Saving Postage on Seed Trades

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

Quite by accident I discovered that not all #000 4”x8" Kraft Bubble Padded Self-Sealing Envelopes are the same size. The 4”x8” metric for these envelopes appears to more of a suggested size and there is variation in size between manufactures. In terms of the cost of shipping the most critical dimension is the thickness which is not even listed by most manufactures. I went shopping for inexpensive #000 envelopes on Amazon and found this product:


When the envelopes arrived they appeared to be a bit smaller and measured 4.75”x7.125” on the outside when closed but the padding was adequate. The official USPS #000 envelope and those from office supply stores measure 5”x 7.5” on the outside when closed and are thicker. I didn’t think anything of it until I went to the Post Office to mail same seeds. The Postman looked at the envelope and decided to check the size using a plastic “Letter-Size Mail Dimensional Standards Template” he had at the counter. The #000 padded envelope from Amazon passed through the slot in the template without difficulty because its thickness was less than 0.25 inches. I was told that that I only needed two Forever-Stamps at a cost of $0.88 because this was considered a letter and not a package by the USPS. I have noticed that postage on #000 padded envelopes I receive from others is much higher. One shipment of a single package of seeds to Pennsylvania from New Jersey shipped for only $0.66 so it may pay to have the envelopes checked at the counter.

There are two templates which the USPS uses to determine the size of mail and the associated costs for shipping. The “Letter-Size Mail Dimensional Standards Template” is a plastic template which the Postal Clerks use at the counter to measure mail. The “First-Class Mail Shape-Based Pricing Template” is folding glossy cardboard template with a lot of guidance and information for USPS customers. If you ask you local Post Master nicely you may be able to obtain the latter for free.

Directives and Forms Catalog

“Letter-Size Mail Dimensional Standards Template”
PSN 7610-03-000-9053

“First-Class Mail Shape-Based Pricing Template”
PSN 7530-10-000-0765

The plastic templates are available on the Internet from several sources. Here is one which I found to be entertaining:

Template for Sizing Envelopes

I can’t vouch for any vendors but this one sounded humorous, factual and honest. Anyone who tells to try and get it for free from the Post Office first is OK with me.

Perhaps we could save a little money on seed trades by paying more attention to the outside dimensions of the envelopes, with particular emphases on the thickness. There is one problem. As most vendors don’t specify the thickness of their #000 envelopes we could order one batch of #000 envelopes which was thinner than 0.25 inch limit and a subsequent order could be thicker than 0.25 inch maximum. We need to find some way to verify the thickness of the #000 envelopes we order in advance. The only guideline I can give you is that less expensive #000 envelopes appear to be thinner than 0.25 inch critical thickness.

DG members should start posting sources for “Seed Trade Friendly #000 Envelopes” here. It would also be useful to track shipping costs and experiences you had at the Post Office.


Thumbnail by Michael_Ronayne
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I like the way you think.

I tried making my own slightly padded envelope to beat the 0.25" thickness limit, so I could send seeds as a First Letter rather than a "Package". It looked like less than 0.25" to my calipers, but the clerk used the plastic slot, and was able to make the envelope hang up so she could charge $1.71.

Even so, when sending three out that way, only two were delivered, so i assume they jammed the other one in the First Class rollers despite my paying 3-4 times as much!

If you got the lowest First Class Envelope rate, presumably they considered it "machinable" which means they can safely put it through the rollers in the high-speed sortation machine. Maybe that's only done where a local Post Office has its sorting done by a large distribution center.

But often large and medium size seeds in flat envelopes are reduced to flour (not flowers) by these crushing rollers!

I even had a clerk tell me that paying the 20-cent "non-machinable surcharge", and marking "HAND CANCEL ONLY" would be ignored at the sorting center if it "might" fit through the high-speed machine. This is despite the fact that any jam destroys multiple envelopes and may damagee their machine! Geniuses!

She said the only way to assure that it would not be crushed was to use a bubble mailer SO thick that it would obviously not fit into the rollers.

Right now I'm working on an idea to make my own First Class envelopes from card stock, and pad them to around 0.2". It has to be SO much less than 0.25" that wise-guy clerks CAN'T reject it (and I don't want to jam or damage any machinery).

