Something else to check out from the library: Seeds for gardening

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) An old card catalog cabinet proves to be the perfect thing to store packets of seeds as part of the seed library at the Central Library in Salt Lake City as seen on Saturday, April 16, 2022.

In The Create Space — a large, bright area in the Kearns Library — patrons can heat-transfer a design onto a coffee cup, record a podcast, or build robots.

One of the most popular stations in the space doesn’t require any electricity at all. It’s a small table with three old-style card-catalog cabinets, with drawers numbered 1 to 27. Inside, librarians have hand-filled tiny brown paper envelopes with seeds.

The seed library launched last year, said Trish Hull, the Kearns branch manager for the Salt Lake County Library system, and “it was hugely popular. … We gave out something like 7,000 seed packets to 600 people.”

This year, with spring planting underway or approaching soon, Salt Lake County Library expanded the program, setting up additional seed libraries at branches in Draper (1136 Pioneer Road), Holladay (2150 E. 4730 South), and Millcreek (2266 E. Evergreen) Avenue). The seed libraries opened in late February with a kick-off event at the Holladay branch, where people learned how to start their own seeds in recyclable pots.

The Kearns branch, at 4275 W. 5345 South, now offers okra, celery, parsley, broccoli, beets, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, thyme, squash, tomato, cauliflower, leeks, Swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, onion, scallion, radish, kale, lavender, anise, sunflower, rutabaga, bok choy, kohlrabi, basil and cabbage seeds.

“One of the things we did last year, which we tried to do again this year, was to get specific seeds for our community,” Hull said. For example, the seed library will soon add taro seeds, at the request of the Pacific Islander community.

“There may be some seeds that maybe the Latinx community would like,” Hull said. “We had people from the Vietnamese Catholic church next door, and they would come over, and wanted certain vegetables. We tried to honor that, and get as many kinds of vegetables as we could.”

The seed lists are posted in English and Spanish, and all seeds are heirloom, open-pollinated varieties, so gardeners can save seeds and bring them back to the library, where they will be packaged and distributed next year. Donated seed packets will be marked, so gardeners know they might be a little less predictable than commercially packaged seeds.

The seed libraries will be open through the end of April, or whenever they run out of seeds. Each library visitor can pick out three packets of seeds per day, and no library card is required.

“We get a lot of families, and every person in the family picks out three packets. So kids are picking their own vegetables,” Hull said, adding that kids that grow their own vegetables are more likely to eat them.

“We have everyone from beginners who have never gardened to people who come in and start talking [about gardening] and I’m like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,'” Hull said.

And, being a library, the branch has a robust section of gardening books to get beginners started, as well as seed-starting information sheets from the Utah State University Extension Office. The county library system also offers cardholders access to online gardening courses.

A year-round seed library in downtown SLC

The Salt Lake Public Library opened its first seed library in 2019, at its Main branch at 201 E. 400 South, in partnership with Wasatch Community Gardens.

To launch it, said Rikki Longino, the City Library’s garden coordinator, the library’s garden staff performed a little skit in the auditorium using the old-fashioned wooden card catalog that is now used to stock seeds. “I played the patron who was coming to use the seed library,” said Longino, who uses they/them pronouns.

Now they’re playing a different role, overseeing The Plot, the library’s hands-on gardening program. It maintains more than a dozen raised beds on the Main library’s north side, mentors cohorts of community gardeners, grows edible landscaping along the sidewalks bordering the building, and organizes events throughout the year.

Longino also runs the seed library, which has been so popular it’s now open year-round. In 2021, City Library added seed libraries at its Marmalade (280 W. 500 North), Sprague (2131 S. 1100 East), Glendale (1375 S. Concord), and Day-Riverside (1575 W. 1000 North) locations. It’s in the process of opening seed libraries at its Chapman (577 S. 900 West) and Anderson-Foothill (1135 S. 2100 East) branches, with one to come eventually at the Sweet branch (455 F Street), and all seed and gardening materials are now being translated into Spanish. The materials will also be translated into Chinese for the Anderson-Foothill branch.

At the downtown location, the seed library is located on the first floor, near the welcome desk. It’s slightly different from the county library: its drawers are labeled with the Latin names for plant families.

“So there’s a guide that correlates with the labels — amaranth is beets, chard and spinach,” Longino said. “Alliums are your onion family. Apiaceae is carrots, celery, cilantro. … it’s sort of like the Dewey Decimal System of plant organization. It can be a little hard at first, but Latin is the universal language of plants.”

The public library offers seeds to anyone, Longino said. No library card is required. Those seeking seeds don’t even an email address.

“Until recently, that was a required field on the request form, but we realized some people didn’t have email,” they said. “We want to remove as many barriers as possible.”

People can visit a branch to browse seed packets in person, or look through the library’s online master list of available seeds. There is no limit to seed packets, though the library asks people to only take what they will grow. Then, people are asked to fill out a seed request form either in-person or digitally. Online orders can be picked up at the Main library.

Though seed-starting season is quickly closing — most people start seeds through the end of April — the Glendale branch will host a garden swap on Saturday, May 7, from 10 am to 4 pm. more information about how to start spring gardens. One does not have to bring anything, and free seeds will be available there as well.

Lognino said later in the season, once people harvest their plants, they are encouraged to save their own seeds and return them, using envelopes and labels provided by the City Library.

In the early spring and fall, the library hosts seed-swapping events — but as long as seeds are securely sealed in an envelope and clearly labeled with the gardener’s name, contact information and information on how and when the seeds were grown, people can deposit them at any library bookdrop. They don’t need to be from plants grown from the seed library, but GMO seeds are not accepted.

“Of course, it’s not like we are going to charge people late fees,” Longino said. “The idea is to grow your seeds, and then bring them back — to make them a free and open resource.”

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