Shoppers rush to buy seeds and seedlings

The coronavirus pandemic leads to unprecedented sales of seeds, seedlings and edible plants.

Fears fuel a need to be green

We’re already accustomed to medications, toilet paper, pasta and rice being hoarded by panic-stricken shoppers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, it seems many Australians are heeding ‘preppers’ – survivalists preparing for emergencies – by going down the road to self-sufficiency.

Bunnings is the latest to impose purchase restrictions. Shoppers are limited to four items per person for cleaning and storage products, garden sprayers and batteries.

But it is continuing anxiety over food supplies that has prompted unprecedented sales of seeds, seedlings and edible plants.

South of Hobart, nurseryman Andrew Clarke told the ABC he sold more seedlings and vegetables in a weekend than he usually does in a month. He foreshadowed possible restrictions while he restocked from wholesalers.

Tomato and lettuce seedlings were in hot demand at the Alexandria Bunnings store in Sydney, even though their growing seasons are nearly at an end.

In South Australia, Barossa nursery manager Steve Neale reported “big, big increases” in sales, theorising that people in self-isolation are searching for new activities as much as alternative food sources.

Packet seeds and potting mix are being bought in record quantities and vertical gardens are being built worldwide as confinement draws people to the pleasure and practicality of gardening.

Jemma Reed, a 32-year-old mother from Scenic Rim, Queensland, who admits she has “gone a little above and beyond” stockpiling enough food and medicine to last a year, has bought vegetable seeds. But she is also breeding fish in her fish tanks, is amassing asthma puffers and tobacco pouches and has melted down gold and silver jewellery to trade for food if things take a turn for the worse.

Dianne Regan, who runs a Coronavirus Facebook group, has started growing tomatoes, lettuce, chives, mint, celery, basil and capsicum. She’s always wanted a vegie garden, but now has the time as well as the need for a source of fresh vegies if disaster strikes.

That desire to be prepared has long defined the survivalists labelled ‘doomsday preppers’

There’s less mockery of such self-sufficient types now that the world’s supply chains for food and everyday necessities have proved fallible. Shoppers have turned to the r/Preppers Reddit site for advice on long-life foods, tutorials for home-sewn protective masks and a grow-your-own-loofah guide.

Waneeta Pollock has lived in remote bush in northern NSW for more than a decade. She's encouraged Australians to plant "at least one vegetable garden".

"You'd be amazed at the amount of food you can grow in one suburban block," she told Nine News.

"Everybody can do something to help lessen their impact on the environment and the system.

"As we've seen, the system doesn't always help you.

"You have to be able to help yourself and your family if a real catastrophe happens, as no-one will be there to save you."

Sam Steele, a 38-year-old from Eden on the New South Wales far south coast, doesn’t call himself a doomsday prepper. However, as well as stockpiling canned goods, UHT milk, noodles and pasta, and a year's supply of butter, he has fruit and vegetables growing in his backyard garden, eggs from a growing flock of quails and honey from a hive of bees.

Mr Steele believes the COVID-19 crisis has exposed unsustainable consumer behaviour.

"We as a society have grown up with convenience in mind," he said.

"You buy enough for tonight and maybe tomorrow night, and then you go back to the shops when you run out."

Global Food Security expert Professor Evan Fraser agrees. Writing for The Conversation, he pointed out that global supply chains that link farmers and consumers using the principles of ‘just enough, just in time’ has a hidden cost – a loss of resilience.

“COVID-19 shows that we need to wake up and realise that if we really want to be resilient, we need to build more redundancies, buffers and firewalls into the systems we depend on for life.

“In practical terms, this means we should be keeping larger inventories and promoting a greater degree of regional self-sufficiency.”

Food activist Lou Ridsdale, writing in the Ballarat Courier, represents such regional resources. He is excited about the opportunities the pandemic has created, exhorting us all to “start pouring your energy into planting, planting, planting”.

He urges families to “utterly wrap their arms around gardening”, saying it will be “great for your health, wellbeing and ability to fight off disease and infections, (and) it will also ease your anxiety about the current state of play regarding food security and COVID-19”.

“My advice, too, is get gardening as a family. With social distancing and potential lockdown on our doorstep, along with school holidays, it is a great activity to do together. Growing food with kids will keep them interested in the process, including cooking and eating it. And a family that gardens together will enjoy all the many benefits associated with it including boosting of mental health.

