Organizing a seed swap is a great way to engage the gardening community where you live and give gardeners, new and old alike, a chance to mingle and get to know each other, exchange garden information, seed history and experiences. Gardeners who participate in seed swaps have the chance to try small amounts of new to them seeds, unload personal seed stashes or seeds from personal seed banks, garden groups and seed savers can use the opportunity of a seed swap to distribute seeds from their seed library. Below are some tips on how to organize a seed swap that I have picked up attending and organizing in-person seed swaps.
Choose a Venue for your Seed Swap
The number of people you invite or anticipate attending your seed swap will determine the size of the venue you hold your seed swap in. Seed swaps can be held in homes, schools, libraries, lodges, churches or even at local business like a garden center who understands the value of a gathering of like-minded gardeners.
For larger seed swaps set up three tables, one for vegetables and herbs, one for annuals and one for perennials. Label each table with the type of seeds it should hold. Three tables helps prevent people crowding around one table. At more intimate seed swaps one large table with enough room to hold the seed packs works well. Provide ample seating, especially for older gardeners and gardeners with accessibility issues.
Promoting Your Seed Swap.
Checking in Seed Inventories.
It’s a good idea to have a gardener that has plenty of experience sowing, saving and identifying seed there to check in seeds that are being brought to the swap. Sometimes seed swaps draw a number of gardeners who don’t have a lot of experience who maybe bring more chaff than seeds, and seeds they have collected but can’t identify or mislabeled seeds. Once the seeds have been checked they can be placed on the appropriate table. If you’re organizing a really large seed swap you can distribute tickets to the gardeners that list how many seeds packs they brought and how many they can take. Personally, I prefer the honor system and trust that people will not take more than they brought. If at all possible make sure the common and botanical names are included on the seed packs.
Newbie Seed Swappers.
newspaper pots, seed starting in plastic baggies and plastic soda bottle greenhouses and paper tubes.
I've often asked seed companies for donations for seed swaps. Sometimes they send packaged seed or they'll send bulk seed. Both types of seed are greatly appreciated, but I've noticed that people react differently to packed seeds. There's something about the glossy seed pack that brings out the greed in people. From trying to sneak more than their fair share (in instances where you're doing 1-1 trades), to monopolizing multiple seed packs while they make their selection. A nicely designed seed pack with a good photograph makes people forget their manners at seed swaps.
In situations where you have the exact same seeds, but one seed pack has a photograph, and the other has an illustration; the photographed package is more likely to be taken.
To counter the greedy impulse in people I suggest unpacking all the seeds and repackaging them into plain paper coin envelopes. This will force the seed swappers to slow down, read and make decisions and possibly have conversations. You're also ensuring that more people get to sample the donated seeds. People who have little to no experience sowing seeds shouldn't take an entire seed pack. Half a seed pack is enough for the average gardener's need. Make sure to write the name of the plant and what seed company donated it on the plain envelope so your sponsor gets credit.
Being the Bad Guy
Seed swaps are suppose to be fun. They're great ways to meet other gardeners, try new seeds, and build a sense of community. Sounds great, right? Well, when you have seed swaps in public locations you may encounter people who are interested in seeds, but may not have brought seeds of their own to share. Perhaps they just heard about the event moments before or they just stumbled across it while going about their daily lives. If you have enough seeds to share then share what you can with these people. When there isn't enough seeds to share don't be afraid to say no, or explain to them that the seeds are for those who brought seeds. If they waltz into the seed swap and descend on the seeds and start taking handfuls of seeds, don't be afraid to be the bad guy and ask them to put seeds back.
I’m of the belief that people who brought seeds to swap should be given a chance to choose seeds first. If you’re not handing out tickets ask the gardeners who didn’t bring seeds to wait a few minutes while those who did look over the selection and make their choices. Encourage the remainder seeds to be taken, donate them to community gardens and give them out to friends.
Have extra envelopes, pens and markers to package seeds that were brought and not individually packaged, and to split up large seed quantities. Commercial, opened and unopened, seeds at seed swaps are fine with me, though you may want to establish some kind of rule to deal with them depending on the types of gardeners who are attending your swap. I like commercial seed packs at seed swaps because they give me the opportunity to try a seed I may not have tried before, for free! The relatively recent popularity of heirloom seeds have turned hybrid seeds and plants in the bad guys of the gardening world. At the last seed swap I helped facilitate there was an issue after someone objected to “Big Boy” tomato seeds being included at the swap. If the seeds are from a commercial source I think they’re perfectly fine for inclusion in a seed swap. Saved seeds from hybrids, on the other hand, should not be included as they will not come true from seed. What this means is that the seeds will not produce plants like the one they were saved from.
Seed swaps should be a fun learning experience that you engage in with friends and potential friends. They can be large affairs full of strangers or intimate experiences with a group of friends sitting around a table. The biggest benefit in hosting a seed swap or attending one isn’t in how many seeds you walk away with, it’s about sharing an experience, seed information and forging bonds with those in your community.