It all started in September in the Cottage Gardening forum. It was innocent enough. A forum regular wanted to organize a seed swap just among a few others on the forum to increase our "cottagey" plants for the coming year. This is the story of what it grew into.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 29, 2008. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be available to promptly respnd to comments or answer questions.)
The hostess decides not to post on the Seed Trading forum to keep the swap more intimate... just some friends from the Cottage Gardening forum getting together to share their bounty of fresh seeds from their 2007 harvest. Then it will be mostly seeds collected from their very own plants in their very own cottage gardens, or partial packs of commercial seeds sold for 2008. The Cottage Gardening forum is new this year at Dave's Garden at the request of many of us who were either interested in starting a cottage-style garden or who already had one and wanted a place where we could share our pictures, plans and problems. If any newbies come along they will be more than welcome to join in.
Nine people sign up for the swap and we all start to put together our lists of available seeds while the hostess tries to work out rules for the swap. The initial idea was that folks would send in their seeds with a list of what they would like back, for example "tall perennials, mostly pinks and purples," or "I like penstemons and foxgloves, no hollyhocks." Participants can send in as many packs of seeds as they want and get the same number back. In the next couple of days 5 more people sign up. We begin talking about the seeds we will be sending. There's a lot of chat and advice about harvesting seed now. Some of us, including me, don't have a lot of experience in this area. The deadline is extended from October 15 to the 31st to give everyone a chance to dry their seeds. As the seeds are collected and availability is announced, maybe even photos of the plants in bloom posted, there are (typed) shouts of "Me! Me!" as the participants indicate which seeds are of interest. The thread is getting too long and a new one is started. For those of you who may be new to this kind of web site, a thread is a discussion topic. By the time there are 200 posts on a thread, it loads very slowly, particularly for dial-up users. This new thread will be called by the same name with a "Part 2."
More people sign up. (The list eventually reaches 29 by thread #4, but not every sign-up follows through.) As new varieties of seeds are offered it becomes apparent that we need to keep track of "who wants what." So we start marking sandwich or snack baggies with participants' names and putting requested seeds in their baggie. This way, when they are sent in to the swap, the hostess just has to plop the baggie into their envelope. But wait...an envelope may not be big enough. How many seed packs are you sending in? Better use a box. I am sending a total of 146 packs of seeds. This absolutely beautiful box stuffed full of seeds arrives on November 16th. It's like opening a treasure. I didn't count, but there are only one or two duplicates. I believe I received over 140 different varieties of seeds in this box. Totally amazing? I think so. But it doesn't stop here.
By the end of thread #4 the hostess has another idea. If we all put in a few dollars we could buy some unusual seeds on sale that might be too expensive to buy a whole pack individually. She volunteers to split up the packs and mail them back to us; a mini co-op. All who are interested are off to thread #5 discussing which seeds we should buy. Everybody is to mail suggestions to the hostess and she will choose the most popular depending on what we can afford. Of course, not everyone is interested, but being a self-confessed "seed addict*," I follow along. A nice bubble envelope arrives on Christmas Eve with 16 packs of wonderful commercial seeds that only cost a few dollars. You may think that everyone has plenty of seeds now, but not so.
* I started this thread entitled "Seed addict...add to the list" just for fun. This is where I confess to being a true seed addict. You might want to read it to see if you might be a seed addict, too. Remember, the first sign is denial.
In order to spread around the seeds obtained in the first swap that we may not want, or seeds a bit older than 2007 that are still viable, the hostess has suggested another swap for early 2008...kind of a "clean out your seed box" swap. Many of the participants, like me, that had so much fun in the original swap are still hanging in. We picked up some people, too, so we'll be back up to 26 by the end of the swap. The rules are a little clearer this time around because we worked through some things on the first swap. The hostess has some different goals in mind this time, though. She is expecting a large amount of interesting seed from a trader in Alaska, much of it not from this year, but obviously hardy in the colder zones. There are two traders from the Netherlands and one from Canada...should be interesting.
There is no waiting for harvesting and drying this time, just everyone digging into corners, dumping out boxes and looking into the backs of refrigerators for all those seeds that were never sown and aren't likely to be this spring. The photo at left is representative of every horizontal surface in my home. Each participant has a spot on the thread for posting their list of offerings. Believe me, these lists are looong! It starts out calmly enough. Trader 1 asking Trader 8 for a pack of red monarda..."oh, and I'd also like the pink double hollyhocks, Jacob's ladder and Salvia 'Victoria Blue,' please. Will crape myrtle grow in my zone?" And then 20 posts later, "Can you add the yellow hollyhocks to that, too, if they're still available?" New thread, quick!
Some posted on the threads asking for the seeds they wanted. Some D-Mailed the owner of the prize (D-Mail is the internal message system here at DG). Some did both. The lists of offerings are growing daily and we are picking up new participants. Then there are the "Does anybody have...?" posts. Of course, somebody does "have," so sort it out and see who will provide it so it isn't duplicated. There are thoughts of when to post new seed offerings so everybody has an equal chance at them. Some of the seeds are so attractive that everybody wants them and there may be only one pack. Others are those dime-a-dozen kind that you can't seem to get rid of. Then the newbies show up and are glad for a chance to pick up those common ones that are garden staples. I was one of those newbies last year.
