Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How to Collect and Save Seeds

Why go to the bother of collecting all those tiny seeds? The first reason is thriftiness. No need for anything in your garden to go to waste. Compost, recycle, and re-use. The second reason is frugality.
Why buy new plants every year when you can grow your own for free? Even further, why buy unproven plants or seeds when you know the ones you are collecting from did well and obviously flourished in your yard.

Another reason to collect seeds is to ensure the propagation of heirloom varieties and rare, native plants that are not available through other means. Commercial growers and catalogs will often only carry the most popular plants and seeds. By collecting seeds from particular flowers and edibles, you are safe-guarding the future of these species. You are guaranteeing we will have a wide variety of genetic diversity in our future and not just the current “top growers.”

The final reason to collect seeds is to trade them. You may have 100s of Cleome seeds and another gardener has 100s of Poppy seeds. Why not trade a few hundred with each other? Again, you are getting new plants for free or close to it. Seed trading is a whole world unto itself. There are online groups, pen pal lists, and clubs for seed swapping.

Seed collecting is easy. Just wait until the end of the growing season when your current flowers form seedpods. Check on them every few days. They are ready when the pods are dry, brittle, and just ready to open. Don’t wait too late or they’ll break open on their own and cast their seeds to the wind. Pick a day with little breeze and no rain. Go out in mid-morning, after the sun has dried out the air and dewdrops from the leaves. Take a piece of paper and put it under the seed heads then shake them gently. Be sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you put them in tightly closed jars or zipper-closed baggies. Label them right away and store them in a cool, dark, and dry place.

That last step is the most important. Label them with the date and variety. Be specific as possible. Next spring you’ll be very glad you did – as many seeds look alike. The date is important as you will want to use up your seeds the next growing season or two.

A side note on seed collecting: not all plants can be propagated from seed. Many plants that you buy are hybrids or sterile. If you have hybrid flowers and vegetables, they may produce seeds. However, the seeds will often not produce offspring that is “true” to the parent plants. In other words, the seeds from hybrids are often a different variety than the plant you originally purchased and they are often inferior in quality.

A simple way to get started is to collect seeds from your common annual flowers that open-pollinate: zinnias, marigolds, forget-me-nots, four-o-clocks, cosmos, cleome, and sunflowers. Then, as your gardening skills grow, move on to perennials and biennials.

So take a few minutes this harvest season to collect those plant seeds and you’ll be all set next spring for a bountiful crop of new blooms.

Monday, January 26, 2015

#SeedSwapDay is our Official Event Hashtag

Please post your pics and comments to social media from your Seed Swap Day events using the hashtag #SeedSwapDay. Feel free to also use the hashtag throughout the year to share what you grow from your seeds you acquired from the swap! We can't wait to see your shares!

Friday, January 9, 2015

How to Prepare for Attending a Seed Swap

Here are a few tips for getting prepared for attending a Seed Swap:

~ Be sure to register ASAP for the swap you want to attend. Space may be limited and some swaps fill fast. 

~ You can bring unused seeds from purchased packs or seeds you gathered from your own garden. Carefully pack and label your seeds as best you can. The more information you can provide, the better.

~ Each seed pack should have a "useable" amount of seed. Use your best judgement. For some plants, like zinnias you might include 20-30 seeds per packet and for others, like tomatoes, you would only need to put in 10 or seeds in a pack. If in doubt, err on the generous side as you can always break up a pack amongst swappers later.

~ Did you know you can make your own seed packs? Get great free downloadable templates are here: http://tipnut.com/seed-packets/

~ Please do NOT bring large quantities of seed in one bag. Seed swap organizers and volunteers are over-whelmed at the check-in tables already. Please break them up into smaller quantity packs ahead of time or we will not be able to put them out.
~ The definition of "seeds" is usually very broad so yes, you can bring bulbs, tubers, corms, acorns, etc. to the swap. They should be bagged and labeled just like smaller seeds.

~ Older seeds are fine as long as they were stored properly, if you can test for viability that would be great. Here is how to test for seed viability. (The exceptions are lettuce, onions, and impatiens seeds, which should all be less than a year old.)
~ Store seeds for swapping in a dark, cool (not freezing) spot away from any moisture. Glass jars are the ideal storage vehicle.

~ Make a list of your seed “wants” in advance.  It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day and forget the basics that you came for or the rarities that you had been seeking.
~ Bring extra note paper and a pen/pencil as you will learn so much from others' at the swap and want to take lots of notes.
~ Bring extra seed bags and labels in case you want to swap directly with someone and need to break up a packet to share with them. 

~ Most seed swaps will have generic blank name tags -- but we ask participants to be creative and make their own tags or if you have your own name tag from work or another event, by all means bring it. (Some swaps will do prizes for the most creative name tags :-). We are trying to make these event green and eco-friendly.

~ If the seed swap gives out goody bags, when you get your bag at check-in, please make sure to label it with your name -- all the bags will likely look alike and can get easily mixed up. 

~ Bringing a few sheets of those personalized address labels you get with charity mailings will come in handy for this and for labeling your seed packets, giving out your contact information to fellow gardeners, etc.

~ If you are bringing seed catalogs for a give-away table, be sure to rip off the address labels and tear out any order insert with your personal information on it. Some swaps also welcome gardening books and magazines for swapping, so feel free to bring those too.

