January 30, 2021, was National Seed Swap Day. Don’t worry if you missed it because there are many seed swapping opportunities throughout the year. Gardeners have, of course, been swapping seeds for ages. And we certainly don’t limit this activity to one day a year!
I wrote about making your own seed packets in my newsletter yesterday, but don’t expect to see many fancy homemade seed packets at seed swaps. You’re more likely to see handwritten or plain printed labels on envelopes of all sizes as most people just grab whatever is cheap and handy. While it’s fun to celebrate National Seed Swap Day by getting together in larger groups to exchange seeds, we couldn’t do that this year. Instead Kathy Jentz, who got the last Saturday in January officially declared National Seed Swap Day in 2006, hosted a chat about how to swap seeds safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides listening to those ideas, you could look around for smaller scale seed swaps in your area, perhaps with pick-up spots at libraries or university extension offices. You could also check with your own group of friends and local garden clubs to see if anyone wants to swap seeds, perhaps with a no-contact porch pick up. Folks in my town’s garden group on Facebook have often posted and shared seeds and plants with each other.
Old seeds aren’t all that’s available through seed swaps however. Fresh seeds may come from gardeners who collect and save seeds from plants growing in their gardens. Good candidates for seed saving and seed swapping must come from plants that are open-pollinated (i.e. not hybrids), so that the seeds will produce plants that are like their parent plants. In addition, seed saving works best with seeds that are self-pollinating (without separate male and female flowers), such as beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers. I don’t recommend swapping seeds from homegrown cross-pollinating plants, such as cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds. You never know what to expect if you plant those seeds!
From home gardens:
DO COLLECT seeds from open-pollinated (non-hybrid) and self-pollinating plants—beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers.
DO NOT COLLECT seeds from hybrid or cross-pollinating plants—cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds.
Before the pandemic—in fact, before the internet—exchanging seeds through the mail was a common practice. Now online, the Seed Savers Exchange is probably the largest one in the U.S. You can find more mail seed swap groups on social media by searching “seed swap.”
Seed libraries are another mechanism for trading seeds. Often housed in actual libraries, they work in a similar way. You can take seeds and sign them out. They’re yours to plant and grow. When your plants produce more seeds, you return some back to the library. I could not find an up-to-date national list of these, but you can search for one near you online by entering your state or county and the words “seed library” in the search. There are two near me, the Lisle Library District Seed Library and the Downers Grove Legacy Seed Library. I’ve met volunteers from the Downers Grove one when they were giving away seeds at an event sponsored by the Darien Garden Club.
See my recent newsletter for seed packet craft ideas and a recipe, Oriental Green Beans, that I like to make with purple pole beans—grown from seeds that I got at a seed swap.