Since 2006, National Seed Swap Day has been celebrated every year on the last Saturday of January. This year's swap, where gardeners come together to trade seeds from their best plants, falls on Jan. 30.

While the practice of saving seeds has all but disappeared from our culture, some passionate gardeners continue to carry on the time-honored and cost-effective tradition. Each year, they collect the seeds from their harvest to grow next year’s crop.

For centuries all across the globe, humans have been exchanging seeds to the betterment of our civilization — and sometimes to the detriment of native ecosystems.

For example, in the 15th century, the Spanish, Italians and Portuguese went in search of spices and that led to the exploration of other continents and the discovery of many important agricultural crops, such as corn and sugar cane.

With the trade of seeds, Europeans could grow plants found in other countries. No longer did they have to wait for the seasonal return of the traders traveling the spice route.

Trading seeds also has its dark side: introduction of new plants that could threaten native ones.

In the early 1900s, the importance of seed sourcing became more well known. Genetic material could be conserved for favorable characteristics and physiological quality of plants and contribute to understanding how plants adapt to and grow in different environments.

Years later, seeds are still critical to humanity.

In 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened on a remote island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole deep inside a mountain. The seed vault holds the world’s largest collection of crops — more than 1 million samples from around the world, with room for more — in an effort to protect diversity and the plant food supply of the world.

The extremely cold climate of this geographic region makes it an ideal location. Seeds are best stored at -.4 Fahrenheit. The permafrost in the region and the extremely thick rock insure the seeds will remain frozen even if power is lost due to either natural or human disasters.

You don’t need a huge vault inside a mountain to save seeds yourself, though. It’s easy to do and is a great way to preserve your flower and vegetable gardens, keep them going from year to year and share them with friends, family and neighbors.

Seed-saving is a rewarding hobby that can save you money and help preserve local flavors.

A good place to start is by reading “The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving.” This is a great resource from the Organic Seed Alliance and Seed Savers Exchange that focuses on vegetable seed varieties. The book provides easy instructions on collecting seeds that are true to type. It also will help you learn about how home gardeners and farmers have saved genetic traits of vegetables over centuries through careful selection and preservation.

Another excellent resource is John Coykendall’s “Preserving our Roots: My Journey to Save Seeds and Stories.” According to Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Coykendall has been preserving the farming heritage of southeastern Louisiana through seeds and stories by making an annual pilgrimage to Washington Parish to record the growing techniques, recipes and oral histories of farmers and gardeners. You can watch a documentary on his story and see why he is so passionate about seed saving at the LPB website with a membership.

In this time of the pandemic, many more people have taken up gardening.

Encourage your gardening neighbors and family to save their seeds and host a swap party. If you haven't saved your own seeds, bring seed envelopes or labels to the party. It is a great way to conserve the biodiversity of plants.

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