Roots and Shoots: Get Some, Share Some

Johanna Reinhardt with the seed library

Johanna Reinhardt with the seed library at the Butterfield library (Photo by Michael Turton)

The Butterfield Library in Cold Spring began its seed collection in February 2020, just before the pandemic restrictions began.

“Before we were fully shut down at the end of March, it gave us a way to connect with people,” says Johanna Reinhardt, the library’s interim director. “It felt like an encouraging thing to do and made us feel good.” 

Reinhardt said she and her son wore masks and gloves and delivered seeds to about 20 homes. 

This year feels like a fresh start after the halted launch, she says. 

The seed library has since grown to include 80 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Library patrons have started donating their own seeds, which is what makes a community seed bank come alive. 

I was excited when I learned about the seed bank because, through interviews and research, I understand the power of saving seeds from our gardens to plant again and share. 

Every season that I save a seed from a plant that grew in my yard and give it a chance in the next season, that plant is adapting to the unique conditions of my landscape. The traits that I’ve selected will be the ones that strengthen in each generation. My actions are shaping and influencing what the plant will be like each season. 

To produce a replica of a plant you like, the seed must be open-pollinated or an heirloom. Seed companies that sell hybrids have crossed parentage lines for certain traits and the seeds will not grow true to type. 

Given that we’ve lost 90 percent of our seed biodiversity over the past century, seed libraries in communities can play a role in creating locally diverse, regionally adapted seeds. This is a good thing to have as the impact of climate change continues to shift temperatures, change rainfall patterns and cause more extreme weather. Not many seed companies are testing and growing for seed in the northeast right now, but what works in California or the heartland might not be the best fit for our soils and conditions. 

Companies like Hudson Valley Seed, which coincidentally grew out of a librarian’s seed collection, provide only open-pollinated and heirloom varieties with the hope that gardeners will save their seeds. 

From Reinhardt’s perspective, a seed collection was a natural step. “The library is a place for people to grow in every way, not just through books,” she said. “We also want to be a place of sustainability, which is why we have tools and equipment, too.” 

My family personally appreciates the library’s tent and other tools. 

The seed collection can continue to expand through donations, such as a patron’s recent contribution of marigold seeds. Experienced gardeners have jumped on the program and more seeds are coming in as more learn about the collection. Reinhardt noted some people come to the library to browse seeds only, not books. 

Donated seeds need to be dried. Any amount of moisture can trigger a seed to sprout. The library has packets or you can bring in your own. By your inclusion of the Latin names and cultivars, if any, other gardeners can know exactly what they are getting because common names aren’t reliable. What I know as a coneflower, someone else knows as Echinacea. Also, there are many types of coneflowers. The more information you provide, the better. 

Reinhardt hopes a volunteer will step forward to help catalogue the seeds and vet the collection. While seeds are less expensive than books, financial donations also can be directed to the seed library and will help it grow. 

Want to learn more? Look out for details in the late summer about a seed saving workshop we’re planning. It’s a fun and easy way to support the library and the community.

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