How to Start a Seed Library at South King County Food Coalition

30 Mar 2023, by Admin in

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How to Start a Seed Library at South King County Food Coalition

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Written by Anaistasia Gray, Cultural Food Program Coordinator VISTA


South King County Food Coalition Seed Library’s Development Framework

To start a seed library, you only need a few basic things. However, a seed library may also be a wonderful hub for garden education, community building, or a directory of related resources. The purpose of any seed library is to gather seeds and share them freely with the community. SKCFC’s personal goal with a seed library is to be as much of a “one-stop shop” for gardeners as possible. A hub for not only seeds and learning how to grow them but also a centralized place for library patrons to learn from trusted, regionally specific information sources such as University Extension Master Gardeners, Indigenous seed stewards, local farmers, and seed producers. 

Basic supplies needed for a seed library:

  • Seeds, of multiple types. May include a mix of: vegetables, fruits/berries, flowers, & herbs/aromatics. 
  • Waterproof & pest-proof containers for storing seeds (may use a combo of types to achieve both)–container sizes and quantity dependent on size of library
  • Smaller envelopes for library patrons to check out seeds (must be windowless)
  • Marking pens/pencils to label 
  • A log book for seed check in/out

Exact materials and containers may vary. A seed library may be as small and simple as a single shoebox, filled with sealed Ziploc bags of seed packets, kept inside a closet or drawer out of reach of pests, with folded scrap paper and masking tape for labeling your envelopes. It may also be as complicated as a dedicated refrigerator with seeds organized by produce type and variety. For SKCFC’s Seed Libraries, they are working towards something on middle ground. 

Priorities for the SKCFC Library are:

  • Streamlined organization & maintenance 
  • Community investment & engagement 
  • Appropriate storage 
  • Open lines of communication/feedback between Seed Librarian (SKCFC’s Cultural Food Program VISTA), Food Banks, and library patrons
  • Low-barrier to use
  • Adheres to PCC Grant funding requirements

SKCFC’s Seed Library Materials:

  • Sterilite latching storage boxes (small, cube style), enough for 1 per plant family 
  • Sterilite medium or large latching storage tote
  • Waterproof printable labels
  • Paper “key size” envelopes, windowless
  • Permanent marker
  • Desiccant packets
  • Binder w/ log book & seed library resources
  • Seeds of all common produce varieties, unopened packets no more than 1 year past their sell by date. Accepting hybrid variety seed donations, but all purchased seed will be open pollinated or heirloom varieties. 

Additionally, our resource guide will include information and gardening education from:

  • Washington State University Extension Master Gardeners
  • Washington State University SNAP-Ed
  • Tilth Alliance
  • Native Seed Keepers Alliance 
  • Permaculture Institute of North America
  • Washington State Department of Agriculture
  • Misc reputable gardening resources

To start setting up your seed library:

  1. Collect all the seeds you’d like to begin with. Sort them in a way that makes the most sense for your collection of seeds. You might organize seeds in a variety of categories and subcategories, as long as it’s clearly labeled how seeds are organized. Consider organization based on:
    • Plant families
    • Specific plants–Tomatoes, Squash/Gourds, and Cole Crops
    • General categories–like leafy greens, root vegetables, flowers or herbs
    • Planting time–hot season or cool climate produce
    • Seed Producer

(Reasoning: a clear organization style helps patrons easily sort through and reorganize seeds. It will also help track seed library needs and excess)

2. Read both parts, order doesn’t matter but you may prefer doing both simultaneously

  • Log each seed packet type based on how you organized your seeds–noting variety, quantity of packs (if multiples of same variety), seed supplier(s), and any marked sell by/packed for date, & approximate packet size (i.e., “normal,” value/jumbo/large, or bulk bags/jars).

(Reasoning: Patrons will use this log to track the approximate amount leftover in each pack when they “check out” seeds)

  • Use a small piece of masking tape to secure the bottom fold of the seed packet to packets so they don’t burst open before seeds are used. 

(Reasoning: Packets aren’t usually durable or resealable, once opened they tend to fall apart–library patrons will reinforce the other end when opening new packets)

3. Take your seed organization categories and print or write sticky labels for your storage container(s) to match. It might be helpful to add additional notes to your labels, such as examples of what you may find or relevant planting tips.

Labels are preferred to writing on containers, purely because it is easier to place another label than remove permanent markings. Over time, the library size may grow or shift in organization styles naturally. This keeps your supplies tidier, easy to identify, and adaptable to needed change.

4. Ensure that seed containers are completely dry, adding desiccants or using airtight containers as needed.

(Reasoning: Any excess or drastic shifts in moisture can severely degrade seeds, which may prevent germination)

5. Begin setting up the resource guide component: open the file “Print This Resource Guide” containing all of the instructions for setting up the guide. This is the public facing aspect of the library that will be available to anyone regardless of whether they check out seeds. In addition to the physical copy of this, a link will be on the front of the binder for all of the files to be downloaded from google drive. 

This will be an open source document available to volunteers AND anyone who wishes to print the guide themselves, start their own seed library or use it for another community project.

6. Gather your seed checkout supplies. You should have a collection of envelopes for seeds, plenty of pens, masking or washi tape, and small scraps of paper, and an envelope to contain signed user agreements & checkout logs (referred to as a “Library Card”)

7. Your seed storage containers may be organized and kept in a dark, cool, dry place as is or you may need to house them in a larger more portable container. Fill these containers with your organized seeds and your seed checkout supplies 

Example: shoebox that isn’t waterproof, just keep seeds in waterproof containers or bags inside. Or, if you had a larger waterproof tub, you could loosely contain seeds banded together or in an open divider 

(Reasoning: Seeds need to be kept dry and in the dark, as they may germinate too early or become degraded and not germinate at all)

8. Place a large, easily readable “Seed Library” sign on the outside of the container 

9. Collect your printed resource guide and your Seed LIbrary with its contents and store in a cool, dark and dry place. Store these items together, do not separate the guide from the library or allow any patron to check out the physical copy.