Round Robin Seed Swap

photo of various seed packets from gardener's stash
Share your seeds; Try new ones!

In the days before social media, Internet forums such as GardenWeb had huge swap groups that made it easy to trade seeds, plants, and other garden-related things. As a beginner gardener, I enjoyed joining the many round-robin seed swaps that happened in the winter and early spring. When the big padded envelope full of seed packets arrived in the mail, it was just like Christmas! It was a great way to make sure my ballooning seed stash didn’t go to waste. And I got to try many interesting varieties of plants, some not available at retail or only from expensive, costly mail order.

A round-robin swap starts with people signing up to participate. The list (name and city/town) is published on the forum. Sometimes everyone is asked to mail a set number of seed packets to the leader/initiator; sometimes it’s just stocked from the leader’s personal stash. The leader mails all the seed packets to the first person on the list. That person takes as many packets as she likes and replaces them with the same number of packets from her own stash. She then mails it to the next person on the list, who also takes, replaces, and mails to the next participant. This goes on until everyone gets the “robin” and the last person mails the package back to the original sender.

We all tracked the progress of the “robin” as it flew across the country. Sometimes it got stalled if a participant went on vacation or kept the package too long. But most of time we were thrilled with the robin’s arrival. The package would often grow, as participants would give more than they took. It was all good.

So I’ve decided to revive the Round Robin idea for 2020– in the time of COVID-19 it’s a great way to share seeds without having gatherings. But this will be just for Hamilton gardeners and we’ll deliver, not mail, the “robin”. Here’s how it works

The Robins
There will be three robins.
1. Natives. seeds from Ontario native and near-natives
2. Veggies. seeds from vegetables, herbs, and other edibles
3. General. seeds from everything else (perennials, annuals, shrubs)
• A limit of 16 participants per robin. You can join all three, or two, or just one.
• A maximum of one week at each “stop” means that the robin will complete its round within 16 weeks/4 months (by the end of February at the latest)
• No tree seeds please. No houseplants. Shrubs may be okay– check with me in advance

• Each robin (native, veggie, general) will have no more than 16 stops/participants.
• If demand exceeds supply, I will choose based on proximity to downtown Hamilton, to minimize the travel/delivery time
• To sign up, send an email to and provide your address, phone number, nearest major intersection, and the robin(s) you want to join. The deadline to sign up is Friday October 30. I will publish each robin’s flight path (names of participants in order) using first names only.
• I’ll create a Facebook group for the Round Robin–all participants will be invited to join. As each robin starts and stops along its route, participants are encouraged to post to the Facebook group so we can track its flight.
Rules about seeds
• You may contribute seed that you’ve saved from your own garden or purchased commercial seed
• Seed must be ripe/viable and fresh. “Old” seed may be acceptable if it’s from a species with good long-term viability (such as tomatoes). Seed from previous years must have been properly stored (cool, dry, dark). If in doubt, leave it out.
• All seed must be clean and free of excessive chaff.
• Packets must list the species name (latin binomial), the year it was harvested or purchased, and your name. If you know the source, include it. This is especially important for the native seeds where provenance is important to many gardeners. If it’s commercial seed you can use the envelope it came in.
• Seed packets should contain a reasonable number of seeds– a minimum of fifteen for larger seeds, considerably more for smaller seeds.
• Packets must be securely taped shut to avoid spills

Taking and Giving
• Take no more than you give
• The seeds you give should not substantially duplicate the species/varieties already in the package. For example, if there’s already three Beefsteak Tomatoes, don’t add more Beefsteaks– give a different variety.
• If you want to give more than you take, that’s great. All the seeds that come back to me will be donated to the Hamilton Seed Library
• There’s no need contribute seeds to the first robin– I have enough to get them started. But If you want to contribute seed packets to the original robin, please deliver them to me by October 30: Bev Wagar, 114 Kensington Ave. North.Each robin will start out with 30 – 40 packets. I’d welcome contributions.

Timing and delivery
• You can keep the robin for only one week before delivering it to the next person on the list.
• I will provide you with the address and email of this person so you can coordinate the delivery as you like. Or you can just pop the robin in the person’s mailbox.
• If you are planning on being on vacation when the Robin is likely to arrive, you must inform me so the flight doesn’t stall. Do not deliver the robin to the next person on the list without first confirming that they’re home to receive, give/take, and send it on its way

That’s about it. Feel free to share the link to this page with your gardening friends in Hamilton. Let’s fatten up these robins!

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