I will only put padding around the periphery of the envelope, leaving a cavity in the center for a 2x3" Ziplock, or 1.5"x1.5" Ziplocks.

If that padding is stiff enough, it SHOULD hold the rollers away from the seeds (for seeds up to 0.1" or 0.15").

If the card stock is stiff enough, it should avoid the USPS rule that contents must not “cause the thickness of the mailpiece to be uneven”.

If the rollers only grip the edges of the envelopes, I'm home free (I have a question about that out to a friend who worked on the USPS automation change-over years ago).

In the worst case, I would mark the envelopes "HAND CANCEL ONLY" and pay the 20-cent "non-machinable surcharge". I think then a clerk would HAVE to accept it as a non-machinable First Class envelope.

Of course the card stock + padding + seeds have to weigh less than 3.5 ounces (or 3.3 ounces - I've seen each listed as the upper limit for First Class Envelope rate).

Still, the cost of a 3.5 ounce First Class envelope is only $1.04 (or $1.24 for non-machinable).

That beats $1.71 + 45 cents for a bubble mailer.

On the other hand, it is starting to look like the US government needs the cash more than I do.

I wish our Senators & Representatives would wear signs "will work for cash" since obviously Congress is NOT working at this time! Or they ARE working ... for those who pay for their campaign advertising.


Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)


The US Government always needs your cash more than you because they believe your cash is their cash, a moral imperative they share with most thieves. Fortunately the Ponzi Game is quickly coming to an end as the cash inflow dries up and the end-game begins.

On the more interesting subject of entrusting seeds to the USPS, I have found that even moderately large seeds such as Hibiscus coccineus which are almost 3 mm (0.12 inches) diameter can be shipped safely in the inexpensive #000 envelopes. I recently made a number of seed trades involving multiple Hibiscus species in each #000 envelope, including Hibiscus coccineus, at letter rates. One of the trades was international, for which I had to fill out a customs declaration which said “Seeds”, which arrived quicker than am envelope I sent to Alabama. All of the seeds arrived in excellent condition. When sending multiple packets in one envelope, make sure they are not bunched up or you will hit the 0.25 inch maximum thickness limit. And remember that weight always counts.

I haven’t mailed seeds larger than 3 mm (0.12 inches) so I can’t say how well they would survive using the inexpensive #000 envelopes but there are obviously seed sized which would require special handling, fortunately I don’t have any plants which produce seeds of that size. I have had Hibiscus grandiflorus seeds, which are about half the size of Hibiscus coccineus, reduced to flour in a conventional envelope so I know exactly what you are talking about with seeds being crushed.

If the lines are not too long, I have a Postal Clerk calculate the postage and print the stamp, after that the inexpensive #000 envelope is never questions in the system. If I am in a hurry and only sending one package of seeds, two forever stamps ($0.88) generally will do the trick. If you are sending multiple seed packets, it is better to have the envelope’s postage calculated at the Post Office, as they do check weight.

I commend your efforts to design a seed friendly envelope, but unless you can find someone to manufacture them, it is not going to help other gardeners who don’t what to go to that much trouble but still want to save postage costs on seed trades. Our efforts would be better spent convincing manufactures and sellers on Amazon and eBay to document the thickness of their #000 envelopes by explaining to then why it would be profitable for them to do so.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> almost 3 mm (0.12 inches) diameter can be shipped safely in the inexpensive #000 envelopes.

If you mean the bubble-padded #000, I agree. But I have always had to pay $1.71 ("First Class Package" rates) no mater how thin they were.

>> at letter rates.

My hat's off to you! I wonder if we just have very different local post office equipment. Certainly the clerks where I am seem to delight in telling me what I can't do. What I'm trying to achieve sounds like what you are already doing with thin bubble mailers.

I've recieved letter-shapped, thin envelopes with just a little bubble wrap inside: every bubble popped by high-speed rollers, or maybe by elephants. I've read threads back almost a decade, during the changeover, where people using normal envelopes through urban post offices suddenly found tomato seed viability dropping from 90% to 10% ... until they started using bubble mailers for 3-4 times the price.

