What Is A Seed Swap? (4 Important Things To Bring)

If you haven’t been to a seed swap yet, I highly recommend that you make that a priority. Seed swaps are kind of like a potluck for the gardening community–just one big party celebrating abundance. If a seed swap doesn’t get you fired up about gardening, I don’t know what will. 

Seed swaps are a great opportunity to connect with growers in your area, score some free seeds for your garden, and save a lot of seeds from being wasted. Aside from these obvious perks, seed swaps are also a really fun way to celebrate the start of the growing season!

Virtual and mail-in seed swaps are still a great way to meet gardeners from all over the world, but in-person seed swaps are where the real magic is. Keep reading to learn how to find a seed swap near you, or even how to start your own!

Seed swaps offer a great opportunity to meet other gardeners.

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What is a seed swap?

A seed swap is a gathering of gardeners interested in exchanging or giving away their extra seed packets. It’s a great way to find unique heirloom varieties that you won’t find at a local nursery or garden center.

Most often these gatherings take place at community centers or libraries, but seed swaps are becoming increasingly popular online. Seed swaps are usually free or donation-based to keep the event accessible to everyone.

It’s good etiquette to bring some of your own seeds to trade at a seed swap, and the general expectation is to only take as many seed packets as you brought. But if you don’t have seeds to trade that doesn’t mean you can’t participate. At larger events, it may be less important to match seeds one-for-one if there are a lot of seeds being given away.

What are the benefits of seed swapping?

Free seeds for your garden

There are many benefits to attending a seed swap, the first of which, obviously, is free seeds! Seeds can be expensive, and can easily be one of the barriers that keep some folks from gardening. Seed swaps are a great place to find heirloom and homegrown seeds at no cost! 

Meeting other growers

Another benefit of going to a seed swap is networking with other gardeners in your area. You might make some connections with seasoned growers who can answer your area and crop-specific questions. Plus, you might find local farmers who you can support at the farmers market or through a CSA.

Reducing wasted seeds

Seed swaps are a great opportunity for growers to get rid of seeds they don’t want and find seeds that they do. You can think of a seed swap as a kind of recycling effort for seeds—it’s a great way to bring the community together, support one another, and reduce seed waste!

At a seed swap, older seeds get a second chance to get planted.

One note of caution

At a seed swap, stay away from seeds that are more than a few years old, and any hybrid seeds (unless they’re from a seed company).  

Most seed is good for two to three years past their ‘packed for’ date—some varieties last even longer if they’ve been stored in a cool, dark place. Other seeds, like onions, don’t keep well past a year. If the date isn’t labeled on the seed, go ahead and ask.

Of the seeds that gardeners save themselves, heirloom varieties will be much more likely to come back true to seed than hybrid or cross-pollinated varieties—so be sure to ask about what type of seed you’re taking if it’s not already labeled.

All in all, seed swaps are great for experimentation, but have some store-bought seeds just in case your seed swap finds don’t germinate as well as you’d like. You’re far more likely than not to end up with viable seed that will be fine–but it’s never a bad idea to have a backup plan, just in case.

Personally, I’ve found that True Leaf Market seeds do really well. Their selection of heirloom and open-pollinated vegetables, flowers, and herbs is pretty expansive–plus all the seeds are guaranteed non-GMO. Check out their seeds here!

Bring empty seed packets to a seed swap to hold your new seeds.

What to bring to a seed swap

  • Seeds

The most important thing to bring to a seed swap is seeds. Make sure to bring labeled packets of seeds with the name of the plant, the variety, the year that the seed was harvested, and any other important information. 

  • Empty seed packets or bags

You’ll need something to put your new seeds in, so don’t forget to bring some kind of container for your seeds. You can order paper envelopes from Amazon, but plastic bags work just as well. You can also bring small mason jars, especially if you plan on taking any bulk seeds.

  • Permanent marker

Bring a marker or pen to label the seeds that you get at the seed swap! There’s nothing more disappointing than getting home and realizing that you don’t know what variety you have.

  • Notebook and pen

It’s not a bad idea to bring paper and a pen to take notes about how to grow certain seeds or to take down someone’s contact information. You can always Google your questions later, but sometimes growers have the best advice, especially for regionally-adapted seeds. If you prefer, you can take notes on your phone.

Only take as many seeds as you plan to use.

