If you’re starting a new garden from scratch, the prospect of collecting all the seeds you’ll need may be daunting. After all, high-quality, heirloom, organic seeds can range from $2 to $20 per packet, depending on the species.
As food shortages loom, many people are searching for ways to grow as much food as possible, but without a big budget. Fortunately, there are some great ways to get your hands on FREE (or almost free) seeds. Read on to learn how!
1. Save Seeds from Rotting Organic Produce
The average tomato has around 200 seeds in it, depending on the size and variety. If you estimate a 75% viability for them, that means that you have the potential for 150 plants grown from a single tomato.
Next time you’re at an organic grocery store or farmer’s market, ask if they have any items that are going bad. They’re usually very generous about donating fruits and vegetables that would otherwise land in the compost heap.
Tomatoes, peppers (both hot and sweet), pumpkins, field cucumbers, squashes, and eggplants are some of the main vegetables whose seeds you can harvest. Additionally, if you live in a fairly hospitable climate, you may also be able to plant fruit seeds and pits from lemons, cherries, peaches, etc.
Save the seeds from these to grow them in your own garden, or swap them with friends. Just keep notes about which varieties you’ve gotten hold of, and keep them separate. That way you have a solid idea of what you’ve grown, and you can keep tabs on what flourishes in your space, and what fails.
Related post: How to Save Your Seeds
2. Seed Libraries
Have you come across seed libraries before? They lend seeds to members in a few different ways. Generally, the way it works is that they “lend” seeds to their members, allowing them to use seeds from the library’s collection. In turn, the growers cultivate plants, then save seeds from their own crop. These are then used to replenish the library.
You can also consider attending seed swaps or exchanges held by these libraries. At these group events, people bring the seeds they have in their own collection, and exchange them with others. Check out Seed Libraries for more information.
3. Trade with Friends/Family
This is something we covered in our Victory garden article a couple of years ago.
Trading seeds with others doesn’t just expand biodiversity—it also allows people to grow far more, for much less. Instead of investing hundreds of dollars in organic, heirloom seed packets, each person can put in a few dollars to get a few different species, and then share the seeds around.
If you’ve saved seeds from your own garden, you know that those varieties thrive in your zone. This means that they’re also likely to grow well in your neighbours’ yards, as well as local community gardens.
Please share generously, and plant an extra row of favourite varieties solely to allow them to go to seed. You can then share them even further, including donating some to your local seed library.
Related post: Victory is Sustainable—Local, Seasonal Food is the Way to Grow
4. Donations from Seed Companies
There are several seed companies and nonprofits that offer free seeds to those in need, especially if they’re involved with community gardens in disadvantaged regions. For example, The Global Seed Network has several worldwide dedicated to building global food security.
Both Seed Savers Exchange and West Coast Seeds have donation programs that you can reach out to.
Additionally, if you’re of Indigenous North American descent, you may be eligible to get free seeds from Native Seeds.
5. Online Resources
A lot of websites provide the opportunity for donations and exchanges. The following are just a few places where you can find some great seeds (or even live plants) for your growing endeavours.
Seed Savers Exchange
Front Porch Forum
Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, Instagram, and Craigslist are also potential sources.
6. Go Foraging!
This is particularly effective if you’re cultivating a medicinal garden. A quick walk in the wild during the late summer and early autumn months can provide you with a startling amount of seeds.
Depending on your location, you can find dozens—if not hundreds—of edible and medicinal species around you. These can range from wild greens like lamb’s quarters and curly dock, to burdock, yarrow, mullein, echinacea, plantain (also edible!), evening primrose, and more.
Remember that you can also transplant various species into your own garden. Just make sure that the land you’re harvesting from doesn’t belong to anyone else, and that the soil type is compatible with the species you’re harvesting.
Related post: 7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden
7. Bulk Food Stores: Not Free, but Super Cheap
Is there a bulk food store near you? Consider that a teaspoon or so of various seeds costs just a couple of pennies, and can help you expand your garden (and those of your friends and neighbours) exponentially.
Coriander, dill, fennel, celery, mustard, poppy, cumin, and anise are commonly available, as are many dried beans, peas, and lentils, if those are of interest to you. A tiny scoop of these seeds might cost you about $0.25 or so, but there might be anywhere from 40–300 seeds in that scoop, depending on the species.
Just be aware that their germination rate might be lower than those from dedicated seed companies. You’ll also have no idea where these seeds originated from, nor which cultivars you may be growing.
That said, if you’re just looking to grow whatever you can, however possible, then just having these plants available to eat and season food with is absolutely okay. And as mentioned, you have the potential to grow a LOT of plants from that simple scoopful. That’s plenty of seeds—and seedlings—to share with your community.
*Note: If you have herbivorous or seed-eating animal companions, you can try growing food for them from various bulk store seeds as well. These stores usually have bulk bird seed, and you’ll be able to grow things like millet, various grasses, buckwheat, flax, and alfalfa for them.
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