What do libraries, schools, and farms have in common? In Jefferson County, they are all part of the Community Seed Project, working toward a common goal to improve and preserve the genetic diversity …
What do libraries, schools, and farms have in common? In Jefferson County, they are all part of the Community Seed Project, working toward a common goal to improve and preserve the genetic diversity of local organic seeds.
The Seed Library of Jefferson County is at the heart of this fruitful collaboration with seed developers like Oatsplanter Farm, nonprofits like the Organic Seed Alliance, the Jefferson County Library, school and community gardens, and home gardeners.
“The key to success is having the community work together on a common goal of food sustainability,” confirms Karen Seabrook, WSU Master Gardener and Director of the Seed Library. Growers borrow seeds and plant a wide variety of beans, greens, corn, squashes, and more. Some of the plants are harvested for food, and some are saved for seed and returned to the local seed bank.
The Seed Library began in 2019 in a WSU Extension classroom. In 2022, it found a new home in the Jefferson County Library in Port Hadlock.
“The library is about lifelong learning,” says Chris HoffmanHill, Public Services Manager. “People enjoyed learning about saving seeds and recognized that they can contribute to the genetic diversity of local seeds. It was eye-opening for a lot of folks.”
The library supported the Community Seed Project mission with a community read, “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.
“People could borrow books, learn about pollinators, get free pollinator seeds, put those seeds in the ground, and watch the magic,” Chris adds.
Local school teachers and students are also a key part of the mission. At elementary, middle, and high school gardens, students planted local seed varieties and harvested food crops for their cafeterias.
A Chimacum horticulture student, Raiden Kasperson, named the Salish Star bean, a new black shelling bush bean developed by Steve Habersetzer and Jadyne Reichner at Oatsplanter Farm. Art students Audrey Matthes, Anna Pace, and Elliott Pflueger designed seed packet labels. Culinary arts students prepared the seeds for the Seed Library by filling and stitching each packet.
At Salish Coast Elementary in Port Townsend, “Kids just love the bean seeds,” says Mado Most, Community Seed Project Coordinator. “They’re beautiful, and children really like the activities – sorting and winnowing, soaking and cutting — to learn all about the parts of the plant contained within the seed.”
The Salish Star bean proved to be highly productive. So did Sunfield Super Sweet Corn, a new variety developed by Ezra Sullivan at Sunfield Farm, with support from the Organic Seed Alliance. Karen explains, “the corn planted this year matured early, and did really well. It was hard to save because everyone wanted to eat it!”
Continuing the community-wide effort, Oatsplanter Farm recently hosted a workshop to demonstrate seed saving and cleaning techniques. Volunteers gathered to clean and prepare more than a dozen additional varieties, including purple sprouting broccoli, spinach, squash, and sugar snap peas.
Steve built a winnowing machine and a treadle thresher for the larger quantity of seed cleaning that happens at Oatsplanter Farm, but home seed savers don’t need special equipment. A bowl, pillowcase, simple screening device, and paper bag are the basic tools.
The process is simple. Cut seed heads or pods when they are dry and separate easily from the plant. Let them dry completely in a paper bag in a cool, dark place. Open the pods or shake the seed heads to release the seeds, and store in glass jars or paper envelopes in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
More tips for gardeners were readily shared at the workshop, from attracting pollinators to collecting seeds to dealing with pests.
“Pollinators are key for seed keepers,” says Jadyne. “Offer a wildflower buffet for all the pollinators working for you.” Jadyne and Steve plant herbs like borage, lavender, anise hyssop, and oregano as well as bachelor’s buttons, calendula, lacy phacelia, and other wildflowers to attract solitary bees and other beneficial insects.
Harvest every other plant, leaving space for air and light among the remaining plants to prevent rot. Remove the least healthy plants, since aphids tend to attack the weakest specimens. Jadyne echoes Karen’s point that it’s best to save the healthiest plants for seed: “We save the best, and eat the rest.”
With broccoli or cauliflower, plants are kept alive longer to create dense, compact seed heads. Shelling beans are ready to harvest for seed when they are dry and leathery, not gooey or pillowy.
“Letting the plants grow ‘past market’ gives them the time to focus nutrients towards growing seeds,” advises Jadyne.
To prepare for next year’s planting, layer compost on a winter garden to replenish nutrients used by the prior season’s crops. Plant cover crops, such as shallow-rooted alyssum, to nourish the soil and deter weeds. Use coarse organic mulch to conserve water and improve soil.
Seeds grown and saved by more than 250 students, farmers, and home gardeners will be ready to share in the spring. “Bringing the community together is where all the magic happens,” concludes Karen.
The Seed Library will reopen in the Jefferson County Library from mid-March through September. Books on growing and saving seeds as well as seed cleaning equipment can be borrowed at the Jefferson County Library anytime.
For more information, visit extension.wsu.edu/jefferson/master-gardener-seed-library.
The Master Gardener Plant Clinic is available online year-round. Visit extension.wsu.edu/jefferson/gardening-2/plant-clinic.
(Barbara Faurot is a Jefferson County Master Gardener and Master Pruner, working with other volunteers who serve as community educators in gardening and environmental stewardship.)
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