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Seed Exchange

This page has been translated into Danish by Einar Solbakken:
Danish translation by Excellent Worlds
Estonian translation courtesy of Adrian Pantilimonu

We began this seed exchange program in 1974 as a way for you to send us seeds you collect from your garden or from the wild, in exchange for credit when requesting seeds from us. This exchange has been able to offer the public many valued species that would otherwise be unavailable.

WHAT TO SEND: We are primarily looking for seeds that we do not already distribute, particularly species (i.e. Lilium martagon) and botanical varieties (i.e. Lilium martagon var. album) of ornamental, edible, medicinal, dye and other useful plants. We are also interested in heirloom or traditional open-pollinated vegetable seeds, but we can only use them if you are positive that they have not cross-pollinated, and will come true from seed. When sending vegetable seeds, please tell us how many years you have been growing that particular variety, that you affirm it will come true from seed, and tell us what steps you've taken to make sure it hasn't crossed. If you have seeds that we already distribute, please send us a list before you send any seeds, so we can tell you whether we need them or not. Often we are already well stocked for the year, and it will save you time and effort in collecting and cleaning if we can tell you in advance. All seeds must be well dried, as clean as possible, and absolutely must be properly identified with the correct botanical name, or the correct kind and variety for vegetable seeds.

Mis-identified seed is a serious situation, and we do everything we can to make sure we are offering correctly identified seed. This is why we require you to send us a dried, pressed sample of the plant you are collecting from, the first time you send us the seed. We need a few dried pressed leaves and flowers, OR a good color photo of the plant in bloom. (For vegetables only, we do not require a pressing, but a photo of the plant and the ripe fruit is encouraged). We also need detailed information filled out on the Seed Exchange Data Sheets for each seed you send, so that we can double-check the identification. We need to know the botanical name of the plant, the common name, how you identified the plant, where it was collected, and a full description. Please see the enclosed data sheets - and be sure to xerox more copies of the data sheet as you need them. You only need to send the pressing or photo, and the data sheet information, the first time that you send us a type of seed—no need to repeat it each time the same seed is sent. We cannot stress this enough: the pressing or photo and the data sheet information are REQUIRED. We cannot accept any seeds unless we have this information, and can confirm the correct identification of what is sent. Remember, errors can happen to anyone, anywhere along the line. We have found botanic gardens with incorrect labels on their plants, and sometimes nurseries have misidentified plants. If the mistake isn't caught and corrected, it can spread like ripples in a pond. Unfortunately, we cannot assume that a plant is correct as labeled, no matter where it comes from. We need to check the identification. with botanical reference books and make sure the description given for that species matches the actual appearance of the plant.

This is why we need to have a pressing of the leaves and flowers (or a good photo) plus your own detailed written description of the plant. We need to know where you got the plant; or if it was found it the wild and you identified it yourself, we need to know which reference books and floras you used to make the identification. This information is required from all seed exchangers. There are no exceptions. We have had people complain about mis-identified seed, and yet in the same letter ask if they can send us seed without a pressing or photo. This rule applies across the board. If you can't send a pressing, then at least send a photo. If you can't send either one of those, then don't send that seed.

We absolutely do NOT accept seed saved from F-1 hybrid plants, patented plants, or genetically-engineered plants. Named horticultural varieties (i.e. Achillea 'Cerise Queen') can be sent in some circumstances, but you should check with us first. If in doubt, please write first and ask! Botanical varieties (i.e. Digitalis purpurea alba) may be sent, as long as you are sure they do come true from seed. Do not send seed that you can't identify, or if you're unsure of the correct identification. Don't send seed without a pressing of the leaves and flowers (or a photo of the plant in bloom), the very first time you send it. Do not send seed of threatened or endangered species collected from the wild, and please don't send seed that is short-lived seed (i.e. Abies, Acer, Araucaria, Cedrus, Citrus, Fagus, some Palms, Quercus, etc) unless you check with us first. If you are not sure, remember to write first and ask, before sending the seed.

