It may seem the world will never thaw, but gardeners know it’s nearly time to start seeds — which is why hundreds will convene this Saturday at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn for its 10th annual Seed Swap.
Just what it sounds like, a seed swap is a free meet-up where anyone can come with seeds to share — and, like in a garden, everyone leaves with more than they brought. This one, held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Park Slope, will welcome a few hundred gardeners, teachers, farmers and the seed-curious from across the five boroughs and even out of state. They’ll cross-pollinate, exchanging seeds, stories, encouragement and ideas.
Organizer Claudia Joseph has hundreds of seed packs to give away — including city-friendly varieties of lettuce, kale, okra, cilantro, turnips, beets, carrots, cucumbers, hyacinth beans, Job’s tears, amaranth, alpine strawberries, butterfly-friendly wildflower mix and a half-dozen kinds of basil, free for the taking.
A pop-up shop will also offer items like row cover and plant markers, and a few tables will sell seeds, but they’re a far cry from the garden-variety packets found at Home Depot. Instead vendors will include small, independent East Coast outfits like the Hudson Valley Seed Library, Fedco, New Jersey’s Dirt Goddess Super Seeds and Brooklyn’s own Rooftop Ready Seeds.
And sales are just a sideline to the swap. Most attendees will be there to give away favorite seeds that they’ve saved from their own harvests or gotten from friends or farmers — folded into little scraps of paper, they’ll yield crops you won’t find in any seed catalog or farmers market, like an obscure Indian pepper or a little-known Italian endive.
“You wanna bring awesome seeds that are special, contribute something new and different,” says Rooftop Ready’s Zach Pickens, a professional seed saver who has attended other seed swaps, including one organized through Occupy Wall Street and another at the Organic Seed Alliance Conference in Oregon. “I got these really ancient tobaccos and a black kale, really old heirloom strains,” he says. “It was a room full of seed nerds so it was wild.”
Some people even bring cuttings — such as grape vines or even kiwi. “The most startling aspect is the generosity of people when they come to share,” says Joseph.
And so, like fairy-tale stone soup, everyone seems to get more than they give. But the seedless need not stay away. “People get flustered and ask ‘can I come if I don’t have any seeds?’” laughs Joseph. “And we say, ‘of course!’”
Beyond seeds, she’ll have sessions on planting, how to tell a weed from a seedling, examples of starter trays and a presentations on the differences between heirloom, open-pollinated and GMO seeds, plus vermicompost, garden design, hydroponics, permaculture and saving and storing your own seeds. Downstairs, attendees will make seed balls while sipping Shore Soup.
“You get to meet so many people, hear their stories, how to grow a variety, where it came from,” says Pickens. “You can learn a lot. It’s all about openness and keeping these old strains alive by sharing them.”
“Everybody gets excited about the seeds,” says Joseph. “They hold all that potential. This is the happiest event. Seeds are like magic.”