Oh, well, I read one post office publication that siad the intent of the 44 cent rate was only to allow mailing a few sheets of paper, not "merchandise". And I know that high-speed automated equipment can choke and die on anything it wasn't designed to handle.

In theory, at least, the Post Office "should" accept envelopes less than 0.25" thick as First Class envelopes, though they do have a long list of other requirments (like aspect ratio, length & width limits, and uniform thickness). However, if you have not paid the 20 cent "non-machineable surcharge", they are entitled to put it through "the rollers".

Maybe the fact that the whole 5-7" width is bubble-padded keeps the rollers from crushing the seeds or popping the bubbles.

I used to think that First Class Envelopes are 44 cents per ounce: nope!
1 oz - 44 cents
2 oz - 64 cents
3 oz - 84 cents
3.5 oz - $1.04
(over 3.5 ounces makes it a "package")


Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)


By my standards you live in the banana belt. If you are interested I will send you two test shipments of Hibiscus seeds with one species in each #000 envelope. I would suggest the species Hibiscus grandiflorus and Hibiscus coccineus which should love your Zone 8a environment but they do just survive in my Zone 6b. I have other Hibiscus species and more hybrids than I can germinate, if you want something else. I will send one package with metered postage and the other with two forever-stamps deposited in a street letter box and you can judge the results. DM me your mailing address if you are interested.

I was very carful to post the information about the templates which the Post Office is using and I have the “First-Class Mail Shape-Based Pricing Template” which is made of cardboard. If you want to run the tests, I will measure #000 envelopes before I send them. If you want to include additional test parameters let me know.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> banana belt.


>> If you are interested I will send you two test shipments of Hibiscus

Thanks anyway, but I already know that, from some locations, people have sent completly unpadded seeds succesfully, even without the hand-cacel surcharge, apparanetly becuase they were hand-cancelled anyway. And Hibiscus sounds kind of hard to germinate.

Do happen to know whether the #000s that you sent letter-rate were hand-cancelled or got the automated treatment? And if they were processed by the high-speed sortation equipment, were any or all of the bubbles popped?

I'll keep my eyes open for thin bubble mailers, and try to find a local post office that will honor their rules when the thickness is right near 1/4" but under.

What I want to do is send cheaply from MY location without crushing seeds. And I've already had one thin-padded envelope right at 0.25", paying full package rate, presumably lost to jamming the automated machine. So I want to make something that will protect seeds from rollers, enough thinner than 0.25" that the clerks won't give me a hard time.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I know someone who worked on the USPS automation 10 or so years ago. He pointed out that, if I want to make a 1/4" First Class envelope "crush proof" for seeds, the padding has to be hard enough to hold the very high speed rollers apart (not compressible like foam or bubbles).

Like two layers of chipboard (think cereal boxes or frozen TV dinner boxes). Corrugated cardboard may be too compressible.

The seeds would have to be put in a cavity or hole in the padding.

He also pointed out that the rollers "go both ways", not in a kinky way, but both left-right and up-down.

I wish that simply paying the "hand-cancel" or "non-machinable" surcharge would guarantee no crushing rollers, but I beleive the clerks who tell me "Nah, they try to put anything near 1/4" through the machine anyway".

I plan to put something easily crushed into the cavity, like one bubble from bubble wrap, or some big, fragile seed.

The best solution might be what you siugegsted, if indeed there is some inexpensive bubble mailer that is not only thinner than 1/4", but enoguh thinner that the clerks at my post office won't give me a hard time.

Of course, all this is moot if the USPS goes bankrupt or discontinues First Class service.


Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)


In the fall of 2009 I purchased seeds from a seller in Malaysia. The seeds arrived in a small non-padded envelope. Each set of seeds was is a 2”x3” snap-lock plastic bag with an identification label at the bottom of the bag. The seeds were at the bottom of the bag which had been rolled-up to form a cylinder 2” long and under 0.25” in diameter. The snap-lock had been closed before rolling but there was some trapped air in the bag to cushion the seeds. The top of the bag was secured to the cylinder with a small piece of scotch tape.

A row of seed cylinders was held in place by a folded piece of standard size stationary paper which also provided a little extra crushing. The seeds arrived in excellent condition and I had no problems with germination. The seller provided some extra free seeds which I have yet to germinate. Attached is a picture of the remaining seed cylinders and folded paper container.


