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Getting free seeds from the USDA

                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
A couple of years ago I was told by a university researcher that a private citizen can order seeds from the USDA.  I wanted a durum wheat that was suitable for our Pacific Northwest climate on the West side of the Mountains.  It was total amazement when my assortment of about 30 varieties of durum wheat arrived in less that a week and no charge--not even postage.  It isn't easy to navigate their site, but they do have an amazing assortment of seeds.  If you type "wheat" into the search engine, you can select from about 100,000 varieties.  And they have almost everything you could think of from sunflowers to einkorn to cabbage to pawpaw.

I've written up instructions about how to use the site at:  http://billyandanuttama.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/how-to-get-free-seeds-from-the-government-seed-bank/
Jason Long


Joined: Dec 01, 2010
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
Thank you very much for this info!


Treehugger Organic Farms
charles watt


Joined: Nov 19, 2010
Posts: 6
Oh, heck yes!!! I am still pretty new to all this growing stuff and one of the original reasons to do it was to save money by growing our own (then I heard about permaculture and am now so hooked). Its a tough 'economy' for us right now and some immediate family members too, so if anything can save me even a dollar, it really can make a difference. I have tried sending and asking at some other seed helping places and feel like a bum/beggar for doing it, but I am doing it for my family and have a friend in MI I am starting to share my seeds with, so I guess doing whatever I can is a good thing.
Anyway, thank you for sharing and I hope it works for some people around permies!!!
                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
Chickenbone, there is a catch, as noted on my blog: they don't actually want to supply home gardeners, but rather are there to supply researchers.  What we've done with our Self Reliant Community club is assign various members to research different plants.  I'm doing grains, including ancient grains like emmer and einkorn and others can do sunflowers or parsnips or whatever.  People could conceivably do several projects.  The idea is to find varieties that can adapt to you climate.  Each variety has information about the area where it came from, so you can choose landrace varieties from areas with climates similar to yours.  Hope this isn't too disappointing.

If there is a thread about seedsaving, I'll post more information there or start a new thread if no one is talking about seedsaving.  It is one of the most important skills to learn.
                                  


Joined: Nov 01, 2009
Posts: 18
I urge you NOT to request 'free' seeds from the USDA.  I cringed a bit when I saw this thread.  It is not meant for this purpose.  It is not for someone new to gardening who is all excited to grow something.  It is for research and breeding purposes.  And if you are indeed breeding, trialing, and experienced, fine.  I know I am sounding really hateful here, but I don't mean to be.  But, it has happened before that someone put out the info that everyone could get free seeds on the internet.  Everyone started ordering seeds, and one guy was dumb enough to go bragging all over the place that he was getting seeds, then selling them on ebay.  You can imagine what the fallout from that was.  Truth is, many of the seeds are old accessions that won't germinate anyway. 
Now, for a little good news.  If you need seeds, there are lots of places to get seed to start your own garden.  There are many generous people on the Homegrown Goodness forum who will gladly share seeds with you, some want a trade, others will give them away.  There is also wintersown.org  Trudi will give seeds to those who need them.  I am sure there are other organizations who do too.  Again, sorry for the possible hateful tone of this post, but this has caused problems in the past for those who truly are interested in breeding, but don't have a university affiliation. 
                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
plantsnobin, you apparently didn't read the whole thread.  The fact that the seeds are intended for research has been addressed.  You don't need to be associated with a university, but rather should be interested in finding varieties of seeds that are suited for your climate.  Research projects can be done in conjunction with clubs such as our Self Reliant Community club or the South Sound Seed Stewards, an active club which teaches seed saving in our area.  For people who are interested in permaculture, doing research is what its all about.
                                  


