About 60 percent of the food my family eats comes from what I’ve hunted, fished or grown, but when I’m unable to obtain food through my own means, I trade. For a successful barter, you need to have a desirable currency: Mine are excess seeds I’ve saved from the garden and extra plant starts I grow myself. To ensure my currency holds up to all my bartering needs, it’s necessary to build a seed bank. If you’re also looking to trade seeds for other homestead needs, like grain, eggs or meat, use these tips for starting a collection of viable seeds that others will be hungry for.
1. Choose the Right Crops
When choosing seed that will make good currency in a barter, stick with crops that most families like to eat and that store well. I choose tomatoes, beans, squash, peas and cucumbers because they’re easy to grow and produce plenty of seeds. Don’t get fancy. Stay away from designer crops, and instead, opt for ones that grow well in your area.
2. Start With Good Seeds
If you don’t start with high-quality seeds, you won’t have any for later use. I purchase heirloom seeds from a company called Botanical Interests, but many other reliable companies have heirloom seeds available. Generally speaking, heirloom vegetables have remained genetically unchanged for at least 50 years. Most are open-pollinated, with the plants growing from those seeds being true to the parent plant. Heirloom seeds are more expensive, but you’ll only have to buy them once. Not only will they provide you with seeds to plant for years to come, but they’ll produce plenty to trade. Before buying seed, read the package or catalog description so you know what you’re getting and how to grow it.
3. Dedicate Garden Rows to Seed Saving
How much you plant is proportional to the space you have available. I have a 20-by-20-foot garden, and after planting the crops I need to sustain my family, I dedicate a row to seed production. Here, I’ll plant crops like extra beans and peas that will be used solely for trade. There’s no need to dedicate extra rows to crops like pumpkins and squash, though, as the fruits you eat will produce more than enough seed to use in trade.
4. Package and Store Seeds Properly
All seeds have a limited shelf life, and to maximize their viability, proper storage is key. I package my seeds in plastic containers with airtight lids and store the containers in a dark, cool, dry location. I also put the dates on the containers and rotate my stock often. Any unused seed is discarded after two years. When I package the seed for trade, I usually put it in resealable plastic bags.
Keep in mind, not all seeds have the same shelf life. Beans and peas, for example, will store longer than squash and pumpkins. The Colorado State University Extension has a good seed shelf-life guide. I rotate my seeds more frequently than recommended in the storage guide. You don’t want to gamble with viability when using seeds as currency.
5. Make the Trade
How you use your seeds as currency is only limited by your imagination. I regularly trade seeds for eggs, produce I don’t grow myself, and chickens or a roast. I’ve also used seeds, along with some cash, to have some welding done. Finding people to trade with can be the tricky part. It’s based on need: both yours and theirs. I never sell my seeds, but if I seek out a service or item and the provider is willing to trade for seeds, a transaction is made. The value of your seeds is based on what you can obtain with them. If someone will give you a dozen eggs for 20 or 30 seeds and you’re OK with that, then that is what your seeds are worth.
The good that comes out of using seeds as currency is a win-win. You get a product or service that you need and the other party gets the seeds they need. With the cost of food today, those seeds will go a long way. Just like the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life,” money will buy food for a short time, but seed will provide an endless supply.