Inside:  What is a  seed swap?  It is a fabulous way to encourage biodiversity and build community relationships in your pocket of the world.  Hosting a seed swap is like hosting any other party or event.  Organization is key.   Note:  This post contains affiliate links.

What is a  seed swap? Like hosting any other party or event, organization is key. Share on X

What is a Seed Swap?

What is a  seed swap?  It is a fabulous way to encourage biodiversity and build community relationships in your pocket of the world.  It is an event favored by seasoned gardeners as well as those new to the hobby or lifestyle.  Ideally, seed swaps involve the trading of heirloom seeds that breed true and will improve the biodiversity of cultured plants.  Most seasoned gardeners are seed hoarders so a seed swap is a great way to share their bounty.  Seed swaps give a lot back to any community:

What is a Seed Swap? An Awesome Way to Promote Biodiversity

The Local People Photo Archive, CC BY 2.0, via flickr

  • an opportunity for gardeners of all levels of ability to get together and share tips on how to grow stuff efficiently and in an eco-friendly way
  • gardeners can trade seeds they have in abundance for novel seeds they don’t have or were unable to harvest from the last year’s crop
  • shared seeds have a better chance of actually being planted and not going to waste
  • an opportunity for gardeners to get novel heirloom seeds
  • gardeners are trading within their community so everyone gets seeds better suited to their growing zone
  • getting free or low-cost seed and gardening supplies
  • meeting new people with common interests
  • sharing gardening tips and unique ideas
  • joy of helping new gardeners solve problems
  • help create new heirloom gardeners contributing to the community biodiversity


What’s in it for You, Hosting a Seed Swap?

What is a seed swap doing for you?  As host of the seed swap you’re investing in the biodiversity of your community.  You are promoting the use of heirloom seeds.   Why is that important?

An heirloom plant is a variety that, by definition, has existed through open pollination and seed-saving techniques for over fifty years. Heirloom varieties are strong, genetically stable, flavorful and resistant to local disease.  Hybrids typically planted by large farms are often sterile. Even if seeds are produced, they are not genetically stable and will not produce true to type plants. There is little genetic variation within a line of hybrid seeds.  Trading heirloom seeds contributes to food security in your community through biodiversity.  Food webs are most stable when many species and varieties thrive in an area.  There are dozens of varieties of heirloom tomatoes for example.  Gardeners saving seeds from various varieties of tomatoes or other heirloom plants and trading within their communities contributes to the survival of these varieties.  With more genetic variation, our food supply is more resistant to diseases, climate changes, pests, and other unpredictable conditions.

So, what’s in it for you, hosting a seed swap?  You become an ambassador for biodiversity.  By facilitating the sharing and trading of heirloom seeds, you are encouraging others to grow and save heirloom varieties.  It’s a pretty spectacular role to take on.  And you get to meet cool people in your community or give a unique party experience for your friends and family.


How to Organize a Seed Swap

Hosting a seed swap is like hosting any other party or event.  Organization is key.  The following steps, with some change to make it uniquely yours, should be followed:

What is a Seed Swap? An Awesome Way to Promote Biodiversity

Alan Levine, public domain, via flickr

  1. Decide on a date.  Ideally, you want to have the swap so everyone has their seeds in time to plant.  Typically, most swaps occur in late fall after seed harvest, or early spring.  Depending upon the type of event you’d like to host, choose an proper season.
  2. You don’t absolutely need a theme for your seed swap, a name like Seedy Saturday or Sunday is enough, but a theme name is fun and perhaps more attractive if you’re hoping for a larger attendance.
    • You may organize a strictly free event designed only to trade heirloom seeds.
    • If you need to rent a venue and have rental costs to cover you could create a larger event with a gardening expert as a guest speaker in which case your theme could reflect the experts lecture topic.
    • Many areas are creating community gardens which require funding, especially in the beginning stages.  Your seed swap event might function as a fundraiser for a local community garden.
    • If you are hosting a more intimate seed swap with friends and relatives, you might create theme involving a dinner party using heirloom produce.
    • Having a craft party as part of your seed swap might be fun if your focus is on attracting pollinators to the garden.  Your craft might involve assembling bat or butterfly houses or creating watering systems for your plants using recycled containers.  The possibilities are endless.
  3. Location is important.  If you are anticipating a large gathering or need an indoor venue, you may need to rent space in a local community center or perhaps a Church basement.  If it is a more intimate gathering of friends and family, you may choose your own home as the venue.
  4. Choose your method of seed distribution.  There are two that appeal to me:
    1. People are often shy by nature and hesitant to be a spokesperson for their seed.  Having seed bins designated for each type of plant is ideal and takes the pressure from individuals.  It also reduces your need for separate stations for each contributor.  Eight to ten bin types should suffice and could be labelled as follows: Brassicas, Root Vegetables, Herbs, Lettuces, Peas and Beans, Marrows, Flowers and a Random bin.  You might use slightly different designations.
      • It might be useful to have volunteers available to place everyone’s contributions in the correct bins.  Those volunteers could also make a cursory check to make sure all seed contributions have at least the basic identification information.
      • In this case, numbers would be randomly assigned to each participant to allow an orderly retrieval of seeds.  If you like it fast and loose, you could choose a set time for people to look over what is available and then let your guests go and grab what appeals to them.  After your first event, you’ll soon discover what works and what does not for your particular group.