~  Most swaps screen incoming seeds and reject any GMO seeds and do not accept any seeds from invasive plants listings. See the listing at: http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/toc.htm for a start, your region's invasives list may vary. Check with your location state extension office, if in doubt about a plant's invasive status.
~ Most of all, have fun! 
Got more tips for seed swapping? Please share in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How to Host a Seed Swap

Whether just among your neighbors, your garden club/plant society, or your wider community, a seed swap can be a terrific way to get lots of seeds, to meet new friends, and to learn a great deal about what grows best in our area.

   When setting up a seed swap, pick a date well in advance so that you can give participants several weeks notice. Mid-winter is the perfect season for hosting plant seed events so folks who like to start seeds indoors have enough time before the growing season.

   Next you’ll need a location. A big, open space with lots of table surfaces works well. You want some place that can get messy and will allow you to spread out the selections. Tip: contact your local public garden for space and to partner with them.

   Send out the invitations and ask all of your participants to carefully label all their seeds. Ask for volunteers to help you set up and clean up as this is definitely not a one-person job.

   Gather your supplies. You’ll want to have extra labels and baggies on-hand. Name tags are also a good ice-breaker. Extra pens/pencils and paper are a must. Once people get talking, there will be lots of note-taking.

   Asking attendees to bring some food to share potluck-style will get people munching and talking either before or after your swap. If you add food to your event, you will need to also bring a table to serve it on, napkins, cups, plates, etc. Keep the food/beverages in a separate area from the seeds so there is no danger of anything spilling on them!

   On the day of the event, have your volunteers sort the seeds as they arrive into your pre-assigned categories. Make signs for each table with the category names. (It is a good idea to screen for GMO seeds and seeds from invasive plants as they come in.)

   During the sorting and check-in period, have an expert speaker (or two or three) talk about seed-starting and garden-related topics.

   At the designated swap start time, ask each participant to come forward and briefly describe the seeds they brought to swap and a bit about their care. You may want to assign a timer to keep folks under a set limit as many fellow garden nerds can get carried away with their enthusiasm. This is where a whistle can come in handy as well.

   Once everyone has introduced their seeds, you will need to devise a fair way to assign who chooses first. Many groups give first choice to volunteers who helped coordinate and set-up the event. Other groups do it by order of arrival, by oldest to youngest, or by whim. The most common method is to pass around a basket with numbered slips of paper. Participants pick one out and that is their order of seed selection. Since most people bring several packets of seed to swap, there will be several rounds of seed selection by participants. Once the pickings start to get slim, you can announce a "free-for-all" where all-together folks can grab up any of the remaining seeds.

   If there are still leftover seeds, they can be donated to a local school or nonprofit gardens. Be sure to check in advance that these donations are welcome and will be planted in a timely manner.

Bonus Swap Features:

   At the Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchanges in DC/MD/VA, they add the following fun, green features which you may want to consider at your seed swap:

~ Prizes for the most creative name tags :-). Attendees are asked to make a name tag or recycle one from another event.

Goody Bags and Door Prizes are given out. Donations for the bags and prizes are solicited from garden-related businesses. Sponsoring businesses are listed on signage and all event promotions. The goody bags are stuffed prior to the swap day.

~ Garden Catalog/Book/Information Tables. A section of tables is set aside for garden materials that are free for the taking. Attendees are encouraged to bring in seed catalogs, garden books and magazines, flyers for other area garden events, public garden brochures, etc. Attendees are asked be sure to rip off the address labels and tear out any order insert with personal information on any seed/garden catalogs they bring in.

Our friends at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange have shared their own "how to host a seed swap" instructions here. There are many ways to structure a swap and we hope to see you at one soon!

What IS National Seed Swap Day and How Did it Get Started?

Swapping Seeds: A Gardening Tradition and Hallmark of GREEN Living!

The seed swap is a fundamental part of human history. Seeds were one of the first commodities valued and traded. Today, modern gardeners collect and exchange seeds for many reasons ranging from cultivating rare, heirloom varieties to basic thrift. The exchange of seeds perpetuates biodiversity. It is an act of giving and the ultimate form of recycling.

The first annual Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchange was held in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2006. Kathy Jentz, the editor/publisher of the magazine had the last Saturday of January named an official holiday and National Seed Swap Day was born. After that event’s success, seed swaps in other cities across the nation have joined in celebrating National Seed Swap Day each year on (or around*) the last Saturday in January.

Please help spread the word on this fun, green occasion!

*We consider any seed swap taking places two weeks before or two weeks after the actual National Seed Swap Day to be part of our celebration.

Seed Swap Day Logo!

Washington Gardener Magazine held a contest for a logo and/or slogan for National Seed Swap Day last January and our winner is Matthew Smith of Richwood, OH, who submitted this simple, striking design:

Matthew said, "Sharing seeds and fostering the ability of communities to garden is something I'm deeply passionate about. I'm excited to contribute this."

We hope communities across the nation and the world will join us in celebrating  National Seed Swap Day!

If you would like to use this logo at your seed swap event, please contact KathyJentz@gmail.com to have the file sent to you.

2024 Seed Swap Listings

  Washington Gardener  Magazine presents the  18th Annual Washington Gardener Seed Exchanges on Saturday, January 27, 2024, 12:30–4:00pm  Na...