Sometimes, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself! If you don’t have a local group of people who save garden seed, then you may need to start a seed saving group for your area. Don’t be intimidated! In four simple steps, we can walk you through this process.
A seed swap is a beneficial community with which you can get involved, no matter your level of experience—even if you have NO experience.
Some areas have huge, regional seed swaps with days of classes and lectures, swapping, and purchasing. Even if you’re a beginner gardener, I encourage you not to be intimidated and to attend as many of these as you can.
Ask questions of everyone. Many times, seed saving groups will have seeds for sale or just to give away, so you needn’t worry that you’ve brought nothing to swap. Gardeners are some of the most generous people I have ever known.
Whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming about the gardens to come from these little seeds. As Forrest Pritchard wrote in his book, Gaining Ground:
“All farms require a resident dreamer, someone to thumb through seed catalogs in the cold days of late January, imagining summer fields of squash and cucumbers, tomatoes and sunflowers. Fall harvests are the reward of winter dreams.”
Start a Seed Saving Group – Step by Step
Here are some simple, step-by-step instructions for starting your own seed saving group.
First Thing – Don’t Stress Out Over This!
Setting up a seed saving group does NOT need to be complicated. The group can be as large or as small as you decide because you’re in charge!
We’ll start with FOUR basic steps to start off, then we’ll provide a bit more advice to make your seed saving group the best it can be.
Get out your homestead journal to take notes, and let’s begin.
#1 Who Will Attend Your Seed Saving Group?
If you have five neighbors who would like to meet once or twice a month to learn about and share seeds, you have a group!
If you have fifty community members who would like to meet every week of the month to learn about and share seeds, you have a group!
Be prepared to start out with one number of attendees and end up with an entirely different number by the end of the year. Being flexible is vital to being successful with a group dynamic.
There’s value in all sizes and shapes of seed saving groups because being around other seed nerds will teach you something new every time.
For example, in the first local group we started, got to meet Dale Thurber of “Delectation of Tomatoes”. His specialty was giant tomatoes – those massive heirloom varieties, nearly as big as your head.
Another gentlemen grew amazing melons and was so generous with this seed and his growing tips. I stink at growing melons and so every time he started talking, I started listening.
Don’t let a fear of not knowing enough or not knowing how to do everything perfectly keep you from joining a seed group and really diving into participating.
How Will You Run Your Group?
Here are some questions to answer as you brainstorm:
- This goes along with determining who will be attending – you need to know your “who”!
- Would you like an informal group that just meets to chat about seeds and share them around?
- Do you need to have someone “in charge”?
- Do you want to have an itinerary for meetings? A schedule for the month?
We started our seed saving group using Robert’s Rules (parliamentary procedure) and a board, hoping that the structure would provide permanence for the group, since we knew we were moving soon and didn’t want it to collapse when we left.
Don’t be intimidated by parliamentary procedure and setting up a board, if you feel like that’s what you’d like to do; believe me, if I can learn it, you can learn it. If you work in the business world you’re most likely already familiar with it.
However, you can run your group in a much more informal way, as well. If you’re the leader, be prepared to make a lot of the decisions for the group and to do a lot of the work. But, you’re a cool homesteady kind of person and work doesn’t even phase you.
I began a seed saving group in my very suburban town and it flopped, despite all my best efforts. Yet a similar group in a neighboring, but more agriculturally inclined county, is still thriving and I’m so glad! I’m sure the leaders of that group are amazing and did lots of great stuff that I didn’t even think of, but my first piece of advice is to know your town.
If there’s only a small group of you who are interested in seed saving, then keep it small; don’t waste your energy trying to get more people involved, they’ll come over time and as they’re interested. If you just can’t find anyone else close to you to swap seeds with, branch out a bit to the next town or anywhere in your state. You can also join online seed saving groups and swap via the post.
Our goal for a long-lasting seed saving group wasn’t realized, but I did learn a ton about parliamentary procedure, so I’ll be running for public office soon. Ha, ha.
#2 Where Will Your Seed Saving Group Meet?
The next item of business is a venue – some place to host your seed saving group.
Can you meet in your garage? Do you have so many people that you’ll need a bigger space? You’ll need to double check that whatever venue you choose has enough space and that it will allow you to meet as often you decide you want to.
Meeting monthly is great, if you can, and places like libraries and churches often have their calendars available for scheduling far in advance.
You can also meet in someone’s home. I like meeting in homes at least sometimes because you can do garden tours and see a homesteader in their element to find out how they do things. Gardens are never boring to me and I learn something from each one I’m privileged to visit.
You might be able to find space at your local nursery, if they have a conference room. Likewise, your local water or land conservancy or public garden. Be sure to find out what the venue’s rules are about live plants in dirt (should you choose to swap those, too) and selling seeds on site (in case anyone wants to do that).
#3 Marketing and Managing the Seed Saving Group
If your seed group stays small, so will your management headaches.
However, in truth, you really want as many people saving seeds in your area as possible. Right?! For that reason, prepare for growth by laying an excellent foundation with the following tips.
