Remember those giant but strangely juicy and fruitful tomatoes from your grandparents’ backyard garden? Did your mother have a prize-winning squash at the county fair? If your mom or your grandparents are still around, ask them if they kept any seeds. Seed libraries have been around for centuries. The structure can be as simple as a few labeled envelopes filled with harvested seeds from favored plants. Most seeds last for a long time if kept cool and dry. Some seeds do go bad eventually, so it’s good for seed librarians to make sure they have plenty on hand for plants that they would like to continue propagating. Archives of seeds preserve diversity in the food chain and maintain heritage varieties of beloved plants.
Patrons of the Chicago Public Library system will be pleased to find that several branches have created their own hyperlocal seed libraries-within-the-library. To contribute, save seeds from plants after their harvest, dry them properly, and donate them to the library (giving others the chance to try out your favorite strain of bok choy). You can also start from scratch and receive seeds that you may not have been able to find at the garden center. The Sulzer Regional Library has just started their own version, and visitors can stop by the information desk to view and collect seeds. The Harold Washington Library Center downtown offers harvested seeds alongside gardening resources at the Business, History, and Sciences division desk on the fourth floor. Call first to see if they have started up for the season. v