What is a Seed Library? We all know what a library is. A place where we can find and take away non-fiction books about the world, fiction books about worlds we imagine and picture books to delight our eyes. But I never heard of a seed library and could not imagine where one would find such a thing.
But recently I went to the Greenfield Community College Nahman-Watson Library, and there, right near an entry door, I saw shelves filled with garden books, a small cabinet and a sign that said SEED LIBRARY. I looked closely and saw that there were little labeled seed packets in each drawer of the cabinet. A sign said the seeds were free, but you had to check them out at the circulation desk.
Curioser and curioser!
Fortunately, not long after my first introduction to the Seed Library I met Hope Schneider, newly retired, after being a GCC librarian for many years. Schneider was happy to tell me about the birth of the GCC Seed Library.
In 2015, Library Director Deb Chown heard about this idea and thought it would be a great connection to the nearby Science department. Creating a seed library is not as easy as it sounds.
First you have to get a little money. Chown and Tony Reiber, who runs the greenhouse and is the Soil Instructor, wrote a grant for $500 to get some ‘seed’ money. Schneider did enjoy the little play on words. Money was needed to buy seed envelopes, the cabinet to hold them, write instruction sheets, and some publicity.
Chown worked with CWMars to add all the seeds to the system inventory. Since there is no way that those particular seeds can be returned CWMars automatically checks all seeds back in on October 1. All seed libraries hope that when the plants, flowers or vegetables, have gone to seed, the seed library members will harvest those new seeds, and return some to the seed library.
“The biggest problem is getting people to bring seeds back. “We’d also love to get heirloom seeds, seeds that came from someone in the family or have a story, and the seeds of native plants,” Schneider said.
I suspect the problem with having people return the seeds is because their crop failed and they don’t have seeds, or because they forgot, or because they are not confident they can prepare and store seeds properly.
People have been saving seeds and passing them on for centuries but seed stores did not exist. Not until the Watervliet, New York Shakers started to package seeds and sell them.
After admiring the shelves of garden and plant books, Schneider and I then met up with Tony Reiber. Over the past few years he has been working with students to plant an array of gardens. Planting and learning about plants and what they need is part of that project. Another aspect is that plantings have been designed to attract pollinators that are important part to our ecosystem.
We walked along the long wildflower garden which was planted in June of 2017. With help from students plugs of 21 varieties of wildflowers were planted. Many plugs were from Nasami Farm. I couldn’t identify all 21 varieties.
We were there to look at the seeds ripening on those plants. Some will find their way into the Seed Library Cabinet.
At this time of the year many plants are making seeds. Many of us, like me, don’t usually pay that much attention to seeds, and we are really missing something.
Some seeds are large. Think of sunflowers, flowering sweet peas, nasturtiums, zinnias and marigolds. Others are very tiny like cardinal flowers, and jewel weed. I have to tell you that Schneider and I were having a grand time pinching the jewel weed seed case making it pop open and shoot out the seed as the case curls up.
Whether the seeds are big or small, the important thing to know about saving seeds is knowing that they are non-GMO or hybrid seeds. Plants that have been genetically modified, or are created by crossing one variety with another. Seeds from those seeds will not come true the second year. A seed saver should save open pollinated seed. Any heirloom seed, one that has been grown for generations, will be an open pollinated seed.
It is now possible to start by buying open-pollinated seed all neatly packaged up and sold in many stores. More and more seed companies are specializing in open-pollinated varieties including Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Fedco Seeds. The Seed Savers Exchange grows seeds in Decorah, Iowa and sells them. They also have a a large catalog for members that include heirloom seeds from other members.
We can save many seeds from our own gardens, but they do need to be cared for to live through the winter and be viable in the spring. Reiber said there were some general things to remember. Some seeds need to be kept dry and cold, kept in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator. Other seeds need moisture and can be stored in a plastic bag with damp vermiculite.
A book like The Seed Garden: Art and Practice of Seed Saving published by the Seed Savers Exchange gives very specific directions. You can check out the book at the GCC Seed Library. Anyone can get a GCC library card, and take out seeds and informational books.
Between the Rows September 29, 2019