In Search of Seeds? Your Neighbors May Be the Answer

If you're looking for seeds to plant or have extras to share, a community swap is a great way to help everyone get growing while still social distancing.

Now that everyone is searching for seeds to start a garden this spring as a way to cope during the new coronavirus, many seed companies have been overwhelmed with orders so aren’t accepting new ones. But even if you haven’t had any luck ordering seeds online this year, you may be able to find what you’re looking for right in your community through a seed swap. Some of these events are organized by garden clubs or other groups annually, and though they may look a little different this year because of the social distancing guidelines in place, several are still taking place. Or, you may want to try setting up your own small seed swap and inviting neighbors to participate.

hands holding Sunflower seeds
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That’s exactly what Sarah Trone Garriott did in her Windsor Heights, Iowa, neighborhood. She had placed an early order for seeds before many companies stopped taking orders, so she decided to share the extras. “I don’t need 25 tomato plants, so I started dividing them up into little packets and writing the names of the seeds on there, and then put them in a box on my swing,” Garriott says.

She posted in her community's Facebook group that she had seeds to share, and her neighbors responded right away. “Some of my neighbors have been coming and picking seeds and leaving seeds that they have to share,” Garriott says. “It’s been kind of fun! It’s a way to get to connect with my neighbors when we can’t really socialize the way we used to.”

box of seeds with note on front
Sarah Trone Garriott has set up a box of seeds for her neighbors to take and leave as they need them. Sarah Trone Garriott

To start swapping seeds with your neighbors, it's easy to set up a publicly accessible location like Garriott did so people can take and leave seeds without having to meet face to face. Make sure to clearly label any seeds you trade so your neighbors know how to plant and grow the seeds, and keep packets in a waterproof container such as a glass jar or resealable plastic bag (especially if you’ll be leaving the seeds outside). Then get the word out; try posting on neighborhood Facebook groups, listservs, or Nextdoor. And remember to wash your hands before and after trading.

Another option is swapping seeds by mail, which is what Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener magazine did this year. She organizes an in-person seed swap event for the Washington, D.C. area every year on National Seed Exchange Day (the last Saturday in January), attended by hundreds of people who all bring seeds to share. After the swap, she hands out any leftover seeds at garden festivals in the spring. Though the seed swap took place before self-quarantine measures were necessary, Jentz set up a giveaway by mail for all the leftover seeds since most of the events she would bring them to are canceled this year.

While Jentz's mail-in giveaway deadline has passed, there are plenty of other seed trading groups online, including Seed Savers Exchange, Facebook groups, and even Reddit. If you find yourself with an excess of seeds after swapping, Jentz recommends donating them. “If you have a food bank pick-up or something like that, you could offer the seeds along with some cans of food,” she says.

Finding garden seeds might be a little trickier this year since so many people are planting victory gardens and brightening their yards with flowers right now, but there are still ways you can find what you need. Try turning to local groups first for getting seeds fast, or online trading groups if you want more variety. With a little patience, you should be able to find what you’re looking for!

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