At summer’s end, I like to pass along some of the seeds I’ve saved from my favourite beans to other gardeners. I originally got them from my Great-Aunt Vivienne, whose family brought them from Belgium generations ago. They’ve been sharing them ever since. Gardeners have always shared seeds in this way, promoting varieties that they like or that show some genetic advantage in the area in which they’re being grown. Over generations, farmers and home gardeners alike would save seeds from the plants that showed the most promise, or cross varieties with different strengths until they came up with a new strain that held the desirable qualities of both and bred true.
Seed libraries are a formalization of this process, in a world in which the competencies of seed-saving and plant breeding are disappearing. They provide a place to house and lend out seed stock, along with providing public education and outreach, just as a traditional library does.
I got to experience this first-hand this past weekend, when I attended a Seedy Saturday event hosted by the Kensington-Cedar Cottage Seed Sharing Library. A guest speaker gave a lecture on permaculture and companion planting, we had a hands-on seed starting workshop, and we ended with a seed swap and an opportunity to check out seeds from the seed library. I chose nasturtiums and a “Bee Blend” of wildflowers, as one of my goals this year is to make my garden more pollinator-friendly. The idea is that at the end of the season, I’ll collect and dry seeds from these plants and then return them, so that they can be passed on to another patron. It is a library, after all.
I’m confident in my ability to do so with the nasturtiums, but I’m a little worried about some of the wildflowers – their seeds came in a wide variety of sizes. I’ll be watching them carefully to see what sort of seeds they produce and try and come up with some strategies for collecting them.
If you live in the Vancouver area, there’s another seed swap this coming weekend, at Strathcona Community Garden. I may stop by, to see if I can find some heritage seeds to fill in the holes in my planting schedule for the year. If you don’t have any physical seed swaps in your area, don’t despair. Like almost everything else these days, seed swapping has gone digital. You can join sites like this one and have access to a world of different plants and varieties. Just make sure the seeds you’re asking for are suitable for your growing region.
I’m still a novice at seed-saving, which limits my seed swapping activities. So this year, I’m reading up on seed-saving, so that I can expand my own end-of-season activities beyond poppies and beans. I’d like to plant a heritage variety of tomato this year, so that I can try the method of seed-saving I learned from Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground. I’d also like to see what results I can get from plants like cucumber and squash. I’ll save the biannuals like beets and carrots for the future, when I have a little more practice.
Here are a few selections from my reading list:
So, now it’s your turn. What are you growing on your balcony, patio, or garden? Do you save and share seeds? What resources would you recommend to a novice seed-saver?
Let me know in the comments.