What is Seed Swapping?

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Swapping seeds is a great way to share your favorite plants with your community.
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"Seedswap" by Josie Jeffery gives seed activists all the tools necessary to save and swap seeds!

With the rise in genetically modified seeds many are looking to the past, to the days of seed saving and seed swapping. Swapping and saving seeds insures our planet’s plant heritage, and the movement is gaining popularity. Seedswap (Roost Books, 2014) by Josie Jeffery is the perfect introduction to saving seeds, with illustrations, easy to follow instructions, a glossary of plants and more. This excerpt comes from chapter 1, “Seed Swapping.”

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Seedswap.

Seed swapping is about engaging with your community, sharing seeds with friends, neighbours and relatives, and exchanging knowledge and ideas. At the same time, this fascinating activity makes it more likely that the genetic integrity of a plant is preserved and passed on.

I have enjoyed seed saving for all of my gardening career. For me, it is one of the most exciting of garden tasks, and it represents the end of the season, a time for reflection. I enjoy the whole seed-saving process and sharing my garden’s seed bounty with my friends and the community.

Why Swap Seeds?

Seed swapping is a means of exchanging surplus seeds as a goodwill gesture, and usually takes place at organized gatherings for novice and seasoned gardeners. Participants trade their seeds and knowledge in a local community hall or someone’s house, or even via a ‘round robin’.

With the increase in the cost of living, seed swapping is a great way of becoming more self-sufficient in the ornamental garden as well as the fruit and vegetable garden. Saving and swapping seeds has a wealth of benefits, from financial savings through to maintaining food security and protecting biodiversity, rare species and seed genetics. It also helps to disseminate the practices and ideas of other cultures, which may be linked to particular plant species and their varieties. Seeds have the ability to travel great distances, and those with the greatest cultural significance tend to get transported by people as they move around the globe.

Swapping seeds expands plant variety in a ‘swapper’s’ garden. At seed swaps, a wealth of local knowledge and wisdom can be exchanged, about what works – or doesn’t work – in your microclimate, and you are likely to discover new and exciting plants. Keeping things ‘local’ helps the community become independent from seed manufacturers who tend to have control over the availability and variety of seeds.

Although seed saving has a long history, global events like Seedy Saturday and Seedy Sunday only began in 1990. Communities could come together to share seeds and gardening stories. Seasoned seed-swap gardeners incorporate collecting seeds into their gardening routine specifically for seed-swapping events, and the ever-increasing popularity of these occasions has gained the interest of keen novices too.

Getting Involved

Today, seed-swapping events happen all across the world, and if you are interested, it isn’t hard to find one, whether it be your local community hall, allotments or even online.

Attending a Seed Swap

The internet has masses of information on seed-swapping events. It is worth asking at your local allotments too. It is best to stay in your area as you are more likely to find plants that are happy growing in the conditions provided by your local climate.

Start a ‘Round Robin’ Seed Swap

Swap seeds without having to pay for the hire of a venue by starting a seed-swapping chain.

• Collect names of the willing participants and provide the final list of names to everyone involved.
• Send a package filled with your surplus seeds to the next person on the list.
• The next person will then take one packet of seeds from the package and replace them with some more seeds.
• The package is sent to the next person on the list, who removes and replaces as above.
• The chain carries on until the last person on the list posts the package (which should now contain a completely different combination of seeds) back to the original organizer. 

Seed Circles

A seed circle is where a group of friends or allotment buddies each sign up to save seeds from one or two sorts of plant. At the end of the growing season, each person saves what they need and arranges to share or exchange their surplus seeds with the rest of the circle. 

Organizing a seed circle is really easy. This is what you need to get started:
• An organizer – you!
• A dedicated group – this can be small or large.
• A sign-up form – to collect everyone’s contact details.
• An information sheet – to include important tips, such as how to save and store seeds, and your contact details.
• A spare moment – to check in on everyone’s progress.
• Good quality, fresh, non-hybrid seeds – to start your circle.


There are a few things to bear in mind before you go to a seed swap. 

1. Plant Choice: Bring non-invasive, open-pollinated seeds.

2. Seed Viability: Vegetable seeds should be no older than three years, unless they have been properly dried and stored. As they age, seeds are less likely to germinate successfully.

3. Packaging & Labelling: It can be fun making your own seed packets and labels. Make sure you include important information such as the date, plant name (common and scientific), eventual height and spread, and any growing tips.

4. Organization: For ease of exchange, display seeds in boxes categorized by plant type, such as tree, climber or vegetable.

From Seedswap by Josie Jeffery, © 2013 by Josie Jeffery. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Buy this book from our store: Seedswap.