WHEN AND HOW TO SEND SEED: Seeds may be sent at any time of year, but we can usually only process them for payment between May and December. Between December and the end of April, we are in the spring rush of seed requests, and there is usually no time to re-clean, weigh, test and price seeds sent for exchange. Packages of seeds sent during this period will be acknowledged, so that you know your seeds have reached us, but payment will probably not follow until May. Many people are done collecting in September or October, but send their seeds in January along with a request for seeds they want in trade. This just doesn't work! The best thing is to send us your seeds as soon as you have them harvested, cleaned and dried, and wait until we have sent your credit or check before requesting the seeds you want in exchange. When sending seed, please pack them carefully, in some type of envelope or container that won't break open or leak in shipping. Manila coin envelopes are good for small amounts. If you use regular letter envelopes, please make sure the seams are tight and well sealed. It's good to tape up all the seams, just to make sure, especially if you use regular letter envelopes. If you use plastic ziploc bags, be sure the seed is fully dry. Remember to label each container with the name of the seed. For shipping, the regular US Post Office First Class Mail or Priority Mail is still the best. For larger, heavier packages, UPS is fine (Please e-mail us for the correct delivery address as UPS cannot ship to a P.O. Box), but be sure to tell us how much it cost to ship - this is not marked on the package by UPS, and we want to be sure to reimburse you the full amount. But please do not send anything to us via FedEx! They are never able to deliver here, as we do not have a street address, and it always results in a mess. Your shipping costs will be included when we send your credit or check.

PRICING: We determine the price paid according to the quality, cleanliness and quantity of the seed, based on current market value as closely as possible. We also take into account the estimated popularity of the seed, and how rare or common it is. When the seed arrives, we will clean it further if necessary, and the price will be reduced according to how much time we need to spend in re-cleaning. We then test the germination, and as soon as the test is done, we will send you credit or a check - just let us know which you prefer when you send the seeds. (Seeds that normally require months to germinate will be tested by a quick cut-test, to examine the inner embryos and see if they appear viable, and with tetrazolium.) Any seeds we can't use will be returned to you, if you request this. Seeds with poor germination may be returned, and if there is any doubt about the identification, the seed will be returned. Prices paid now average $5.00 to $20.00 per item for the first year a seed is listed in our catalog. The price for future harvests will be adjusted based on popularity of the item, etc.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have a firm price in mind for your seeds, and do not want us to price them, then you are a vendor, not a Seed Exchanger. Do not send us any seed, but instead send us a list of the items you have to offer, noting quantities available, germination rates and prices, including shipping costs. Then, if we see something we would like, we may make an order to you, just as we would with any other seed company.

The amount of seed needed varies considerably with the size of the seed, its rarity, viability, etc. The quantities listed below are a good general guide to how much to send, based on seed size. If you have something in a quantity much larger or smaller than those suggested below, please contact us first. Remember that one of the major considerations for pricing seed is the quantity available. An item that is easily available by the pound from professional growers will naturally receive a lower price than an item that is only available by the spoonful! We have had people do some odd things over the years, like sending us a tablespoon of cabbage seed and asking $30.00 for it - when that seed is commonly available for about $8.00 per pound. Or, someone will send us a cup worth (say 4 ounces) of an unusual ornamental, and we pay them $20.00 for it. The next year, they send us 3 pounds of that same ornamental, and still expect to be paid $5.00 per ounce for it. However, an item available by the pound will command a lower price, so it would be more like $40.00 per pound ($2.50 per ounce). So keep in mind that the price will be lower if a larger quantity becomes available.



Smaller than poppy seed.............................

1 teaspoon to 3 tablespoons

Poppy seed sized........................................

1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup

Turnip or Cabbage seed sized.....................

2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup

Radish seed sized.......................................

