Seed swaps

Acknowledgement: A big thanks to the good folk at the Real Seeds company for allowing us to use this content. This content is from the Real Seeds Catalogue website and is published under a Creative Commons licence, so you can copy and distribute it as much as you like - for example at seed-swaps - providing you do not charge for it, or modify it, and that you give Real Seeds credit for writing it.

Why not Start a Seed Circle?

A Seed Circle is a simple idea:  You get together a group of friends or neighbouring allotment holders, and each of you signs up to save seed of one sort of vegetable.

You’ll each get lots of seed when you save your own (far more than one person can use), so at the end of the year you can all swap with each other.

It’s a great way to start seed saving – you’ll all get several types of good seed for free, but each person only has to learn how to grow one sort. And you can help each other learn as you go.

We have prepared an information pack with all you need to get going (online very soon). We hope that by making it easy, and doing it as a group, people will be less inclined to drop out, and you're more likely to get good seed at the end.

All you have to do:

A Beginners Seed-Circle

We're starting with a small, simple seed circle of five people.


What you need:

  • one person to organise the seed circle (you!)
  • four more people to sign up to grow seed as well
  • the handouts here to print out and distribute to each person (coming very soon)
  • a bit of time to occasionally check how people are doing
  • a few simple kitchen implements
  • good quality, real, non-hybrid seed to start with
  • tea and some nice biscuits

It is really good if you organise a get-together occasionally, especially at harvest time, to all have a bit of an inspect of the process and the seed being saved , so you can all learn how to do it together. (hence the tea and biscuits)

Its best if people save seed from a vegetable that they really like, as they will be more fussy about the plants they save from. So if you have someone who is really passionate about corrots, then they're the person to grow carrot seed for your circle.

We're suggesting a few vegetables here that we know are easy to save seed from, and which make lots of seed. You can of course make up your own list too if you prefer.

Each person is to save seed from just one variety. This keeps it simple. To reduce work you need to do to stop things crossing, it can be best if you also only grow for eating that one variety that year.

In our sign-up form for the seed circle, we've actually put space for two vegetables for each person to do - the second one is optional, but seed-saving is such little work that its worth it. You get more seed if both work, and its less of a disaster if one goes wrong.

Suggested Vegetables to Save Seed From:

Special equipment needed: Rubber Bands , colander
Restrictions: Don't let different varieties tangle together, you'll not be sure which flower is which variety.
Minimum Area: One plant is OK, four would be better.

Special Equipment needed : Kitchen Seive , tall jam-jar
Restrictions: None.
Minimum Area: One plant

Sweet Pepper or chilli
Special Equipment needed: Greenhouse/Polytunnel, cheap pair of tights, sewing machine
Restrictions: Either grow just ONE variety, or you'll need to bag individual flowers to stop them crossing.
Minimum Area: One plant

Special Equipment needed: none
Minimum Area: 8 plants

Special Equipment needed : tall canes for support, string, two buckets.
Restrictions: Don't grow more than one variety for seed, they'll cross really easily.
Minimum Area: 20 plants minimum, yes this is a big bed - but will give you enough seed for several hundred packets and it keeps for years and years.
When: You get the seed the next year. Sow in summer, flowers next spring, seed next summer/autumn.

Special Equipment needed : spoon
Minimum Area: One plant will give enough seed, five would be better.

Special Equipment needed: Large jam-jar, bucket. (Greenhouse/Polytunnel helps)
Minimum Area: One plant will give enough seed, three would be better to choose the best plant from.

Special Equipment needed: Two buckets
Minimum Area: Set aside 2 plants for each person in your circle.

Special Equipment needed: Two buckets
Minimum Area: Set aside 3 plants for each person in your circle.

Restrictions: Only grow 1 variety. You need to hunt down and pull up any nearby Queen Anne's Lace (= wild carrot).
Minimum Area: 30 plants minimum, but will give you lots of seed.
When: You get the seed the next year. Sow in summer, flowers next spring, seed next summer/autumn.

Processing- ALL SEEDS
In addition, to dry your seed, you'll all need access to an oven, a baking tray, some rice, a clean dry jam-jar, and some small bags made from a pair of tights. And some plastic baggies to store the dried seed in for distribution.

The person organising the seed-circle can do the drying if they like at their house, it is more efficient that way - only one person has to bake the rice, make little baggies etc.


Let us know how you're getting on!

We're really excited about the idea of seed-circles, and are rather pleased
with ourselves for having come up with it, in fact.
So we'd really like to know if you start one.

Drop us an email with the name of your group, saying where you are and what you're saving seed of.
We'll make a list and put them on the web, with a contact number if you like.
We can't promise to answer every email - we get hundreds every day - but we do enjoy hearing from you.

Moving on - wider circles

The benefit of saving seeds in a group really increases with larger groups.
If you could get 12 people in your circle each saving 2 different things,
that's 24 packets each, for just a little work.

In fact its far better than that because your seed will be good for three years,
so you can keep some for the next two years and all grow something different in the next season.

By the third year, you'll all get 72 different packets of seed,
although only saving seed from 2 vegetables.

Now, the average request from us is only 15 packets.
Not one of you would really need to buy seed ever again.

Of course, this only works because this is all real, open-pollinated seed. You can't do this with hybrid seed.

Funny how the seed companies are so keen to sell you hybrid seed, isn't it?

Happy seedsaving! Kate & Ben (

Related references

The following books are available to purchase from, they also provide amazing open-pollinated seeds.

"Back Garden Seedsaving" by Sue Stickland (ISBN 1899233091) is an excellent reference with a good intro to seedsaving plus details about each individual crop.

"Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth. (ISBN 1882424581) tells you simply and clearly what you need to do to save seed of any veg you care to mention using materials you have at home.

"The Seed Savers Handbook" Jeremy Cherfas, (Grover Books, 1996) is also good and also talks in more detail about the reasons that you might want to save your own seeds.

"Breed your own Vegetable Varieties" by Carol Deppe ( Chelsea Green Pub Co; ISBN: 1890132721) is a good introduction to vegetable breeding for the interested amateur. Until 50 years ago, all gardeners were plant breeders - it's not difficult, you just need to know how to do it, and the tradition has been lost. This book will give you the basics, and then if you're interested, the nitty-gritty too.