There will be another ‘season’ of seed availability starting in mid-late summer as cool-season crops produce seed and Southern Hemisphere growers harvest and test seeds from their warm-season crops.
When the current (and, we hope enduring) Home Gardening Renaissance became apparent, we immediately directed our custom growers to adjust their propagation schedules to prioritize vegetable and herb starts, and increased our production goals. Even with those efforts, we have run into some shortages. As they say, ‘You can’t fool Mother Nature’ and plants take weeks or months to grow from seed in a pot, or to root from cuttings. And there are limits to our seed supply and our cutting stock plants.
In other plant categories, like Native Shrubs & Trees, we continue to produce more and more ourselves, and this takes years. We are proud to be the best source in Colorado for native plants, and we are on track to be THE supplier for a number of choice, desirable but rarely available native shrubs and trees. In addition to what we grow ourselves, we place pre-orders in October for native and non-native woody plants. Come spring, it is impossible to add to those orders, and new crops from the wholesale growers don’t become available until July. Here’s the scoop on wholesale nurseries in Colorado: When the world economy crashed in 2007/2008, wholesale nurseries were one of the many industries that were hit hard. These nurseries are far more dependent on landscaping contractors and large commercial and government projects than they are on supplying retail nurseries. So, when landscapers were going out of business all over the country, wholesale nurseries were left holding the bag and couldn’t sell millions of plants they had grown. When this happens, they can’t invest in keeping plants watered, transplanted, etc., so they’re just dumped on the compost pile. Painful! Since then, the prevailing business model is to under-produce so that there will be no surplus at the end of the season. Obviously, this model lacks the flexibility to respond to increased demand. It’s not much different from the situation we see in our for-profit, investor-owned hospitals, which insist on keeping the number of beds, staff and equipment to a minimum, leaving our population without medical masks, ventilators, beds and staff to deal with COVID 19. Very painful!
This year we’ve increased our supplies of composts, mulches, potting soils, fertilizers and other soil amendments as much as possible. Sometimes, even those extra efforts aren’t enough. We’re frustrated that we haven’t been receiving the Coco Loco and Ocean Forest potting soils from FoxFarm that we pre-ordered last October. We’ve done everything we can to shake some product out of them, and are repeatedly told ‘It’s on the truck’, but the phantom truck never arrives. In the meantime, we have brought in a locally-made potting soil called Symbiosis. They are trying hard to keep up with demand and are supplying us with two pallets per week. We are able to secure ongoing supplies of A-1 Eco Gro compost, Fine Wood Chips, Expanded Shale and Soil Pep, all of which are locally sourced products. WHEW!