Are you looking for free vegetable seeds to save on the cost of starting your garden this year? We’ve come up with a list of 5 different places you can find free or really cheap garden seeds to plant in the garden.
While the cost of a single seed packet is just a few dollars – typically about 3-5 each, When you are buying 10 or 20 packets, that cost can add up fast. And many of us buy more than we need since those seed racks are so tempting! It is easy to get carried away!
Our 5 Favorite Ways to Get Free Seeds
- Your Local Library
- The Free Seed Project
- Seed Swapping Groups
- The SeedSavers Exchange
- Saving Seeds from Your Own Garden
1. Ask If Your Local Library Has a Seed Library
Many local libraries have a checkout process setup for heirloom seeds. Just like you can check out books, this program is used to check out free seeds.
To use the seed library, you will “check out” a seed packet at the beginning of the year. Then grow your own vegetables and save the seeds. After the growing season, you bring back newly harvested seeds from your garden crop.
These local seed library programs were especially popular during the 2020 pandemic. The seeds are free and should grow well in your area. Local groups are popping up all over the country to help novice gardeners learn how to grow their own food. And the seed libraries are helping to alleviate some of the worries about national food shortages and empty grocery shelves.
If you are new to growing a particular crop, the library is also a great resource to get more information. Learn more about germination, growing habits, harvesting, and problem-solving for just about every vegetable.
Using the library seed bank is an excellent way to get free vegetable seeds for your garden and connect with your local community. So definitely check with your local branch to see if they offer a seed checkout program.
Here are a just a few cities that have seed libraries:
2. The Free Seed Project
The Free Seed Project ships garden starter kits to new gardeners and people that cannot afford the cost of seeds.
Each starter kit contains a small amount of 15 different types of seeds. They include fresh greens, vegetables, herbs, and even companion flowers for the bees and butterflies. Some of the seeds you will receive are kale, spinach, basil, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and chives.
Rob Greenfield & The Live Like Ally Foundation created the Free Seed Project to help struggling families grow their own food and become more self-reliant.
They promote organic gardening to teach recipients how to grow their food free from the pesticides and preservatives found in commercial produce. The movement also provides a way for communities to grow and share fresh vegetables to areas that may not have grocery stores or produce stands in their neighborhood.
There is an application process, so if you are new to vegetable gardening or struggling to make ends meet, sign up early to get free seeds for next spring.
3. Seed Swapping Groups
Most gardeners do not use all the seeds in each packet. So why not trade them with other gardeners and get new seeds for your garden. Seed swapping groups were designed for just this purpose. My favorite forum is Garden Web, now run by the Houzz group.
There are thousands of local and national groups where you can trade vegetable seeds. Most groups will have rules about the type of freshness of seeds. For example, the rules for the National Seed Swap Day group are:
- Seed packets must be less than three years old
- List up to 5 packs of seeds you have to trade
- Search the lists & find someone to trade with
- Add a “Swap Complete” once you have finished
There are many groups like this in the Garden Web. You can find local seed swaps, groups that swap specific vegetables, like corn or heirloom tomatoes, herbs, and season-specific seeds like fall harvesting vegetables.
4. The Seedsavers Exchange
Seed exchanges are another popular way to get free seeds to plant in your garden. The Seedsavers Exchange is a non-profit group created to preserve the use of heirloom seeds. The exchange works by allowing gardeners to share their own heirloom varieties with other gardeners.
To use the exchange, register on the site, browse available collections, and request your favorite varieties from each lister. You can request more than one variety from a single lister to limit the costs. The seeds are free, but since they come by mail you will need to pay a small fee for shipping & packaging, typically about $3 – $5.
The goal is after you have grown your crop, you will, in turn, collect seeds, then offer them to other gardeners. This helps to preserve the heirloom variety by creating a renewable source for generating new seeds each year.
Social media is another great way to find seed swaps and seed exchanges. You can even find gardeners willing to share unused seed packets they can’t use or free gardening supplies and plants. Facebook, in particular, has a large number of gardening groups that share free seeds and is a great place to start your search.
5. Saving Seeds From Your Garden
This is by far the easiest way to get free seeds. After your crop has matured, let a few plants go to seed so you will have fresh seeds for next year.
In addition to getting free seeds, there are a few other benefits to saving your own seeds.
- Preserve a specific variety of vegetable you like to grow.
- Help the vegetable adapt to the growing conditions in your yard, which can translate into better yields.
- Share the seeds that grow well in your neighborhood with your local community.
Before saving seeds, there are a few guidelines to follow.
First, make sure it is an heirloom variety. That means it was open-pollinated and will grow true to form. Some hybrids are specialty seeds that will not produce the same crop as the prior year. These seeds are also known as F1 hybrids and were developed in a commercial setting by crossing two different plant varieties.
Harvest only the best, most vigorous plants. After collecting the seeds, allow them to dry out before storing. Store your seeds in small packets and sealed containers to prevent moisture from collecting on the seeds causing mold. Place them in a cool, dry location.
Write the variety name, date, and any growing instructions on each so you will have them for the next year. If you keep your seeds in the garage or attic, be sure to keep them off the ground, so mice and other rodents don’t find them.
Sharing Free Seeds With Your Neighbors
Using seed libraries, exchanges and swaps are all great ways to get free seeds for next year’s vegetable garden. And once the growing season is over, be sure to collect seeds from your favorite plant and offer them to other budding gardeners in your neighborhood.
Seeds are an abundantly renewable resource.
Did you know a single tomato can produce 150 to 300 seeds per fruit? Or that green pepper has from 150 to 200 seeds? If we all share our seeds, there is no reason you should ever need to pay for vegetable seeds again.
If you already grow your own vegetables from seed, start your own community seed swap program or donate to your community seed library. Sharing heirloom seeds with your neighbors keeps the cycle going and encourages everyone to grow their own healthy food.
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