In the quest for self-reliance, seed saving plays a big part. After all, in a “zombie apocalypse” situation you wouldn’t be able to run to the store to buy seeds for your garden. You would need to produce your own supply. This is where a seed library comes in very handy.
A seed library is a local endeavor, when you and your fellow gardeners gather seeds and share them in an orderly fashion. Seeds are catalogued and counted and made available to everyone for free. You can “check out” seeds for your garden, then grow them out , let them go to seed (they must be open pollinated–seeds from hybrids don’t breed true to type) and return an equal amount of seeds to the seed library for someone else to use.
What Makes a Seed Library so Great?
Seed libraries not only make seeds available to everyone for free, they also preserve seed varieties that are adapted to your region. Seeds saved from year to year become more resistant to local diseases and pests. They adapt to local growing conditions generation after generation. In other words, local seeds are stronger seeds.
Prevent Seed Extinction
In a real-world situation it may appear as though we have unlimited access to our favorite seeds, but the truth is that seed varieties are going extinct just like animal species in the Amazon. Some are being lost to history, but some are disappearing because of transgenic contamination.
What is transgenic contamination? It’s when saved seeds from a crop are tested to contain DNA of genetically engineered (read: patented) seed. As you may know, companies like Monsanto develop seeds that contain gene combinations that can not occur in nature and then patent those seeds for market. Since many seeds, like corn, pollinate via the wind, there is no way to control the spread of pollen from a patented seed flower to another, non-patented seed flower that may be miles away. The resulting seed saved from that non-patented plant may contain GMO DNA. Incidentally Monsanto can sue anyone whose seeds are found to contain their patented DNA.
Our planet’s supply of non-patented free seed is at risk. Hard to believe? Sadly, it’s already happening. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company announced earlier this year that over 50% of their heirloom corn varieties were found to be contaminated with GMO DNA. That means they can’t sell it without being sued, and more importantly it means that the variety in question may become extinct if no pure seed can be located. That’s why seed libraries are so important.
At present, GMO seeds are not available to home gardeners, which means that urban gardeners who save seeds are generally safe from GMO contamination. This is about to change if GMO corn is approved for home garden use. Stay tuned for more on that hot topic.
SLOLA is the Seed Library of Los Angeles. It is just one of hundreds of seed libraries around the country. A lifetime membership is $10 and with that comes access to free seeds, classes on how to save seeds, and information on current events around seeds and seed-saving. I am currently growing Bloomsdale Spinach that I checked out from SLOLA and I will keep it going until it bolts to seed, then return my 25 seeds to the library. If something goes wrong and my crop fails, I can pay a small fee for my seeds (like paying a late fee at a regular library).
Find a seed library near you
A quick search on the internet will most likely show that you have a seed library near you. Sites like SeedLibraries.org can help you find one or start one in your area. If you’re in the LA area, come meet the folks at SLOLA at the LA Green Festival, where they will have a booth. Come learn about saving seeds and how you can join a seed library. While you’re there, I will be doing a garden chat about Small Space Gardening on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1 p.m. followed immediately by a book signing of Gardening for Geeks. Stop by and get your copy (or copies for holiday gifts) in the event bookstore.