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We’re all familiar with the concept of a library. It’s a place you go to check out books with information you want to access around certain interests/topics at a certain point in time. As new books come out, the library will add them to their collection of available options to readers.

Many beginning gardeners might not know that they can follow this model with their own gardening seeds, e.g. start a personal “seed library.” In fact, we’d say that a seed library is an essential resource that every gardener should have.

Over the years, our personal seed library at Tyrant Farms has expanded quite a bit. We used to have all of our seeds stored in a single index card file box. Given our passion (or obsession depending on how you look at it) with collecting and growing all manner of heirloom seeds, our library has undergone significant expansion and now includes several large tupperware containers and a growing portion of a spare bedroom.

No, we will not admit we have a problem until our seed library expands into a second bedroom.

Seeds Last For Years…

Just because you get a new packet of seeds, doesn’t mean you need to plant the entire packet that season. In fact, we recommend NOT planting all of your seeds at once. Instead, plant them in different spots in your yard and plant them over the course of multiple years. This allows you to do more experimenting. It also means you won’t be heartbroken if a freak weather event or poor growing conditions in a particular garden bed happen to wreak havoc on your plants.

Also, as in nature, biodiversity is key to good growing results in your garden. If you have an entire bed of one plant (monoculture), there’s a much higher probability that bed is going to have a lot of pest insects and diseases that love that particular plant.

So instead of emptying an entire seed packet into one bed, use a portion of multiple seed packets. Even better, find out what “companion plants” or “plant guilds” work best with the variety of seed you’re growing and add those other seeds to your mix (we have that info in our GrowGuides as well). Your plants will be happier, you’ll have a more diversified harvest and you’ll have seeds to use in future growing seasons.

A nice plant guild outside the front door at Tyrant Farms: yellow wonderberries, Romaine lettuce, collards, Red Mizuna mustard and catnip all cuddling happily together.

A nice plant guild outside the front door at Tyrant Farms: yellow wonderberries, Romaine lettuce, collards, Red Mizuna mustard and catnip all cuddling happily together.

How long do seeds last? It depends on the variety and the conditions in which they’re being stored.

The “Seed Saving” section in GrowJourney’s online GrowGuides not only tells you exactly how to save new seed varieties you grow yourself, but also how many years each seed variety will last. Yes, you can actually turn a seed into thousands of new seeds. Money might not grow on trees, but it can grow on your plants.

A huge pile of freshly cut Russian Red Kale seeds. A few seeds provided us with kale greens throughout the year, then gave us more new seeds than we could ever grow ourselves.

A huge pile of freshly cut Russian Red Kale seeds. A few seeds provided us with kale greens throughout the year, then gave us more new seeds than we could ever grow ourselves.

As it turns out, seeds are remarkable little vessels of life that will stay dormant for long periods of time until the ideal growing conditions present themselves. In fact, most gardening seeds can easily be saved for at least 2-5+ years when kept in the right conditions.

Storing Your Seeds to Maximize Their Longevity

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen (about 810 miles from the North Pole).

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen (about 810 miles from the North Pole).

You don’t have to ship your seeds off to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault or even put them in your freezer for storage (although that can help). All you need to do is keep your seeds indoors in a climate controlled environment and keep them dry. It’s that simple.

If you’re a GrowJourney member, you might have noticed that each paper seed packet contains a small, plastic ziplock baggie with your seeds inside. Sure, this costs us more money and takes more time during packaging, but it maximizes the lifespan of your seeds by reducing your seeds’ exposure to moisture. If you have non-GrowJourney seeds or seeds you’ve saved from your own garden, you might also want to store them inside airtight plastic bags if you’d like to maximize their longevity.

Share Your Seed Library

What good is a library if there are no people around to check out the books and write new ones? The same principle applies to your personal seed library. Get to know other gardeners in your area and go to seed swaps. This will help improve the diversity of your library and let other gardeners do the same.

If you’re a GrowJourney member, you’ll receive two free share packets each month to try to encourage you to share your seeds with friends, family, neighbors, other gardeners or whoever you see fit.

The more people there are growing, preserving and sharing heirloom seeds, the better off we’ll all be.

Oh, and Your Seed Library Might Just Save the World…

The analogy of a seed library to a book library is actually quite useful when considering our place in history. Heirloom seeds represent all the great books that were written by our ancestors and passed down to us over countless generations.

It’s essential that each generation 1) preserves the books that were written before we got here (our current heirloom seeds), and 2) writes new books (by breeding the heirloom seeds of tomorrow, which will often be culture, climate and region-specific cultivars).

Instead, over the past 75-100 years, we’ve lost 95% of our heirloom seed varieties forever, as industrial monoculture and seed patenting have become the norm. This historically unprecedented loss in global seed biodiversity is comparable to the burning of the Library of Alexandria, which is said to have set human civilization back hundreds or thousands of years due to the compounding knowledge that was quite literally turned to ashes there.

The Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt. The great Classical thinkers from around Europe, the Middle East and Africa studied and learned there, contributing their writings to its vast collections. The fields of modern mathematics, engineering, physiology, geography and medicine owe their origins to the knowledge collected and preserved in its halls. Much of this knowledge was lost to history when the library was burned.

There’s Good News: You’re Part of the Solution

Now the good news: you and your seed library are part of the solution.

Your personal seed library contains delicious “books” carefully written by your ancestors hundreds or thousands of years in the past. Grow them and enjoy the tasty, healthy food they produce (which are much more nutritious than their modern peers). Grow new seeds. Share your seeds and your organic gardening knowledge with others. Gardening is social and fun. If you’re using organic/permaculture methods, gardening and farming can even be regenerative to ecosystem health.

Over the years, gardening will teach you profound things about yourself and your relationship to the world; much of this knowledge can’t be taught, it can only be learned.

Gardening isn’t a folk art, it’s a modern necessity if we want to live in an ecologically literate society that doesn’t accept the destruction of thousands of years of history and the environment in exchange for “cheap” corn syrup and meat-like substances.

Will you help protect the Library of Alexandria (heirlooms seeds) or will you watch it continue to be burned to the ground? We’ll be in our garden putting out the fire. We hope you’ll join us. So, get growing and start your personal seed library today!

Optimistically realistic,

Aaron & Susan @ GrowJourney

P.S. We hope you found this article helpful. If so, please give it a share. Also, if you’re not already a GrowJourney member, we’d love for you to join and start growing with us…Or at least subscribe to our blog to get new articles delivered to your email. Of course, a GrowJourney Gift Membership also makes a nifty gift for the gardener(s) in your life.