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Good seed swap etiquette 

Be conservative with what you take

The first rule of any seed swap is to not be greedy with seeds. It’s so tempting to take as much as you can, especially if you come across hard-to-find seeds that are new to you. However, it is important to first do some self-reflection and realistically decide how many seeds you actually need and will have the time to plant. There’s nothing worse than wasting seeds by not allowing them the opportunity to grow, whether in your own garden or someone else’s space.

Be generous with what you give

It’s generally recommended to only take as many seed packets as you brought to give away–if everyone abides by this rule, there will always be an even distribution of seeds. However, there are instances when you can come to a seed swap empty-handed: if you’re going to a large seed swap or you are just getting started gardening and don’t have any seeds to share. If you can’t bring seeds, bring seed packets or bags and labels—you can never have too many of these items at a seed swap!

Arrive early

For the most success with a seed swap, you want to arrive early. If you’re one of the first ones in attendance, you might not have access to all of the seeds that will be available by the end of the day, but it is far better to get there early than late–before all the best seeds are gone. 

Organize your seeds by storing them in jars.

How to find a seed swap near you

Social media is a great way to find seed swaps in your area. You might also check with your local paper, library, community center, or gardening club to find out more information. A nearby college or agricultural extension office might also be able to connect you with a seed exchange in your region. If nothing else, you can start your own! 

How to organize a seed swap (in 4 simple steps)

No seed swap in your area? No problem, you can start your own!

  1. Choose a date and set a location

National Seed Swap Day always falls on the last Saturday in January, and while it is beneficial to start planning for your garden then, there’s no reason you can’t attend or host a seed swap in spring, or even at the end of the growing season. It’s all up to you!

Most seed swaps happen on weekends, to make the event more accessible for everyone. Whether you choose a public or private meeting place, make sure you obtain permission before you advertise the venue. 

Libraries, community centers, and even churches are great places for seed swaps. If you’re hosting a smaller seed swap, say, for friends or family, someone’s home or a coffee shop may suffice.

Depending on the weather, you might be able to host your seed swap outside, maybe under a covered pavilion, just in case of unexpected rain. Don’t forget to consider parking when you pick a location for your seed swap—you don’t want to turn folks away because they have no place to park. 

  1. Plan the event

Will you offer refreshments or entertainment? You don’t have to, but I’ve been to a couple of seed swaps that had a bluegrass band and a few homemade baked goods for sale. It’s up to you how extensive your event will be, but if you do end up booking entertainment or refreshments you could always offset the cost by charging a small entrance fee at the door or sourcing a sponsorship from a local nonprofit.

You’re kidding yourself if you think that you won’t need help come seed swap day. Recruit a few kind-hearted volunteers to help guide the seed swap, refill supplies as needed, and do all the other background work that will need to be done. 

Your seed swap doesn’t have to last all day—three to four hours is ideal because it will encourage folks to show up on time and leave promptly.

  1. Advertise your seed swap

No one will show if they don’t know what’s going on! Be sure to post about your seed swap on social media, run an ad in the paper, distribute flyers around town, or rely on word of mouth—how you advertise is your personal preference. Just get the word out somehow!

  1. Set up (and tear down)

You’ll need tables and bins to organize and showcase the seeds. You might also want to set up some chairs for folks to rest and catch up.

While the goal is to have folks bring seeds to trade, you don’t want the first folks showing up without any seeds to trade for. Pull together some seeds from your own or your friends’ collections to kick off the event. 

Organize the seeds on a table, with supplies like packets and markers nearby. Organizing seeds by family (Brassicas, roots) or by type (flowers, herbs) is very helpful and allows people to make quick decisions about what seeds they need.

After the event, you might be left with a lot of extra seeds. If so, no worries! You can always donate those extra seeds to a school, agricultural nonproft, or community garden. Or, you can save those seeds for next year’s seed swap.  

That’s it! Now, organizing any event is going to take a lot more effort than it seems, but hosting a seed swap among friends or coworkers isn’t really that hard. It’s a really fun way to connect with other people about your passion for gardening, as well as source some seeds you might not find anywhere else. 

In summary 

Seed swaps provide a great opportunity to obtain high-quality seeds, try out uncommon varieties, and save money. They are also a great way to meet other gardeners and share stories about your garden experiences. With a little bit of planning and good etiquette, you’ll be well on your way to hosting the best seed swap in town.

You can learn how to save seeds from your garden here.

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About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.
Sarah C.

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