The ongoing pandemic is fueling enormous uncertainty. Job insecurity and loss of income are putting pressure on food banks as more and more people struggle to make ends meet. The Trussell Trust, which supports a UK-wide network of food banks, estimates that half of those who used a food bank at the start of the pandemic had never done so before. The situation has only deteriorated since then.
It’s one of the reasons we have seen such a surge in interest from those looking to grow more of their own food. Another is the disruption to the food supply witnessed early on in the pandemic, when shelves were stripped of essentials such as fresh fruits and vegetables (and toilet paper!).
Seeds are, of course, central to a thriving vegetable garden. Gardening catalogs offer an Aladdin’s cave of horticultural riches but the price of packets of seeds quickly adds up. Fortunately there are other ways to pick seeds up, often for free, or at most a nominal fee. Seed libraries, swaps and exchanges are your ticket to a prudent plot.
1. Seed Libraries
Seed libraries are local resources where gardeners can seek out seeds for very little or nothing at all. Set up in public places such as libraries and community centers, they help to spread the joy of growing food (and other plants), while potentially serving as repositories for precious local varieties ideally suited to the surrounding climate and soil.
Carefully saved seed is the name of the game, but other seeds – donated by generous seed companies, for example – might also be offered. Keen gardeners have the opportunity to share their abundance, while those new to gardening can seek out something special. Take what you need, then pay back with your own saved seeds once you are in a position to return the favor.
Seed libraries are a pretty big deal in the US. Well-organized groups such as the Up Beet! community of seed libraries pool resources and share expertise with anyone looking to run their own seed library.
Quite a few seed libraries have sprouted up during the pandemic. One example is the three seed libraries launched by the Alameda Backyard Growers in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Simple weatherproof boxes are stocked with season-appropriate seeds, complete with growing instructions. Search for a seed library near you and see what you can find.
2. Seed Swaps and Exchanges
Seed swaps are just that – a venue where gardeners can meet and swap seeds. Events are steadily increasing in popularity as interest in growing food grows like the crops we aspire to harvest. Plants are usually swapped alongside the seeds.
There are thousands of local seed swaps around the globe. They come and go but the unstoppable trend is for more of them. Search online for a seed swap or exchange near you; a little detective work is sure to pay off.
3. Online Seed Exchanges
Even outside of a pandemic, there are obvious benefits to casting the net further to search a wider range of horticultural treasures. Online seed exchanges are a great place to hunt out something truly rare, or perhaps a distinctive vegetable that resonates with you.
Search online for seed exchanges; Facebook groups are a good place to start. Sites such as the non-profit Seed Savers Exchange open up the seed swap concept to a national audience. Anyone can browse the exchange, but to request seed you’ll need to sign up. The Houzz Seed Exchange is another alternative worth investigating.
4. Save Your Own Seeds
Once you’ve dipped your toe in the water and your crops are growing, you can cut costs further by saving some of your own seeds for the following season. This is a fantastic way to keep gardening costs down and, in time, the seeds you save will become more and more suited to the very specific conditions you grow in.
We have lots of articles and videos on saving seeds (and germinating them). If it’s your first time, start with Barbara’s article on planning for seed saving and lay the groundwork now for an abundant future at minimal cost.