How to get free seeds from the government seed bank

The US government maintains an enormous seed bank and will send you seeds if you are doing research.  I recently asked for and received about 40 different varieties of grain including wheat, emmer, einkorn, spelt, oats and barley.  Amazingly they’re efficient: I received the seeds within days of putting in the order.  And free!  They don’t even ask for postage.  What is the catch?  Well I had to invest quite a bit of time figuring out how to use their site.  They seem to use a different language.  For instance if you want a variety of wheat, it is not called a variety, but rather an accession.  And if you want to order that “accession, you “order this germplasm.”  Ha!  It is such a different language that when I wrote “germplasm” the spellchecker on my computer underlined it in red!

For my good deed of the day, I’m going to tell people how to use the seed bank site.  I hope that the worker who fills the orders doesn’t curse me if he/she gets inundated with orders, but perhaps can look on the work as job security.

First you go to: http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/acc/acc_queries.html which is a USDA site titled:

National Plant Germplasm System

Accession Area Queries

Under these titles is a place with a box titled:

Text search query

In the box under that you simply type in the type of plant you are interested in.  For instance if you are interested in wheat, type “wheat”.  If you specifically want durum wheat, type “durum wheat”.

Typing wheat and hitting “submit text query” brought me approximately 62,000 results!  Fortunately they are graded according to qualities such as disease resistance and yield, so the best varieties show up in the first few pages.  With my seach for wheat, the first one listed on the page has a hyper link: 1 PI 495594 – Triticum aestivum subsp. aestivum – TAM 107 – Texas, United States — rank: 1000 that if I click on it gives me more information about that particular accession.

If you click the link on a particular accession, and scroll down there is a heading “availability”, and a hyperlink “Request this germplasm“.  All you do is click that and it begins a ledger with your order.  I’ve ordered 40 or more varieties of germplasm with no complaint.  However they do ask you, when you “complete your order” what research project you are doing and in conjunction with whom.  I’ve legitimately been doing grain research with the Self Reliant Community in Graham, Washington and have ordered exclusively grains.  One of our members ordered a variety of germplasms and got a note with his order saying that they aren’t there to supply gardeners with seeds, but rather to supply researchers.

My seeds have come within days of placing the order.  The amounts of each variety is quite small, however, usually only about a teaspoon of seeds–I mean germplasms.

Good luck!  Please comment to let me know how it worked for you!

Text search query

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~ by Anuttama on August 21, 2010.

26 Responses to “How to get free seeds from the government seed bank”

  1. Well, I can hardly stand this. I do wish the grain samples were a bit larger, but am utterly delighted that they are available at all.

    I did some other searches on that site, and discovered that I’ll need to secure some rootstock…another research project, one that I’ve been dying to get into. Terribly exciting.

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. This information needs wider dissemination!

  2. Hi, I would like to know if you have flowers like tulips, roses, glads and etc. available. If you have them please let me know.
    Thank you,
    Lada

    • Lada, the USDA does have flower seeds, but apparently not all flowers are grown from seeds. So they probably don’t have tulips and glads that are grown from bulbs. Additionally they aren’t there to supply home gardeners, but rather to facilitate researchers. If you want to research, for instance growing species roses in your area, they could probably provide seeds.

  3. Thanks for the great information. I just requested Pinus thunbergii, Arbutus menziesii, Cornus controversa. Once again Thanks

  4. Does anyone know if they post to outside the states? such as europe?

  5. Here’s my blog article on my recent experience with getting free seeds from the government: http://bit.ly/h94t5e. It provides all the details on how to go about it so you don’t need to waist time. One person let me know that she got 50 rare seed varieties using this government service. She didn’t even pay postage.

  6. Received seeds. However a letter with the 2 packs of seeds, states, DO NOT USE FOR FOOD OR FEED PURPOSES. Will plant to see if they at least grow, if not edible, hope they are pretty to look at.

    • I’m pretty sure that they treat the seeds with a fungicide to protect them. As such, don’t eat the seeds, but what you grow from the seeds should be edible. You can call or e-mail them to verify this. Of course if you received seeds that are from a poisonous plant, it might be a good idea to avoid eating it:)

  7. http://gbis.ipk-gatersleben.de/gbis_i/

    This is the German seedbank, seeds for free, free shipping. Order 20 to 40 types to start but never go over 100 types.

