The global movement toward developing more resilient local food systems has had an invigorating effect on an old tradition among gardeners, which is the sharing of superior seeds. Seed swap events now take place in both autumn and early spring, and Facebook groups like the Happy Gardeners UK Seed and Plant Swap and the Appalachian Seed Swap in the US have made seed sharing possible year round. These and similar Internet groups have given seed swaps a fascinating historical dimension, too, in that participants can share stories and pictures of the hand-me-down seeds they took home and grew.
When I sift, clean and package seeds to share at seed swaps, this is the future I hold in my mind -- a gardener being so delighted with the performance of my seeds that they love having the plants in their garden. This is certainly how I feel about several fabulous varieties I now keep in my collection, which were accidental discoveries at seed swaps.
In the spirit of sharing your best seeds, of which you are well supplied thanks to the generosity of healthy plants, here are several ways to increase the chances that your seeds prosper in the unknown garden where they will be sown.
- Maintain high standards by sharing only high quality seeds you would plant with confidence yourself. Such seeds are produced by healthy, robust plants that are given good care throughout the season, with the seeds handled in ways that preserve their viability. This must be done with intention. The parsley seeds I am sharing this year were produced by a trio of plants I planted last fall, protected through winter, and allowed to bloom and set seed all summer. I pulled the plants when the seeds began drying to brown and gathered the seeds from the withered plants two weeks later. This was all worth the trouble, because I have a three-year supply of parsley seeds for myself, and thousands more to share.
- Prepare clean seeds. I have been to seed swaps where gardeners brought bags and boxes of unclean seeds swimming in their chaff, but there are two problems here. Inexperienced gardeners may not be able to recognize the seeds in these messy mixes, and ugly seeds are less likely to get planted compared to pretty ones. Cleaning dry seeds is fun and easy. You can sift out small soil particles by rubbing seeds gently in a kitchen strainer, and then you can sift them through a sieve to get rid of sticks and large particles. For sifting small seeds, I use pieces of fabric netting mounted in old embroidery hoops. Then, on a breezy day (or with the help of a fan), the last bits of debris can be winnowed out by slowly pouring the seeds back and forth between two containers.
- Provide good packaging. Seed swaps can be chaotic events, and your seeds will do the best job of speaking for themselves if you package them in nicely labelled envelopes. Some gardeners take great pride in their packaging, with stamped graphics and descriptions of the varieties, which is great. More information is always better. Whatever packaging you choose, make sure it is securely closed. More than once I have come home from a seed swap to find that my adopted seeds have leaked into my pocket or purse.
The season for saving seeds is far from over in my garden, with some seeds still coming along like those from a magnificent pole bean I got last year at a seed swap. I can’t wait to share it with other gardeners, which is the second best reason there is for saving seeds.
By Barbara Pleasant