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Tuesday, March 26, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Spokane, Spokane County seed libraries take off

UPDATED: Mon., March 18, 2019, 2:06 p.m.

Gwendolyn Haley, a librarian at the Otis Orchards library, shows off some of the seeds available in the library’s free seed bank Monday, March 11, 2019. Two other county libraries also have seed libraries that provide free seeds for gardeners and ask that they save some seeds to replenish the bank each year. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Gwendolyn Haley, a librarian at the Otis Orchards library, shows off some of the seeds available in the library’s free seed bank Monday, March 11, 2019. Two other county libraries also have seed libraries that provide free seeds for gardeners and ask that they save some seeds to replenish the bank each year. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

There’s still a lot of snow and ice on the ground, but it’s time to think about gardening.

There are a lot of community gardens and backyard gardens in the Spokane area and both the Spokane County Library District and Spokane Public Library offer seed libraries for people to check out vegetable and flower seeds to grow.

The Hillyard Library in Spokane and the county libraries in Cheney, Fairfield and Otis Orchards all offer dozens of varieties of seeds for checkout. The one at the Otis Orchards Library is the oldest in the county system, having opened five years ago.

A local resident approached the Otis Orchards library with the seed library idea, said Gwendolyn Haley, SCLD public services manager for education and enrichment. The first batch of seeds was all donated. “It’s just been running on its own ever since,” she said. “Otis Orchards is a community with an avid group of gardeners.”

County library users are allowed to check out up to six packages of vegetable seeds and up to six packages of flower seeds simply by signing their name to a sheet of paper and indicating how many packets they are taking. “It’s really very much the honor system,” she said.

All the seeds the library offers are heirloom seeds, meaning they come from a non-hybrid plant. People are asked to allow one plant they grow to go to seed, collect the seeds and bring them back to the library at the end of the growing season. The libraries depend on new seeds coming in to replace seeds that are used or expire.

“That’s the library part of it,” she said. “It won’t work without it. It really has become self-propagating.”

Haley said she’s pleased by the seed library’s success. “I’m so proud of this, because it really was the library responding to community interest,” Haley said. “It really is something the community has embraced and made their own.”

The Hillyard Library offers both hybrid and heirloom seeds, said Customer Experience Manager Karen Nielsen. The hybrid seeds do not need to be saved and dried. “The ones that we tell people to bring back are heirlooms,” Nielsen said.

The seed library in Hillyard has been running since 2014, Nielsen said, and there are plans to add seed libraries at the Indian Trail and Shadle branches this year. But the Hillyard Library has had less success than the county libraries at getting people to return heirloom seeds, Nielsen said. “We just bought a bunch of seeds at the end of last year,” she said. “What we’d like is to get it sustainable so we never have to buy seeds.”

Hillyard Library patrons are limited to six seed packages per visit. People are allowed to make multiple trips, Nielsen said. “They can come back as much as they want,” she said.

Some of the seeds offered are beans, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, squash, onions, peppers and peas. “Beans are very popular,” Haley said. “Beans, of course, are very easy to grow.”

People are already checking out seeds and it’s not too early to be starting seeds indoors that can be moved outside once the danger of overnight frost is gone. “It’s March,” Haley said. “If you’re planting tomatoes, you should have started them already.”

Other resources for gardeners

All the locations that have seed libraries also offer gardening classes, many hosted by Washington State University Master Gardeners, for those who aren’t sure how to get started or want to get the most out of their garden. A full list of free classes is available at www.scld.org and www.spokanelibrary.org.

Spokane Public Library is trying to make it even easier for new gardeners by offering garden tools as part of it’s Library of Things this year, said Director of Marketing and Communications Amanda Donovan.

Some of the items available will be seeders, rakes, pitchforks and pruners. “They might be more expensive, but you might not want to buy them because you’ll probably only use them once,” Donovan said.

The Library of Things is available online at www.spokanelibrary.org. People can reserve items and have them sent to their local library branch for pickup. Items can usually be kept for three weeks. The tools are currently being purchased and should be available by the end of May or early June, Donovan said.

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The dates have been corrected for the “Jump Start Your Gardening Season” and the “Art of Gardening” classes that will be offered at Shadle Park Library.

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