Get the Word Out
Those places I suggested for possible venues also make great places to advertise your seed group. Call around to:
- local nurseries
- master gardener classes
- real foods groceries
- health food restaurants
Ask if you can post a flier about your group. These places often have boards dedicated to community meet-ups.
- I also highly recommend you start a social media page for your group.
- You could even start a website/blog to share information on seed saving and to have a central place where everyone can find out the latest on swaps and classes. Websites can be started for free on Wix and WordPress, for example.
- Yahoo groups are still useful for this, too, and Meet Up is becoming very helpful at connecting people, as well. Mighty Networks is also a useful platform for ad-free space and great conversation.
Seed Saving Group Action Items – Stay Organized
After you’ve decided on a place, time and schedule, you need to start meeting together. You may discover that it would be handy to have the following moving forward:
- Seed Bank: a group box of collected seed that one person hangs on to and brings to every meeting.
- Check Out Form for the Seed Bank: you may want to have people check out their seed like they would a book from a library, filling out a form that says what they’ve taken, when, and when they anticipate growing out more seed to return to the bank.
- Seed Saving Booklist: someone can oversee keeping a master list of any seed saving books the group members own and are willing to share with other members.
- Contacts List: you’ll want a way to get in touch with everyone in the group, whether via email, text, or social media.
- Schedule: people are busy and you’re more likely to get consistent attendance if you stick to the same day every month and people know what you’ll be discussing.
- Job Descriptions: if you’ve decided to go with a structured group where certain people have certain assignments, you’ll most likely want to clearly delineate, in writing, what each job entails so that people can fulfill their obligations to the group.
- Guest Speakers: it’s a great idea to include outside mentors and teachers—we had wonderful mentors teach our swap on various topics from mushroom growing, to tomato seed saving, to growing year-round.
#4 Teach Seed Saving Techniques
One of the most important things to stress as you meet is proper seed saving techniques.
Everyone must start somewhere, and you’ll get members with lots of enthusiasm but little experience. No worries, that’s what the swap is there for.
Make sure you’re covering, Even if it’s only for five minutes at the beginning, be sure to give instructions on how to:
- Properly grow from seed.
- Grow up seed stock and save it.
- Store seed.
You could feature one vegetable or herb each month to take from seed planting to seed saving, or you could have a quarterly class on the side covering various seed saving techniques.
Teach, teach, teach and move forward with your own efforts remembering that there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
If you need extra guidance, Seed Savers Exchange offers free webinars (and archives past webinars) on seed saving techniques on their site.
Other appropriate items to share at group meetings include:
- plant starts
- surplus harvest
A harvest festival at the end of the season is a great way to celebrate with swap members’ families by getting together and sharing the excess bounty from the season. Hold an old-fashioned Harvest Home, complete with a Queen of the Harvest and some delicious, home-cooked food.
—>>>To read our article on what an old-fashioned Harvest Home is – and why your homestead family should host one – click here. <<<—
Celebrate the miracle of the seed together. These seed and garden nerds are your people; have fun together as you make connections and friendships that will serve you in good stead.
Use Quality Seeds for Your Seed Saving Group
While I do buy seed from larger operations like Baker Creek Seeds and Territorial Seeds, I try to patronize smaller seed companies, too.
Some of my favorites for high quality, variety and open pollinated varieties include
- Mary’s Heirloom Seeds
- Select Seeds & Plants – especially great for heirloom flowers
- Seeds for Generations, which is a small, family-run seed company. Jason Matyas and his family simply love growing their own food and wanted to provide that opportunity to others through selling heirloom, non-GMO seeds.
They also wanted a business they could run as a family. Jason says,
“I’ve been gardening my entire life. Literally. Before I could walk, my parents had me out in the garden with them, and once I could walk, the garden became my pasture for grazing. They planted important seeds in me—love for God’s creation, enjoyment of working with my hands, and an appreciation for the thought and effort that goes into growing food.
“I’m doing similar work with my seven children, working to pass on the legacy of gardening to them. We’ve done this for years now—my oldest daughter has been in the garden helping since she could walk. I’d been looking for a long time for an opportunity to have my kids work alongside me and to work with each other, and one winter I had an epiphany. Our family loves heirloom seeds and vegetables, why not share them with others? So, I decided to start a small cottage industry as a way to give my children an opportunity to work together with me in a family business.”
—>>>To peruse their fine catalog of available seeds, please visit this link or click on the picture below.<<<—
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You bring up so many important things to think about with a seed sharing group. We have a large seed exchange in our area and it is really helpful!
Homestead Lady says
What a blessing to have a large exchange near you! I hope you area able to attend often. They’re great places to learn the little tidbits you don’t always pick up in books and classes.
I love the idea of having a community like this. You’re getting my gears going. Thank you for this full post about such a cool topic!
Homestead Lady says
So glad it was helpful! Community is more important that ever these days, and seed people are my kind of people!
I am in love with this idea! The “seed bank” idea is brilliant!
Homestead Lady says
So glad it was helpful! Our small efforts, like the small seeds themselves, can do big things.
After reading through this, I contacted our local seed swap group. We had so many problems with our garden this year that they were able to help me and get me pointed in the right direction. Thank you for the post!
Homestead Lady says
It makes me so happy to hear that, Leigh – yay!