Joined: Nov 01, 2009
Posts: 18
I knew I would be misunderstood. I should have said, unless you are seriously into trialing. I am talking about the casual gardener who thinks 'great, free seeds'.  In the past, there have been problems with individuals who have requested seeds, then sold them.  It was a big deal at one time. Could be again.  That is when they talk about making it more difficult for individual breeders to access seeds that are important to their work, and that may not be available anywhere else.  And part of the deal is that you are supposed to send them info on your results at the end of your trials.  But for plain garden varieties, they wouldn't be your best bet anyway.  I won't even mention that seeds are not the only thing they have available.   They have different stations around the country where they keep the different collections-grapes, nuts, apples, kiwi, persimmons, etc.  They will send scion wood.  Again, not for a backyard grower, but for research .  They have many varieties that you simply can not get anywhere else, because they have the ability to import what an ordinary 'citizen' can't. 
Kirk Hutchison


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Great, free seeds ! Jokes aside, this is an excellent resource, since permaculture is all about research, design, and plant breeding. I have ordered some pawpaw cuttings for breeding work, so I'll let y'all know what condition they are in upon arrival and how well they grow.


Paleo Gardener Blog
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Good to know about. I think I will wait until I have established the equivalent of an acre or two of a species before requesting any seed. I know that for the species I am currently interested in, I can get enough seed to establish 20,000 plants for about $100 ... which is a seed cost of 1/2 cent a plant. The seed in the seed bank is 10-25 years old for my species of interest. Given the low germination even in new seed and the need for lots of plants, getting ten varieties of 100 seeds is not going to build a food forest ... but it might add some biodiversity for a breeding program.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
thanks for the link! i just got some seeds i have been searching for AGES and have never been able to find them until now!


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
                                  


Joined: Nov 01, 2009
Posts: 18
Kirk-if you are interested in different paw paws, I am growing a couple you may be interested in.  Too small right now to take any wood from, but maybe by next year.  I got the seeds from Jerry Lehman, who had pollen overnighted to him from Florida.  He crossed our native (Indiana) Asimina triloba with A.  incarnata ( incana?), and A triloba with A obovata.  Germination was 6 for 6 with the incarnata cross, 5 of 6 for the obovata cross.  The obovata cross grew very vigourously, leading to my hope that it was indeed a cross.  Certainly has what you would expect of hybrid vigor.  All still in pots for now, may be able to plant out this year.
Anyway, sometimes the cutting wood they send is a little too old for propagating, at least with the kiwis.  Malus & prunus scions, a little better.  Again, I am all for research, and anyone with the ability to give it justice should do it.  And for anyone with a serious interest in a particular species, the curator of that species can be very helpful. 
Kirk Hutchison


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
I'd love any material you could send me. I'll send you a PM next year to see if you have any wood ready. I also like seeds, if you have any. Thank you.

(if you have any seeds now, PM me for my address)
                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
In general I think that permaculture people are actually better researchers than the university people.  The university people are unable to think outside the box and because their research tends to be funded by corporate interests, their motive is geared towards profit.  With permaculture people, the motive is to create harmony, balance and to be able to feed people with ease and panache foods that can contribute to good health--physical, mental and spiritual good health.  This is something that the "scientists" I've been in contact with do not understand.  They want to breed a wheat variety that will generate profits, not one that can be harvested using animal drawn implements. 

The scientists can be a great resource, especially with information about isolation protocol for saving seeds.  Interestingly I was told that for wheat, 12 inches is all the isolation required!  One scientist that has been helping me, Dr. Drew, is a supporter of no-till farming practices, but he is unable to think of a way to have no-till without using herbicides.  He did suggest planting fodder turnips planted in the Fall after the wheat, and hope that the winter temps kill the turnips, providing food for the soil microbes.  These guys do have a lot of information.
                                  


Joined: Nov 01, 2009
Posts: 18
anuttama, have you contacted Tim Peters?  He has been researching wheat for years, he is a member at the homegrown goodness forum, though I don't think he spends much time there.  He has been working on perennial wheat for years.  The Kusa Seed Society also has a lot of grains. 
Robert Ray
volunteer

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1315
Location: Cascades of Oregon
    
  12
The quantity and variety amazed me when I looked at the site today.
I figured it wouldn't hurt to make a request and in less than an hour I received a confrimation and delivery dates for my requests for ribe varieties from the Corvalis office.