  8. Thanks so much! I just got some oats, hairy vetch, red clover, winter wheat and buckwheat

  9. do you know if the seeds are gmo free or any way to find out?

    • GMO seeds are proprietary property, so the seeds from the USDA are unlikely to be GMO. Like any seeds, they could be accidentally contaminated by GMO crops grown nearby.

      • I would like to add that, although the seeds could have been genetically modified by mistake, they have not been intentionally genetically modified. The stated goal of the USDA is to preserve varieties of plants.

  10. Do you have to tell them what research you did

    • They’re a government institution, so although they’ve asked some of my friends for results when they sent the seeds, I don’t think they’d do anything with the information if they got it. I’m on my second year of growing out a particular type of durum wheat and it is great fun.

  11. Thank you for the good advice. I ordered a few flower and vegetable seeds about 10 days ago but haven’t heard anything from them. Do you know approximately how long it takes to ship? Or, alternatively, do they notify you if you do not qualify? Thank you, Louise

    • My seeds came very quickly, but they were all varieties of wheat, rather than a variety. I think they send you a few bean seeds if they think you are just trying to get free seeds.

  12. I LIVE IN FLORIDA AND GROW EVERYTHING FROM SEEDS AND CUTTINGS. I’M GROWING TOMATOES FROM TOMATOES THAT I BOUGHT FROM THE MARKET. I SCOOP THE SEEDS OUT OF THE TOMATOE ,FILL A GLASS WITH WATER AND IN FIVE DAYS THEY SEPERATE FROM THE PULP, I DRY THEM AND PLANT IN MIRACLE GROW SOIL , I HAVE GREEN TOMATOES NOW. I WOULD LOVE TO GET ZINNIAS SEEDS, MARIGOLDS, OR ANY SEEDS OF FLOWERS AVAILABLE TO ME A SENIOR. I COULD TEACH A CLASS I’M REALLY KNOWLEDGEABLE.

  13. They just denied my request despite me doing actual, legitimate research. I even went into great detail about my plant breedings of the one specific type of plant I focus on, and how I needed new seeds to continue, lest they all became inbred.

    So I’ve been waiting for them in the mail for the past 2 weeks and just received a generic email telling me that my request was denied and they the don’t give seeds to people for personal use.

    I’m going to try and appeal it but I find it really annoying that people who want these for garden use seem to be getting them almost no questions asked, whereas me who’s decade worth of research depends on having a few new gene pools to work with cant seem to get more than a generic response.

  14. I placed a request yesterday, and today, got emails from 2 different people, indicating that one or another of the germoplasms I requested were unavailable at this time. One of them suggested that I place an order in September, for Spring 2015 shipping. She also gave me some links and other information that she felt would be helpful in the research I am conducting, and invited me to contact her directly if I wanted further information. I got a third email from someone indicating that the variety I had selected was probably unsuitable for the type of study I am doing, and suggested several different varieties I could substitute that would be more useful for my project. I was impressed that these people took the time to read about my research and actually understand what I wanted and what I was going to do with it. I have not received any germoplasms yet, but based on the response I got today, I am fully expecting to receive at least some of the accessions I requested.

  15. I found another site that said she got all kinds of tomato seeds from them, so I gave it a try. I requested a number of seeds and explained they’d be used as part of a home-schooling curriculum. I received a package in the mail shortly thereafter with some seeds I didn’t order and a generic letter saying they don’t supply home gardeners, and basically saying if I asked for more seeds they’d “deal with it more discretely” (though I’m not sure how I’m supposed to take that). I got an email from someone saying I’d have to re-order in the fall for delivery next year. I waited for a while and didn’t get any more seeds or cuttings, so I put together a second order of different seeds, going in to further detail regarding why commercial seeds wouldn’t work for the specific curriculum I was planning. That was met with three identical form letters telling me they don’t supply home gardeners. I did get an email just this week saying they’d be shipping me the eggplant varieties I had requested. Over-all, I found that I was more frustrated by their generic responses than anything else. I understand they don’t want to compete with commercial seed producers, but I’ve already bought commercial seed for our normal garden – so commercial seed companies aren’t missing out by my request.

    As for the five varieties they did send – I am using them for observation and keeping track of my findings on my website.

    I think perhaps I will try again next year, but unless you have a PHD in plant science and work in a sterile laboratory, don’t expect to get any seeds from them.

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