When “Free” Is Expensive


The Thrill of Free!!

We were briefly encouraged when we discovered a supposedly non-profit organization distributing free seeds online.  WintersOwn.org distributes seeds to those that request them through their site.  And the list they provide is extensive if you can actually find it.

Reality Sets In…

Unfortunately, Wintersown does appear to be making a profit.  For example, they design their website to be tiring, generating hit after hit to garner the information you require to actually order their seeds.  While you are fishing and wasting up to an hour of your valuable time, they are prompting you with donation buttons and other false links that lead you into oblivion.   Each hit, no doubt, makes them money.  So much for non-profit.

Don’t waste your time on their site, here are the essential links…

Finally, after exhaustion sets in, they have you go through a quiz to get to a page you must print to get your seeds. At this point, throwing your laptop across the room may come to mind.  To get to the essential pages directly without suffering you can use these links, which will save you an enormous amount of time and may actually make the experiment worth pursuing.




These are, in sequence, a form you must print out and include with your order, the order form, and the list of seeds (scroll down).  The list is impressive.

You Want The Seeds, NOW WHAT??!!

Having the inside scoop on the direct links, you can select your seeds, but you are required to make your request by first class mail. That is a cost of 44c.  You must also provide a SASE envelope with 2 first class stamps, an additional cost of 88c.  But the inference on the site is you will have a wide selection of seeds still making this seem like quite a bargain.

As you review the list, you realize that to get the exact seeds you are requesting, you must make a donation, minimum is $5.  If you do this, you will get ten packets of seeds (six first choices and four defaults) and the inference is they will be exactly what you requested.  Some more rare seeds require a donation just to put them on your list.  The site says the following:

If you include a minimum $5.00 donation with your seed list, we’ll show our appreciation by filling out your entire list of six first choices and the four defaults–*ten packs total.

Assuming you make a donation, you are now up to at least $6.32 in costs plus about an hour’s wasted time, which would be ok if you get quality seeds exactly as listed.  But in this case, what you see is certainly not what you will likely get.

Whoops, A Disclaimer??  On Charity?

After all this time, you finally read what they have to say about their seeds…

This list changes frequently; similar substitutions will be made when a default choice is exhausted.

The above list is mostly comprised of tomato seeds donated from gardeners and tomato growers. Seeds are shared in small amounts enabling a home gardener to sample different types of open-pollinated tomatoes.

These seeds are offered with the expectation of success to all; seeds are natural and people are human, WinterSown.Org is not responsible for crossed varieties or unintentional wrongly-named varieties.

WinterSown.Org reserves the right to refuse multiple requests from the same individual when no donation is provided.

Translation to English…You have no idea what you will get; you will likely waste hours of your time growing something that does not match what you ordered;  and you are required to make a donation if you try again. In addition, saying the seeds come in “small amounts” is a ridiculous understatement.  If you think you are going to get standard packets of seeds, think again.

We Had To Speak To Someone…

After our experience, we had to speak to someone at the site.  We caught up with Trudi, and she quoted the disclaimer above, which heightened our concern.  When we told her of the horrible results we had with germination and quality, she began to get defensive.  We asked if, in contradiction to the disclaimer, she could speak to the actual quality and authenticity of the seeds.

Trudi responded , “I do spot tests, and some of the commercial seeds indeed have their germination percentages on the package.”  This may be true, but one person spot checking a few seeds sounds questionable.  None of our tomato seeds were labeled with germination “percentages”, and the only obviously commercial seeds we received were dated 2004, six years out of date.

Lying Is Fine If You Are a Charity!!

We were even concerned about outright fraud on the site.  After finding people fraudulently listing Campari seeds on EBAY for sale, we noticed that Wintersown also lists Campari seeds.  They say the are open pollinated, but this is an arduous process requiring plants be planted literally miles apart.

We tried to get more information on the Campari seeds being offered, but Trudi’s answers seemed less than genuine.  When we implied she was breaking trademark, Trudi responded, “DOH! We don’t sell seeds, we give them away.”  Trudi apparently feels that she can lie to folks to get donations because they are, after all, giving the seeds away.

So, After Your Efforts, What Do You Get??

After you receive your seeds, you will likely be surprised by the small plastic envelopes in which they arrive.  The number of seeds in each envelope is miniscule.  None of the packets we received contained more than 10 seeds.  Some 5-6.

OK, 10 seeds is fine right?  If they are quality seeds, they will have a high germination rate and you will end up with dozens of viable plants, for “free”!!!!

So, we decided to test the seeds and found that many did not germinate at all.  Others had very poor statistical results or delivered ridiculously weak seedlings.

When we asked Trudi about our results, she again read their disclaimer, which essentially states they have no idea if any of their seeds are as listed or viable.  She stated they do not know nor are they responsible for the content of any of the packets they provide.  And they refused to reveal their sources even for trademarked varieties.  In short, when you request seeds from Wintersown, you have no idea what you will actually get.

What Should YOU DO???

Many quality seeds can be purchased for a buck or less per packet and those packets contain many more seeds than Wintersown provides.  The seeds contained in packets from name brand distributors are dated and the distributors validate the type of seeds and their viability.

Making a donation to Wintersown gets you a pot luck contribution of potential junk seeds, and their listing of seeds makes that much less than clear.  Planting junk seeds will likely lead to a significantly different result than you expected, and you will mostly likely end up with a huge disappointment.

It is our opinion you should steer clear of Wintersown other than to peruse the site for information on winter sewing, and then use your own seeds for trying it if you like.  Donating or paying more for low quality seeds, even if the site claims to be “nonprofit” is not cheap.  It is extremely expensive in wasted time, and ordering their seeds could waste much of your gardening season.  In addition, with postage and donations, the seeds aren’t cheap.


It is our opinion that Wintersown is intentionally misleading their readers.  Their objective appears to be to garner hits and donations that generate profits for their “non-profit” website rather than  to provide viable  seeds for people to experiment with winter sewing.

The free seeds are a great idea, and some folks love a surprise anyway, so go for it if you like.  Just don’t depend on them.

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1 Comment

  • Hiring a Landscaper

    I’m not sure why businesses try to use deceptive tactics such as this. If I get frustrated with a website it is not probable I will return. You should try to build long lasting relationships with your customers to ensure repeat business.

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