“Gardening really takes you out of your head if you are anxious about the future, and is a great release from impending unknown outcomes of the coronavirus spread and other present confronting world issues. It grounds you, and will calm you to know you have food in your yard, given supplies have been compromised at the supermarket lately. And putting your hands in soil actually triggers the release of serotonin in your brain to ward off depression, not to mention home-gown taste is far superior and chemical free.”

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    31st Mar 2020
    I think it is great people are getting into more gardening, but no need to panic buy. It did not help with the story on TV saying Bunnings might close. But great news for the owners of the house I rent (and me) because they own a nursery and now might extend my lease in August and will not need to sell the house.
    Retiring Well
    31st Mar 2020
    Bunnings won't close as that will put over 700.000 tradies etc out of work.

    This whole thing is now nothing but utter madness. Many people are starting to think that they have had enough and it's only a matter of time before people rebel. The sooner the better as far as I am concerned.
    31st Mar 2020
    Retiring Well. You are right and State governments have sensed this already. While we have a PM who was happy to put the health of the nation on hold so that he could go to the footy, WA, Qld and now Victoria governments have closed all gun shops and banned all sales of ammunition because of what they fear!
    31st Mar 2020
    Maybe hardwares will only close retail and not tradies to keep numbers down? I too think that people will not last much longer with restrictions, did not hear about the gun shops on main stream media funny about that.
    31st Mar 2020
    Unfortunately the PM and Premiers went a couple of steps too far and people found their backs were against the wall. Not only draconian restrictions which the majority of people were accepting but then if you make the slightest mistake and find yourself in the wrong place according to police or soldiers you them have an enormous fine to pay immediately, no argument allowed. Very bad mistake when almost all Australians have lost jobs, lost businesses, are panicking over whether they can look after their families, pay rent or mortgage. Especially when all the pollies are prancing around with plenty of folk to talk to and with almost no restrictions.
    31st Mar 2020
    Yes Triss seems like the pollies are part of the essential team and do not have to follow as many rules. Why would they anyway?
    31st Mar 2020
    The people in this story who are being almost praised for their hoarding behavior are amongst those to blame for compromising the supplies at the supermarket. Too bad bout those short of medications and foodstuffs.
    31st Mar 2020
    Posshut. Not at all! On the contrary most of them as we have, probably built up and maintained their supplies over a very long period of time and now don't need to often visit the supermarkets allowing the 'just in timers' more supplies. In fact extra the demand that these 'hoarders' would have created prior to the crisis created by last minute panic shoppers, would have encouraged retailers to increase stocks to meet that demand prior to the rush.
    31st Mar 2020
    What about the those sending the goods to China?
    31st Mar 2020
    Incognito, when the country is promoted to the world as a model global trader open to the world unprotected by government subsidies and protection, something that is proving to be mythical, the government while sabre rattling to the domestic audience has to be careful it doesn't totally expose the delusion.
    31st Mar 2020
    China is also responsible for the Ice drug trade and many others. Are they trying to kill off the Western world whilst they control their own country with communism?
    31st Mar 2020
    Incognito, I have no disagreement on this or your earlier post but until this government can ween itself off of the bribes from the mining industry, develop a decent industry policy to not only provide alternative value adding jobs but to give us a degree of self sufficiency in rocket science sophisticated industries like paper masks and protective robes, not to mention our pharmaceuticals and every other basic need, the government is prancing on egg shells around China. In addition we have a nation encouraged by government to perpetuate a cargo cult mentality to maintain the vast over reliance of largely non productive retail jobs. Then because we have a spending rather than savings policy and culture we depend on the savings of Chinese peasants to prop up our lifestyle, invest in our country and provide us with money to spend on the stuff they make. You think the government really cares about drugs? It's a State responsibility and we know the Feds attitude to that. There is a very simple Federal solution to drug imports. Put a $2,000 inspection fee on every inbound container from any country with a reputation for allowing illicit drug, tobacco and arms shipments and see how quickly the Chinese and others offenders would react to that and clean up their act.
    31st Mar 2020
    Articles are beginning to emerge of foodstuffs bought in panic and now being thrown out.
    31st Mar 2020
    Also I've seen the same faces over and over every time I go for a packet of salt or something... with a truckload as much as the supermarket will allow... and tissues and toilet paper and disinfectants are still impossible to get.

    All the silly hoarders do is come in and do one shop - check out - then go to the opposition, do a shop - check out, then send the spouse etc in for the next load(s).

