Seed swapping is one of the things that brought me to Dave's Garden over a decade ago. I still enjoy trading seeds and plants. If you have an abundance of seeds left at the end of the gardening season or have been searching for seeds of a particularly hard-to-find plant, try swapping. Swaps are a fun and economical way to increase the variety of plants you grow.
Why opt for seeds?
When you grow flowers, vegetables, and herbs from seeds, you're able to choose from a much wider variety of plants than if you use seedlings. Variety is also a big benefit of seed exchanges. Many of the interesting seeds that pass from hand to hand or online during a seed swap can be hard to find in traditional seed catalogs.
Expense is also a factor. If you’ve been saving seeds from your garden, you’re trading something you already have for new seeds you don't have. And there's only a small cost involved for packaging and mailing.
Seed swapping during the coronavirus
As a way to cope with the coronavirus, many people are searching for seeds to start a garden this spring. Consequently, some seed companies have been overwhelmed with orders and may not be accepting new ones. But even if you don't succeed in ordering seeds this year, you might be able to find what you’re looking for online or right in your own community during a seed swap.
Some of these events are organized annually by garden clubs and other groups. Although they may look a little different this year because of social distancing guidelines (Always follow them!), they're still taking place.
Online sites offer members the opportunity to post seeds they have and what they're looking for. Some sites are free, but you will probably be required to register. Other sites have a small yearly fee that allows full access to all their forums.
If you're new to seed swapping, you can find the Dave's Garden guide to trading here.
Before You Begin
Trading seeds isn’t complicated; however, there are a few important guidelines you'll want to follow.
Know what you have to trade
The plants you grow are either hybrids or heirlooms. Hybrids are created by cross-pollinating different plant varieties with the goal of producing plants that have the best characteristics of both parent plants, such as faster growth, larger fruit, or increased disease resistance.
There is one drawback to hybrid seeds: they seldom produce the same plant a second time. If you're not happy with the inconsistency, you’ll want to save and swap only seeds from heirloom varieties, which are open-pollinated and produce plants with the same characteristics season after season. If you’re not sure whether your plants are hybrids or heirlooms, grow some of the seeds you harvested to see if they produce the same plant.
Always label your seeds
If you’ve recently harvested seeds from your garden, you may know their identity now. But after a little time passes, will you remember what those tiny grains really are? After all, seeds can sometimes look alike.
Save yourself a lot of confusion by labeling seeds at the time you collect them. It’s also a good idea to note the date since some seeds only remain viable for a short period of time.
Consider seed viability
The older a seed is, the worse its germination rate will be. Swapping seeds no more than 2 years old ensures the best quality.
Include enough seeds for a satisfactory harvest
A dozen pepper or tomato seeds is sufficient, but for crops like corn or beans include at least 20 seeds.
Packaging is important
Mini manila envelopes and small zip top bags make excellent seed packets. Both can easily be purchased online or at a hobby shop. Label seed packets with the plant variety, basic growing instructions, and your name, if you want to be contacted later with questions the recipient might have.
Consider the timing of your swap
Seed swaps can be held at any time of the year, but holding them in late winter or early spring just before the planting season makes sense. Another good option is after the late fall harvest when gardeners have recently collected fresh seeds.
Don't forget to include the children
Kids are endlessly curious. Most children especially enjoy projects that are hands-on and, let's face it, downright messy.
Warning about unsolicited seeds from China
Seeds are showing up in people's mailboxes with Chinese lettering and the words China Post on the packages. Most of the recipients said they did not order anything and the package was labeled as jewelry. Some people said they ordered seeds on Amazon.com but received these packages instead. Officials are warning people not to plant them, and if they are in sealed packaging, do not open the package.
According to the U.S. State Department, "These packages could be a part of a brushing scam. This scam is when a vendor is trying to boost product ratings, so they ship an inexpensive product then submit positive reviews on the unwitting receiver's behalf. If planted, these unknown and potentially invasive species could have a very negative impact on the environment. Additionally, we’re asking people not to throw the seeds or packages away or dispose of them. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service’s Plant Protection and Quarantine Smuggling, Interdiction and Trade Compliance Unit is investigating these packages showing up around the country."