The Orcas Island Seed Library seeks to empower Orcas Island to be a resilient seed stewardship community.
We aim to make a diverse variety of open source seed available to the public, and promote knowledge of seed saving practice and importance through outreach and education.
How This Library Works
This library contains seed for our community to share and grow. The idea is that people learn to save seeds and return some for others to use. Like a regular library, the seeds you borrowed must be returned again. How? By growing them, seeing the plants through their life cycle, and choosing to save some of the seeds to return to the library for others to grow. In this way we can develop a free and reliable local seed source.
Click here to find out how to borrow and return seed. Please sign our log book before taking any seed. Thank you in advance for saving seed!
Why Save Seed Locally?
Humans have been saving seed for over 12,000 years. In our culture, however, much of that knowledge has been lost over the past 100 years. Agricultural diversity and heritage is being lost with the consolidation of the seed industry. When we grow and save our own seeds organically and locally we:
- Participate in a fun and rewarding tradition
- Develop seed stock suited to our microclimate
- Save money
- Mitigate our dependence on agro-business
- Increase our self-reliance on local food sources
Why Open Source Seeds?
Open source seeds are seeds that can be freely shared without violating patent law. Orcas Island Seed Library shares only non-genetically engineered and non-utility patented seeds.
About the Seeds in this Library:
All the seeds in the seed library have been generously donated by local seed stewards. The continued success of the library depends on the participation and support of seed savers (like you!). If you have seeds you would like to contribute, please contact Katie Wilkins, the seed librarian, by stopping by the front desk, calling the library at 360-376-4985, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Help Support Us
The most important way you can help keep the seed library going is by using it, and we thank you for doing so! We invite contributions to help fund the cost of materials related to the upkeep of the library and educational programming. If you would like to make a tax-deductible
donation, please talk to a staff member at the Orcas Island Library service desk.
About the Library
The Orcas Island Seed Library was created in winter 2012 as a Food Masters project led by local residents interested in promoting seed saving and education. The Seed library works in partnership with the Orcas Island Library, Orcas Island Seed Bank, FEAST, Food Masters, Sustainable Orcas Island, and local seed stewards.
We would like to thank all of the local seed stewards on Orcas and Lopez for sharing seeds; to Emmett Adam for building the wonderful seed cabinet; to Phil Heikkinen and the Orcas Island Public Library for graciously hosting us; to the Orcas Island Garden Club for awarding us a generous grant; to the Lopez Island Seed Library for advice and resource materials; to Sarah Ross and George Orser for donating books; and to YOU for helping save seeds!
What to know more?
Here are some frequently asked questions about the seed library.
If you still have questions, please contact Katie, the seed librarian. She will talk seeds with you all day long if you want to.
- Organic Seed Alliance: www.seedalliance.org contains many free resource booklets.
- Seed Savers Exchange: www.seedsavers.org includes seed saving information on many plant varieties and a question forum.
- Adaptive Seeds: www.adaptiveseeds.com has a seed saving booklet for download. We have a print copy in the orange binder as well.
- Salt Spring Seeds: https://www.saltspringseeds.com Dan Jason's website contains his seed catalogue, seed saving instructions, and some interesting food and seed-related essays
- Seed Saving Chart - easy reference chart of plants by cycles, type of pollination, length of seed viability.
- Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth
- Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe
- The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio
The drawers are organized by seeds that are Super Easy, Easy and Advanced. Within these drawers, seeds are organized by plant families and common name.
If you are new to seed saving, start with the Super Easy seeds. These seeds are less likely to cross-pollinate. Seeds in the Easy and Advanced drawers require more planning to preserve varietal purity, otherwise varieties will cross. We want to be sure that the seeds you return are what you say they are, so please only borrow these seeds if you have learned about isolation and cross-pollination. See orange Resource Binder for more info.
These can most reliably be saved by the home gardener if you are new to seed saving. They produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the risk of cross-pollination.
Examples: Tomato, Pea, Bean, Lettuce, Arugula, many herbs and flowers
Plants in this drawer require a little more time and know-how. Some plants are biennials, which means they produce seeds the second growing season. These are still suitable for some beginners. The issue is space! Many of these require larger populations and isolation from things that could cross-pollinate with them.
Examples: Radish, Carrot, Onion, Leeks, Pepper, Spinach
With seeds in this drawer, you don't always reap what you sow. These vegetables are often biennials, normally require more than one year for seed production and most require separation to prevent cross-pollination. Beets and Swiss Chard are wind pollinated and require care to prevent cross pollination and knowledge of your neighbor's garden! Cucurbits (squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons) are not hard to save seeds from, but you need to hand-pollinate them if you want to return quality seeds for others to borrow. If you don't hand-pollinate cucurbits, you can't assure other borrowers that the seeds you return have not been cross-pollinated by another variety.
