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The Recorder - Seeds are meant for swapping

Editor’s note: Smith College’s annual Bulb Show, which was featured in last week’s Between the Rows column, has been canceled as a precaution to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Thirteen years ago, Melinda McCreven wanted to attend a seed swap. When she could not find one nearby, she put out the word that she was holding a seed swap. One of the responders said a seed swap was a great antidote to cabin fever. And so, the Cabin Fever Seed Swap was launched.

All kinds of seeds for swapping are brought to this jolly event every year. Some seed swappers are also seed savers. They collect ripened seeds from some of the plants in the garden whether vegetables or flowers. Gardeners collect those seeds and put them in small labeled envelopes.

Some seed savers bring bowls of large saved seeds, like different beans and squashes.

Other gardeners have leftover seeds still in their packets that they did not plant. Some even bring old seed packets, full of unused seeds.

Recently, McCreven brought a tin of big sunflower seeds to this year’s Cabin Fever Seed Swap. At the event, McCreven reminded me that I, as a Recorder columnist, awarded her a First Prize Blue Ribbon for her sunflowers in the first Sunflower Contest held in the Energy Park many years ago. She also won second prize for her sunflower the following year. The sunflower contest only went on for one more year after that, and I no longer remember any of the winners but they taught me about the pride gardeners had in their beautiful sunflowers, on tall stems or in charming bouquets.

McCreven is a horticultural therapist. When not arranging the seed swap, she works with children and flowers in many ways. Last year, she made a sunflower house at Just Roots for children to play in. She also gets calls from nursing homes who want her to plant and arrange flowers for residents.

In addition to saving seeds and creating art with sunflowers, she works with six varieties of willow to make sculptures. I am looking forward to a tour of those willow sculptures in her back yard once the season has progressed a little bit more.

Another gardener, Andrea O’Brien, has been a part of the Cabin Fever Seed Swap for three years, now. She is a farmer and a wife to farmer Ed O’Brien. Their farm in Orange has 100 cows, but only 40 are milking at any one time. Andrea is up at 4 a.m. daily to help with the cows, but she also cares for her own two acres of mixed vegetables.

“I sell butternut squash by the bushel,” she said. She also sells fresh eggs and offers 20 week CSA shares to her customers.

O’Brien offers a seed swap at the farm annually. This year, it will be held on Sept. 20. There is a tomato-tasting event and a tomato seed swap. That is another occasion that sounds like a lot of fun, and a chance to try out some interesting heirloom tomatoes.

This year, she brought bean and squash seeds. “I bring the seeds of large vegetables because that is most of what I sell,” she said.

Danny Botkin, of Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, brought lots of unfamiliar heirloom bean seeds. Danny likes sharing his seeds and his knowledge. For nearly 20 years, Botkin has been teaching others about growing food. He sometimes works with young gardeners from World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming, known as WOOFers. He also occasionally holds workshops; he is always teaching others about gardening/farming techniques for the health of gardeners and the land.

At the swap, I was thrilled with my selection of unusual and familiar-to-me seeds. I have packets of lettuce, radishes, Ronde de Nice Zucchini, Captain Kopeykin tomato, scarlet runner beans, Sugar Magnolia peas with a purple pod, Blue Lake pole beans (it seems very hard to find pole beans these days) zinnias, fragrant sweet peas, calendula and cosmos.

This year, I have chosen a garden space for companionable perennials and annuals that will attract pollinators. I am also counting on this arrangement to provide me with flowers for bouquets.

The Greenfield Public Library currently has another seed swap scheduled April 22 (although it might be canceled).

Assuming it’s still on, there is time to sign up at the circulation desk before April 1 to join the fun. Swappers are asked to bring 25 to 30 seed packets to the Library by April 15. These packets can be homemade and well labeled packets that are just holding a few seeds like beans or squash. These may be leftover seeds from last year that you collected from your own garden, or leftover seeds from last year, or this year.

On Earth Day, April 22, stop by the library and pick up 25 or more packets of seeds from the swap. There may be surprises.

Two summers ago my husband and I visited the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. This organization, created in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, was to preserve heirloom seeds that would be available to everyone. Nowadays, we see seed packets and plants that have been patented. All well and good, but we need to protect heirloom seeds. In fact, the Seed Savers Exchange has stored some seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which is the ultimate protection of seeds in case of disaster.

I like to think positively about the future, but it is not a bad idea to hedge our bets and save seeds. Have fun, and I hope you grow a beautiful and delicious garden in the future.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder.com.

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