Vernon Grows: The Seed Library at Okanagan Regional Library

open seed library drawer showing packets and labels from the free seed collection

Our local public library is home to a free community seed exchange! The Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library has created a seed library to share garden seeds with the community. Seed libraries preserve and share our heritage through seed exchange and seed saving education. Vernon library visitors can “check out” seeds in the spring, grow them into plants during gardening season, and then “return” freshly-grown seeds in the fall.

seed collection of seed packets and labels at the okanagan regional library

About the Seed Library at the Vernon Library Branch

The Vernon Grows Seed Library provides a seed exchange service for library patrons. Locally grown heirloom garden seeds are available to gardeners in the community. The seed collection becomes regionally-adapted as it is borrowed, grown, and replenished. The program fosters the local sharing economy and encourages local plant biodiversity.

The seed library offers open-pollinated heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. Borrowing from and contributing to the library is free of cost. It’s also one of the easier ways to contribute to local seed exchange (and it doesn’t require extensive paperwork!).

Seeds should be stored in dry, dark, and cool conditions. The  staff at the Okanagan Regional Library takes care of storing the seed collection safely to keep the seeds dormant. Fortunately, many of the book preservation techniques used in public libraries also apply to storing seeds. These preservation techniques make theirs an ideal location for a public seed collection:

“You want to keep the temperature fairly consistent for the books. There will be a fluctuation at night, but not to any great degree. The seeds might be more durable than some of the books, especially books that are not printed with acid-free paper.”- Peter Critchley, Vernon Library Reference Librarian

Public seed exchange programs such as seed libraries and seed swaps offer an alternative to commercially-marketed seeds. Seed libraries act like an informal seed bank that the community can actively use and contribute to. They also help to connect people with local food systems, promote local agriculture, preserve genetic diversity, and encourage plant resilience.

filing cabinet at public seed library with computers and labelled seed collection

Public Seed Collection at Vernon’s Okanagan Regional Library

The seed collection at the Vernon Grows Seed Library is maintained through donations from library users who garden in the North Okanagan (Mara to Vernon). Some of the founding seeds were provided by Okanagan College and Patchwork Farms. Most of the current stock has been grown out or provided by local Vernon Library patrons. Some of the seed savers who contribute seeds to the Vernon Seed Library also contribute their knowledge and seeds to local gardening organizations such as Vernon Permaculture and Vernon’s Annual Seedy Saturday Seed Swap.

The seeds circulated are regionally-adapted heirlooms that will produce plants similar to the parent plant. In the future, the geographic data submitted by seed contributors will be used to match up seed varieties to the seed borrower’s neighbourhood.

sign for the vernon grows - seed library at vernon library

Free Seed Exchange at the Okanagan Regional Library

The seed exchange service is free for Okanagan Regional Library users. To access the Vernon Grows Seed Library, visit the Information Desk on the Second Floor of the Vernon branch. Peter will show you the seed collection and help you sign them out.

Seeds are stored alphabetically by plant family. Choose from open-pollinated heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. It’s helpful to discuss your garden’s location and soil type (if known) with the seed librarian. Remember that the seeds are borrowed to be grown out into new plants with new seed. The fresh seed is then returned to the library’s seed collection.

Don’t worry if you’ve never saved seeds before! The seed library offers a step-by-step guide on how to save the easiest seeds. There is also a guide to saving not-so-easy seeds if you’re feeling up to it. And of course, the Okanagan Regional Library catalogue includes access to wonderful seed saving books such as The Seed Garden and Seed to Seed.

open seed library drawer showing packets and labels from the free seed collection

Seed Library Storage and Seed Preservation

Seeds in the seed collection are packaged in small manila paper envelopes. The packets are stored in a dark metal cabinet. The library itself is temperature and humidity controlled.

The temperature and humidity is set for energy efficiency and staff comfort, so seed viability has a shorter lifespan than in a dedicated seed vault. The trade-off is that the seed collection is publicly accessible and free to use! The minimal exposure to light and humidity fluctuations of the library space is perhaps more conducive to seed storage than some household seed storage situations.

Peter grows out the oldest seed from the library each year to get a handle on how the seed is doing. This helps to ensure that the stock available from the seed collection remains viable. Peter started gardening with his kids when they were young, and now grows the most delicious heirloom tomatoes in his home garden! He will, however, grow out the oldest seeds of the collection regardless of type if no patrons choose to grow them:

“Last year I grew kale from some of the older seeds, and I hate kale. I don’t like kale. Have you ever tried kale chips? They’re terrible. Bloody awful.” – Peter Critchley, Vernon Library Reference Librarian

second floor of the okanagan regional library - vernon library branch - seed library location

Tips for Contributing to the Seed Library

To expand the collection, home gardeners can contribute their own seeds to the seed library. Gardeners with seeds to contribute are asked to place seeds from each vegetable in their own envelope and label with the type of vegetable, date collected, and general location. The seeds can be dropped off at the upstairs information desk at the library. Here’s more details on how to contribute new seed to the seed library:

How to Contribute to the Seed Library

Here’s how to contribute to the Vernon Library Public Seed Collection:

  1. Collect Seeds
    1. Only save seeds for the seed library collection from plants that you know how to save properly. Step-by-step printed guides on how to save seeds are available at the library.
    2. Choose seeds from healthy, strong plants. You reap what you sow (if you harvest seeds from small peppers, you’re likely to grow small peppers).
    3. Harvest freshly grown seeds as soon as they have fully formed. If the vegetables still look good enough to eat, it’s often too early to harvest the plant’s seeds.
    4. Beans, peas, peppers, and lettuce can be fairly reliably saved without unintentional cross-pollination and hybridization. Seeds from brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage) and cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, melons, pumpkins), as well as corn, should only be submitted if you’ve taken appropriate steps to prevent cross-pollination.
    5. Collect seeds from a number of plants to preserve genetic diversity ( preferably at least 6 plants, as many as 30-60 is ideal).
  2. Dry Seeds
    1. Transfer seeds from the garden to a controlled drying environment as soon as possible (within a few days).
    2. Avoid high temperatures, moisture, bright light. These conditions encourage seed germination (which is pretty much the opposite of seed storage).
    3. Dry seeds in a controlled environment: 5-20 °C (40 – 70°F) and 10-25 % of relative humidity, depending upon species.
    4. Separate seeds from any loose plant material such as chaff.

  3. Store Seeds
    1. Place each type of seed in a paper envelope. Large amounts of seeds can be separated into multiple envelopes. Coin envelopes work well if you have them, but seeds can be submitted in regular mailing envelopes.
    2. Label with as much information as you can, including the common crop name, date collected, location collected (town, zone). Remember that people only have what you have written on the package to decide if it is a plant that they would like to grow. More info is better.
    3. Store in a dark, dry airtight container until ready to go to the library.
  4. Drop Off Seeds
    1. Take your labelled seed packets to the Information Desk on the second level of the Vernon library branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

seed collection packets at a local seed library on top of area map

Does your local library have a seed collection, or have you ever been to a local seed library? Have you considered contributing to or growing seed from a public seed collection? Share your stories in the comments section below!

Click here to learn more about seed starting.

community seed exchange - drawers of seed collection cabinet at okanagan regional library

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