Seed saving, swapping and suppliers

Allotment holders obviously use quite a lot of seeds, so having a variety of sources for them is always useful.  New plot holders may wonder where other folk are getting their seeds from so here are a few pointers.  There are three basic ways of getting seeds:

  • Saving seeds from your own plants
  • Swapping seeds with other gardeners,
  • Buying seeds from shops and seed merchants

Saving your own seed is a great, low cost way of getting seeds for next year.  The important things to remember when saving your own seeds are:

  • Don’t try to save seeds from “F1” hybrids – due to the genetics involved you’ll find that the crops grown next year from saved F1 seeds aren’t likely to be the same as the plants you’ve saved them from this year,
  • Make sure that the seeds are mature before saving them.  How to tell this varies from plant to plant, but usually it means that seed pods and cases are turning dry and brown.  Tying paper (not plastic) bags over seed heads on plants can help catch seeds the become ready when you’re not actually standing there next to the plant!
  • Store saved seeds in a dry, cool (though preferably not frosty) place.  Old manilla envelopes can be cut up and turned into little seed packets which will help stop moisture from rotting seeds.  The moisture retaining gel packs that you get in some consumer goods are also useful for keeping moisture from rotting seeds, especially if you also store the seed packs in tins (which is a good way to stop mice from nibbling through your seed stash!).

Swapping seeds with other gardeners lets you pass on excess seeds (we all buy too many sometimes!) or try different varieties.  The Association sometimes runs seed and plant swapping mornings in the Spring to let members swap their seeds and excess seedlings – any packets of seeds can be donated and/or taken including full or partially used commercial packets, self-saved seeds or old packets that might be out of date.  Folk have also swapped flowers as well as veg!  Other groups in the area such as Transition Stratford also run seed and plant swaps so its worth keeping an eye out for them.

If you do want to buy new seeds there are now a large number of potential sources, ranging from high street shops to specialised mail order companies.  Some useful sources ATAGA members have used in the past are listed below.

  • Local garden centres such as Wyevale, Stratford Garden Centre or Charlecote Garden Store often have special offers, especially in the Autumn when they want to clear out old stock. Sometimes packets of brand name seeds can be picked up for considerably less than half price or at flat rates such as 50p per packet.
  • Cheap veg seeds are sometimes available from high street shops such as The Works, Robert Dyas, Wilkinsons, Poundland or Pound Stretchers.  You don’t necessarily get much choice on varieties, but if you just want “carrots” or “cabbage” they can be a good buy.
  • The main mail order seed companies are Kings, Suttons, Mr Fothergills and Marshalls.  All of these have a large range of different veg (and flower) seeds, and also sell seed potatoes and fruit trees/bushes.  The sometimes run bulk buying offers as well.
  • Some of the smaller Internet/mail order companies that folks on the site have used include The Organic Gardening Catalogue, The Real Seed Catalogue and Victoriana Nursery Gardens.  These companies provide access to more specialist seeds and plants than the mainstream companies – worth a look once you’ve got the basics of veg growing under your belt.

Also consider joining the Heritage Seed Library, run by Garden Organic at Ryton Gardens (just outside Coventry).  The HSL membership gets you some a couple of seed saving newsletters a year and access to their collection of “heirloom” seeds that are no longer available commercially.  Every member gets to select 6 veg varieties each year (plus usually a “bonus” seed pack based on whatever they have an excess of) and these seeds are all “open pollinating” varieties which means that once you’ve grown the plants you can definitely save seeds from.

If you have a favourite source of seeds, why not pop in a comment below?