SPICER – The snow had barely melted this spring when customers started calling the Green Lake Nursery in Spicer looking for vegetable seeds.

In mid-March the owners stuck a note on the front door saying the seeds hadn’t arrived yet, to ward off people who came to the door looking to snag bean, peas, corn and carrot seeds before they were gone – when the seeds hadn’t even arrived yet.

Those calls requesting seeds could be a sign that people who started vegetable gardening in 2020 during the pandemic will be digging in the dirt again this year.

High demand

A sign posted March 25, 2021 on the door of Green Lake Nursery in Spicer was in response to numerous, early requests for vegetable seeds. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune
A sign posted March 25, 2021 on the door of Green Lake Nursery in Spicer was in response to numerous, early requests for vegetable seeds. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune

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Like last year – when customers flocked to stores and bought out the stock of plants and seeds – area nurseries don’t quite know what to expect this year. But they’re hoping that first-time gardeners fell in love with growing their own food during the pandemic and will be back again this year.

“We’re ramping up production,” said Lisa Grindberg, from Creekside Nursery in rural Pennock. “We’re assuming more people will be gardening.”

Grindberg started fielding phone calls in March from people checking to see if she would be selling certain varieties of vegetable plants.

“I’m doing a lot more broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes and peppers,” she said.

Last year Grindberg said she sold out of everything, despite reseeding every week and sometimes twice a week.

“As soon as things were popping up, people were buying them,” she said. “So we’re trying to get ahead of that this year.”

Grindberg said she doesn’t think items will go quite as fast this year, but predicts it will still be “overwhelming.”

Tom and Patty Wall, from Tom’s South Spicer Nursery, said every day in 2020 was as busy as a typical Saturday, with customers buying bedding plants, shrubs and trees.

The Walls, who grow nearly all of their stock from seed, have been in business for more than 35 years. Tom Wall said their greenhouses will be fully stocked this year and hopes that the 2020 gardeners will continue with their new hobby this year.

Patty Wall transplants bell pepper plants April 12, 2021 at Tom's South Spicer Nursery, that she and her husband, Tom, have operated for 35 years. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune
Patty Wall transplants bell pepper plants April 12, 2021 at Tom's South Spicer Nursery, that she and her husband, Tom, have operated for 35 years. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune

Lou Brown, who’s been operating Lou’s Greenhouse across the Minnesota border in Big Stone City, South Dakota with his wife, Maria for 52 years, said they were fielding phone calls early this year. People were checking to see what the large nursery – which draws people from Willmar and as far away is Wyoming – will have in stock this year in their 17 greenhouses.

“Last year was one of the busiest years we’ve ever had,” Brown said.

They sold out in May in 2020 and Brown said “greenhouses expect a big year again.”

Brown said he thinks more people are finding joy in gardening.

“Everybody’s very nice,” he said of their customers. “We don’t run into one crabby person at all.”

Garden-variety advice

Grindberg said the first-time gardeners she’s talked with enjoyed growing their own food last year, but some got frustrated and will likely scale back this year.

That’s actually a good thing.

Ella Roth, who’s worked at Green Lake Nursery for 40 years and is well-known for her gardening acumen, said new gardeners should start small.

There’s nothing more frustrating than planting a large patch of vegetables and being overwhelmed with “a patch of weeds” or seeing tender vegetables eaten by “varmints,” Roth said.

Using chemicals to stop weed growth might seem like a good idea, but using pre-emergents before you plant seeds could mean nothing will grow, she said.

Area greenhouses are hoping that people who started gardening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic will be back again this year. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune
Area greenhouses are hoping that people who started gardening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic will be back again this year. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune

Last year she saw a lot of grandparents with their grandkids in tow at the nursery. The elders were looking for ways to entertain the kids and “the best way was to plant a garden together,” Roth said. “Grandparents are always ready to say yes.”

Roth said planting vegetables in pots is a great way to start if land isn’t available for a vegetable patch, but said a good soil mixture is needed, with compost added to the dirt and good drainage from the pots — which should be large.

“You can grow anything in a pot,” Roth said.

She said pots should not be put on hot patios or cement slabs because plants will be hot on the bottom and cold on the top and quickly dry out. When fruits, like tomatoes, are bearing, she said it’s important to provide plenty of water.

While people are eager to get seeds planted in the ground, Roth cautioned about planting too early..

“Always be ready to get smacked in the face with that last frost,” Roth said.

Last year eager — or inexperienced — gardeners put their tomato and pepper plants in the ground too early and they died in a late spring frost, which meant people had to head back to the greenhouses to buy replacements, she said.

Because of the high demand for seeds and plants last year, some suppliers “borrowed” from the stock they would typically carry over for the next year. That could mean some shortages of certain varieties of seeds and plants this year.

Grindberg said gardeners should get their seeds and plants early. “If you see something that’s in stock, get it,” she said.

But wait to put those plants in the ground until the danger of frost has passed.

Area greenhouses are hoping that people who started gardening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic will be back again this year. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune
Area greenhouses are hoping that people who started gardening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic will be back again this year. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune

Small town nurseries

Because of the pandemic, some of the pop-up greenhouses at large box stores and grocery stores didn’t happen last year. With people eager to grow their own vegetables, customers patronized small-town nurseries.

It was a “booming business” for hometown nurseries and greenhouses, which Roth called “hidden gems.”

Many of those small nurseries sell vegetable seeds in bulk, which allows customers to dish up as much as they want, as a fraction of the price of pre-packaged seeds.

Local greenhouses and nurseries also have experience and gardening advice to dish out to people eager to learn.

“Go somewhere where you can get some help,” Roth said. There are “tips and tricks you can get from an old gardener.”

Roth said she expects “another big year for all the nurseries, and hopefully it’s a good year for the smaller ones that people discovered last year.”