4 tablespoons to 1 cup

Peppercorn sized........................................

1/2 to 2 cups

Sweet Pea or Four O'Clock seed sized.......

1 to 4 cups

Pea sized....................................................

2 to 8 cups

Bean sized and larger..................................

1 to 2 quarts

FUTURE HARVESTS: The first year we list your seed is a trial, to see how popular it is with the public. That will help us more accurately determine the quantity needed in future years, and the price we can pay. We would like to encourage you to concentrate on collecting good quality and quantity on a yearly basis - better to send 5 good species each year, than to send 20 or 30 species only once. Each year in September or October we take an inventory and review the year, and at that time we will try to contact you regarding supplies needed for the coming year. Lately we have not had enough time to contact the collectors before harvest, unfortunately, but we hope to improve this eventually. We're working on a computerized system to handle the seed exchange inventory, which we hope will make things better. Meanwhile, we'll try to let you know in advance if there are any big changes in amounts needed for the next season. At present, please just go ahead and send your seeds as soon as they are harvested, figuring about the same amount as you sent previously.

FEEDBACK IS IMPORTANT: We want the seed exchange to be mutually beneficial, and we need to hear from you to know how well it's working. Please keep us posted on how you feel about the prices we pay (too high, too low, about right?) for the various seeds you send. We would also like to know which of the seeds you collect are abundant and available regularly, which ones are easy to collect and clean, and which ones are rare or difficult to collect and clean. All of this feedback helps us a great deal when we're trying to price the seeds you send, and your input is important.

With the continuing world-wide regulatory crackdown, your seed saving becomes ever more critical. Many rare and endangered species have been preserved by home gardeners, and it looks like this will more often be the case in the future. With botanic gardens and both commercial and non-profit horticultural groups being paralyzed by legislation against "invasive species", one of the best resources for preservation is the home gardener.


WHAT YOU WILL NEED: Most of what you need is probably already in your kitchen. Paper bags of various sizes, heavy-duty plastic bags for berries, strainers and sieves of various sizes, newspapers or old sheets for drying, window screen and hardware cloth (large mesh screen) are useful for large lots, cookie sheets, gloves, small clippers or scissors, felt-tip markers for labeling, a blender or juicer is useful for some berries, and a magnifying glass is often helpful. Excellent, fine-mesh tea strainers are available at health-food stores.

IDENTIFICATION is the first step and single most important aspect of seed collecting. Mis-labeled seed is worse than useless. A single mistake can cause confusion for years, even centuries, if the plant is propagated and distributed under the wrong name. If you have any doubt, check with a trained botanist. I cannot stress this too much. "When in doubt, throw it out!"

For wild plants, a good descriptive flora is a must. Floras which only key out the plants but do not give a description are fine for field use, but you need good, complete species descriptions to check your material against when you return home. For cultivated plants, check the plant against the best description you can find. The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, Hortus III, The Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, and Exotica are useful. Using the common name to look up the botanical name, or comparing it to a pictorial wildflower guide is not adequate identification - all plants must be compared to a botanical description. If you are not willing to take the time to do this, please do not participate in this exchange. It is good practice to take a Voucher Specimen - a sample of flowers and leaves which is pressed between sheets of newspaper and dried. This specimen can always be referred to if there is doubt about the identity of the plant. A pressing of leaves and flowers is also required to be sent to us with the seed, the first time you send it. On the seed collection data sheet, please tell us which flora you used to identify the plant.

WATCH THE PLANT: Observing the plant and its habits will teach more than any book can. Make plans when the plant is in flower. Timing can be important: the period between optimum ripeness and dispersal is often short. Fully ripe seeds will usually be more viable, will stay viable longer, and produce superior plants. But if you wait too long Compositae (Asteraceae) may fly away, berries may be eaten by birds, or the seed may be carried away by insects. Watch the weather; hot or drying winds can cause seed to drop early. Seed will often mature several weeks earlier on a hilltop than at the bottom.

