A flicker of spring: Gardeners and community groups share and swap seeds for growing in 2023

Game Changers: Knowing how to save seed means you only have to buy it once to have enough to save and share every year

“It’s not warm but there’s a flicker of spring,” Jason Horner said as we spoke recently. It had been the first day he was able to be in the garden without a hat. The cold snap has thawed and seed season is here. Horner admits to a sort of addiction to seeds. The sight of tender shoots curling and reaching into the light from a tray of seedlings still gives him “a fierce buzz ... There’s so much potential in that starting point.”

A vegetable grower for 30 years selling at farmers’ markets, Horner hung up his market apron a few years ago and now grows seeds for other growers. Part of his day job is growing for Madeline McKeever’s Brown Envelope Seeds where they’ve been producing open-pollinated seeds organically in Clare for almost 20 years. He also works as Ireland co-ordinator for the Seed Sovereignty Programme, part of the Gaia Foundation.

Open pollinated plants produce seed that will grow the same plant the following year. Knowing how to save seed means you only have to buy the seed once to have enough seed to save and share every year after that. Much of the seeds sold by garden centres are hybrids which can produce higher yields, but have to be bought new every year, locking you into a reliance on seed companies and diminishing the agro-biodiversity of our food supply.

The Seed Sovereignty Programme launches Seed Week this Monday, and is encouraging everyone to get involved with #seedweek social media posts. Next weekend, a Seed Gathering online event will see contributions from Dan Saladino who’ll be talking about his book Eating to Extinction, plus a session on diverse communities and the seeds they save, and practical sessions on seed saving.


Horner believes the combination of Brexit and Covid, which hit seed supply hard, has made many Irish growers look again at seed saving. “It was a real call to arms to growers to grow more seed. Irish growers traditionally bought seed from the UK and could no longer do that,” he explains. A lot of seeds were sourced in Spain and Germany instead, and while some performed fine, others were just not suited to Irish growing conditions. With our temperate climate, Horner believes Ireland could develop a seed-growing industry.

And if all that isn’t enough seed fun for one month, Irish Seed Savers will be hosting a community seed share on February 25th on their 20 acre organic farm at Capparoe in Scariff, Co Clare. Gardeners and community groups can share and swap seeds to get their growing off to a healthy start. The buzz of tapping into a naturally abundant system is all there for the taking.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests