You can check books out of the public library – but did you know that there is a new trend called a seed library?
It’s a collection of seeds saved and donated by local gardeners and shared with the community. It’s a great idea and I’d love to see seed libraries in every community.
A Seed Library
Seed libraries are places where seeds are shared for the community’s benefit. Many communities that start seed libraries host them in common gathering places like public libraries or community centers.
The idea is simple. If you are interested in starting a seed library, visit the Seed Libraries site and learn more.
Why Save and Share Seeds?
Ever seed tells a story. Seeds are the genetic inheritance of the plant and the way in which plants reproduce.
Throughout history, gardeners and farmers gathered seeds from their favorite and/or best plants. These seeds were carefully preserved and stored for next year’s crops. They traveled with European colonists to the Americas; the Europeans sent new varieties found in the Americas back to Europe.
Seeds traveled the world right alongside people.
Sharing seeds is a ritual as old as time. Seed swaps once took place over back fences, in community gathering places. Later in the 19th century the packaging and selling of seeds became a viable business.
As hybridizers cross-pollinated specific varieties, the resulting seeds could be saved and patented. Hybrids are often sterile, meaning that the seeds from hybrid plants can be sterile or produce plants that do not bear a close resemblance to their parents. This made saving and sharing seeds even more of a specialized endeavor.
Today’s gardeners value variety. Many are turning their backs on hybrids and seek open-pollinated varieties.
Many local communities have seeds passed along through generations that offer unique taste, color, or other attributes. Amish paste tomatoes and Brandywine tomatoes, for example, both came to us from Pennsylvania where the seeds were passed along through specific communities.
Although hybridizers have provided valuable seeds that offer greater disease resistance, higher nutritional value and better germination rates, to name but a few of the positive benefits, many people are interested in open pollinated and locally sourced seeds.
That’s where a seed library comes in handy.
How to Start a Seed Library
Starting a seed library is a fairly simple endeavor. You’ll need a place to share the seeds. A community center, food pantry or library offers a great place to host a seed library.
Another item you will need is seeds. Volunteers, perhaps starting with Master Gardeners and garden clubs, save their seeds, label them, and place them in the library.
There’s a wealth of resources to help you start a seed library in your community available on the Seed Libraries site. Checkout procedures, labeling requirements and more are covered in plenty of resources on the site.
You can also watch this recorded webinar. It is long (over an hour) but provides comprehensive information on starting a seed library.
Seed libraries provide many benefits to communities. They offer people self sufficiency and a method by which they can grow their own healthy, nutritious vegetables, fruits and herbs. They preserve local varieties that may be overlooked by commercial garden companies and nurseries.
More importantly, perhaps, they bring together people in the local community who love to garden and who want to nurture the past to preserve the future.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.