Islanders can get gardens growing with free seeds

The Confederation Centre Public Library and other libraries have a set of special shelves for Island gardeners hoping to put their green thumbs to use this summer.

'Everyone can have the opportunity to come and borrow seeds and try a garden'

The seed library at the Confederation Centre Public library allows Islanders to check out various herb, vegetable and flower seeds the same way they would take out a book. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The Confederation Centre Public Library has a set of special shelves for Island gardeners hoping to put their green thumbs to use this summer.

In addition to books, Islanders can borrow seeds during spring and summer months. The seed library offers a space where people can browse and check out various herb, vegetable and flower seeds the same way they would take out a book.

It's a way of preserving heritage varieties — it's a really important part of our tradition of farming and gardening.— Ann Wheatley

"The seed library is a public collection of seeds," said Minerva Gamble-Hardy, a library assistant who helps run the program. 

"Patrons can borrow seeds and then they can grow them and if they're successful in growing them they can donate some of their seeds back to the library."

The program started as a partnership between the Confederation Centre Public Library and the Cooper Institute.

Seed-saving seminars 

The library includes a wide variety of plants — everything from carrots and tomatoes to marigolds and poppies. Gamble-Hardy said that more than 100 people have checked out seeds from the library so far this spring.

'If they're successful in growing them they can donate some of their seeds back to the library,' says library assistant Minerva Gamble-Hardy. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The library also hosts workshops with local farmers, she said, to teach people how to properly harvest and save seeds for replanting. 

"Everyone can have the opportunity to come and borrow seeds and try a garden," Gamble-Hardy said. "As well as providing the resources for people to learn how to grow seeds and they can grow their own food."

Passing on knowledge 

Brenda Whiteway of Charlottetown has been using the seed library since it began in 2013, and credits the library for helping teach her to grow vegetables including kale, beans and arugula. 

'Seeds are pretty expensive, they can be, and if you have access to seeds and you know that they're local that's a real bonus,' says seed library user Brenda Whiteway. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"Having access to seeds if you're not quite sure if you can grow things, at least you're not losing a whole lot of your hard earned money in purchasing seeds," Whiteway said. 

Whiteway said the seed library is also a way to help new gardeners learn about planting. After a season of growing her own garden, she harvests her seeds and returns them to the library with tips on how to successfully grow that plant for the person who checks out the seeds.

The seed library also helps build a community around gardening, she said.

"You're able to give back once you're able to start learning how to save seeds of your own and give back to the seed library."

Preserving local varieties

"If you have access to seeds and you know they're local, that's a real bonus," Whiteway said.  

'We really want to build up that capacity in the community for saving seed,' says Ann Wheatley of the Cooper Institute. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

In addition to seeds brought into the library by borrowing patrons, the Cooper Institute also collects seeds from Island gardeners who specialize in growing specific types of plants, and farmers who have extra to spare.

"We really want to build up that capacity in the community for saving seed," said the institute's Ann Wheatley. "It's a really important aspect of food sovereignty, is seed sovereignty. It's the basis of our food system." 

"It's a way of preserving heritage varieties — it's a really important part of our tradition of farming and gardening," she added.

The Cooper Institute also runs seed exchange events called Seedy Saturdays in the Island communities of Montague, Souris and Breadalbane and has another seed library in Summerside. There's also one at the library in Breadalbane. 

"It is really an exchange — I mean not just of seeds but of knowledge and experience," she said. "I think it works really well in that way." 

The Cooper Institute runs seed exchange events across P.E.I. and has another seed library at the Summerside Rotary Library. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

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