Saturday, January 29, 2011

National Seed Swap Day


Thanks to my friends at Celebrate Green!®, I learned that the last Saturday in January is known as National Seed Swap Day. The event started in 2006 in the Washington, D.C. area, but has quickly spread across the country to become a national event.

  • What is a seed swap?

Simply put, you trade seeds with someone else. Why? You can share extra seeds that you don't need and they won't go to waste. It's a fun way to gain seeds for your garden inexpensively. You might even obtain rare varieties that you can't find in local stores.

  • How do you save seeds?

Jack Rowe has posted a marvelous free Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook to get you started. Some seeds are harder to save than others. Modern-day carrots, for example, can be cross-pollinated by the wild carrot, or Queen Anne's Lace. The seeds you'd wind up with from this cross would not produce tasty carrots.

  • How long do seeds last?

It depends upon the seed. Even the experts disagree, as explored in this post by A Way to Garden.com.

When I was studying wetlands in graduate school, we talked about the government's idea of letting folks drain a wetland as long as they created one somewhere else. This was part of the No Net Loss wetlands policy first touted in the late 1980's.

This line of thinking fails to consider the functionality of wetlands. Wetland soil contains important seeds - a "bank" of future plants. Just adding water to an upland area doesn't turn it into a wetland. Conversely, some industrial areas built on drained wetlands have been successfully converted back to wetlands.

Seeds, when properly cared for, can last a long time.

  • How important is it to save seeds?

One of the problems with modern agriculture is that we tend to fixate on certain types of plants at the expense of others. Let's say we have grown the perfect tomato. Other tomato varieties might be discounted because their fruits are too small, too squishy, maybe a funny color. If no one saves these seeds, we are in for a big problem when later, our perfect tomato falls prey to an insect or disease. Some of these lesser varieties might be resistant, but if we don't save the seeds, we don't have a way to deal with the problem.

This is the rationale behind seedbanks - we want to save the seeds for posterity. You never know when we might need them.

  • How can I swap seeds?

Ask your friends and neighbors to swap seeds with you. The advantage of swapping seeds locally is that you know they are likely to grow in your climate and they won't harm your local ecosystem.

The National Gardening Association has set up this page to help you swap seeds online. HeirloomSeedSwap.com is an international seed swapping site. But be careful when sending seeds long distances - a seed that is welcome in your area might be considered an invasive somewhere else.

Happy swapping!


Photo credit: Kirsty Hall, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

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