"There is enough in the world for everyones needs, but not enough for everyones greed"
(Buckman)
Shawn Bell


Joined: Dec 06, 2010
Posts: 156
Thank you anuttama.  I have requested some grain germplasms for my son to research as a homeschool project.  It will be interesting to see how well he can grow, harvest, and save seed.
                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
plantsnobin, no I haven't contacted Tim Peters, but thanks for the lead.  Even though I have some small quantities of durum wheat seeds, I haven't actually been able to purchase a quantity of the grain that I really want.  I love to make chapatis which are made from a naturally whitish yellow durum wheat.  I buy bags of the flour from Asian grocery stores and have contacted the millers in BC.  All I wanted was to be able to buy the unmilled wheat.  But no, our US government in their wisdom have banned sending such wheat from BC.  You can only get the flour.  So I'd love to plant a quarter acre or so of durum wheat for my own use, but may have to wait until I can grow out the tsps that I have.  The flour I get isn't organic and we really like to grow everything we eat.

My chapati video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPOyGPB0zPE
                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
To those who have expressed gratitude for the USDA lead:  you're welcome!  I'm happy that I could help people find this resource.
Jason Long


Joined: Dec 01, 2010
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
Without a question, no matter how experience I may be or become, it will always be research and an experiment!

How do people feel about using seeds that were not grown organically?
                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
Seeds are actually plants, as opposed to the potential for a plant.  All of the parts of a plant are present in the seed.  So a non-organically grown seed probably doesn't have the same shakti (that is a Sanskrit word that translates roughly to mean energy, power or potency).  However if the non-organic seed is grown organically, the shakti will increase as the plant grows.

The problem with non-organically grown crops/seeds is that some varieties within a species thrive better when they are cultivated using chemicals and some varieties do better with organic methods.  For instance a plant variety with an insufficient root structure will do better with chemical fertilizer (think giving sugar to a child), while that same variety might not be the one you'd select to grow organically.

Sadly people who live near fields that have GMO corn and grow organic corn are probably eating GMO when they harvest their crop.  Corn pollinates freely and the corn you eat is actually the seed, meaning that if the GMO pollen happened to pollinate the corn, you're getting GMO.  It is sad.  Unfortunately the isolation distance for corn is over five miles.  So if you live within five miles of anyone growing GMO corn, you might not want to do corn.
Jason Long


Joined: Dec 01, 2010
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
Is there a way to filter through the seeds in the USDA database that selects chemical-free seeds? This is my one concern with getting seeds from this seed bank. However, I have never really done much research on the effects on seeds of chemically grown plants. I only assume that going chemical free is the best route possible.

I appreciate your speedy response Anuttama
Kirk Hutchison


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
If you are concerned, you could just grow one generation of plants, not eat any of them, and then use their offspring like normal plants. I doubt contamination would persist over the generations.
charles watt


Joined: Nov 19, 2010
Posts: 6
Yes, I was unclear with my own response.
I understood it wasn't for me, a newbie and non-researcher. I was just excited to see some sort of 'free and shared' kind of seed system happening at all and from the USDA no less.  I only get on here late at night and it makes it hard for my wording/mind to be very clear about my responses!!!
One thing I don't want to do or encourage is any kind of 'taking advantage' of any good thing going on. I'm not that guy. No hate at all and I am sorry for seeming like a low life!!
                                  


Joined: Nov 01, 2009
Posts: 18
Chickenbone, I didn't mean to imply that you were a lowlife, sorry if it sounded like I thought you were.  If you have a wish list of seeds for your garden, pm me and maybe I could help out.  I have access to large amounts of a certain breeders seed, and if you would like to try mixes to see what grows best in your arean, I could send you some.
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
anuttama wrote:
A couple of years ago I was told by a university researcher that a private citizen can order seeds from the USDA.  I wanted a durum wheat that was suitable for our Pacific Northwest climate on the West side of the Mountains.  It was total amazement when my assortment of about 30 varieties of durum wheat arrived in less that a week and no charge--not even postage.  It isn't easy to navigate their site, but they do have an amazing assortment of seeds.  If you type "wheat" into the search engine, you can select from about 100,000 varieties.  And they have almost everything you could think of from sunflowers to einkorn to cabbage to pawpaw.

I've written up instructions about how to use the site at:  http://billyandanuttama.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/how-to-get-free-seeds-from-the-government-seed-bank/


Thank you for the information, but I do not forsee me ever taking advantage of this for one reason.

G M O.

