Q. I have a backyard vegetable/fruit/herb garden, and every year I wind up with lots of leftover seeds, more than I can possibly plant next time around, yet throwing them away seems like an awful waste. Is there any established way to share, trade, or recycle seeds? - Jacey, WY

A. Absolutely. Seed-sharing has been an officially time-honored tradition since at least 1989, when Canada and Britain founded their respective “Seedy Saturday” and “Seedy Sunday” swaps. And in the US, the last Saturday in January is “National Seed Swap Day,” so start saving your seeds up for January 31, 2009. But community seed swaps—essentially free horticultural flea markets—aren’t confined to these national seed days. Gardeners all over the place are trading "extras" year-round, in local swap groups. Oregon permaculturist Heather Coburn Flores, author of Food Not Lawns, has traded seeds with more than 2,000 people so far. “By this simple act,” she says, “I am helping to build regional food security." Coburn Flores says swapping has also been a fun way to meet neighbors, widen her culinary horizons, and save money. “Weaving together people and plants strengthens the genetic fabric in our gardens and in our bioregion," she adds.

Seed swappers like Coburn Flores are also promoting biodiversity. Our global food industries promote hyperproductive, hyperdurable varieties like your “typical tennis-ball tomato,” says National Gardening Association senior horticulturalist Charlie Nardozzi. So seed swaps are one of the best ways to preserve old heirloom varieties that would otherwise probably slip through the cracks and disappear forever.

Call up your local ecology center or garden club and find out if any seed-swaps are already scheduled. If nothing’s in place yet, get out of that garden bed and organize one yourself, using the detailed instructions in Coburn-Flores’ book as a guide. If interacting with people isn’t your thing, or if you hate all your neighbors and wouldn’t trade seeds with them if your life depended on it, just Google “seed swapping” to find dozens of websites that’ll do the trick. At GardenWeb’s Seed Exchange, for example, users post lists of seeds they have available for trade, and others respond with posts like this one:

I would be interested in your Canterbury Bells, Celosia Purple Flamingo, Joe Pye Weed Chocolate and Basil Red Rubin. I have palisandra Coleus and a heliotrope, maybe more, Please check my list and let me know. Thanks for looking!

Okay, yes, we just wanted to say “Boop.”

Story by Anneli Rufus & Kristan Lawson. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in April 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Seed swapping
An established way to share and trade seeds.