Annual Seed Swap & Gardeners’ Social 2014

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Several years ago I had the idea to set up a Seed Swap on the Isle of Man. I’d heard of similar events in the UK and abroad but as far as I knew, nothing like this had been organised on the island. The idea is simple, show up with seeds you don’t need or want and exchange them for ones you’ll use during the next growing year. It’s a chance to give surplus seeds new life, get a hold of seeds you might be looking for, and since the event is free to attend, to save money.

This year was the third year of our Seed Swap at the Laxey Sailing Club. We already have a core group of folks who come every year but it was fantastic to see a lot of new faces during the afternoon. It was quite a blustery day so it was great to see people making the effort to come out of their warm lounges to brave the gusting wind and spells of rain. I’m sure that the allure of the bar and roaring fire helped!

When it comes to seeds, many gardeners are pack-rats (myself included) and pick up packets throughout the year that they may or may not use. Sadly, the expiration dates on the seeds encourage us to eventually buy them again and old seeds may go to waste. It’s also the case that a single packet of seeds might have far too many seeds for any one gardener to really use up before they start losing viability. When I think about all the seeds we’ve hoarded up over time it really gets me itching to do more regular seed and plant swaps. Every seed should have its day.


Planning our very first seed swap was like diving into the deep end. None of us had ever been to one before and didn’t really have a clue as to how to set it up. Gardeners can be social people but in many cases they can also be solitary and quiet and not ones to haggle and barter over anything. In the end we decided to run an event based on the honor system – visitors come in, organise their seeds into bins labelled with ‘Legumes’, ‘Flowers’, ‘Brassicas’, etc. and then help themselves to new seeds.

This system works for us and in many cases people bring far more seeds, sets, plants, and potatoes than they take away. The first year I took the pile of extra seeds and put it in the communal shed at my allotment and last year we donated the seeds to a homeless charity that grows some of their own veg for meals. This year our extra seeds went to the Childrens’ Centre Community Farm just outside Douglas. It’s a farm that helps troubled and disconnected children to reconnect with nature and farming through growing produce, farm animals, and other fantastic activities and programmes. They were very grateful for the donation and I hope to share some photos of the veg they grow sometime in the summer.

We also always have a raffle to pay for the costs of the event, which include room hire, a liquor license to have the bar open, and printed materials. We ask attendees to bring a raffle prize in lieu of entry fees and I and Brenda from the Douglas allotment make the rounds asking people if they’d like to purchase tickets. At a pound per strip it’s good value and there’s always some fab things to win. This year the most coveted were an apple tree donated by Manx Native Trees Nursery and a Wormery Composter donated by the Department of Infrastructure’s waste management division. Also in the raffle were some pretty tasty (allotment-grown) carrotcake cupcakes made by yours truly.

With taking down email addresses for promo of next year’s event and selling raffle tickets I didn’t have much time to browse for seeds myself. I did find a few packets though including ‘Caribbean Spinach’, another packet of ‘Strawberry Popcorn’, a dwarf kale, and ‘Manx Marvel’, a local tomato variety that I’ve been looking for. It’s been bred for our wet and cool climate and can be grown outdoors. I’ve heard mixed reports about the flavour but I’m willing to give it a go.

My pal Fiona also came along to the event trying to sell off the remainder of her Girlie Gardener stock. I couldn’t resist buying a pair of the Lady Pruners and think they’ll come in handy for jobs that require heavy duty scissors. At £4 they were a pretty good deal and bound to last ages.

I hope everyone who attended enjoyed the atmosphere and conversations and went home with some interesting finds. Our annual Seed Swap is fast becoming a fixture in the gardening year and really helps to sort the last of your seeds out right before the growing year begins in earnest. It’s been proposed to organise a Plant Swap in May time too and it might not be a bad idea to try out. I always have far too many seedlings around that time that I’m always giving away anyway.

I’m curious to know if anyone who reads this has been to a Seed Swap or has organised one themselves. If you have, I’d love to hear of your experience and how the event was organised. I hope that as the years go on that our Isle of Man event becomes bigger and better so any suggestions or ideas would be very much appreciated.

8 Discussion to this post

  1. Dani says:

    Sounds like you all had a lovely afternoon. I've grown strawberry popcorn – the cob is full of popcorn / future seeds, although much smaller than normal popcorn.

  2. ferne says:

    What a wonderful idea! I love your wording, "Every seed should have its day!"

  3. Reifyn says:

    I like the first pic. Those beans are beautiful. They look like something you might get a giant beanstalk out of if you tossed them in the back garden.

  4. This looks so fun! I regularly go to food swaps but so wish we also did a seed swap. If only NY wasn't so far away- ha.

    KK @

  5. CJ says:

    What a brilliant idea, well done you for organising it. Whenever I see the events you go to, I really wish I lived on the Isle of Mann!

  6. The farm museum, where I work saves seeds and sells them. That is about as close as I get to a seed exchange around here. The farm is set up to represent a German/American farm at the date of 1800 so we only have plants that were available to those settlers. Even the chickens are breeds that were at that time. So I am going to be trying some old varieties of things this season. Glad you guy have a meeting where you can swap, that is so neat.

  7. Lorna says:

    How fabulous – Those carrot cake cupcakes look delicious.

  8. This looks like a lovely event, made even better for being organised as a social and with an excellent raffle. Good for you for making it work! Our local transition group had a seed swap a couple of years ago but it was a bit of a bun fight – without the buns! Love the idea of a bar and cake to move things along!!

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