One of the crazy results of a 2 year lockdown from the pandemic plus raising inflation is a huge increase in new gardeners in the last 3 years. Many many people are digging up their lawns, filling raised beds or simply planting into bags of compost, all in an effort to increase food security for themselves and their families and lower their food bills.

The result is that seed companies have been overwhelmed with orders, selling out popular varieties quickly. They have coped in various ways. Earlier release of seed catalogues, specific dates for new ordering, increased prices, higher shipping costs, limiting the number of packets of one variety anyone can order…

I’ve felt for these companies, used to going along in a routine yearly cycle, and then suddenly having orders increase dramatically right at the time when Covid lockdowns limited numbers of employees in warehouses, number of people available to work and all kinds of increase costs.

But the even uglier side of all of this increased interest? Terrible quality control.

For the record, I’ve been starting seeds for 20 years and have sold plant starts for the last 10. I have very strong systems in place to keep track of what is planted where.

Here are my examples:

2021 – Johnny’s Selected Seed. I was sent marjoram instead of za’atar seed. I grow and use za’atar (picture on the left – a wild oregano/thyme plant) for my own za’atar spice mix and have been growing it for about 5 years. Za’atar has a fuzzy leaf that is more silvery than regular marjoram. Za’atar is also a tender perennial, taking a light frost and sometimes surviving the winter. Marjoram is an annual in our climate, dying to the ground at the first frost.

When I planted older za’atar seed from another company next to the za’atar I received from Johnny’s it quickly became clear that what I had received was in fact actually marjoram (which I’ve also grown for years). When I sent Johnny’s details and photographs, they told me I was mistaken (always charming to be dismissed as an inexperienced gardener by a big seed company). When we got a frost, all of the Johnny’s plants immediately died while my true za’atar was unfazed by the initial cold. I didn’t bother following up again with Johnny’s, because, given their original response, why bother.

Likely Malagueta peppers. Clearly not a paprika pepper. Sandia Seed Company.

2021 – Sandia Seed Company. Ordered NuMex Vince Hernandez paprika seeds. Received what the company and I determined were probably Malagueta peppers, a type of piri piri pepper (the fruit was pointing UP, which is unusual for a pepper, and based on that plus size, we narrowed it down to malagueta). They were apologetic about the mix up and I did not ask for a credit, nor did they offer one.

Clearly not a poblano. Likely a shishito. Ferry Morse Seed.

2022 – Ferry Morse Seed Company. Bought several poblano pepper packets last minute, when I realized I was running low for this season. I grow my poblano peppers to maturity/red ripeness and then dry them as Ancho peppers for use in several of my spice mixes. I got fantastic germination on these seeds and planted out a total of 36. Some were from last year’s seed, but most were this year’s Ferry Morse seed. I have 9 obvious poblano plants and 27 of what I’m pretty sure is a shishito. Sign.

My sincere apologies to anyone who bought poblano plant starts from me this year that turned out to NOT be poblanos!

2022 – Botanical Interest Seed Company. I bought Moss Rose Portulaca Double Blend. Picture on left above are plants I had last year (purchased as starts locally – I LOVED this variety.) I was excited to grow this beautiful double from seed this year. Middle is what I ORDERED, and left is what the grow out looks like. While lovely, does this look like a double to you? Interestingly, the Double Blend is the only moss rose Botanical Interest sells, and yet clearly the wrong seed is in the packet.

Which brings me to the point of why this seems to be such a problem with SO MANY different seed companies. The well kept secret of the seed industry is that almost every company is actually buying seed from the same 4 or so seed distributors. They in turn are contracting with individual farms to do grow outs of specific seed varieties. So those Sungold tomatoes you bought from Territorial Seed might be the exact same Sungolds carried by Johnny’s and Renee’s garden. And THIS is where the problem lies. The quality control is happening with the distributors.

So, what’s your experience been these last few years? Are you getting the vegetable in your garden that was on the seed packet?

© Miles Away Farm 2022, where we are super frustrated with this wrong seed/wrong packet trend, but are certainly grateful for the abundant garden this year! Want more content? Sign up for a monthly newsletter to your email inbox HERE.