Growing your own food can not only help you to significantly reduce your carbon footprint and save quite a bit of money each year but can also be great fun. Equally, especially if you’re starting out with an allotment or decent-sized vegetable garden, you’ll probably be needing a surprising number of seeds to offer as much variety in your diet and year-round food as possible.
Even if you don’t mind all that initial investment it’s always nice to get something for free and so today we’re going to look at ways in which you can actually get free seeds to help kick-start your vegetable-gardening fantasies.
Save Seeds From Your Kitchen
One of the easiest ways to get free seeds for your garden is to consider saving the seeds you naturally end up with when preparing vegetables you have bought. For example pumpkins, courgettes and a range of squashes are often filled to bursting with seeds which need to be removed before cooking. Why not simply keep some in a small tray on your windowsill so they can dry out properly and then save them in brown paper bags until the planting season is upon you?
Other examples of free seeds from your kitchen can include peppers, tomatoes and beans. I even have a tangerine tree grown from seed though it’ll be some years before there’s any chance of getting edible fruit off it.
Get Free Seeds From Your Gardening Friends
On the whole gardeners are a friendly bunch and are more than willing to give away unwanted seeds or even seedlings themselves. By joining your local gardening or allotment association you’ll come into contact with plenty of like-minded individuals on a regular basis, many of whom may have freebies available.
Indeed this year a decent percentage of the food that we have grown has all been from other people’s cast-offs. Many passionate vegetable-growers deliberately plant more food than they need incase the seeds don’t germinate properly and then find in a good year that they have far too many vegetable plants to use!
Just this year I’ve had leeks, cabbages, chard, tomatoes and courgette plants or seeds all given to me by fellow growers who otherwise would simply have thrown away their excess.
Get Free Seeds From Charities
A number of pro-gardening charities exist. These range from those wanting to encourage greener living to those who want to make local areas more attractive and a surprising number of these give out packets of free seeds to anyone with the motivation to enquire.
While giving away free seeds is the main function of a number of charities on the whole these offerings tend to be “one-offs” to mark a special occasion or to promote a special event so it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open. As you clearly have access to the internet, bookmark possible charity websites that you find and/or add your email address to their mailing list so that you’ll be first in line when some free seeds become available.
Seed Savers is an example of a charity that exists to give out free seeds to non-profit community projects in exchange for a $10 donation to cover their shipping costs. Most excitingly these aren’t just any old seeds but are heirloon/heritage seeds of rare, unusual and old-fashioned varieties rarely seen in gardens these days. In this way anyone interested in a community-based scheme can get a head start to helping others with a passion for gardening and organic produce.
Free Plant has an interesting concept though how long it will survive is anyone’s guess. In short they give away free plants to anyone in the world – all you need to do is to decide what you’d like to receive and then fill in their request form. It seems that your name then goes into a hat and their software then picks out the lucky recipients and your plants are sent out to you.
So how does the Free Plant site make ends meet? They claim that thanks to advertisers on their site and from donations by users they are able to distribute these free plants. I suppose as you don’t need to hand over any money at all to make a request this really is a risk-free offer though I would be interested to hear any feedback from people who have used this service. You know what they say about things that sound too good to be true 😉
The Dinner Garden is another non-profit aiming to help families grow their own fruit and vegetables, save money and become self-sufficient. All you need to do is to fill in their form to get on their waiting list for free seeds. Just two warnings for you: firstly the waiting list is long so may have to wait literally months before receiving your seeds and secondly this offer is only available to those living in the US.
Lastly the America The Beautiful Fund rescues unwanted seeds from going to landfill and then offers these up to members of the public so long as they are willing to cover the postage costs. At the time of writing it was possible to get 100 packets of free seeds in exchange for $14.95 to cover their basic costs which is a significant saving. However unlike many of the other charities giving away free seeds there is an application process to gain access where you need to write them a letter stating what you hope to do with the seeds.
Free Seed Contests And Competitions
Sometimes it’s possible to find companies giving away free seeds in contests or for completing a certain action. For example I recently found a company giving away a free packet of seeds if you “liked” their Facebook page. Another great example of this principle in action is the Vegetable Seeds website which will send you vouchers to redeem against seeds of your choice from their catalog if you either link your existing website to theirs or create your own free blog at their Veg Blogs site.