Robert Ray
volunteer

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1315
Location: Cascades of Oregon
    
  12
I don't think that all varieties offered are GMO.
Drew Carlson


Joined: Sep 29, 2010
Posts: 21
Location: Zone 5a Southern Wisconsin
I contacted a representative at one of the offices in Iowa and he said that many of the varieties are wild seed stock. This would lead me to believe that at least some of them are not GMOs
Robert Ray
volunteer

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1315
Location: Cascades of Oregon
    
  12
One of the blueberry plants offered is from my favorite kayaking lake( Hosmer Blueberry) just a few miles from my house it is not a GMO cutting according to the Corvallis office I think they try to keep strains true for experimentation.
                                  


Joined: Dec 26, 2010
Posts: 23
Regarding GMO, I doubt that any of the varieties offered are GMO.  They actually give you huge amounts of information about the varieties, at least for the grains that are the subject of my research.  They tell you where it was from originally, whether it is a landrace variety (developed naturally for that climate), whether it is spring or winter habit, which diseases and pests it resists and it even has pictures of many of the seeds as well as notes from researchers.  GMO varieties are proprietary and the owners of the patents on them always want a royalty so they'd be extremely unlikely to give them out with the possibility that they might be cross bred and they'd lose royalties.

And also I've gone to a class with the University of Washington about raising seeds as a crop.  The instructor talked at length about the isolation required for maintaining genetic purity.  However he conceded that sometimes it is impossible to have 100% isolation.  For instance corn pollen can travel hundreds of miles in the right conditions.  So if there is GMO corn grown anywhere near where the organically grown seeds that you  purchase are grown, they could potentially have the GMO genetics and the seed growers are unaware of it.  In Hawaii some papaya growers found that their crop was tainted with GMO and they had no recourse, as I recall reading.  GMO is here to stay.  All we can do it to avoid it to our best ability and choose to primarily grow and eat plants that pollinate close such as tomatoes, wheat and oats.
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
Robert Ray wrote:
One of the blueberry plants offered is from my favorite kayaking lake( Hosmer Blueberry) just a few miles from my house it is not a GMO cutting according to the Corvallis office I think they try to keep strains true for experimentation.


Interesting, in that case I recant, I am man enough to do so.    I am going to have to see what office is available to Coos County. 
charles watt


Joined: Nov 19, 2010
Posts: 6
plantsnobin,
sorry, that's my own self-deprecating word choice, poorly chosen and worded!!! I thank you for the offer and as soon as i figure out what I am doing I'll take you up on that.

I did  just relay the info to my child's teacher (I live right across from the school and she is working during vacation) and she was delighted to get the scoop. She may have the kids do some planting for class experiments/science projects this spring (we are in Texas, so the weather gives them a jump on it). So this info actually was helpful immediately as well as being a wonderful piece of news. I don't have any idea what they would grow, but I offered to help in any way I can.

And thanks again to y'all around here. I may not comment much, but I read these forum alot and have learnes so much!!
                      


Joined: Nov 30, 2010
Posts: 53
if you want to research acclimate or find a rarer non commercial variety awesome. otherwise check with seed savers or just buy seed and save.
i personally want to raise more historic plants and acclimate them to the local conditions.. the weak or non choice will be culled ie if some plants are slow to emerge or if some come down with illness pull em and compost .. if you want early maturity if some come in late pull them. then of the choice plants re plant the seed.  and repeat the process and manipulate your germoplastic pool no different than culling live stock .. of course selctive breeding and planting 10,000 head of corn is not really possible with this maybe  100-200 plants. you can be lazy and use a machette or pruners but i prefer to get rid of all the plant  oh and by all means taste test your corn etc. also by all means publish the results

this actually sounds fun .. do they quinoa varieties to play with i would love to work to get this acclimated to local conditions .... and the peasants rejoice 
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
i got my seeds in the mail a few days ago!!!
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
soil wrote:
i got my seeds in the mail a few days ago!!!


I am waiting on my small order.  I look forward to them daily! 
Devon Olsen


Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 991
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
    
    5
well, not FREE, you have already paid for it under the premise you'll go to jail or some kind of punshment will happen if you didn't via taxes that dont really need to exist, but a good place to go if youre having trouble finding seed is suppose, and im sure permaculturists make better use of the seed than some others might
I'd personally recommend it for perennial grain: http://www.ars-grin.gov/ same source

Current Cheyenne, WY project
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