The seeds are coming fast and furious and just as quickly are snapped up. Some traders are tempted to join in, but lurk for a while and get dizzy just trying to keep up, then back away quietly. It reminds me of when you see the mayhem of the commodities market in the movies...everybody yelling at once and waving the slips of paper that represent wheat or orange juice or pork bellies (like in "Trading Places," if you've seen it). We begin "oinking" and referring to ourselves as "piggies" because it just seems like we are being so grabby, but there is such a bounty of seeds and plenty for everyone.
The threads grow and grow...three, four, five. We have to copy our lists and pull them forward or we would lose track. There are a couple of volunteers who generously offer to keep lists for the hostess to make her job a little easier. She is a model of organization. There is a room at her house (more than one before this is all over) dedicated to the swap and big cans labeled with our DG user names. When there is something requested from her own stash (which is more than considerable!) she throws it in the appropriate can. The opening thumbnail is my can, marked with my zone, so she knows what kind of extra seeds to toss in, but I understand I have been upgraded to a larger size!
In the middle of thread #4 the seeds from Alaska show up...a wine case FULL! Piggies to the trough!! We get lists of availability as the the seeds are sorted and repacked into smaller lots. Now the hostess starts advertising the seeds that aren't being taken...descriptions, links to PlantFiles (the huge, searchable plant database here at Dave's Garden), ideas on where to use them. The lady knows her plants! Soon they're being adopted. "Yeah, I could use some of those to hide my A/C." "They'll grow in dry shade? Oink, oink...I'll take a pack." Thread six, seven...more seeds, more advice. The cans are really getting stuffed now.
Our Canadian trader has heirloom tomato seeds. Even though the general rule is "no veggies," they can be included if someone specifically wants them. One of the Dutch participants wanted all the heirloom tomatoes that were available. There was an interesting story offered with the seeds. There is an heirloom seed project in British Colombia where our trader obtained the seeds. There is no telling where they came from originally. Our friend in the Netherlands sends heirloom vegetable seeds to traders in many other countries. So the trail of these seeds, in this swap alone, is from B.C. to Toronto, to the swap hostess in the mid-west, to the Netherlands, to Gibralter, Germany, Denmark and Slovenia. Amazing!! If only we could tag a seed the way we band birds.
Thread 8...you better have your seeds packed and ready to send in. The deadline is just about on us. It's time to move on to finishing winter sowing and getting ready for spring. Folks in the south are already reporting seeds sprouting. Our hostess, with a mind like a seed filing cabinet, has to be exhausted. (See the pic on the right...pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain...). No matter how much we appreciate her efforts and how impressed we are with the job she has done, I don't think we'll ever realize the magnitude of it. Maybe her volunteer assistant, another DG member, who was kind enough to take and share these pictures, has a handle on it. She was kind of an intern...a beginner who wanted to learn at the feet of the master. Also she doesn't mind typing, a task which the seed master loathes.
As I write, we're on thread 9, the final thread. Boxes have been mailed out today. You can't begin to imagine the wild ride. The fun we've had! We're planning new threads; one for our new babies... seeds germinated by winter sowing or under lights inside, one in the spring for sharing blooms, one for questions and advice. We're not just participants in a swap any more, not just DG screen names. We have real names, real gardens, real lives. The new friends are reluctant to lose the camaraderie.
New flowers and beautiful gardens: $0
New friends: priceless
Attention potential swappers:
For any newbies out there who are a little reluctant to jump in and start trading, try reading through the Trading Primer first. It will give you some guidelines, basic how-to's and also trading etiquette so you don't inadvertantly step on any toes. By the time you've read that, you should be ready to visit the Seed Trading Forum or the Plant Trading Forum to see if there is anything that interests you. If something is confusing, ask! Nobody will bark or bite. There were lots of participants in the swaps I talked about in this article who had never been in a swap before. There are two excellent articles that were published recently that will also be a great help to you if you take a few minutes to read through them: What is a SASBE? Learn All About Getting Seeds for Postage and Seed Trading Etiquette=Please don't make me get out the magnifying glass! But whatever else you do, please take the plunge and join us in the fun. I wouldn't suggest starting with a big swap like the one I described, but most are much more manageable. Just read and take your time until one sounds right to you.
About Jan Recchio
I'm a 'dabble' gardener. Been gardening since I was a child. I will plant anything that will grow for me and some things that won't, indoors or out. Outdoors I have theme gardens: roses, butterfly/hummingbird, heathers/dwarf conifers, a rock garden (in progress) and a new English-style cottage garden with an herb garden at it's 'heart'. Indoors I try to concentrate on orchids, African violets, anything that will flower or has lots of color and unusual houseplants. I try to stay organic and keep chemicals to a bare minimum. My non-gardening interests include quilting, counted cross-stitch and watercolor painting. I am a proud grandma, recently celebrated my 40th anniversary and before my retirement I was a clinical systems analyst (computer geek) for 24 years.