What to Expect at a Seed Swap

What to Expect at a Seed Swap

This past Sunday, I had the privileged of attending my very first seed swap event – the Central Michigan Seed Swap. A big shootout to Ben Cohen of Small House Farm. He did a fanatic job putting together and organizing the event.

Welcome to the Central Michigan Seed Swap!!!!
A shot of the seed swap. People are excited about swapping seeds.
Creative 360 art center in Midland hosted the seed swap.

Brief Summary of the Seed Swap

The Central Michigan Seed Swap took place at an art center in Midland, Michigan. Over 250 people made an appearance during the 5 hour long event. Not only were there seeds to swap, there was a community seed table to grab some free seeds from, there were also tables set up with local businesses, and there were speakers on various topics.

One of the many tables set up with information on different seeds, gardening and food in general topics.

What to Expect at a Seed Swap

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. I decided to write this post to help understand what goes on at a seed swap and why a novice, beginner gardener, or someone who hasn’t even started yet would benefit from attending one.

Free seeds at the community seed table. Many of these seeds were donated for the event. In future years, they hope to have more locally sourced seed or even all!

Variety of Seeds

Obviously. But what you are going to see will amaze you. Newbies, this is a great way to be introduced to the vast amount of variety of seeds that are out there. It’s one thing to see them in a seed catalog. That is amazing on it’s own. When you seem in person, you really get a sense for what it out there. And a seed swap is only a fraction of that! Yeah it can be overwhelming and a lot of the seed names may be foreign to you. I would hope that for the novice this is a great way to get excited to learn. Don’t be overwhelmed with what you have to learn but be excited that there is so much available for you to learn. When I first started watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats show, there was a ton I didn’t know about cooking and the art therefore. He taught me so much that I could not get enough. I hope that is what everyone can experience by just seeing the seeds at a swap.

Look how beautiful seeds can be.

The Passion of Seed Savers

If you met Ben Cohen and heard him talk about seeds and you too didn’t instantly develop a passion for seeds that I would have to check your pulse! Each seed swap is full of people who are passionate and excited. For me, I really feed off people like that. It’s get me excited. Just being there I had tons of new ideas for the blog and the pea project. Just going to a swap is going to get your juices going.

Ben Cohen giving a passionate talk on seed saving communities. He did a fantastic job.

Ben Cohen did the final talk of the afternoon. In the talk he mentioned the Thorburn’s Terra Cotta Tomato. When he said he had seeds available, one of the members of the audience immediately sprang from her chair to go and get some seed. That is how excited people get about seeds! It is not just the seed of course, but the end result, in this case a very tasty tomato.


Not all seed swaps may have this, but the Central Michigan Swap had speakers doing workshops. This is a great way to learn. One piece of advice, don’t feel bad if you do not all the lingo. I listen to a talk on beekepeeing. A lot of the things she talked about I wasn’t familiar with, like parts of a bee hive. And that’s ok. Don’t feel like you are inferior to the others in the room, especially those asking lingo-heavy questions. Gleen whatever information you can get. Sometimes I use these kinds of talks as reason to do more research. I don’t feel like I must understand everything that is being said. For example, from a talk I listened to on soil health, I learned that the speaker sprinkled azomite around his bush bean plants. He said that his plants produced all the way to the first frost. Bush beans tend to peter out after a while, so to keep them producing beans longer is amazing. I looked it up on Amazon and found the product. I will now consider buying it and trying it on my bean crops. I may not have understood everything in his talk but now I have a new piece of information to work with.

One of the talks that took place in the basement. This one was on saving squash seeds, done by Tomac Farm out of Chesaning, Michigan.


I think most people like a good story. We go to the movies. We read books. We watch TV. All hoping that the stories of those formats will entertain us. The story of a seed can be entertaining. Hearing about the history, how a family found a rare seed in a cooler (full of seeds) that couldn’t be found in any seed catalog since the 1800s. Or how some monks in Michigan are growing bean seeds that originally came from the last family living in Smokey Mountain National Park. I find myself entertained by these stories and would love to hear more. The best part is if you take some of those seeds with a history, you can grow that history and become part of the story. Now how cool is that!

