It is a great time of year to start getting your seeds together and begin planning out your garden. I say seeds, because we all know how expensive plants are, so starting your own plants from seed is really the way to go if you are on a budget. For my family's farm we plant all our annual crops from seed, including tomatoes, peppers, and onions, which we start indoors.
However, even though seed is a lot cheaper compared to buying plants, seeds are not inexpensive by any means. To put this in perspective, they are actually the number one on our list of farming expenses -- and we have lots of expenses to run a fruit and vegetable farm and our own roadside farm market -- so you can imagine. So, knowing this fact I don't like to spend my money purchasing plants or seeds from companies for my flower garden - it's only a hobby mind you. I found a great way around the money problem - seed swaps (also called trades and exchanges). For the past several years I have been swapping leftover flower and vegetable seed with people all across the U.S. Seed trading is not only fun, but I am able to obtain all sorts of seeds I wouldn't have found so readily in seed catalogs. I invite you to try at least one seed trade this year, be it with someone in your own neighborhood, a relative across the state, or a fellow gardener you met on the Internet.
The purpose of this post is for me to share some tips I have learned over the years so that when you start your own seed swap, you'll be successful and have a great time.
Do's and Don'ts:
Do become a member of online seed swapping communities. Some communities to check out: http://seedswaps.com, http://gardenweb.com, http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/f/trading/all/
Don't think that every seed swap will go exactly the way you want. I suggest to do some background checking before you accept the trade, especially if it's a large trade. (Is there a review forum for seed swap members?)
Do think about collecting the seeds from your own garden. A little research about each seed producing plant you grow and good timing is all you need to harvest your own seeds. Many gardeners don't mind cross-pollination (and a little chaff) so go for it and have some fun with it!
Don't be neglectful on how you store the seeds you hope to trade. Make sure you store them in a plastic bag or glass/plastic jar in a fridge or other cool spot in your home.
Do label all your seeds clearly. It's a good practice to include the following info on each packet of seeds you send:
Name: Both common and scientific
Origins: (a) Commercial seed (purchased from a seed company), (b) if it was collected from your garden (which means the seed was most likely cross-pollinated and wont come true from seed), or (c) it was from a previous trade and you are not sure of its origins. Commonly abbreviated as: C (commercial), G (garden), and T (trade).
Year: When it was harvested.
Don't be reluctant to ask a seed trader if they will accept things other than seeds for trade. Many seed traders have other hobbies and interests and are willing to give seed to "add another item to their collection." Also, include the option of giving or receiving postage for seed. Sometimes gardeners will have an abundance of seed and are willing to take time out and send them to whomever would like them - if he/she is reimbursed for the postage.
Do keep records of all your seed trades. This can be very helpful when you want to do another trade with "that person who sent me those prized dahlias." Keep track of all the seed you sent and received, the name and contact information of the person, and the time of year the trade took place.
Don't forget that you can do seed trades through the mail or in person. The master gardener next door I am sure will have some leftover seed for you to try - and maybe she/he will want some plant tags in return. . .
Do make sure you read up about the plants you are thinking of starting from seed. Will they work in your climate or zone? Will you have enough room for that shrub? Is it an invasive plant that may take over your garden? (See: http://invasive.org/)
Don't just send seed to wherever, you need to be careful about regulations. If you are wondering if a certain country or state has seed regulations then make sure you do your research before a problem surfaces and you are fined. (See HERE.)
Do make sure that both ends of the trade will be satisfied before the trade even begins. Converse about the exact seed you want in return and make sure you know what the other person exactly wants. Communication is key to a great trade.
Don't over extend yourself. Sometimes having too many seed trades open can become a nightmare. One person wants this seed while two others want the same seed, and you said "yes" to all three without realizing it -- I think you can picture that situation pretty well.
Do make sure you read over any guidelines a seed trader may have. Some gardeners have made seed trading a big part of their gardening and actually made rules that, for the most part, benefit both parties if adhered to.
Don't be stingy -- be mindful of how many seeds you place in each packet. If there was no set seed amount discussed during the trade conversation then assume that person will want as many seeds as you would be happy with yourself. True gardeners are generous. Bonus packets of seed can be your way of making a lifelong friendship.
Do send seed in plastic packets or baggies and label them clearly. Dry seed stores the best in a sealed plastic (or glass) container or bag so why not ship them accordingly? A snack or sandwich bag will work okay, though freezer tough bags are better.
Don't send your seeds in paper packets unless you are planning on using a waterproof envelope. A plastic envelope will work, as well as wrapping a paper envelope in plastic packing tape. Remember, water could damage the seeds inside, especially if the seeds are not planted soon after arrival.
Do provide an organized and up to date trade list for other people to see. Many online seed trading communities insist you have a trade list. I insist you make sure of spelling and keep it up to date!
Don't send your seeds in a regular envelope. The seeds need to be protected from being crushed so use a bubble envelope or wrap the seeds in bubble wrap and place in regular envelope.
Do have fun! Make it an experience where you can learn, share, grow, and find new "flower buds."
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