Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How we did a seed swap

A seed swap is essentially a place where people can gather together to trade garden seeds.  Oftentimes, this is done online.  If you have saved seed from your garden, or have extra purchased seed, it's a great way to provide others with seeds they might not have, to perpetuate rare varieties of plants, to be come more self sustaining in the garden, and just to talk gardening with like minded people.

The closest I had ever come to doing a seed swap was sitting at a table with a good friend and trading some seeds with her.  Before last weekend, I had never been to such an event, much less helped host one.  Last fall, on an organic living forum, there was some discussion as to the need in our community for a way to trade seeds, so I promised I'd set one up in mid winter.  December rolled around and I realized it was time to plan, especially because in the Pacific Northwest, if you want hot weather loving plants to do well, they really need to be started indoors in January or February.

I talked to some friends who are fellow plant and gardening geeks and we put on our collective thinking caps.  After much discussion, talking to people in the know and some internet research, we hatched a plan.

We decided to host the event in a public place, so that anyone would feel comfortable in coming, and also so no one's house would be overrun.  Our church had a great room they were willing to let us use, which also had access to a kitchen and coffee maker.  What would a gathering in the great Northwest be without coffee? Because seeds are by nature very easy to disperse, we recommended attendees only bring children who could restrain themselves from the sheer joy that is seed scattering.  We chose a weekend just after the new year, hoping that working people could attend and that most Christmas and New Year celebrations would be done.
Here's a picture my husband took of the event in process
Once we had a rough idea of what we were going to do, we sent out online invitations to just a few families with the following verbage:

You're invited to participate with us in a seed swap. Bring along your garden seeds and trade part or entire packets for something you'll be able to use this year. We may try to do bulk seed orders, so think about things you may be interested in. The goal is to try to have as many heirloom seeds as possible, but organic, non GMO and seeds you've saved yourself are all fair game. Flower seeds and tubers are great too! We still need to hash out logistics as to how this will work, so if you have ideas, leave a comment on the event page. This is a primarily kid-free event, due to the potentially tragic mix of small people and tiny seeds. If you have a child who loves gardening and would be able to restrain the temptation to scatter things, feel free to bring him or her along! I'm not sure yet how big we want this to get, so you will need to request to invite a guest until we decide. Of course spouses are automatically invited. Bring a snack to share. Coffee and water will be provided.

Seed garlic and potatoes and coffee.  
My goal in doing seed swaps to foster an environment where we'll be encouraged to save more seeds each year because we'll know we'll be able to trade them for other varieties uniquely suited for the microclimate in our community.  This is why we emphasized non GMO, heirloom and open pollinated seeds.  These are the only kinds of seeds that would be worth saving, in our opinion.  They will be free from contamination by untested genetic manipulation, will be grown for taste and unique suitability to the environment they come from and they will grow true to the parent plant because they won't be hybrid.  In the meanwhile, many of us had some non GMO hybrid seed packets and commercial seed packets.  It would be wasteful and silly not to use these seeds.  Also, some seeds, such as those in the carrot family are very difficult to save, so it's nice to have a professional grow them for you!

Eventually, a seed bank will be established.  One of our members will reserve space in their freezer for extra seed. This way, if there is a catastrophic year, and we lose all of a specific crop, we know there will be seed for the following year.  I know I'm not organized enough to do this, but one of my friends is, thank goodness!

After some more discussion, and closer to the seed swap date, a friend wrote the following guidelines for the swap, so that people would come prepared.  These are rough and will be tweaked for next year, but they seemed to work relatively well.  The one difficulty about this method is that it took a very long time to compile all of the information about each variety we had.  It is all very important information, however, and needs to be distributed.  

One of the attending kids made this.  
Coffee and seeds. YES!
Because my husband is a computer programmer, he has offered to work with a fellow programmer on perhaps building a web application where we can enter all of this information online.  This way, we could have it saved for following years, we'd only have to copy and paste, and we could read what other people have ahead of time.  At the actual swap, we'd only have to share information about our most favorite seed, and the bulk of the time would be spent actually trading.  We may even devise a way to virtually trade shares of seed before we get together, so that at the swap, people just pick up the seed they know they want, and then are free to explore and discuss the other seed.  This would enable more families to attend.  This method worked really well, except for the time involved.  We hosts brought small manila coin envelopes for seed, sharpie pens, scales and small scoops for divvying up seed.  We feel if we were able to communicate ahead of time, it would go pretty smoothly.  

Dear Friends,

We are so excited to get together to swap seeds with you, and wanted to send everyone a few guidelines to get ready.

First, some ground rules:
1. All seed must be either open-pollinated, non-hybrid seed (either from your garden or from a professional seed house), OR hybrid seed from a seed company, which will grow out exactly what's on the label. Seed collected in the garden from hybrid varieties will not grow true to form, if at all.
2. Seeds must be of a viable age. For example: Onions, leeks, parsley, celery, spinach, etc. can't be more than a year old. Corn, beans, squash can be up to three years old, but need to be noted as such. In other words: please don't bring any ancient seed from the back of the box that probably won't germinate.
3. NO Genetically Modified Seed of any kind
4. No seed for sale. This is all free for trade.

Second, here is the method we will follow for the swap:

Before the swap, each participant should sit down and...

1) decide which seed you want to bring to share.
2) Make a list of the seed varieties, and next to each variety, include the following:
a) common name
b) how pure is the seed? Has it cross-pollinated with other varieties, or will it grow true to form?
c) Year it was harvested
d) Growth habit (spacing, depth of planting, etc.)
e) germination percentage, if known
f) # of shares you are offering
g) any story that goes along with your seed

At the swap itself, each family or individual will set up a station. At this station will be
a) your printed out or written up list of seed offerings
b) a display of your seed.

Before we get into the actual swapping, we will go around the room in a circle and tell what seed you've got, and tell what you know about it.

Then we'll put the names of each rep in a hat, and draw our picking order at random.

People will go around in the order they were drawn and write their name next to the type of seed they want.

Then each participant can package and label their seed in amounts adequant to a share. A share ideally will be enough seeds for the person to grow out and save seed that will run true to type, or at a minimum, enough for the person to have a good feel for the viability of the seed in their garden, and if they like it enough to grow it next year. If you have questions about the quantities, feel free to ask in the discussion section, we can chime in there before the swap.

One last note: Please bring, if you can, small envelopes and some fine-point pens. We will supply an accurate scale, small seed scoops, and and some handouts on seed saving.

We will also discuss the possibility of starting a community seed library in the near future.

Thanks, folks! We're sure looking forward to seeing you and plotting our future gardens with you!

One family brought homemade bread.


One of the kids saved her own seed! 
Divvying up the seeds

Scarlet runner beans.  I am so excited to have gotten these! I can't wait until next year. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi there,
    I am currently planning the first seed swap ever for the area that I am from (Indiana, PA). This blog has a ton of great info. I feel that the task of planning the swap is a little daunting and I am nervous that I will not have everything ready. Is there anyway you could send me more information or tell me what worked well and what didn't work so well for you! Thanks!



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