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Seed swaps, exchanges and sales can help solve sold-out woes

Back in 2021, and even lingering into 2022, there was a shortage of vegetable seed available to gardeners (and even farmers). All sorts of factors led to scarcity, and you could lay blame with the typical, pandemic-related, phrases: “global gardening boom,” “labor shortage” or the dreaded “supply chain disruption.” By the time the seed catalog arrived in the mailbox, it was too late – online purchasing allowed gardeners and farmers alike the opportunity to purchase bulk quantities, prices be damned.

Now that things have started to return to “normal,” we are seeing greater availability. The downtick in gardening interest has probably decreased demand slightly, but not surprisingly, high prices per seed packet remain. By no means am I an economist, but the law of supply and demand doesn’t seem to really be in place here.

I had less trouble finding my tried and true vegetables this winter, although the “Celebrity” tomato, “Mellow Star” shishito pepper and “Bolero” carrots have been scarce to absent online. Fortunately, every spring there seems to be a solution to the “sold out” seed gardening woe: seed swaps, exchanges and sales.

The Animas Valley Grange just held its swap on Saturday, and the Pine River Garden Club will hold theirs March 18 in Bayfield. Sometimes gardeners just buy, or save, too much seed and sharing becomes the best solution. For example, I tried to buy sugar snap peas last year from a reputable seed company and I couldn’t buy a packet (250 seeds), so instead, I had to supersize it to the half-pound. Ironically, the fast food model also works for seeds as it was only about $2 more for 1,000 seeds. What a deal! Now I have an extra 950 seeds to last me until I retire.

Or I share them!

If you want to purchase seeds, CSU Extension (really, The Garden Guys) has that covered as well. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 12 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, will we have our second annual Heritage Seed Sale. We should have more than 40 different vegetable and herb varieties available, including nine different tomatoes, five different lettuces, two peppers (including my favorite, Corno di Toro), and even Hopi blue corn!

If you go

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 12.

WHERE: La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.

COST: All seed packets will be $1 (promise, that’s a great deal).

SOURCE: The Great American Seed Up (Glendale, Arizona) and Pueblo Seed and Food Co. (Cortez).

WHY: These are all open-pollinated seeds you can save from the garden and help stabilize a diverse “seed bank.” We should have over 40 different vegetable and herb varieties to select from!

Educational alert: Heritage seeds is another name for heirloom, which means they have been passed along for generations, and typically were around before the first hybrids came onto the market in 1951. Almost all heirlooms, or heritage, plants are open-pollinated, meaning they are fertilized by pollinators (bees, moths, birds, bats, wind or rain) and produce stable offspring that breed true to type if properly managed. That means there will be consistent uniformity between individuals in the plant population grown from the seeds saved. If you know how to save seed, then there is the potential that you, and your garden, can help stabilize a diverse seed bank in our area. And you may not ever have to buy seeds again.

Hybrids are the result of two plants that have desirable characteristics (for example, an early maturing tomato and another one that has resistance to certain types of fungi) being deliberately crossed to produce a new variety. The biggest difference between hybrids and open-pollinated varieties: Seed saved from hybrids will not grow true-to-type (don’t know what you will get). Not so with open-pollinated types.

In many of our gardens, there is a place for all the seeds – heritage, heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrids, and maybe even a couple of weeds (even you, cute little cheatgrass).

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.