Last week I wrote about an innovative way to save seeds via formally organized seed libraries. But, there’s another way to save hard-to-find heirloom seeds that has been around forever; seed swapping.
Traditionally, a seed swap is an informal event where a group of gardeners/community members meet, usually in late winter or early spring to prepare for the upcoming growing season. Gardeners bring seeds saved from the previous season or even several seasons and any extra seeds that they can’t use for the upcoming season to trade with other gardeners.
Like seed libraries, seed swapping is a way to preserve the genetic and cultural diversity of heritage seeds and introduces us to new vegetables or flowers.
For many people, it’s an important way to pass down their cultural food traditions and to continue to grow food that comes from their home culture and that often have great significance to them. It is also a way to share heirloom food that has been grown in families for generations and is a way to preserve that family heritage.
While the advent of the Internet has made seed swapping wider reaching, the basic premise is the same; traditionally seed swaps are a two-way trade, hence the term “swap.” So, think about what you have to offer in return for the seeds you are seeking.
There are several organizations that help make online swapping easier including the National Gardening Association. They have a free online swap form you can fill out to let other gardeners know what you are looking for or what you are offering.
Another group that has an organized seed swap is Home Grown, which is part of Farm Aid. They set up a seed swap last year and are going to repeat it again this year. Their 2011 forum is already set up.
There are also literally dozens of independent websites offering seed swapping. Even the Old Farmers’ Almanac site has a Seed Swap Forum. They list some Seed Swap Forum Rules to participate but do caution that it is “ buyer beware.”
If you prefer doing it the old-fashioned way, check with your local garden club or botanic garden to see if there’s an upcoming swap planned or organize one yourself for your fellow gardening friends. Encourage people to come and share not only seeds, but also to share garden tips and ideas. You can even include a garden book and catalog swap to trade with each other and if there are items not claimed, donate them to your local library.
There’s no better time to try a seed swap since in the United States, the last Saturday of January is “National Seed Swap Day” which this year falls on January 29.
National Seed Swap Day encourages gardeners to share open-pollinated seeds to grow varieties best suited to local regions, instead of buying from commercial seed companies.
For Washington D.C. gardeners, attend the swap that is being put on by Washington Gardener magazine, by bringing your extra seeds to Brookside Gardens. Registration for the event is $15 and you are encouraged to register in advance since there is a limit of 100 participants.