Shoppers who are increasingly frustrated at the sometimes inflated prices of organic fruit and vegetables are increasingly choosing to rent out an allotment, or make space in the back garden, to ‘grow their own’. But once you’ve decided to get planting – where is the best place to get seeds that are really going to prosper? Local seed swapping events, or their online equivalents, are a great place to get started.
What is a Seed Swap?
Put simply, a seed swap is a community event where growers get together to swap seeds (and often advice) generated by produce that they’ve grown. Admission is usually free if you have seeds to swap – although a nominal fee might be charged to those who don’t bring anything along. As well as people offering organic seeds to swap there are also stalls manned by local growers’ organisations, environmental charities and other good green causes.
How Did They Start?
Unofficial seed swapping has been going on for many generations in the UK – as growers met in their gardens to boast about successes and lament failures over a cup of tea. Official events began in Canada toward the start of the 1990s in an effort to raise awareness and to boost biodiversity. In time, the idea spread to locations across the UK, especially in cities such as Brighton, which have strong links to the green movement.
Why Bother Swapping?
Before World War 2 there were literally thousands of varieties of apple indigenous to the UK. Today, walk into a supermarket and you’ll see just four or five for sale. Because commercial growing focuses on fruit and vegetables that are the easiest, and most profitable, to grow, varieties that once flourished in the British Isles are beginning to disappear. This is a global problem – the United Nations estimates that around 75% of plant biodiversity has vanished entirely in the last century.
By swapping local seeds gardeners can do their bit to reactivate varieties that are in danger of disappearing. These ‘heritage’ or ‘heirloom’ plant varieties often provide a unique taste for your plate, and cost far less than at the supermarket. Because these seeds won’t be available from commercial growers you can do your bit to encourage local wildlife and help strengthen the biodiversity of your local area.
Finding Seed Swaps
To find your local swap your best bet is to look online. Often local gardening groups, or environmental charities, will be able to point you in the right direction. If there isn’t a physical event happening near you then it might be best to seek out online seed swaps.
On these sites (which are generally free) gardeners can post their list of required seeds and send out their own interesting strains to other people. However – a word of warning: trading certain seed varieties in the EU or America can be subject to strict legal guidelines. So make sure you know the law before you send off a package of seeds abroad, the last thing you want is for customs officers to get the wrong idea about the nature of the plants you’re producing!