A seed library – what a charming idea

“If you have garden and a library, you have everything you need.”  Marcus Tullius Cicero

In this age of Zoom and the ease of taking classes while at home, I logged into a gardening presentation featuring multiple topics and speakers. All the sessions were good, but one caught my attention.

A seed library!

A what?! Who can remember the Dewey Decimal System when we’re talking about seeds at the library? I was intrigued and soon made a trip to visit the Putnam County Library. Library Director Megan Tarbett was kind enough to stay late one evening and share information about this fabulous concept.

The seed library is not hard to find once you are in the library. It is housed in a microfilm case, which looks exactly like the card catalog files I remember from my school days. It has old-school charm. And of course, I opened every drawer.

Speaking of drawers, each was labeled with the type of seed inside. Tomatoes, beets, and corn – to name a few –  are in marked individual envelopes. Some are in their original packages; most of these are donated by Gritt’s Midway. Others have been harvested and brought to be shared by gardeners.

Yes, it is the library, and I am sure they would love for you to have a library card, but that’s not necessary for the seed library. Gardeners are encouraged to limit their selection to four packages per trip, and they do ask that you visit the desk to “check out” the seeds. This record helps them keep track of inventory and replenish when needed.

Obviously, once the seeds are checked out they can’t be returned. As the plants mature through the growing and harvest season, and as seeds are collected, you can return your seeds or share your bounty with the library. The staff asks that the seeds be clean, dry, and well labeled.

Labeling is key here. Planting the seeds another gardener has labeled can yield a surprise, but that’s part of the fun. Donating seeds is also a way to keep heirloom plants around for the next generation.

The Putnam Library seed sharing program is so much more than just the card catalog. Working with the Putnam County Extension Office and the Putnam County Master Gardeners, the library hosts gardening classes, cooking demonstrations, and they even had a beekeeper presentation. Be on the lookout; they sometimes have plant swaps.

In the early days of the COVID pandemic, with an abundance of seeds and few patrons, the library staff made a social media post offering to mail seeds to gardeners. It was a huge success. No wasted seeds that year!  Seed packets were mailed up and down the east coast – as far away as Florida. 

Other fun activities created to keep the library active during these times included a Chicken Chat, crafting with books, and creating hydrangeas from book pages, which are so pretty.

My evening visit to the library didn’t leave me time to visit the Putnam Provisions, a fun little coffee shop across the street. I heard there are pop-ups shops in this building, including farmer’s markets.  

The Putnam County seed library began in 2016 at the main branch. Its popularity has allowed the seed program to expand and is now included in all Putnam branches. So, not only can you check out seeds, you can find a book on gardening and check it out too.

Can’t visit the Putnam County Library? Don’t worry. The Summers County Public Library in Hinton has a seed program. Rumor has it the Jackson County Library in Ripley does too, but after several phone calls I was unable to verify. There is also one connected to Heart + Hand Outreach Ministries in South Charleston. There may be more. Check with your local branch and if they don’t have one – make the suggestion that they add it to their offerings.