Thursday | November 23, 2017
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Know some seed exchange etiquette

By Russell T. Nagata

University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Komohana Research and Extension Center, Hilo

Hawaii is known as a melting pot for cultures, people and food.

As each immigrant population made its way to island shores, the people brought seeds and plants of the crops they were familiar with and used in their daily existence. These plants were grown in their gardens and farms, and allowed to naturalize into the landscape.

Today we recognize many of these plants from breadfruit, mangos, citrus, banana, vegetables, and many of the food and landscape plants we used today.

These earlier farmers and gardeners from around the globe saved seeds from their best varieties to continue that lineage in Hawaii. From these early periods, it was common to exchange seeds with neighbors, relatives and coworkers. Whether it was in an ahupua‘a, plantation camp, or developing towns, seeds exchanged hands due to the need to grow food for survival.

While personal seed exchanges still occur, as when I give and receive seeds from my brothers, there is a general decline in personal seed exchange.

In its place is the rise of organized seed exchanges, which are becoming more common in Hawaii and the rest of the United States. Also contributing to the decline of personal seed exchanges is that many individuals are choosing to purchase seeds from local retail outlets and online sources.

Seed exchanges have also taken root on the Web, with blogs and websites offering many types of seeds and plants.

If you have been to a seed exchange, you know some of the types and conditions of seeds you find at an exchange event. I like to believe in the old saying “do unto other as you wish them to do unto you.”

In other words, if you want to receive good quality seeds, you should make it a point to bring good quality seeds to the exchange. Listed below are some of qualities I look for in seeds that I add to my collection.

The best start is to provide the correct name.

Use of the common name is great for commonly grown plants. The scientific name is a great addition to plants that are not widely grown. This allows the recipient to do an online search for more information on the plant. If the cultivar or variety name is known, provide that information. If it has a unique history or story, providing that bit of information can open the door to countless other stories. It can make that variety that much more precious to the new recipient.

Perhaps the most important quality I look for is the quality of the seeds itself.

You can grow a tomato, lettuce, or pumpkin without knowing its true name, but you can’t grow them if the seeds don’t germinate or disease and insects kill the plants before harvest or the next seed collection.

As I mentioned in prior articles, seed collecting for future plantings should be a planned event, not an afterthought. The healthiest plants normally produce the most vigorous seeds. Proper spacing will allow good air flow around your plants reducing the incidence of diseases. Check seeds for insect infestation. Seed weevils and beetles are a constant threat of infesting your garden or farm or the garden which receives your infested seeds.

Learn to clean your seeds properly so they do not contain extra material such as dried fruit wall, dried fruit gel, etc. Dry your seeds properly so they store well without molding or rotting. Seeds that stick together are hard to work with and may provide a media on which disease may hitchhike into your garden.

When exchanging seeds of endangered or threaten species of plants, make sure that they originated from domesticated sources and not those collected from wild growing plants. It’s great to help repopulate an endangered species, but not at the expense of wild-grown plants.

Exchanging of invasive and possible invasive species are also a major concern at seed exchanges, especially from online sources where seeds may originate from any part of the world. As an example, think of the many invasive plants that we have in Hawaii. How many were initially introduced as ornamental or food crop plant?

If you want to practice your seed exchange etiquette, your chance arrives on Friday, Nov. 2, at the 10th Annual Hawaii Island Westside Seed Exchange from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook.

For more information on seeds and other gardening topics, please visit the CTAHR electronic publication website at or visit any of the local Cooperative Extension Service offices around the island. I can be reached at


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