6 Ways to Celebrate National Seed Swap Day

Stepping inside, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I scanned the room to find several folding tables, on which sat manila envelopes with small labels—“Crackerjack Marigolds,” “Native Echinacea (Coneflower),” “Salvia Coccinea (Scarlet Sage),” and others. One table was home to happy little tomato seedlings.

As people shuffled around the room, contributing to a gentle murmur, I overheard a master gardener touting the natural cough-remedying properties of Ocimum tenuiflorum. A woman asked when she should sow her newly acquired wildflower seed mix. A man carefully funneled chili seeds into a repurposed pill bottle.

I left my first local seed swap with seeds for holy basil, meadowsweet and various chili peppers—all plants I’d not grown before—as well as an invigorated anticipation for the upcoming growing season.

And with National Seed Swap Day (January 30) approaching again, I’m already thinking about which seeds I’ll be looking for, as well as which I’ll be giving away, at this year’s exchange.

Why Swap Seeds?

As I’ve written before, one reason to grow from seed—rather than buy seedlings—is that you’re able to choose from a much greater variety of plants. Variety is also a benefit of seed exchanges. Many of the interesting seeds that pass from hand to hand at a seed swap (or online) can be hard to find in traditional seed catalogs.

Cost is a factor, too. Assuming you’ve been saving seeds from your garden, you’re trading something you have (often an excess of) for new seeds.

There are several ways to trade seeds. And in this post, I’m going to share my top five recommendations. 

What You Need to Know Before Swapping Seeds

Trading seeds isn’t complicated. But there are a couple important details to make sure you have straight.

Trade only heirloom seeds. The plants you grow are either hybrids or heirlooms. Hybrids are created through the cross-pollination of different plant varieties with the goal of producing plants that possess favorable characteristics of both parent plants (e.g., larger fruit, greater disease resistance, faster maturation). The drawback of hybrids is that their seeds rarely yield the same plant the second time around.

Because of this inconsistency, you’ll want to save and swap seeds from heirloom varieties, which are open-pollinated and produce plants with the same characteristics season after season. If you’re unsure whether your plants are hybrids or heirlooms, refer to the seed packet label or try growing the seeds you harvested to see if you get the same plant.

Label your seeds. If you’ve recently harvested seeds from your garden, you may know what they are now. But in a couple weeks, will you remember those tiny pellets are kale seeds? After all, they look a lot like broccoli seeds. You could confuse them for mustard green seeds, even!

Save yourself the confusion by labeling seeds as you collect them. It’s also wise to note the date because some seeds have short shelf lives.

7 Ways to Swap Seeds

If you’re ready to swap seeds, here are a few ideas (ordered alphabetically) to try.

1. American Horticultural Society

When it comes to seed swaps, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an organization with more experience than the American Horticultural Society—which has been coordinating seed exchanges for 56 years.

Each fall, AHS collects seeds (from members) and packages them with plant care information. The organization posts the seed list online the following January.

You can order seeds for free, but you must be an AHS member. (The lowest tier of membership costs $35 and includes other benefits.)

2. Dave’s Garden

A thorough resource for all things gardening-related, Dave’s Garden has a seed trading forum. Like AHS, you’ll have to pay—a minimum of $5 for a two-month membership—to get full access. But once you do, you can post your own seed list in a new discussion thread or respond to an existing thread to initiate an exchange.

3. Local Seed Swaps

Most communities have an official seed swap or two. If you don’t know of any coordinated exchanges in your area, try searching “seed swap in [your city]” online or call your local county extension office to see if they have any information.

One unique benefit of participating in an in-person seed swap is that you know the seeds you get will grow well in your area. Plus, meeting and chatting with other local gardeners is always fun!

4. GardenWeb

If you often search the Internet about gardening, you’ve likely found yourself on GardenWeb at some point. The extensive forum-style site contains a wealth of growing information (and usually some friendly gardener banter to go along with it).

GardenWeb has many discussion forums, and one is dedicated to the topic of seed exchanges. The process is simple: respond to someone else’s thread (if they have seeds you want), or create a new thread and post your seed inventory and/or wish list.

One of the advantages of using GardenWeb to trade seeds is that registration for the site is free.

5. Seed Savers Exchange          

Aiming to conserve and promote American crop diversity by “collecting, growing and sharing heirloom seeds and plants,” Seed Savers Exchange is another excellent seed swap option. Like AHS and Dave’s Garden, you must pay (a minimum of $25) for access to what Seed Savers Exchange calls “the nation’s largest seed swap.”

Once you’ve registered, you can browse existing seed listings or post your own.

6. Social Media Sites

Why not use a medium you probably already frequent to trade a few seeds? When it comes to exchanging seeds via social media sites, you’re really only limited by your imagination. But here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Facebook: Search for or create your own seed swap Facebook Group.
  • Nextdoor: Ask your neighbors if they would be up for an informal seed exchange.
  • Reddit: Skim the Seed Swap Subreddit.

Over to You

Have you ever traded seeds? What has your experience been like? Any recommendations for seed swap newbies?

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments!

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