Master Gardeners to open seed library


By Lana Bandy

A new library is opening in Hamilton County in March, but you won’t find any books in it.

The Hamilton County Master Gardeners Association is opening the county’s first-ever seed library at Carmel Clay Public Library.

“A seed library is a collection of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds that you can borrow to plant and grow at home or in community gardens,” said Jennifer Lambert, SEEDS committee co-chair. “At the end of the growing season, some seeds are saved from the plants grown and then returned to the library.”

The seed library’s grand opening is set for 2 p.m. March 4 and will consist of a presentation, a guest speaker, goodie bags, light refreshments and a ribbon cutting. Ben Cohen, who has opened more than 30 seed libraries in Michigan, will do a brief introduction and discuss how a seed library works, how the community participates and why community involvement is important. He also will touch on self-pollinating annuals and the easiest seeds to save and return each year.

The seed library will remain open until October. Anyone with a library card from their home library in Hamilton County (Carmel Clay, Fishers Hamilton East, Noblesville Hamilton East, Westfield Washington, Hamilton North or Sheridan) can check out seeds. Patrons may check out up to five packets of seeds per visit, for a total of 15 packets per season. The seed library is located next to the checkout desk on the first floor in a cabinet that resembles a card catalog.

CCPL Reference Services Manager Christine Owens said she the seed library is a great fit for Hamilton County.

“Gardening books are very popular and gardening programs are always well-attended,” she said. “More people are gardening as a way to know where their food comes from. There is interest in sustainability, and saving seeds provides that, unlike hybrid seeds you buy at the store. Saving seeds and using them year after year creates seeds that are better suited for your growing area. Carmel, Noblesville and Fishers have community gardens that are inexpensive to rent. Saving seeds saves money.” 

The seed library is the brainchild of Master Gardeners Lambert and Shelli Broadbent, who said they got the idea after attending the Master Gardeners’ Conference. They also were inspired by the popularity of the Indianapolis Public Library’s seed libraries at its Spades and Glendale branches.

“After that conference, we went to the Ohio Valley Seed Swap, where we heard Ben Cohen speak, and we knew it had to happen in Hamilton County,” said Broadbent, SEEDS co-chair. “We love the idea of expanding to other libraries. Some have already expressed interest. We just need to have enough Master Gardeners willing to ‘man’ other locations.”

“Initially, I called all of the libraries in Hamilton County, and they were all very interested, especially Sheridan,” Lambert said. “We hope to inspire other Master Gardeners or community volunteers who live in each library district to establish a seed library at their branch. We are happy to share what we’ve learned and coach them through the process.”

In conjunction with the seed library, HCMGA will offer four educational programs at CCPL this year. The first one will be 7 p.m. March 15, covering direct sowing of cool-weather crops and soil preparation. Speakers also will touch on basic indoor seed starting of crops like broccoli, lettuce, kale, radishes, cabbage, peas and beets.

The second program will be in May and will cover fertilizing and pest management. A summer session will focus on harvest season and seed saving. The final program of the year will be on how to put gardens to bed and cover crops.

In January, HCMGA held its first seed swap, which drew more than 300 attendees. The group’s next undertaking involves a trip to Iowa for the Seed Savers Exchange in August. After attending a three-day, seed-saving course there, members will share their new skills and knowledge with other Master Gardeners as well as interested community members and groups.