Examples: Brassica Family (Kale, Cabbage, Mustard, Broccoli etc), Chard, Beets,Cucurbit family (Cucumber, Squash, Pumpkin), Corn
All of the below are the same species and are insect pollinated. If any of these are flowering at the same time, cross-pollination is likely. You need to bag or isolate the different varieties, or allow only one variety to flower at a time:
- Broccoli - Brassica oleracea
- Kale (certain varieties) - Brassica oleracea
- Cauliflower - Brassica oleracea
- Brussels sprouts - Brassica oleracea
- Cabbage - Brassica oleracea
How to Borrow and Return Seeds:
You can come to the library to "borrow" seeds any time the public library is open. You can "borrow" seeds from any drawer, but when you first get started, only save seeds from the "super easy" drawers.
Please don't save seeds from the "Easy" or "Advanced" drawers for the library until you have learned more about seed saving or already have that knowledge. You can read our seed saving info in the binder or visit our website for tips on how to save seeds so you can return seeds at the end of the season for others to borrow. We also offer occasional free classes on seed saving, which will be posted here and listed on our website.
- Locate the variety you are interested in. Seeds are organized alphabetically by common name. For example, Jacob’s Cattle Bean will be filed under “B” for “Bean,” rather than the scientific name, Phaseolus vulgaris.
- Borrow only the seeds that you know how to save, OR familiarize yourself with information on how to save seed for a crop that is new to you. There are reference books in the drawer labeled “Resources and Seed Packets.”
- Please take only the amount of seed indicated on the jar or envelope. For small seeds, a spoon is provided in the drawer marked “Resources and Seed Packets.” Take one, two, or three scoops, depending on instructions. Larger seeds are marked by count, for example 15 squash seeds.
- Place seeds in one of the coin envelopes provided and label as completely as possible (you’ll be glad you did later!).
- Fill out the Checkout Log in the green binder.
- Grow your crop. Happy growing and seed saving!
- Plan on bringing seed back. We ask that you return twice the number of seeds you borrowed, so the seed library can continue to grow and thrive.
- When the time comes to return your seed, make sure seeds are mature, dry, and have been reasonably cleaned by removing as much of the chaff as possible. This will help the seeds keep longer and reduce the chance of pest or disease infestation.
- Be sure to save some seed for yourself. Please return to the seed library 2 times the amount you first borrowed.
- Label, label, label! Both what you are keeping and returning. When you bring seed in to the seed library, please place it in one of the provided return envelopes and fill out the label completely.
- Sign the Return Log, where you can write important information about your saved seed such as population size and possible crosses with other varieties. More info is better!
- Stick your envelope(s) in the "Returns" drawer on the cabinet.
- Feel like a champ for saving seed and sharing it with other local growers.
Q: Can I donate seed to the library?
A: Please note that our return drawer is only for seed that has been saved from library stock. If you are a seed saver already and would like to share some with the library, we would certainly appreciate it. Please contact the seed librarian, Katie Wilkins, before dropping off seed, so it can be catalogued before distribution. Katie can be reached by calling the library at 376-4985, via email at email@example.com, or during library service hours at the front desk.
Q: Can I use seed from the library but not return it?
A: The purpose of this library is to build knowledge of seed saving practices and to gain a larger resource of seed over time for our community. To that end, if folks take seed out but don’t return any, it will cease to be a sustainable enterprise. If you want to grow plants from local seed but aren’t interested in saving it, you may want to consider a local/regional seed company such as Greenheart Gardens, Resilient Seeds, Uprising Seeds, Adaptive Seeds, Peace Seeds, Wild Garden Seeds, or Horizon Herbs.
Q: What if I can't grow enough seeds to meet the suggested population size?
A: Listed population sizes are for commercial scale and we realize for the home gardener it may not always be possible to grow 100 broccoli plants. The general rule is to save from as many plants as you can. Some crops are more affected than others by the size of the genetic pool—for example, carrots need a large population or genetic diversity is quickly lost. You can still save the seed, but when you return it to us please let us know the population size. One nice thing about having a community seed library is that we can combine resources. If several of us grow Red Russian Kale, we can then “mix” our seed crops together to keep genetic diversity strong.
Q: What if I don't have enough room to create the ideal isolation distance between varieties?
A: Don’t worry, you’ve got options. Try isolating by time. Let just one variety of brassica crop go to flower per year, and save another variety the next year. You could also try hand pollinating—squashes are a fun and easy way to start. You can check our resource section for more information.
Q: My plants may have cross-pollinated with ones they should not have; can I still return the seed to the library? (ie. I grew different varieties of summer squash but did not hand pollinate)
A: Yes, but let us know the circumstances when you fill out your return label so that others know about your experiment. Hybrids are a part of nature and can yield useful and interesting results, but some folks are interested in keeping varieties pure.