Free seeds: planting your garden cheaply

If your goal is to save money by growing vegetables at home, why not try and source some free seeds?  This can help reduce some of the upfront costs of starting your garden.   Seed packets from garden supply stores go for around $1-$2 a pack.  While not prohibitively expensive, the costs can add up if you want a variety of plants in your garden.  Finding a local source for seeds can provide you with a wide range of garden vegetables at a much more affordable cost.

Your local garden store has a ton of seeds, but at $1-2 a bag the costs can add up!

Additionally, many of these options provide a way to meet other local gardeners.  This is great for finding community resources and individuals that have a ton of experience gardening specifically in your region!

Here are a few ways we recommend acquiring free vegetable seeds for your garden:

 

Free seeds from your local library

Your first step should be checking if your local library has a garden seed program.  These programs are growing in popularity across the United States and can be found frequently in high population areas.

The seed sharing concept is pretty straightforward:
  1. The library offers garden seeds to the community.
  2. The community takes the seeds, plants them, and harvests seeds from the mature plants.
  3. After drying and packing the seeds, the community brings them back to the library to replenish the stock.
From the website of one of our local libraries!

We have three libraries that offer this program in our general area.  I called each of them to inquire about their rules and expectations.  Here’s what I learned:

  • The seed programs are honor system driven. There is no requirement to bring back a minimum amount of seeds and no up-front cost or fine for failure to deliver.
  • You don’t need a library card to participate. Every location we called said that their seed library was self-serve.  This may vary location to location, but we found it consistent in our region.  Thus, don’t get discouraged if your city’s library doesn’t offer a service – look to surrounding cities as well!
  • Many of the seeds are donated by larger companies (in the case of two of our libraries, Seeds of Change). You may be able to convince your library to start their own program by offering to contact a seed company on their behalf, or provide them the contact information.

There really aren’t any downsides to participating in one of these programs.  The only real limitation are the seeds available.  If you want to grow cucumbers and the library doesn’t have cucumber seeds, there’s not much you can do about it.

Moreover, most of the libraries have limits on the amount of seeds you can take.  This is totally understandable, as they obviously want to provide seeds to as many people as possible.  I found the general rule of thumb was a limit of one bag (3-10 seeds) for each plant.

My baggies of free garden seeds!

Your mileage may vary by locale, but checking for seeds at your local library is a great way to find free seeds

 

Local gardening clubs and groups

Outside of your local library, finding gardening and seed trading groups in your surrounding area is your next cheapest bet.  Use forums and sites like Facebook, Meetup, or Nextdoor to inquire about any local gardening groups or clubs.

Meetup is a great place to find local hobby groups. One quick search turned up a ton of garden groups in my area!

 

Again, the public library or city community center can be a great resource for this.  Look for mailers from the Parks and Recreation department for classes and seminars sponsored by your city.  These events can provide good networking opportunities to find other interested gardeners in your community.

Costs will vary here.  Some clubs might have dues or an initiation fee.  Additionally, if you live in a small community, these groups may be hard to find or exclusive to join. On the other hand, learning from more experienced gardeners and the availability of community resources can be helpful when you plan to take on larger projects or are looking for feedback.

 

Seed exchanges and seed libraries

If you are close to a large city, search around for a dedicated seed exchange or library.  These organizations are a great way to access a ton of seed varieties and meet up with other growers.  If you are looking for a local seed option with the widest variety of seeds, this is your best bet.

Due to their community driven support, most dedicated seed exchanges and libraries have a membership component.  Dues are highly dependent on the organization’s size and location.  Similarly, many are strict on members making a valid effort to return harvested seeds back to the organization.  Since these exchanges are managed by the community and rarely supplemented from an outside supplier, it is important to restock the seeds you take (or at least make an effort).

Unlike the local library, many seed exchanges change locations on a regular basis.  Be sure to get a general idea of the meeting locations before committing to the group.  While the initial location you meet at might work great for you, they might also meet across town at an inconvenient spot.

Like the local groups option, these libraries usually have a knowledgeable and fiercely passionate group of people running them.  This is another great way to learn from those with more experience.  Even if you have other seed sourcing options available, it is often worth checking out these seed exchanges to meet other local gardeners.

 

Your kitchen

Don’t forget to take advantage of your own kitchen!  Replant green onions from the grocery store to yield a replenishing supply.  Similarly, vegetables like garlic, onion, potatoes, and more are easy to grow from kitchen scraps.

Replanting green onions doesn’t take up much space!

There are a ton of tricks to getting more out of your store-bought veggies.  Leaving leafy greens like lettuce and celery in a bowl of water exposed to sunlight can cause continued leaf and root structure growth for planting.

Be aware though that some plants can take a ton of time to yield any real results.  While it may be common knowledge that you can grow an avocado tree from a leftover pit, it can take half a decade for the new tree to yield any fruit.  Thinking about planting the top of a pineapple?  Plan on two years before you can harvest that single regrown pineapple.  Factoring in the cost of water, it might not be worth the effort.

 

Later steps: save your seeds!

After you start growing vegetables, be sure to save some seeds from your harvest!  You can use these seeds to grow more of the same veggies or participate in seed swap programs.

Check out these guides on drying and prepping seeds for saving:

 

Any other ways to save money on seeds?

Do you have a way to save money and get seeds for free (or close to)?  Definitely let us know by leaving a comment below!

If you are interested in starting your own efficient and money saving garden, check out our build a backyard garden series here!

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