Every year when summer fades and there is nothing left to be canned, I feel a compelling need to obsess over the next year’s garden plans. Like many gardening freaks, I spend countless hours every fall and winter with my graph paper and pencils, plotting and calculating. When Spring returns, I usually know the precise number of seeds to be planted in every bed, there is a plan for every inch of soil and every vegetable variety is carefully researched.
But my Spring planning has been drastically different this year since I began mingling with online seed swappers.
I starting exchanging seeds online after collecting around 100 seeds from a single ridged luffa gourd. I love luffa! (That will definitely be a future blog post title.) I love luffa so much that I would plant 100 luffa vines to cover 2 miles of fence…….if I had 2 miles of fence to cover. But, in reality, no home gardener needs this many luffas. So I decided I would try to trade them. I found a couple of different online seed swapping groups and quickly started dealing luffa seeds. Typically, seed swapper’s posts contain lists of what they have and lists of what they want. After reading through a few “wants” lists, I quickly realized that I had several other hot commodities: red foliated cotton seeds, Asian long beans and Violet’s speckled lima beans. The fun had begun.
Seed swapping was my fall entertainment. Instead of spending hours on end sketching my rows, I was online chatting with other gardeners and working out exchange deals. I was shipping seeds to people all over the country and excitedly waiting for new seed mail. Some days my mailbox was packed full of bubble mailers and fat envelopes; seeds that were carefully packaged and shipped from coast to coast by dirt loving plant nerds like me.
The greatest part about exchanging seeds has been getting to know these people.
Online seed swapping groups are filled with people from all walks of life: from rural farmers to urban gardeners, from those who have acres of vegetables to those who are front yard tilling suburbanites. As diverse as they are, they all have one thing in common–a love for playing in the dirt. If you were to attend a gathering with all of the seed swappers that I have met online, there would not be babble about tv shows, politics, or the other junk that people usually discuss at social events. Instead, you would overhear things like these: “What perennials are you dividing this year?,” “What is your favorite tomato variety?,” “Don’t you just hate squash borers? Devil bugs!” I’m not much of a social butterfly, but that would be a party I would love to attend. The seed exchange crowd is a multifaceted, and highly entertaining group.
Seed swappers fall into many categories among those are Tomato Hoarders, Apocalyptic Seed Storers, Species Collectors, Variety Specific Spokespersons, Sweet Grandmother Flower Lovers, and Overly Excited Hodgepodge Gardeners.
Tomato Hoarders: The seeds that these people have available for trade include well over 20 varieties of tomatoes, usually heirlooms and they are always looking to trade for more tomatoes. There is no limit to the amount of tomato seeds they will hoard. I wonder how these people have room for so many tomatoes. But when they start describing their favorites, I am convinced that I need them all too. Last year I very thoughtfully chose only 3 varieties of tomatoes to grow: San Marzano, Black Cherry and Cherokee Purple. My flats of seedlings were perfectly uniform and had the appearance of a professional nursery. But this year my seedling trays are totally discombobulated with 9 different varieties of tomatoes of varying heights and foliage types. The tomato hoarders have gotten to me. I have no idea where I am going to put all of these plants……..but my caprese salads are going to be phenomenal this year.
Apocalyptic Seed Storers: If there is a natural disaster, World War III, or alien invasions that affect our commercial seed supply, these people will not go hungry. They stock up seeds like I stock up marinara sauce, worrying about how they will feed their family in the event of a food crisis. I am certainly not judging them, many times I have looked at my well stocked seed box and felt like a planner and a survivor. Apocalyptic Storers also seem to enjoy the idea of “sticking it to the man.” Trading seeds often feels like bucking the system, going off the grid, and it carries with it a bit of outlaw allure. In some cases exchange and import of certain seeds can, in fact, be illegal…..extra fun for the Apocalyptic Seed Storers. No law is going to stop them from preparing for the worst.
