Seed Swap for Beginners
Like the idea of connecting with local gardeners to exchange seeds? Learn how to set up a seed swap.
Improve your seed supply by tapping into a tradition as old as time: swapping seeds. Gardeners have been trading seeds since the first crops were raised. In many cultures, part of the annual harvest celebration includes swapping seeds.
Whether you’re trading a favorite flower or treasured family heirloom, a seed swap offers an opportunity to meet local gardeners, glean solid gardening tips and, of course, diversify your seed supply. It’s a low-cost way to expand your garden while sharing the wealth of your own growing efforts. Get in on one of gardening’s best kept secrets by learning how to set up a seed swap.
Get the Word Out
Use social media to publicize your seed swap, focusing on local contacts. Why local? One of the great benefits of attending a local seed swap is that you get seed from plants that have survived your region’s growing conditions. It’s locally adapted seed, which should bring good yields for you. Start small with your seed swap, inviting just friends and local gardening groups. For a larger event, consider teaming up with a garden center, food co-op or community garden.
Common times for seed swaps include prior to the start of the growing season or following the harvest season. National Seed Swap Day is the last Saturday in January. As your swap grows, you might want to tie into the national event. Once you finalize your date, you’re ready to tackle other tasks for hosting a seed swap.
One aspect of holding a seed swap is education, including teaching gardeners the difference between plant hybrids and heirlooms, which are open-pollinated. For your seed swap, you want seed from heirloom plants because these seeds yield plants like the parents. (Seed saved from hybrid plants doesn’t produce the same plant.) Heirloom seed is often handed down through families and might hail from other parts of the world like the Kiwano African horned cucumber melon (above). Encourage gardeners bringing heirloom seed to prepare a sign or paragraph detailing the story behind the seed.
Limit Seed Age
Accept seed for the swap that’s two to four years old. Seed that’s older will likely have reduced germination. Exceptions include spinach, onion, leek, parsnip and celery, which usually remain viable only for a year in typical home storage.
Gardeners might bring bulk seed in jars or seed organized in envelopes or packets. All seeds need a clear label or instruction sheet that includes at least some of this information: plant name (including botanical name), grower’s name, location it was grown, year it was harvested, and planting information, including planting depth, seed spacing and days to maturity. Labels should also include any specific planting or growing tips. Seed swap attendees can make their own labels, or you can suggest visiting a site like the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, which offers a seed label download.
Decide how much seed each attendee can take. Typically at seed swaps if you bring seed, you can also take seed in a more or less one-for-one type swap. You’ll often have some attenders who don’t bring any seed. For these individuals, maybe offer a one to two seed packet limit. Some gardeners may bring so many seeds that they’re happy to give them to anyone who wants them. With bulk seed that’s brought in jars, bags or plastic containers, make a sign that sets a limit on how many seeds can be taken—or a new gardener might take the whole jar.
How to Hold Seeds
Provide plenty of envelopes, small zipper bags or paper packets for people to carry seed. Many heirloom seed companies sell paper packets for storing seeds. In your advertising and invites, encourage attenders to bring containers for carrying seed. Common items for storing seed include coin envelopes, pill bottles, zipper storage bags and small upcycled plastic containers.
Common supplies you’ll need include labels, pens or markers and signs. Consider having some free starter seed available—choose something that you have plenty of. Offer this seed free to all attendees. It’s a good idea to offer handouts on seed saving. Look for these online at places like the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library. If you have a few folks attending who are experienced seed savers, ask them if they’d wear a tag that says, “Ask me about seed saving.”
When the seed swap ends, if you have seeds left over, consider offering them to a local school, senior center, church or community garden, or save them for a future seed swap. Scout troops often plant seeds to help the children earn badges. A local seed lending library usually welcomes donations.
Your seed swap may be such a success that you’ll want to hold it again in the future. Collect attendees’ names and contact info so you can alert them to future seed swaps.