The Library Goes to Seed
Check out more than books at ABC Library branches
By Holly von Winckel
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Offering seeds at the lending library is the very manifestation of potential. With just a flick of the library card, anyone can collect instructions for a plant (the seed) and instructions for helping the seed grow (a gardening book). In addition to seeds and gardening guides, library staff and volunteers who know a great deal about local gardening are on hand. They will not, however, tend your garden for you.
Offering seeds at the lending library is the very manifestation of potential. With just a flick of the library card, anyone can collect instructions for a plant (the seed) and instructions for helping the seed grow (a gardening book).
Sadly, seeds and a book are not a complete garden. There are a few essentials the library does not carry. For starters, gardens need soil with organic content, which much of our town is pretty lean on. Water is crucial. A container might be in order, and possibly some tools. Patience, luck and persistence help tremendously. You may need a buddy, too, because if you leave town without having someone look after your plants, you will come home to something like Carthage after the Romans, with nary a whiff of vegetation remaining. Last but not least, because this is a seed lending program, you need commitment and follow-through to let some plants go to seed, collect the seeds and return them to the library.
If all that starts to sound daunting, hang on to your sun hat—there is more good news. ABC Seed Library has additional resources, going far beyond the printed and e-printed instructional materials. They are also hosting a series of garden-related events, including Master Gardener Q&A on Saturdays, introduction to seed starting, how to create a wildlife habitat, home composting, seed saving and food preservation. More topics will be announced in the future. These events are free and open to the public; all you really need is to know where and when to show up. Check the library website for the details.
Brita Sauer, Juan Tabo Branch Manager and seed librarian, says there are plans for a demonstration garden right there in front of the Juan Tabo Library building, so visitors will be able to see exactly how all this works. When asked the obvious question—Why does the public library have seeds?—Sauer identified a combination of motivating factors. “It’s trending in libraries right now. Libraries are expanding with community interests to stay current as a public resource, and gardening is big. People are a little divorced from the food chain, and this is a way to reconnect.” She may have understated by calling this a trend. A list provided by California’s Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library puts the number of US seed libraries at nearly 250, with many more globally. New Mexico alone hosts at least seven seed libraries, including one in Rio Rancho and one in Albuquerque. Sauer went on to describe the cycle of planting and saving seeds as a different type of local history. This is a literal manifestation of the notion that history is written by the winners: Only plants which survive to the end of this season and make seeds of their own will be part of next year’s garden. Further, when you return seeds to the library, what has grown in your yard this year could grow in the yards of many other library patrons next year.
Although many people (including this author and the seed librarian) began gardening because store-bought tomatoes just aren’t up to snuff, Sauer said the most popular seeds so far have been the salad greens, herbs and flowers. In fact, the flower seeds were all out on the day we spoke; 2014 should be a great year for Albuquerque’s bees and hummingbirds. The seed library features local and regional plant types such as Sandia chiles, Isleta Pueblo melons, New Mexico bolita beans and Corrales Azafrán (an herb tasting much like saffron). There are also seeds for things we will never see in stores, such as Charentais melon, a sort of primal cantaloupe so tender and juicy that ripe fruits cannot be transported at all. If you don’t grow it yourself, you will likely never see or taste one.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Gardening has a long tradition as a community activity, and the seed library offers us a new way to create community while exploring gardening. Sauer observed that attendees of the seed library events “come together to discuss gardening ... and everything else.” Experienced gardeners and first-timers share information freely and generally have a good time getting to know each other. Those with gardening and seed-saving experience are encouraged to get involved, including donating locally collected seeds to the library. Even if you have a “brown thumb” and your soil is 90 percent goatheads, the Seed Library is ready to help you learn to garden. Begin by digging up your library card.
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