January 18, 2016

How to Organize a Seed Swap - Photo by Helen Strong/Flickr (UrbanFarmOnline.com) #urbanfarm #garden #gardening #seeds

By the time late winter hits, most gardeners have had their fill of indoor downtime and are ready to get their gardens in motion. For those who saved seeds throughout the prior growing season or have extra seeds from this year’s seed-catalog order, this is the perfect time for hobnobbing with like-minded folk and building excitement for the growing season ahead. A seed swap not only helps “spread the love” by sharing abundant seed supplies, but also gives gardeners a chance to gather and share ideas about growing techniques.

If you’re ready to emerge from hibernation and want to get the mingling started, follow this step-by-step guide for organizing and hosting a seed swap that your garden friends will look forward to year after year.

1. Set a Date

Late winter and early spring are good times to host a seed swap. Avid gardeners are already planning their spring gardens by this point and are likely suffering from at least a mild case of cabin fever. While any evening or weekend can work, you may choose to make the seed swap part of an already planned event or celebrate National Seed Swap Day the last weekend in January. 

2. Invite Guests

If you have friends interested in gardening and seed saving, be sure to include them on your invite list. You might also consider making it more of a community event and hosting it in a public space, such as your local library or extension office. If you’re angling to involve the community, be sure to invite local gardening groups and hang fliers at garden-supply stores and other places where gardeners are likely to congregate.

For a casual seed swap among close friends, a simple email invitation will suffice, but be sure to include guidance for those new to the seed-swapping concept. Be sure to address the following points:

  • How many seeds should participants bring?

  • Can gardeners bring newly purchased heirloom seeds if they don’t have many saved seeds to exchange?
  • Are plants or starts included in the swap, as well? (This might work particularly well for a late-spring swap, where many gardeners already have seedlings growing or perennials in need of dividing.)
  • Have gardeners test the viability of stored seeds to ensure they’re still fertile.  
  • Encourage attendees to bring what information they have about their seeds to share with others, particularly if they are uncommon varieties or family heirlooms. This might include seed origins, growing advice, and notes on produce flavor. Recipes are helpful, too, particularly if it is an uncommon vegetable or herb.

3. Gather Supplies

To host a successful seed swap, be sure to supply containers for attendees to take their seeds home. They can be as simple as manila coin envelopes or small zip-top plastic bags. For something more elaborate, you can design and print custom labels for your seed-swap envelopes. You’ll also need pens or markers for labeling the seeds and spoons or scoops for even seed distribution.

4. Gather Seeds

As the seed swap host, it’s important that you have a decent supply of seeds. Some attendees might not have many seeds to exchange or will bring a limited variety, which is where your supply will come in. You can bring your own saved seeds, but if you feel like you are coming up short, purchase some heirloom seeds to expand your swap. Many companies offer bigger seed portions at lower prices that could be easily shared among the group.

5. Make It Fun

Provide light refreshments or consider turning the event into a potluck where everyone brings a dish to share. Set out the empty seed packets, as well as your own seeds. For small swaps, you can include a special party favor for each attendee. Guests might appreciate a new seed packet or perhaps a small notebook to record information about the seeds they are getting at the swap. While you might want to set up a formal process for the seed exchange, it is best to keep things low-key unless you are dealing with a very large group. Give guests plenty of time to discuss their seeds and exchange gardening knowledge.

6. Plan Your Next Exchange

If you’ve managed to successfully organize one event, start thinking about what comes next. Once your gardening pals have become familiar with a seed swap, they’ll likely do a better job of saving seeds in hopes of having more to share next year. If everyone really had a fun time, plan to host other gardening swaps throughout the year. Perennial plants that divide well make for good swap items, as do freshly canned goods during harvest season.

If you want to make the next swap more of an event, consider scheduling a guest speaker, such as a local Master Gardener or respected farmer, to come speak before or after the swap. The topic possibilities are endless, so poll your guest list to see what they want to cover. If you’re expecting a big group, contact local greenhouses and nurseries to see if they might be interested in sponsoring your swap. It would be in their best interest to get their name out to gardeners, and it could make your event even more fun. Potential sponsors could donate door prizes, seed packets, coupons or gift certificates to your guests.

Remember, a good seed swap is about much more than just exchanging seeds. It is the perfect excuse to socialize with other people who love to garden as much as you do. So get together and have some fun with local seed fanatics and see where the adventure takes you!

About the Author: Jamie Aramini is a freelance writer and founder of Sustainable Kentucky, a website devoted to the green movement in the Bluegrass state. She is an avid gardener, mother of two and manager of her local farmers’ market.


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