Rather like the charity seed giveaways these can come and go so there is really no central resource for finding free seeds in this way. You either need to be persist, searching Google on a regular basis for the latest free seed contests or subscribe to the various freebie sites which are constantly updated with new competitions and free gifts.
Possibly one of the easiest and most certain ways to get your hands on some free seeds is to use the various freecycling websites that we covered here. Registering for these sites takes a matter of minutes and then you’ll find a constantly-updated list of a huge number of products – including free seeds and seedlings – that are available for anyone willing to go and pick them up (or pay the postage in some cases).
Free Seed Exchanges
By now you’ve probably got your hands on a variety of free seeds so that you can grow your own vegetables but there is one more trick worth knowing about – and that’s the wonderful world of seed exchanges.
Just as they sound, seed exchanges allow you to swap seeds with other gardeners and so end up with a wider selection of free seeds as a result. This can be particularly useful if you end up with hundreds of a certain type of seed or if you’ve been saving seeds from your garden and are now keen to exchange some for new varieties that you haven’t yet tried. In other words free seed exchanges are all about increasing the diversity of the seeds you have rather than just the numbers.
There are a surprising number of seed exchanges going on all round the world though they differ greatly in how they’re organized and how many participants their are. As an example some areas have physical seed exchange days where you can go along and swap seeds with other people in person. Online there are dozens of websites to facilitate the exchange of free seeds but many of them are pretty under populated. After all if you’re going to exchange seeds you’re going to want to go to the places where there are plenty of other people if you’re going to get the best possible range of seed swaps.
Here are a few popular seed exchanges well worth looking into if you’re serious about getting into free seed swapping:
The Seed Swappers site operates via a seed bank. You can surf through their detailed and regularly-updated listings of seeds currently available for exchange at their seed bank. A reasonable level of detail about their seeds is provided such as the variety, number of seeds and the sow-by date.
When you find some seeds you like the look of you send Seed Swappers an email stating what you would like and what you have to offer in exchange. If your seed exchange is agreed you simply post your unwanted seeds off to them, together with a pre-addressed, stamped envelope so they can return to you the seeds that you requested.
Feedback from users is very positive and at the time of writing the site is undergoing a “revamp” so may not exactly match the screenshot image shown.
In contrast to Seed Swappers where all trades go through the seed bank and must be approved by the site owner Seed Swaps is far more a peer-to-peer experience. Think of it like a dating site for gardeners and you’ll be getting closer to the idea.
Sign up for a free account and then list the seeds you have available. Browse through the listings of free seeds for exchange and when you find some seeds you like then “make an offer” by suggesting seeds from your account that the other party may be interested in.
Seed Swaps makes it easy to approve or decline swaps when you’re approached and members can even leave feedback about their exchange to make it easier to ensure you are only dealing with reliable, honest individuals and aren’t sending off free seeds here, there and everywhere only to get nothing back in exchange.
Garden Swap Shop is an online exchange site rather like Seed Swaps though focused on a UK user base. Furthermore it’s not just free vegetable seeds you can get here but a whole range of seeds and even live plants and garden equipment. Users of the site have the option to either make exchanges to get free seeds or in some cases to purchase seeds outright if they have nothing available to swap.
We particularly liked the way in which users listing items available can make suggestions as to what they would like to receive in exchange therefore making arranging seed exchanges far simpler and more successful as you can be sure you’re not offering them some seeds they’re not interested in or already have.
Garden Swap Shop seems to have a decent number of users with new listings being added regularly though we did encounter a small degree of spam on the site which is unfortunate. Having said that like the best seed exchange sites there are user ratings so it is reasonably simple to ensure you’re dealing only with honest swappers thus reducing your risk. For anyone based in the UK and interested in getting hold of some free seeds – or even other garden equipment – this site seems well worth a visit.
Know of any other useful resources for getting free seeds? Have you tested out any of the resources listed above? If so, please leave a comment below with your experiences so we can all benefit from your knowledge.