Seed Exchanges

Seed catalogs are one place to find new seed varieties and to reorder favorites, but another great source for seeds is seed exchanges, organized events where people bring seeds to share and exchange with others.  A big plus of seed exchanges is that the seeds are open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, often saved by local gardeners happy to share seeds of varieties that grow well in their gardens and to give tips on how you too can save seeds.

Last Saturday my friend Carol and I went to the 3rd Annual Heritage Seed Exchange on Orcas Island.  As the poster says, and as Ginger Moore, one of the volunteer organizers told me, everyone was welcome, with or without seeds to share or experience saving seeds.  I was bringing some bean seeds I’d saved and Carol had some unusual herbs and tubers she had potted up. We had high hopes for what we might find in exchange.  On the boat over, we met up with Jeanie and Nancy, two other Lopez seed lovers who shared our anticipation.

In the West Sound Community Hall, long tables were covered with seed packets organized by the degree of experience needed to save each seed variety. Each table also had a sign-in sheet so that people who brought seeds to share could leave the names of the seeds they brought and their name, phone or email so that people who took the seeds could reach them if they needed more information.

In her introductory remarks, Heritage Seed Exchange organizer and Orcas seed saver Ronda Jones emphasized the importance of saving seeds as a way to maintain local stocks of seeds and to counter the consolidation of seed companies and their frightening pattern of dropping old varieties and promoting genetically modified seeds.  She reminded us to plan to save seeds of those we take and plant and bring some to the exchange next year.

Going first to the bean table, Carol and I were delighted to find locally grown seeds of Bonds Orcas white runner bean, a bean we suspect is related to one of my favorite beans, a white runner my late neighbor Frances Kring gave me years ago, telling me that all old-timers grew it.  We also found seeds of a Sicilian Fava bean that Ronda Jones grew from seeds given to her by a friend in Italy.  These are a purple fava and Ronda told me I’d like them even better than the green Broad Windsor.  I can’t wait to try them.  At another table, I found parsnip seeds, described as a fifth generation Orcas seed.  I’m a big parsnip fan so this was another great find.

In addition to locally grown seeds, there were open-pollinated and heirloom seeds donated by the Heritage Seed Exchange sponsors Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Seed Savers Exchange and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and seeds from Territorial Seeds and Greenheart Gardens, a Lopez Island Seed Company.  The Organic Seed Alliance (, based in Port Townsend, also had a table displaying their literature.

This Orcas Island Heritage Seed Exchange is just one of several local opportunities to share seeds and seed saving experiences with other gardeners.  On Sunday, February 12 in Anacortes, the group Eat Your Yard is offering a seed exchange at the Senior Activities Center at 3:00:

On Lopez Island, the grand opening of the Lopez Community Land Trust Seed Library will take place February 25th as part of the 2012 Food Charette. “This seed library is committed to providing our community with island appropriate open source seeds, fostering community resilience, self-reliance and a culture of sharing.” (  As part of their work, the Seed Library has also offered a workshop on how to save seeds.

I’m not a very experienced seed saver, confident only with those seeds that are easy to save, like beans and peppers, but I’m inspired to gain more experience.  Suzanne Ashworth’s book Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners is where I’m going to start.