Got a Garden? Start a Side Hustle Selling Seeds

This illustration depicts a woman gardening.
Getty Images and Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Your garden is rich in an untapped natural resource: seeds. Every tomato, eggplant and hot pepper you harvest is full of them. If you take the time to extract, store and label those seeds, you can sell them for a (modest) profit.

Hoang Nguyen and his wife, Piyanuch Nguyen, were fascinated by the taste, color and history of peppers. Their gardening hobby grew into a seed business: Lilburn Peppers has racked up over 2,000 sales on Etsy.

“The extra income helped with two new additions to our family and allowed us to continue investing in a hobby we all enjoyed,” Hoang said in an email.

That said, nobody is starting a backyard garden just for the money. It’s a labor of love.

“A regular minimum wage job would probably earn higher than the profit margins of a small homegrown seed business,” Hoang explained.

But if you’re going to be knee-deep in garden mud anyway, selling seeds is one way to make extra cash while doing what you love. At the very least, you’ll end up with free seeds!

Learn how to turn your backyard into a money-making nursery.

How to Start a Business Selling Seeds

Ready to get started? Here’s how to get started selling seeds.

1. Check Your Local Licensing Laws

Before you get started, research your state’s licensing requirements for seed dealers. (Yep, that’s what they’re called.)

A small-time Alabama seed dealer will have to pay a $15 annual permit fee. A Georgian must pay $100 to apply for a license that covers up to three years of selling seeds. In Mississippi, you could pay as little as $2.50. The cost varies: Make sure it’s not too high where you live before you commit to a seed-selling side hustle.

If you’re planning to sell certain types of seeds (i.e. cannabis), more paperwork will be in order.

Contact your local agricultural agency with any questions. They’re there to help.

Your local extension office is a wealth of information. Here are 16 things you can get free or cheap by taking advantage of its services.

2. Choose Your Seeds

To get seeds, you need plants. But which ones? Heirloom corn? Wildflowers? Fancy beans?

Whichever plants you choose, you’ll have to spend many hours tending to them. It helps to like them. The Nguyens certainly like growing peppers.

“[They are] a wonderful fruit with so many varieties,” Hoang said. “Breeding new varieties is also easy and the selection of each subsequent generation is extremely rewarding.”

Check the prices of a variety before you start growing it. Some seeds are an easier — and more lucrative — sell. People pay premium prices for piquante pepper seeds (say that three times fast).

3. Grow Your Plants

If you’re reading this, you probably already have a green thumb. But even the experienced gardener should do a little research before growing plants with seed sale in mind.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources available.

Here are a couple tips to get you started.

Isolate (Or Not)

Birds and bees naturally increase our planet’s biodiversity by cross-pollinating plants. Which is great for the planet, but not always great for seed sellers.

Open pollinated seeds have not been isolated from cross-pollination. That means the plants might grow up a little funky.

“If the seeds collected are from a hybrid pepper, we see many variations of pepper shapes, colors and plant growth habits,” Hoang explained.

Isolated seeds are, well, isolated. Gardeners protect them from cross-pollination through distance, timing, containment, or a combination of all three. The resulting seeds grow up true to type. No (or fewer, anyway) surprises.

It’s perfectly fine to sell open pollinated seeds — plenty of successful seed sellers do! Who knows? It might be your first step to developing the next trendy pepper cultivar.

“Our personal creation is a mix between our small Thai pepper and the Korean pepper – yielding a small compact plant that is prolific, less spicy and with a larger pepper,” Hoang said.

Just be up-front about it. If a customer is expecting a habanero and they end up with a habanada, they will not be happy.

Be Patient

When it’s time to harvest, don’t be hasty. Cucumbers should be yellow. Okra pods should be hard. Peppers should have ripened to their final color.

Skip the seeds, sell the plants. One woman made $1,200 in a season with her home garden business.

4. Harvest Your Seeds

How do you process seeds for sale? Very carefully.

“Peppers need to be fully ripened, dried and stored properly to give the best germination rates,” Nguyen said.

The same is true of most other plants. Here are five steps to harvesting your seeds.

  • Extract: If you’re extracting seeds from, say, a melon, this might get a little messy!
  • Sort: Reject seeds with obvious pest damage.
  • Label: Date and variety are essential! Depending on where you live, you may need to include purity and germination rate as well.

If all these steps are making you nervous, consider a trial run. There are volunteer seed exchanges around the world.

5. Sell Your Seeds

Once you’re ready to go pro, you have two options: sell to seed companies or sell to consumers.

Sell to a Seed Company

Many seed companies don’t grow all their seeds themselves. They work with networks of seed savers. You could be one of them.

How much money can you make? It depends. Companies pay a wide range of prices. Writer and homesteading expert Ida Livingston reported that she earned $12 per ounce for her first tomato seed contract. She grew between 50 and 100 tomato plants, resulting in ten to twelve ounces of seeds. That means she earned at least $120.

Sell to Consumers

If you’ve gone through all the trouble of growing plants, harvesting seeds and packaging them for sale, you may ask yourself: Why don’t I just cut out the middleman?

There’s a simple answer to that question. The middleman is doing an awful lot of work. Marketing, shipping, customer service; the list goes on.

To figure out how much you can earn, check how much your competitors are charging. Lilburn Peppers charges $3-$4 for a packet of ten or more seeds.

Still interested? Set up a storefront. Instagram, Etsy and eBay all have thriving seed markets. In the long run, building your own website can boost credibility and cut transaction fees.

You can also sell seeds in person.

“There is more of a connection when interacting with customers face to face in a farmer’s market,” Hoang said. “Remember, this is a hobby that we enjoyed and seeing that others feel the same way brings us joy.”

Contributor Ciara McLaren is a freelance writer with work in HuffPost, Insider and The Penny Hoarder. You can find her on Substack (@camclaren).