Advice for southern hemisphere vegetable gardeners in this time of COVID

Kale, tomatoes and broccoli growing in containers in a balcony vegetable garden.

It’s springtime in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and much of South America. COVID-19 first came to the attention of most of us here in the northern hemisphere during our springtime – and the many concerns about our food supply made it a very different planting season.

In fact, those concerns are why I initiated The Food Garden Project.

For those of you who grow your food in southern latitudes – or who want to – here are some suggestions for you, based upon what happened up here.

Acquire your vegetable seeds early

The biggest surprise to us was that many of the seed supply companies ran out of seed!

By March, our early spring, it became apparent both that COVID-19 was going to travel around the globe, and that it was going to be with us for some time. Sudden worries about our food supply meant that people like me, who already grow vegetable gardens, made plans to seed and produce even more food than usual. And people who had never produced food before began to start gardens too.

Forget about panic-buying toilet paper; trying to buy your veggie seed was even worse! The New York Times even ran a story Panic Buying Comes for the Seeds.

I thought I was early on the curve to buy my own seeds, but I was clearly not early enough: some of the varieties I wanted were just plain sold out, and some of them were very delayed in shipping. I didn’t get my Napa cabbage seeds until the window to seed them had nearly closed.

So get your vegetable seeds early!

Find (or form) vegetable seed-sharing groups

Vegetable seeds can be expensive to buy, especially if you only want one or two plants from a seed packet. Therefore it makes sense to find friends to trade seeds with (yes, most seeds will last for three or so years, but even so, you may not ever go through the hundreds of lettuce or carrot seeds in a single pack).

vegetable gardening blue tomatoes on the vine

Even more so, now, when some seeds may be hard to get. So either join forces with some gardening friends and place a bulk order together to share, or just trade seeds (or seedlings) with like-minded gardening friends.

This worked really well for me this year. Turns out my new friend, Ann, is also a veggie gardener. I had too many seedlings of my blue tomatoes and tomatillos, and she had extra eggplants and squash – so we very appreciatively offloaded our extras on one another.

Learn how to save your own vegetable seeds

If you truly are a food gardener, then seed-saving is a critical skill. First of all, it saves you money. But also, if one of the reasons that you are food-gardening is that you don’t trust the food supply chains… well, then you probably shouldn’t trust the seed supply chains either!

I was surprised to read that only ten seed companies control 75% of the global seed market. If those supply chains fail, and you are dependent upon them to get your veggie seeds, then you won’t be able to grow your own food no matter how great a food gardener you are.

Even if you always buy your seed from a local supplier rather than one of those giant multinationals, once those global seed supply chains fail, everyone else will be going to your supplier too, and there will be shortages.

collecting and saving carrot seed vegetables

So your fail-safe is to save your own seed as much as possible. (Do you recognize the seeds above? That’s me, saving my carrot seed last month).

This means growing open-pollinated varieties (rather than hybrids), and knowing which plant varieties need to be isolated so you don’t inadvertently cross your seed line. I have had some of my seed lines, like my kale and my ground cherries and my mustard greens for twenty years now! I like to keep a two-year seed supply in stock (at least), in case my crops fail one year. One of the upcoming Food Garden books will be specifically about how to save seed.

Happy austral spring!

We are heading towards winter here in Canada – but I’m wishing all of my gardening friends in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa the best for your vegetable patches this coming season. Get your seeds early! And if you have any questions or ideas for future blog posts, then please join The Food Garden Club (free!) and I will try to help you out.

Published by Jacqueline Windh

I'm a writer, photographer, and radio broadcaster who is concerned about our planet and how we live our lives - hoping my work helps people to find new ways of thinking about issues such as personal health, wilderness, the environment, food security, thinking about the future. These things are all connected, you know...

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