Thumbnail by Michael_Ronayne
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> bag which had been rolled-up to form a cylinder 2” long and under 0.25” in diameter. The snap-lock had been closed before rolling but there was some trapped air in the bag to cushion the seeds.

That sounds like a cool idea, as long as it is still thick enough to force the PO to hand-cancel. It would save the cost of a bubble mailer.

But if it is close to 1/4" thick, they are very likely to run it through the automated machinery that has very high-speed rollers. Thos have more than enough pressure (or high-speed inertia) to pop bubbles in skinny bubble-wrap - I've seen that happen, bubble-wrap in a thin Frst-Class envelope, machine-canceled, every bubble popped and flattened. (But those seeds were small and hard enoguyh to survive.)

I would guess that (if machine-cancelled) the rolled-up-Ziploc with trapped air would pop open and then nothing would hold the rollers away from the seeds.

There was a thread over in the Tomato Forum in 2004 (I think) where everyone was qamazed that tomato seeds in First Class envleope started going from 90%+ viability to 20%-. Then they realized it mattered whether you sent from a city with updated USPS sortation equipment, or small towns where they st8ill hand-cancelled.

I'm trying to get some system that lets me send a First Class Envelope (44 cents, less than 1/4" thick) and yet still protect medium-size fragile seeds when the bozos run it through the rollers despite a "HAND CANCEL ONLY" sticker and payment of the 20-cent "non-machinable surcharge".

If I get that working reliably, I wouldn't bother with the "non-machinable surcharge".

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Quote from RickCorey_WA :
>> I would guess that (if machine-cancelled) the rolled-up-Ziploc with trapped air would pop open and then nothing would hold the rollers away from the seeds.

If you click on the word quote on the lefthand side it would come out like above. Just delete words you don't want. Make sure that the quotation marks at both ends of the sentence is still intact. A lot of people don't realize or use the mark.

Hi Mike

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


I have some ancient habits from the days of USENET and 300 baud modems.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I recently recieved two different First Class letters with some Brassica seeds (Bok Choy) around or just under 1 mm diameter.

On letter had some bubble wrap (two layers of very thing bubble wrap).
The other had two layers of very thin foam.
Both were taped in place so that no Ziploc overlapped any other.

I'm sure both went through "the rollers".

Around 1/5 of the bubble-wrap bubbles were popped, and around 1/4 - 1/3 were "limp" as if some air had been forced out of some pinhole or the plastic stretched. There were 15-20 seed-size dimples in the soft plastic of the Zip-loc, some with the seed still embedded in the dimple. No seeds looked obviously crushed, but clearly the rollers defeated the bubbles in some spots. There was enough seed that they could have been 2-3 thick in some areas of the Zip-loc, but absent in other areas.

The foam sprang back after compression so you could not tell anything from that. There were very few seeds in these Ziplocs, but still 5-6 dimples. No seed was obviously crushed.

I saw no seeds were obviously crushed in either case, but there was a little dust or fine chaff in each that MIGHT have been a few unlucky seeds.

Anyway, I consider bubble wrap and thin foam marginal even for small seeds like Bok Choy or Brocolli. The rollers still apply the same amount of pressure, and the padding just spreads it around somewhat.

I think the padding should be imcompressible and "frame" the Ziplocks. If they fit into a cutout in the pading, the full weight of the rollers will be held by the padding and none will rest on the seeds.

Of course it all has to be significantly thinner than 0.25" to get the First Class Letter rate.

This message was edited Feb 3, 2012 12:23 PM

Hulbert, OK

I send shipments of seed packages in a gallon ziplock bag with a little air left in the bag to provide cushion (then placed in a regular large envelope). No bubble packing is used and I have received no complaints yet. I do secure the packs in bundles with a loose rubber band to limit shifting. Seems to be working fine.

Western, WI(Zone 4a)

Rick, there is no need to stamp "hand cancel" on your letters enclosed with seeds as none of the postal workers in our area hand stamp any thing. They just send them thru the rollers.
Claim they don't have time.
Wondering what to do this spring when I send out seeds to others.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Wondering what to do this spring when I send out seeds to others.