Seed can often be shaken or flailed directly into grocery bags, trays, or onto sheets. Large seed or berries can often be gathered from the ground. Paved areas below cultivated plants can be swept, or wind drifts gathered. With some plants, the first and last seed to fall are of poor quality. Many ingenious methods have been devised to deal with the special problems of different species. The world's supply of certain conifers comes entirely from squirrel caches! (The collectors leave sunflower seeds in exchange) The characteristics of each plant will determine the methods used.

COLLECT FROM A DOZEN PLANTS: It is always best to collect seed from a number of different individuals of the species at hand. This will result in a greater genetic diversity than if seed is collected from only one plant. A common mistake is to collect from only the largest or best-looking specimen in a group, but this is not necessarily selecting for disease or drought resistance. Diversity is the key to adapting to various climates, soils, etc, and to the continued evolution of the plant.

FERN SPORES: When the sori (spore dots) on the undersides of the fronds begin to shed spores, cut the fronds and place loosely in a paper sack in a dry place. Shake the spores off now and then as they dry. Be sure there is plenty of air circulation so that the fronds dry properly and do not get moldy. When the fronds are dry and all of the spores have dropped, sift the spores through a tea strainer or nylon stocking to remove chaff. Only unusual and attractive species should be sent.

CONIFERS: Although it is a common practice to pick cones before they open, this sometimes produces inferior, short-lived seed. Ideally, the seed should be caught as it falls from the cone on sheeting or paved areas, but in practice, the cones can be picked when just beginning to open. The cones should then be dried in the sun or in bags in a dry, airy place till fully open. The seeds should then be shaken out and dried further, and/or the wings rubbed off. Seed at the top and bottom of the cone may stick, but this is usually of low quality. In several species of Pines, the cones do not open on the tree. They must be picked and dried at up to 170 degrees F. till open. In nature this serves to seed the area after a fire.

FLESHY FRUITS AND BERRIES: Pick when as ripe as possible, or if large, some can be gathered from the ground. Watch out for birds or mice that may eat them. Crush in the hands, with a rolling pin, wooden block, or against screen or hardware cloth (large mesh screen). Large amounts of small-seeded berries may be put through a blender, though this may damage the seed. Replacing the blades with a 1 1/2 " square of rubber cut from an old tire will minimize damage. Cover with water and use the lowest speed for 15 - 45 seconds. The fruit-seed mush can be left to ferment for a few days, and the seed will sink to the bottom. Crushed berries can be rubbed in a small cloth sack or in a sieve under running water till most of the pulp is gone, the seed dried, and the remaining skins fanned away.

SEEDS WITH A PAPPUS: Seeds with tufts or hairs attached to carry it on the wind. In the Compositae, the flower-head often opens, is pollinated, closes for a few days while the seed ripens, then opens, releasing it to the wind. Ideally, the heads should be picked on the morning of the day they will open. Large heads, like Inula, can be picked individually as they open. If the weather is calm, and there is not enough wind to disperse the seed, one can wait till the majority of heads on a branch or the whole plant are open before cutting. Two thirds "in feather " is optimum, but the weather may not allow you to wait this long. Cut off each branch carefully and place in a paper bag. The unopened heads will open as they dry and the seed can be shaken to the bottom of the bag.

With some species, the pappus can be easily removed by gently rubbing against screen, or between the hands, and fanning away the hairs. In some kinds, the hairs will mat together, or their removal will damage the seed. In this case, send it as is.

CAPSULES OPENING FROM THE TOP: (Poppy, etc.) These may be harvested when fully ripe and the capsules have opened. The seed can often be shaken directly into a bag to dry and the capsules thrown away. Almost perfectly clean seed is often the result. Species whose capsules do not open at all may be left till fully ripe, and the seed crushed out later.

