Seed swapping: a rewarding way to grow your garden









Fall is an excellent time to harvest and preserve seeds for planting next year.

Warm season vegetable crops are winding down their production, and those overripe or dried out squash, melons, tomatoes, eggplants, and more are a fantastic source of seeds for a “repeat performance” next year. Most spring- and summer-blooming ornamentals have flowers that have gone to seed and dried up, and they produce far more seed than needed to ensure a new generation of plants.

What to do with all those extra seeds?

Before throwing away or composting those spare end-of-season plants and their “babies-in-waiting,” consider saving the seeds and trading them with others. Seed swapping allows you to acquire new plant varieties to germinate and grow at no cost, and there are many other benefits as well.

Do you like sharing the beauty and bounty of your garden? Seed swapping is a perfect way to spread the joy.

Do you like making new friends? Depending on your level of involvement, seed swapping allows to you join local, national, or international communities of plant enthusiasts who enjoy growing their favorite varieties from seed.

Do you feel strongly about preserving ancient, hard-to-find, heirloom varieties of plants that were the foundation of modern-day agriculture and floriculture? Several seed exchange organizations make this a primary part of their mission.

We’re very lucky to have a hidden gem for seed swapping right here in in our county. The small but conveniently located San Joaquin County Seed Lending Library is housed in a refurbished antique cabinet at the Cesar Chavez Library in downtown Stockton. It’s stocked with seeds for vegetables, herbs, and flowering ornamentals. A short registration form is the only requirement for participation, along with the hope that you’ll contribute seeds back to the library in exchange for those “borrowed.” For more information on this innovative resource, see

When sharing seeds, it’s an important courtesy to follow a few simple rules.

  • Harvest, dry, package, and store seeds according to established practices (see resources listed below) to ensure that they remain viable and disease-free.
  • Label your donated seed packets carefully and accurately to help those with whom you’re sharing. Information should include both the common and scientific (Latin) names of the plant, the flower color(s) if applicable, and the date the seeds were collected. Be sure that all information is legible and written with indelible ink.
  • Be as consistent as possible with the number of seeds placed in each seed packet. A good rule of thumb takes seed size into consideration: approximately 10-15 large seeds (such as beans and peas), 25 medium seeds, 50 medium-small seeds, or 100 small seeds (such as poppies) per packet.
  • Do your best to collect and package seeds without much of the non-seed material known as “chaff.” This is easiest when collecting larger, easily recognizable seeds, and much more difficult with tiny or lightweight seeds. Lightly blowing on a wide container full of seed and dry plant material can help separate chaff from seed.
  • If you grow a plant with the intent of preserving the genetic purity of its seeds, it’s important to prevent cross-pollination by other similar plants. A guide to proper isolation of edible plants can be found at

Some excellent resources for those who want to try seed saving and swapping are:

Dave’s Garden. This plant-lover’s website has an extensive article on seed saving and swapping at The article includes several clickable links, including one to a “trade lists” page and another to a page of pre-designed, printable seed packets. Find those packets that match the plants you grow, or use the samples as a template for seed packet size and appropriate information. (Those contributed by member “pford1854” are the best examples.)

Seed Savers Exchange. This organization is one of the preeminent groups for both novice and experienced seed swappers and preservationists. Their mission is to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” If you’re looking for a hard-to-find vegetable variety or that special heirloom bloom, their seed exchange site—with more than 13,000 members—is one of the best places to look. Find them at, or check them out on Facebook or Twitter.

Backyard Seed Savers. This organization’s focus is on organic, non-genetically-modified seeds. The home page of their website——has easy-to-access links to a seed store, a seed exchange, a seed savers community, and a plant and seed information library.

Techniques for successfully harvesting, drying, and storing seeds vary from plant to plant. If you’d like to learn more about the art of seed saving, read the books Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth or The Manual of Seed Saving by Andrea Heistinger, or consult the many resources available at the websites mentioned above.

For gardening-related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our website.

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  • Blog Author

    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

    Nadia Zane

    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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