The Seeds I Got

I hope that you interest in growing seeds has inceased, even a little from reading what I have written so far. Now I want to share with you my excitement for the seeds that I got at the swap. Here is the list of the seeds and links to more info about each one. If have any good local sources for any of these varieties, leave a comment below.

Bear Island Chippewa Corn
There was a guy at the swap with a huge container of these colorful corn kernels. My wife talked to the guy for a little bit and we got some of the seed. It is a beautiful corn variety of multiple colors. It had been grown on an island in Minnesota. This particular seed was grown in Michigan. It has adapted to doing well in our growing region. I have more seed than I probably need this year, so some to share!!!!

Turkey Craw Beans
Interesting name for a bean seed. Story goes the original seed said to have been found in a wild turkey’s craw! How fun! The seeds are brown with litter brown flecks. You can grow the beans for green beans or wait for them to fatten up and eat the beans within. You can wait until those beans dry out or eat them as fresh beans, which you rarely ever see in stores. When fresh, they have a well fresh taste. You’ll have to grow them to find out! You can get seed from Seed Savers Exchange. Turkey Craw is also part of the Slow Fod USA Ark of Taste. These are rare varieties that are known for being the best of the best in terms of taste.

Burpee Golden Beets
My oldest daughter is a huge fan of beets. She will eat them raw from the garden. She saw these seeds at the community seed table at the swap and had to have them. They are an heirloom variety that is gold in color and available from Burpee, which is a seed company most people are familiar with. Gold beets tend to be sweeter and milder than your dark red beets that most people know of.

Another must have for my daughter. She loves butterflies. Milkweed is the food for the Monarch Butterfly. So she loves milkweed. Gotta plant some for her at our new home.

One of my best friends had a beautiful display of Zinnis growing at his house. Definitely jealous. I picked up a bag full of Zinnia seeds.

Giant Sunflower
I love me some sunflowers. Giant sunflowers? Sounds great to me, even though I don’t know the exact variety. I have always wanted a big patch of sunflowers but every year I am always too busy with the vegetable gardening to get them planted in time. Hopefully this is the year.

Easter Egg Radish Blend
My youngest daughter loves radishes. Which is strange because it is hard to get her to eat most vegetables. I think the bright color makes her think fruit. I had her select these off the table. This is a blend of different colored radishes from Botanical Interests. Whole Foods Market carries Easter egg radishes (usually grown by Cal-Organic) through much of the year, so they are a little more mainstream.

The Peas

Of course it wouldn’t be the pea project without some pea seeds, right? I was able to pick up 4 varieties at the swap, that I did not already have. For each variety I list where you can get seed. Again, if you know of some better sources, or local companies providing these seeds feel free to share that info in the comment section below.

Oregon Trial Shelling Peas
This variety is a compact type, which means it doesn’t grow very tall, only to 24 inches. Good choice for the kids to pick (and my kids love shelling peas). The nice thing about this variety is that from each node it produce 2 pods of peas. This seed is available from Seeds of Change.

Wild Pea of Umbria
I am super excited about this hard to come by variety. It has been recognized by Italian Slow Food Committee as a national heritage variety. I read one person online say that the stalks of this variety are strong and the plants need less support. A good thing! They also are pretty with their pink-purple flowers.

This pea is considering a soup pea. Which means it is not a sweet pea and is best for soups. John from Sherck Seeds in Indiana says that “The flavor is rich and more like a fava bean than a soup pea.”. I like rich flavors. Looking forward to growing this variety out and saving seeds form it.

Sugar Lace II Peas
A snap pea variety that is called a semi-leafless variety. I have also heard of these varieties called hyper-tendrils. It means tehy produce more tendrils and less leaves than the average plants. I had great success last yer growing two different hyper-tendril variitiesthe Spring Blush and Magnolia Blossom. My daughters liked eating the tendrils right out of the garden. Online you can get seed from Pinetree Garden Seeds.

Sugar Sprint Snap Peas
Last, but not least, the Sugar Sprint Snap pea. These snap pea are known for being string-less and heat tolerant. Another fine addition (I hope) to my collection Seed is available from Urban Farmer.