    Pure stupidity if you ask me.
    31st Mar 2020
    Open economic borders, innit? Stop worrying about the 'open borders' that don;t exist and never have under any government - start wondering why your grand-children will be competing with some foreigner on $10 a week.... and then work out why we should lock the gates NOW!
    31st Mar 2020
    This will force some YLC posters to have a double take. Its about time we encouraged people to take care of themselves, build a bit of resilience and not rely on others to provide just in time shopping. If we had a culture of thrift and putting something aside to tide us over personal emergencies instead of profligate spending, the government would not need to send the country into even deeper 'debt and deficit' than it has been incessantly whinging about for the last seven years. Where is our fat cat 'end of the days of entitlement' treasurer now that he has finished his $360,000 pa US posting, his 'entitlement' for stuffing up on his day job?
    31st Mar 2020
    Yesterday 12 police cars were travelling in convoy along the freeway - rumour has it to set up a roadblock to prevent people from heading south for Easter. Today mainstream media reported that people are being spied on by drones and they will be fined heavily if they are caught in groups. I went to the supermarket today and still can't buy toilet paper, disinfectant, bleach, or a lot of items we normally buy. Nothing that is normally on special is on special. Another family member lost their job today. Another tried to open a bank account to deposit money he's been squirreling as a deposit on his first home and he couldn't. My local shop won't accept cash for meat even though we normally pay for it in cash. Clearly none of these things are normal for Australia. So is it any wonder shoppers are rushing to buy seeds? More than 400 people die in Australia every day - so in the last month about 12000 people have died of something - yet less than 20 of those deaths have been coronavirus. An increasing number of Australians are starting to doubt that all the turmoil around them has anything to do with the COVID-19. Yes - quarantine anyone who arrives in our country - tourist and residents alike. Closely monitor anyone whose been out of the country or returned. But let the rest of us get back to our lives. And if the lifestyle people choose is to grow their own food - well let them be. I can think of worse hobbies.
    Chris B T
    1st Apr 2020
    At these Troubling Times you find how much your Spending and Donating, funds and time is really a take take.
    The not welcome signs, there is no "Room" go home.
    Great for On The Road Transit no fixed abode.
    The use of Limited Health and Resources as For this Reasoning, wouldn't that be the same reason Before and After this Event.
    Especially those Travelling within Their State or Territory.
    This has just shown how mislaid your Humanity for these Areas have been.
    No better place to Isolate in isolated areas.
    Hard to plant seeds or have plants when on the road travelling around.
    31st Mar 2020
    SPARTAN. I really have no complaint about people who have stocked up over time in advance of any panic. It is those who have had the ability to start hoarding essential groceries and medications at a time when other less well off or vulnerable people have been left with nothing on supermarket shelves and the prospect of not being able to obtain essential medications like " ventolin"
    31st Mar 2020
    Only today, I had to go to Bunnings to get a much needed item that had broken. They had made one -way exit lines in garden section, and I was stunned to see no vegetable seedlings.
    One good thing about this, hopefully it will encourage young ones to learn the importance of just how and where our food comes from, and to foster an interest in good eating.
    31st Mar 2020
    Every time I have bought seedlings from Bunnings they die, better results from seeds. A lot of the seedlings can often be out of season too.
    31st Mar 2020
    Every year I grow my tomatoes from seeds from the year before. I sell excess plants for $5 a punnet - a much better deal than any shop... and I always get more than the 4-5 plants I need...... was amazed that at the Art Gallery fair all my tomatoes went like hotcakes... could have had more if I'd tried. Only grow Romas or Truss... bewdiful... and the Romas seem fruit fly resistant.
    31st Mar 2020
    The worst thing about this hoarding of seeds is that probably 50% of those panic buying seeds have never planted a seed in their lives . Most think you plant a seed and a few days later you have a cauliflower or onion, they have no idea how long it takes to grow them . After a few weeks they will lose interest and all those seeds will be wasted .
    31st Mar 2020
    You're right, the first sight of a slug on their lettuce, aphids on their broccoli, cabbage whites on their brassicas, all tops and no bottoms to their carrots (low superphosphate) they will give up. It might however create a greater awareness of the value of commercial growers and how much chemical spray must be used to produce those blemish free fruit & veg.
    31st Mar 2020
    Ha ha - we once had a bumper crop of cucumbers and the ex was giving them to the girls at line dancing class - some of them were shocked that they were fertilised with cow manure from the dairy farm opposite over the creek.
    31st Mar 2020
    Amazing - I've always had my own vegetable gardens since that cuts costs and gives a better product.
    Pass the Ductape
    1st Apr 2020
    Is it just me or do articles like this only assist in perpetuating the anxiety people are likely to feel about the current Covid19 situation?

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