My fallback is to pay the whole $1.71 + cost of a bubble mailer, but save and re-use old bubble mailers.
Excuse me, that was just raised to $1.95 for up to 3 oz.

When it's thicker than 1/4", they CAN'T send it through the rollers.

>> I send shipments of seed packages in a gallon ziplock bag with a little air left in the bag to provide cushion (then placed in a regular large envelope). No bubble packing is used and I have received no complaints yet.

I'm surprised, what I see is enough force to pop bubbles in bubble wrap and still dent plastic that lies on top of individual seeds. I would expect it to pop your gallon ziplock open, but what do I know?

Is your envelope thicker than 1/4"? Then it can;t be a First Class Letter, which is the rate I was trying to get.
45 cents - 1 oz
65 c - 2 oz
85 c - 3 oz
$1.05 3.5 oz

Or is it going as a "large envelope" ? Those can be between 1/4" and 3/4" thick,
90 cents for one ounce
$1.28 - 3 oz.
$2.28 - 8 oz
$3.30 - 13 oz.

I assume those go through some different set of rollers, maybe with less force. But I see a rule that they must be "NOT RIGID & MUST BE UNIFORMLY THICK". I never tried for that.

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

As long as we are discussing our favorite delivery service, the USPS, this post should not be too off topic. On January 9, 2012 I sent two Hibiscus plants from Clifton NJ to Port Norris NJ, a distance of 144 miles according to Google Maps. Using Priority Mail, I paid the extra $0.75 for a Tracking Number. Because of several painful experiences, I always use USPS Tracking Numbers now. The promised deliver date was January 11, 2012. The two Hibiscus were sent bare-roots in a standard USPS Small Priority/Express Mail Tube, with each Hibiscus in a separate plastic bag to maintain moisture. One Hibiscus was in winter dormancy and the other Hibiscus, a semitropical, was growing with green leafs. The package didn’t arrive until January 17 or six days late. You can see the gory details here:

My local Post Office was unable to explain the delay. The package didn’t get logged through the central distribution station in Northern New Jersey and that is the most likely place where it became lost. The dormant Hibiscus will be OK but it will take a few weeks to see how the semitropical is doing, in its new Greenhouse. Fortunately we have been having spring like weather in Northern New Jersey this year. After last winter we have it coming!

The Priority/Express Mail Tubes are distributed by the USPS in packages containing ten collapsed tubes free of charge. You pay for the tubes when you use them. The tubes are two sided with one side being for Priority Mail and the other side for Express Mail. I keep both sizes in stock. Order both sizes at the same time.

Priority/Express Mail Tube Small

Priority/Express Mail Tube Large

Yes, I will continue to use USPS Tracking Numbers but the USPS obviously has a problem in their system. If they want to compete with FedEx and UPS, the USPS had better cleanup their act. From a programming prospective the USPS system is passive; the FedEx and UPS systems use AI logic and are adaptive. If a package were lost for 9 days the FedEx and UPS the systems would be looking for it. The brain-dead USPS system continued to predict that the package was on-time even when it was obviously not.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I've read 3-4 horror stories about mail clerks in small post offices opening mail and stealing things.

In one case, at least some of the thieves were caught and fired. Considering that some of the things they stole were prescription medicines, perhaps they should have been fired from cannons!

Sometimes it seems that the farther you mail something, the faster it gets there. As if putting it onto an airplane speeds up the whole process.

Also, crossing the border into canada seems to require administrative delays. I calculated once that, if you could wlak 24 hours per day, you could WALK faster from Seattle to Calgary than the USPS could deliver a package.

"Neither rain nor snow nor dead of night
shall stir a postal clerk from their hibernating doze"

Actually, i like the carriers I've met, and the clerks seem divided 70-30 between nice people caught in a beaurocracy, and "other".

I guess I should appreciate the ones who told me that the "non-machinable surcharge" means nothing, "THEY are going to run it through the rollers ANYWAY".

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


Someone explained to me, on another thread, that there are two kinds of postal clerks.

Those who look for rules that say you CAN do something.

And those who look for rules that say you CAN'T.

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