JEFFERSON — Henderson Memorial Public Library isn’t just for books and other media anymore.
The East Jefferson Street library now accepts hybrid or heirloom seeds, offering them up to anyone to plant in their own home gardens — though a popular concept around the country it’s a first for Ashtabula County. Organizers hosted a seminar about the new service Monday at the library.
Kingsville Public Library along Academy Street also plans to participate, and Conneaut Public Library and Rock Creek Public Library have been in contact about starting their own seed bank, said Stephanie Blessing, co-founder of Red Beet Row, an educational farm in Jefferson helping to coordinate.
“It is snowballing,” she said. “All the libraries in Ashtabula County are now calling, asking for a seed library in their branch ... which is awesome.”
Blessing said coordinators trying to keep the process simple for others to take and donate seeds — the main reason many seed libraries fail is because people stop donating.
“This is something I want to see grow, catch on and become county-wide in order to kind of keep it going,” said library program coordinator Bev Follin. “You don’t have to understand this to take seeds. You can just look through the bins and take what you want to plant.”
The library now has new shelves dedicated to beans, corn, squash, spinach, tomato, herbs and flowers, cabbage, carrot, lettuce, onion and other miscellaneous seeds. You don’t even need to be a library member to take seeds out. For more information on how to donate, see the information box near this article.
Blessing said the available seeds will likely be a mix of heirloom and open-pollinated or hybrid seeds, the latter of which raises questions about what it will actually produce, said Rees Davis, who owns a nursery in Saybrook and helps run the Ashtabula Farmers Market — what will be the seed’s next generation?
“We want people who get the seeds next ... to be able to know it’s going to grow what it is,” replied John Wright, co-founder of Red Beet Row, recommending donators try to stick to heirloom or open-pollinated seeds.
He added seeds that are stored properly can last from one to several years depending on the family — although their germination rate dips over time. Blessing recommended donated seeds be no more than three to four years old, to be sure they will actually produce.
Julie Wayman, an Americorps VISTA member who helps coordinate community gardens through Ashtabula County Community Action Agency, also presented Monday on two community gardening locations in the county: at the agency’s 6920 Austinburg Road, Austinburg, headquarters, which yields herbs for the agency’s cooking classes; and about an acre for vegetable production inside Presidential Park along West 58th Street in Ashtabula, which is managed by Wright.
“Seed saving is the cornerstone of food security — the other piece is community gardens,” she said Monday. “If you have healthy food, you have healthy people and healthy communities.”
“I just think it’s great — full support,” Davis said after Monday’s seminar. “If a home grower wants to try something new, it’s a great source for free seeds and some knowledge on how to grow things.”
He came to the library with two large freezer bags full of seed packets. He said he plans to become a regular donator.
“We’re professional growers so we buy new seed every year and we don’t save our seed because we need a guaranteed germination,” he said. “Any of our excess seed we’re more than willing to donate.”
Mary Howe, who leads the county League of Women Voters, said she’s “not really a serious gardener,” but “it’s fun to see what I can grow.”
But she may soon have new raised garden beds — and plenty of new seed options at the library — to experiment with.
“I’ll see what’s here and see what I have at home and maybe bring some things,” she said.
Follow Justin Dennis on Twitter @justindennis.
• Anyone can take seeds from Henderson Memorial Public Library’s new seed bank and plant them at home — no registration is required.
• The shelved seeds are catalogued by common vegetable families like squash or carrot. Herbs and flowers are separate. All others can be found in a miscellaneous section.
• Seeds are organized alphabetically within their family — for example, different types of pepper or kale are together.
“Seeds you don’t use, or have from other sources, feel free to donate them back to the library,” organizers said — it’s not required, but “highly encouraged” to keep the bank going. “At the end of the growing season, collect seed from your plants and donate them back to the library.”
• Seed donations are taken at the front desk, which also has instructions on how to properly seal your seeds in an envelope for cataloguing.
• If the seeds aren’t in their original packet, fill out an envelope with the seeds’ common and scientific names, the produce variety and its hybrid or open pollinated designation.
The envelope should also include who harvested it, where and when, and how difficult the seed is to save — easy or advanced.
“Please add as many significant details as you can — what the plant is like to grow, what conditions make it happy, what its fruit is like, anything notable,” organizers said. “People who use your seeds will rely on what you’ve written to decide if this is a plant that they would like to grow.”
• The library carries several instructional books on saving different types of seeds. Red Beet Row, an educational farm in Jefferson helping to coordinate the seed library, also hosts gardening classes. Learn more at RedBeetRow.com.
• Organizers said the effort will need to rely on regular volunteer work to properly catalogue seeds, keep seed shelves clean and organized and check seeds for degradation, organizers said. To get involved, contact Stephanie Blessing at (304) 561-4575 or firstname.lastname@example.org.