Seeds on Loan
The Jenkintown Library is moving beyond books.
Check out these seeds! Literally. All you need is a library card. Some soil would help too.
Jenkintown Library has launched a new program, Seed Exchange. Any PA Access library card holder can check out five packets of seeds, free of charge. The expectation is that by Nov. 15, patrons will harvest some new seeds to return for the following season.
“We’re hoping to promote seed saving, and increase the availability of whole food grown locally by residents in the area,” said Bonnie Miller, program administrator at Jenkintown Library.
Miller credits the vision to Amy Jackson, of Jenkintown. Jackson, a graphic artist born to dairy farmers in upstate New York, received a newsfeed recently from an environmentally-oriented site describing a similar seed exchange program in California.
Jackson did some research, and she contacted Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is a nonprofit seed bank committed to preserving and sharing heirloom seeds, whose genetic diversity is endangered.
Jackson presented the concept to the library, which responded immediately and enthusiastically.
Then, SSE jump-started the effort by sending about 500 packages of fine seeds; eager patrons have contributed more than 100 additional packets. And the program kicked off in April with an informal discussion conducted by a representative from the Pennsylvania State (Agricultural) Cooperative Extension Service.
Miller has been busy cataloging the seed packets. Each item has a bar code and can be accounted for. Jackson’s computer-savvy husband, Bryan Elliott, is developing a database to include all the seed varieties, along with important information about them and how to harvest their seeds. The system will help facilitate seed lending and will help the library maintain some basic circulation statistics for the program.
Don’t worry—nobody gets judged on the greenness of his or her thumbs. If shade, drought, pests and other obstacles prevent you from completing the cycle, you can substitute other seeds, or make a small donation to replace the loan.
In fact, library personnel regaled along with Jackson in tales of garden woes. Local groundhogs apparently behave according to the assumption that private gardens are dedicated to them. Squirrels and rabbits harvest their claims according to their pleasure. Jackson described a “four-point buck looking in my kitchen window one morning expecting me serve him coffee with his basil.”
(You can follow Jackson’s garden blog at city-transplants.blogspot.com.)
Jackson said that large operations lose only about 3 percent of their crops, while small-scale gardeners can expect to lose between one-third and one-half. The gardeners discussed defenses, ranging from blood meal to homemade cabbage fly decoys.
How convenient that the library also has resources for researching your garden problems.
Jenkintown Library will be establishing a demonstration “three sisters garden.” This garden is modeled after a Native American strategy, where each of three crops supports each other, explained Miller. Corn comes first. Beans are then planted to twine around the corn stalks, and squash follows, serving as a ground cover and mulch to minimize weed competition for the corn and beans.
Among the hundreds of seed packets available are scores of different kinds of tomatoes, peppers and squash. You can still find peas, corn, beans, eggplant, cucumbers, cabbage and flowers, among other items. Do browse. The packets explain how to harvest new seeds.
“We’ll learn as we go along,” Miller said.
Library director Roz Lubeck added, “This is new for us. It will be interesting to see how the program grows.”
For more information about the seed exchange program, contact Miller or Lubeck at the Jenkintown Library by calling 215-884-0593, or visit the website at jkl.mclinc.org.