CAPSULES SPLITTING, OR OPENING FROM THE BASE: (Campanula, Lathyrus, Chieranthus, Viola, etc.) These should be picked just before opening, and placed in a bag to dry and release the seed. Cutting the capsules off with a length of stem will help insure that the seed will fully ripen. Some species (Alstroemeria, Caragana, Geranium, etc.) eject the seed with some force when ripe, and must be dried in paper bags or under screen. Some capsules will open at the touch of the shears to the stem if left too long.

SEED NOT ENCLOSED IN CAPSULES: (Carrot family, Mint family, some Malvaceae, etc.) In many plants, the seed appears not to be enclosed at all, or is only retained in a dry calyx. With many of the carrot family, the seed will remain attached to the umbel for some time after it is ripe. The dry umbels can be cut off and the seed rubbed off later. In many members of the mint family, the spikes should be left till at least two thirds of the seed is ripe before cutting. Watch the plant to determine the best compromise between unripe seed and too much loss due to dispersal.

CLEANING THE SEED: Several sieves, strainers, pieces of window screen or hardware cloth of various sizes of mesh are invaluable. First sift the seed through a screen that will just let it through, removing all pieces of chaff that are larger than the seed. Next, a screen that will just retain the seed will remove all dust, immature seed, etc. Remaining chaff can be winnowed or fanned out. Pour the seed from one bowl to another in a very slight breeze, or while gently blowing through the stream of seed. Round seed can be put in one end of a flat box, then gently tap at an angle, and the seed will roll free.

In most cases, seed that sticks to the capsule is often immature, or not worth the trouble to extract. If the plant is rare, the capsules and any chaff containing stray seed should be scattered where it was collected, so that it may produce new plants.

DRYING THE SEED: In most cases, the dryness of the seed is the key to preserving viability. Proper drying slows the natural processes of respiration, bacterial and fungal growth that reduce viability with time. There are, of course, many species whose seed is killed by drying, such as Citrus, Aleurites, Araucaria, many palms, etc. Because of the problems involved in storing and shipping such seeds, we prefer not to distribute them unless the demand is sufficient to warrant the extra time and effort.

Most seeds should be dried for a week; up to 3 weeks for larger seeds such as beans or if the weather is not favorable. Most are best dried in the sun, stirred occasionally, sunlight having a beneficial effect by destroying bacteria. Try to avoid excessive heat. If it is midsummer, place the seed where it will be shaded at midday, or leave in the sun only a few hours when it is not high in the sky. Light seed that may blow away may be left in open paper bags. Even seed that is collected when quite dry should be dried a few extra days. If the weather is bad, and you must dry indoors, next to a window that might get some sun is good, or in a high place in the room. Moisture seeks the lower, cooler areas of the house. Do not dry in the oven or over a radiator; excessive or prolonged heat will destroy the seed.

Very small seed can be sent in the manila coin envelopes available at stationary stores. Check to see that the corners are well closed. If necessary, fold the seed up in a piece of paper first, or tape the edges closed. Little plastic pill bottles are good if you have a small box to mail them in. Larger lots can be put in plastic bags (be sure the seed is well dried). When sending small amounts in letter packages, wrap well with paper toweling or newspaper - but it's best to use a padded mailer. Only letter packages thinner than 1/2 inch will go through the rollers of the automatic canceling machine. Mark these "Please Hand Stamp".

ISOLATION: Customers in the past have expressed concern that the seed they collect may have crossed with other plants and not come true. For most true species, this should not be a cause of great concern. Though hybrids, common flower and vegetable varieties will often cross with others of the same species or genus, true species collected in the wild do not often cross. Native and naturalized plants will usually come true from seed. Any crosses that occur will be apparent in the population.

When collecting from your garden, a bit more care is needed. Closely related species may cross, so check your garden and the surrounding area. If there are none nearby, chances are the seed will be true to type. Sometimes two closely related species will isolate themselves in time, so the distance is of no consequence.

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