National Seed Swap Day
Photo by Melody

National Seed Swap Day

By Damian Fagan (D_Fagan)January 24, 2014

Hosting a seed swap is a great way for gardeners to interact and share not only seeds, but also their gardening experiences. Sometimes a casual conversation over one plant leads to an opening of discovery or realization.

Gardening pictureAlthough it seems early in the year to have a National Seed Swap Day (the last Saturday in January or January 25, 2014), you have to remember that many gardeners save their own seeds, especially from heirloom or heritage plants. Though swaps take place throughout the year, the idea is to trade last summer's seeds or excess seeds from recent years with other local gardeners. That and to have a good time.

There isn't any set formula or plan to host a swap. Some are done with potluck dinners or social gatherings. Others occur in a more formal setting like a conference room or meeting hall where tables can be arranged and the seeds set out. Some larger swaps happen along with other gardening events, drawing interest from that crowd. Some swaps happen year round on-line or through a local group that has space to store seeds.

No matter the location or the set-up, there are a few common considerations to having a successful swap.
Obviously, a seed swap needs gardeners that save seeds and have excess to share. This may include extra seed packet seeds that are less than a couple years old or those from heirloom plants. Certain seeds have better germination than others over time, so keeping the source relatively recent is a good idea. Sometimes a local farmer or company may have seeds to donate, sort of a seed bank to get things rolling.

In coordination with having some seeds to swap, another important aspect is getting the word out. Club newsletters, in person, e-mail lists, phone trees, newspaper articles, radio ads or simple flyers are or neighborhood associations and community gardens are other likely groups to invite.

Size of the group will dictate the swap's location. A small group might be easy to manage the first year, with additional invites the following year. No matter the size or location, having small empty packets available provides a handy way to label and share seeds. A case of 500 small coin envelopes (2½ by 4¼) costs around $15.

Depending upon the size of the swap, a case could last for several years.

Unless you are related to one of the really large seed companies, often there are limits to the amount of bulk seeds laid out. Letting gardeners take a small portion of the available seed is a good way to spread the wealth around. Some swaps post signs limiting the number of seeds (like 20-30), but others are more casual. Some gardeners may also arrange to swap starts grown from the seeds with each other.

Seed swaps may also have guidelines for the swap. If someone showed up empty handed, can they get seeds? Or if they only bring several packets are they limited to taking that amount, as well? Will the swap be only vegetable seeds or are flower seeds or bulbs also fair game? A few guidelines in the beginning can be included in the initial publicity as well as posted at the event to keep everyone happy.

In additions to packets, having some information about the type of seed and growing requirements is nice to have. This could be a hand-written sign or something a bit more fancy done on the computer with images. Having spoons or scoops, tongue depressors or other flat implements are also handy for counting out seeds or taking from a bulk container. And a smaller scoop helps limit the amount taken.

About the only seeds that are usually not encouraged at seed swaps are old ones, those from hybrid plants, and those that are genetically modified (GMO) seed.

Again, depending upon the size of the swap, other handouts, catalogs, membership forms, etc. can be on hand for additional information. The Seed Savers Exchange Web site ( has a downloadable guide to seed saving that provides a wealth of information on this gardening activity.

Any seeds left over from the swap may to school gardens, community gardens, other swaps or be planted as a row for the hungry. 'Let no seed be left behind' is not just an idea, but a way to grow a better world.

  About Damian Fagan  
Damian FaganDamian is contributing writer to Dave's Garden. He is a freelance writer, hiking guide, gardener and wreath-maker living in Central Oregon. He has published several books including Pacific Northwest Wildflowers and Canyon Country Wildflowers with Globe Pequot Press.

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