Ask the Grasp Gardener: Resurgence in dwelling gardening results in demand on seeds


Answer: Several factors play a role in news sold out. With the onset of COVID-19, people became attached to their homes and worried about food shortages. Therefore, there was a revival of home gardening and, consequently, a great demand for seeds. The Burpee Seed Company reported that they sold more seeds last March than ever before in their 144-year history. Seed companies buy from farmers who specifically grow seeds, but orders are placed well in advance and farmers don’t have enough warning to produce more seeds for the year ahead. In addition, seed companies buy seeds in bulk and then package them in smaller packages. However, with COVID-19 and the safety rules for the workplace, the process has slowed down and made it more difficult to keep up with orders.

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Even if there is no need for seeds, there may be a shortage of certain varieties as seeds are grown on farms where the plants are exposed to insects, disease, hail, floods and drought. If a grower produces a certain vegetable variety and loses a large part of the harvest to a natural occurrence, there may be a shortage of that variety in the following year. Don’t worry – there may be a shortage of some strains this year, but there will be others to choose from. If some of your favorite strains sell out in catalogs, check out (and support) the local stores that sell seeds.

Dear master gardener: what is the difference between a melon and a wart melon?

Answer: No real melon is grown in the USA. Real cantaloupes grow in Europe and have a rind that is smooth and lumpy, while the sugar melon grown here has a networked rind. Real cantaloupes are usually smaller than wart melons. The melon, which many of us call “cantaloupe” and which grows in our gardens, is actually warty melon.

Related: Ask The Master Gardener: Protect Your Garden By Rotating Your Harvest

Dear master gardener, I would like to grow asparagus this year. Should I buy seeds or crowns? What’s the best strain for Minnesota?

Answer: Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that lives 12-15 years old. You can either start with seeds or with 1 to 2 year old crowns. Starting plants from seeds requires an additional year before harvest. Sowing can now be done in peat pots, then the seedlings are transplanted in June. Crowns are usually shipped and planted in April or May. The University of Minnesota usually recommends ordering crowns instead of seeds because crowns establish themselves much faster and have a higher success rate. The U of M recommends Millennium, a high-yielding, long-lived, cold, hardy variety of asparagus that has shown excellent results in Minnesota trials. Other recommended strains are Walker Deluxe (Hybrid), Eclipse (Hybrid), Mary Washington, Martha Washington, and Purple Passion. Mary Washington, Martha Washington, and Purple Passion are openly pollinated and widespread, but have lower yields and a less consistent spear size than the hybrids. It is important to remember that asparagus spears should not be harvested in the first season after the crowns are set and lightly harvested in the second season. Plants that are over-harvested too early often become weak and thin and the canopy may never recover.

Related: Ask the master gardener: winter seeds and growth in a small space

Dear Master Gardener, What Kind of Nut Trees Can We Grow in Northern Minnesota? Can we grow black walnuts?

Answer: Hazelnuts are hardy in northern Minnesota (Zone 3). The hazelnuts that you can find canned with mixed nuts in the supermarket are European hazelnuts and do not grow in Minnesota. In fact, most of the commercial hazelnuts grown for global consumption come from Turkey. Most of the commercial hazelnut crops in the United States are grown in Oregon. There are two species of hazelnut native to Minnesota, American hazelnut and beaked hazelnut. They are multi-stemmed bushes, not trees, and the pea-sized hazelnuts from them are edible and tasty.

Interest in hazelnut production has increased, so hazelnut growers have crossed native and European hazelnuts to combine the hardiness and disease resistance of the American species with the better traits of the European species.

The black walnut tree, valued for both its wood and nuts, is hard to find in zone 4. The northern edge of the black walnut’s natural range are the Twin Cities, but they’re further north.

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Dear master gardener: A friend said he picked and eats buffalo hornbills. I have never heard of them before. What are you?

Answer: The Silver Buffalo Oberry (Shepherdia argentea) is a native shrub known for its silvery foliage and bright red fruits that ripen in the fall. It’s dioecious, which means you need a male and a female plant to produce fruit. Although the shrub has berries in its name, the fruit is actually not a berry, but a stone fruit. The ripe fruits are edible but quite sour. It is recommended that you eat the fruits in moderation as the berries contain saponin and too much of them can cause diarrhea.

Dear master gardener: What causes green skin on potatoes? If a potato has a lot of green, can you still eat it?

Answer: When potatoes are exposed to light, the tissue just under the skin can turn green. The green parts of the potato taste bitter and are slightly toxic due to the solanine compound. It is safe to eat the potato as long as you peel or slice the green handkerchief before cooking. In addition, when a potato is cooked, most of the solanine it contains is broken down.

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You can answer your gardening questions by calling the new Master Gardener hotline at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will return your call. Or send me an email at and I will answer you in the column if space permits.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. The information in this column is based on university research.