Species Collectors: These are thorough collectors of their favorite foods or ornamentals. This category is broad and includes many obsessive characters. Among these are Black Flower Emo Gardeners: collectors of all black flowers and plants. I want to slink under their garden gates and sow yellow coreopsis and Shasta daisies amongst their dark gloom. Also included is the Gourd Extraordinaire: compelled to feed their crafty nature in case they ever have time to carve or paint 8472 bottle gourds. Then there are the Bean Fanatics. I once had a guy send me a trade list that included over 50 varieties of beans. Maybe 57 bean soup is his favorite dish! Finally, the most intense collectors, the capsicum/pepper enthusiasts: lovers of spice and salsa, always trying to find the spiciest and most exciting peppers in the world. I suspect that they all have ulcers.
Variety Specific Spokespersons (or would that be spokespeople?): They want to make sure that their favorite plant is grown and enjoyed by everyone everywhere. Occasionally, you can encounter a sales person disguised as Variety Specific Spokesperson. But most of the time they are gardeners so genuinely impressed by a specific plant, they feel responsible for promoting it and convincing everyone to grow it. I have quite a few plants under my grow lights right now that were recommended by this type of seed swapper. I had never heard of Jimmy Nardelo peppers, but the unofficial online Jimmy Nardelo pepper spokesman sold me on them. So now I have 4 little seedlings started. I’m guessing they will be fabulous because if they weren’t, why would he be so passionate about sharing them? I also fall into this category because of my love of Luffa, as previously mentioned. (Previously in this post, in everyday life, on the seed exchange pages, all the time!) I feel like it is my duty to share this plant and tell people how awesome luffa is. I’m the ridged gourd/Luffa aegyptiaca spokeswoman all day, every day.
Sweet Grandmother Flower Lovers: This might be my favorite type of seed swapper. These women love flowers and are making the world prettier by trading massive quantities of flower seeds. If you trade seeds with a Sweet Grandmother Flower Lover you are very likely to also receive a lovely floral themed greeting card with perfectly packaged flower seeds enclosed. Usually, the pretty packages sent by these women include extra baggies of seeds and sweet notes wishing you gardening success and blessings. I have even been sent Christmas cards from these Sweet Grandmother Flower Lovers; one of which included money plant seeds for luck and prosperity in the new year. I would probably never have had a reason to start money plants, but I currently have 2 little seed cells filled with them. They were a Christmas gift so I felt obligated to plant them and I will admit that I’m excited to see how well they do.
Overly Excited Hodgepodge Gardeners: What types of seeds are they interested in? Annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees, anything for the butterflies, rice, barley, whatever you have that is “neat, cool or interesting.” They want it all. They will post a list of what they have to trade and state that they are happy to trade for anything different or fun. These people worry me a bit, I doubt they ever do any garden planning and they probably don’t even own graph paper! I don’t want to think about the disorganized flats of seeds they grow. But I’m sure the butterflies and bees appreciate their patchwork gardens. I appreciate their excitement and acceptance of all things green.
The various members and personalities of the seed exchange groups kept me entertained for months. I traded with them until I acquired more seeds than I could possible plant. And then I kept trading just for fun. Eventually I just had to stop. There was a point in early Winter when I reluctantly quit trading……………until next fall.
When I opened my seed box to get started with this Spring’s seedlings I had to laugh at my ridiculous excess. My stockpile of seeds is currently on par with the Apocalyptic Seed Storers. It is evident by the hodgepodge of seedlings under my grow lights, that I was far too excited about trying new seed varieties while participating in these seed exchanges. I currently have 9 varieties of tomatoes growing and I seem to have developed an obsession with sweet grilling peppers.
I will be checking the seed exchange pages this summer to see everyone’s beautiful gardens. I can’t wait to share this year’s success stories with those plant nerds and gardening freaks and I hope I see many of them posting pictures of glorious Luffa aegyptiaca vines. In the mean time, I’ll be busy tending an insane amount of Spring seedlings, promoting the cultivation of my favorite plants, or shopping for pretty floral themed greeting cards to be used for future seed exchanges.