Seed Library

by Penny Howard

Seed Library - sow and grow

The Lubbock Master Gardener Association, in association with the Lubbock Mahon Library, recently launched the Sow & Grow Seed Library and Exchange, located in the Mahon Library in downtown Lubbock.  I agreed to be the program committee chairman. When we first started the program, I envisioned it as a place for seeds leftover from packets of cucumbers, beans, and squash to find a second chance at life in a new garden.  To be sure, this is happening.  But as I read and get more into seed libraries and seed saving, it is much more than just passing on those extra seeds.

What is a Seed Library

Seed libraries are a place to protect, guard, and save local seeds.  Saving local seeds acclimated to our area is important.  Seed libraries are a place to promote diversity in plants and gardens as well as to preserve history in plant form.  With big business and box stores, the number of plant varieties has dwindled.  Years ago, there were many small regional seed companies.  They supplied seeds to growers in their neck of the woods.  The seeds were varieties acclimated to and successful in that particular region. 

The Rise of the Mega-seed Company

seed library - library cabinet

In the last few decades, small seed companies disappeared, swallowed up by bigger and bigger corporations.  The focus of the big companies has been to sell the most seeds to grow the most of whatever seed they are selling.  The seeds that a farmer plants in Mississippi may be the same as the ones planted in Nebraska or Minnesota ignoring soil and growing conditions. Additionally, industrial farms plant large amounts of the same variety of seed.  This monoculture has effects on the environment.  Planting large areas with the same crop encourages disease and plant pathogens to get a foothold wreaking havoc on an entire crop.  But back to seed libraries.

Hybridized or Open-Pollinated?

Currently, most of the varieties planted are hybridized.  Hybrids aren’t inherently a bad thing.  Once bred for several generations and stabilized, hybrids will produce seed that yields fruit true to the parent plant.  I have seen this in my peach trees.  My “mama” peach tree, which grew from a seed from the grocery store tossed into a flower bed, had the most delicious red-fleshed peaches.  I saved and planted seeds from her fruit.  They are great peaches, but not quite the same.  But as I have now grown several generations of peaches from her descendants, the fruits are much more consistent.  I didn’t get the red-fleshed fruit like my mama peach tree, but I get consistently good late-ripening peaches.  These trees are acclimated to this area and produce well here. 

seed library treated seeds

Seed companies hybridize with the commercial growers in mind.  Producers want plants that yield uniform fruits that can be harvested mechanically, travel well, and sit on the shelf in the store looking beautiful for a longer time.  Nutritional value and taste are secondary considerations if they receive any thought at all. 

Or Heirlooms?

In many regions, there is a long history of growing certain crops.  I read about a Native American group that has a seed library to promote growing indigenous plants that are important to their culture.  I don’t have that kind of connection to a particular group of foods.  There isn’t a cultural thread connecting me to a certain squash or berry.  I sort of wish there were. 

So, seed libraries have the opportunity to connect us to the past.  Maybe not our past, at least not that we know of, but to keep alive the memories of fruits and vegetables of our collective history.  Fruits and vegetables that survived and thrived in good times and bad.  They were the best of the best.  We owe it to them to keep the heritage alive.

Seed Saving

seed library open packages

I am new to seed saving, other than my peaches.  Like many of you, I have stashed leftovers of last year’s seeds in my storage totes, but that isn’t the same thing.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been very good at searching for and purchasing heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.  I have decided to try very hard to use those types of seeds in my garden as much as possible.  Using open-pollinated varieties will allow me to save seeds and reuse them year after year.  It will be more work, for sure.  But I will not have to shop the seed catalogs and wait for my seeds to arrive from the warehouse.  My warehouse will be my storage tote and the Sow & Grow Seed Library and Exchange.  I can shop there for most of my needs.  

Hopefully, I can trade seeds with other likeminded people.  We can trade stories about the seeds and the joy of that special tomato and the happiness it brought us in the garden. Maybe someone will have seeds from a plant that their great grandmother brought to this area many years ago.  I would love that. 

Keep the Tradition Alive

If you have seeds with a story, open-pollinated or heirloom seeds, I encourage you to share them.  Share them with friends, family, and, of course, the Sow & Grow Seed Library & Exchange.   You can take your seeds to the Mahon Library and put them into the donation box. There are envelopes for you to use to share the information about your seeds.  Volunteers will file them into the correct drawers, and your seeds will be ready to start a new journey in the next growing season.

A seed saving class is in the works.  I know I need more information on the correct way to collect and preserve my seeds.  The class should expand our knowledge base and hopefully give us a nudge to gather and preserve seeds to increase diversity in our food (and flower) gardens as well as connect us to fond memories of days gone by.

Links and Resources

Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the Hands of the People by Cindy Conner

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Seeds are Seeds, Right?

Reading Seed Packets

Testing Seed Germination

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