        What is a Seed Swap? An Awesome Way to Promote Biodiversity

        Everyday Growing, CC BY 2.0, via flickr

    2. The second option is more formal.  You could have everyone brings one open pollinated seed packet for each person attending the party. If there are 10 guests including you and your volunteers, then each person brings 9 seed packets (they don’t need one for themselves). In this case, your guest list would need to be finalized at least a couple of weeks or so before the event.  Have each person be creative in how they package their seeds.  Personalized seed packets, mason jars or other creative options would make for a truly unique event.  Provide templates for seed packets and labeling.  Providing a form to fill out ahead of time that each person fills in with information about their seed type including seed variety and common name; date it was harvested (at least the year), growth habits (spacing, depth of planting etc.); germination percentage if known; any story that goes with your seed.  Either each participant prints it out as part of each package or they fill it out online for you to distribute to each guest.
  5. Decide on the ground rules for your event and send them out in advance to your participants and post on your Facebook event page and other advertisement formats you’re using.
    • As you want to promote biodiversity, insist all seed must be open-pollinated and non-hybrid.  The seed must come from the participant’s garden or from a professional seed house.  Seed collected in your own garden from hybrid varieties will not grow true to form or will not be able to germinate.
    • Seeds must not be too old to germinate.  Onions, leeks, celery and spinach do not germinate well after one year.  Beans and squash can be up to three years old.
    • All seed contributions must be in a packet, plastic bag or jar labelled with seed type and variety if known as well as with the harvest date.
    • Do not bring genetically modified seed of any kind.
    • Do not bring seed to sell.  The event is strictly trade.

      What is a Seed Swap? An Awesome Way to Promote Biodiversity

      Christine und Hagen Graf, CC BY 2.0, via flickr

    • Let your guests or participants know which method of seed trading, either 1 or 2 from above, you will use.

Other Organizational Details

  1. Any seed swap will be more fun if you offer food and refreshments.  If it is community event, you could ask for contributions of food.  Or you could provide food and drinks and use a bin for donations.
  2. Having draw prizes or a raffle is always fun at a party and that includes a seed swap.  If you are renting a venue, this is a great way to recoup costs.  Especially if you are running your event as a fundraiser, you could approach local gardening centers for donations of seed, compost or gardening supplies as prizes or raffle items.  Gardening supply companies are also great resources for literature or guest speakers for your event.
  3. If kids are to part of your event, your might have craft tables arranged.  Sometimes even adults like to be part of crafting.  A table to make butterfly houses to attract those pollinators would be a unique touch.  For kids only, coloring pages with flowers, plants and pollinating insects would be a great way to keep children occupied while your seed exchange happens.
  4. With participants permission, collect everyone’s email address or other contact information.  It is a great way to keep in touch with your gardening community through regular newsletters and/or an easy way to send out invitations for next year’s event.


Other Advice to Remember for Enjoying a Seed Swap


  • Remember to arrive early to have best access to available seeds.
  • Bring something to hold the seeds – vials, empty seed packets, small plastic baggies.
  • Don’t be upset if you get only 2 or 3 seed varieties.
  • Store the new seeds in a cool, dark place until ready to plant.
  • Make sure those seeds get planted to honor the efforts of the person who preserved them and to improve your community’s biodiversity.


  • Have labels on hand and sharpie markers for participants to label their seed finds.
  • Empty seed packets or baggies for those participants who need them is handy.
  • Have seed scoops available.


Advertising Your Seed Swap

Plan to start advertising your seed swap event a couple of months in advance.  Create posters to place on local church and grocery store bulletin boards.  Ask your local greenhouses and organic food stores if they will let you place posters for your event in their businesses.

Social media is a great place to advertise.  Create a Facebook Event and invite your local Facebook friends.  If you wish to attract larger participation, make the event public and in keywords use your city and the words ‘seed swap’ to focus your audience.  Create an email address specifically for the event to use for contact on posters and social media.

Better yet, if you plan on making this event a yearly one, create a Facebook page for your event using your event email address.  With participants permission, you can post pictures of the event to use as advertisement for the next year’s event.  You can encourage participant’s to post pictures of the growth of their seeds and mature plants  Participants can also ask questions about problems or concerns they’re having with their garden or growth of their seeds.

Everyone loves a party.  What is a seed swap but a party with seeds!  What is better for a gardening enthusiast then getting free seeds and gardening supplies while sharing their extra harvested seed from the previous year.  Seeds will be swapped, advice will be shared, biodiversity will be preserved and fun will be had by all.  As an heirloom gardener, you should start your plans for a seed swap today!

What is a Seed Swap? An Awesome Way to Promote Biodiversity- is a Seed Swap? An Awesome Way to Promote Biodiversity

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