Seed and Plant Shares and Swaps

Possibly one of the best aspects of a circular economy model is that it relies less on purchasing things from a major corporation or unknown 3rd party and more on meeting needs within our local communities. We touched on this earlier in the year, when we discussed Buy Nothing groups, clothing swaps, etc. and the major concept here is that we have the power to create an economic network at a small scale with real impact in our own community.

In our current economic model, when we need something, we go to the store or online and buy it. But, with a little planning, we don’t have to do this. We can utilize local resources, whether that means buying locally and keeping our money in our community, producing our own, or finding neighbors who are willing to share.

For example, if you are planning to garden next year, consider alternative ways to get seeds. If you have plants that were particularly successful this year, you might consider saving some seeds from that plant so that you can grow it again next year. You might also visit the free Seed Library at the Talbot County Free Library; yes, they have seed libraries at both the Easton and St. Michaels locations! This is a great way to find a new variety of something to try and you can also donate your own seeds. You might even be able to find a seed swap, where other growers have saved their best seeds and brought them to share and get some new varieties of plants from other like minded growers (Looking for a local gardening or seed swap group is a good place to start!).

Later in the spring, if you have specific plants you weren’t able to find or had trouble with getting the seeds to germinate, you might be able to purchase plant starts from your local farmers at a farmers market. This is a great way to get plants that others have likely been growing successfully in your area and can fill any gaps that might exist in your garden.

The Seed Library inside the Talbot County Free Library Easton branch.

Of course it’s easy to just walk into Lowe’s and grab whatever seeds or starts you want but those items have a larger carbon footprint than items you can buy locally and they might not grow well in our specific region. Here in Maryland, we tend to see a lot of plant disease due to our warm, wet summers. However, local growers know this and often grow disease resistant varieties that do well in our specific region – chain stores are more likely to have the same selection of seeds and plants across their territory with little thought for disease or regional variation.

And if growing food isn’t your thing, you can also source plants for landscaping in this way. 

Here at the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center, we are all about native plants. Yes, our focus is on the Chesapeake Bay but a healthy land based ecosystem can also promote healthy aquatic ecosystems. Native plants provide many ecosystem services, including doing a better job at preventing erosion, reducing runoff, and supporting more animals and insects than non-native ornamentals.

Partridge Pea is an easy plant to collect seed pods from and attracts a variety of pollinators and birds.

One way to source native plants is to identify native plants growing in the natural spaces you visit and save their seeds. You might be able to ask friends and neighbors who are growing native plants that you admire if you can harvest some of the seeds in order to propagate. Always be sure to get permission before harvesting on private land. If harvesting on public land you’ll need to check to see if seed harvesting is allowed beforehand. However, you may be able to harvest along field and path edges. It’s also best to harvest from plants you have observed over an extended period so that you can confirm the species and determine if the plants are healthy and what their preferred growing conditions are. If you do harvest from wild plants, be sure to harvest lightly and take only what you need. Those seeds are food for a variety of animals and are necessary for the plants you are admiring to continue existing in that space. Click here for a great resource from a local Master Gardener if you are interested in harvesting seeds.

One thing to be aware of with growing native plants from seed is that they likely will need to be cold stratified. This means they need to spend some time at or near freezing temperatures before they will be able to germinate. There are lots of helpful guides on how to cold stratify seeds in your refrigerator or how to winter sow your seeds to ensure successful germination and growth in the spring.

Growing your own native plants can take some extra time but you know exactly what you’re planting; too often we hear about people trying to plant natives and purchasing from nurseries, only to find out later that the plant is a non-native version (this seems to be especially common with Beautyberry so beware). If harvesting seeds from a nearby area, you also know that the plant is likely to do well as long as conditions are similar, since it’s already growing successfully in your climate.

This is just one set of examples on how to participate in a circular economy model through the lens of saving and sharing seeds and plants. 

If this is something you’re interested in, we hope to hold a seed and plant swap here at Phillips Wharf next spring, so keep an eye out for that event (we’ll share the event info in a future issue of the Heron Herald).

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