Setting up a seed library is a daunting task for anyone – not only are there differing ideas about how it should be set up, the goals that should be aimed for and administration of it all but choosing which seeds go into the library is probably one of the most important parts of a seed library.
|Pods of mesquite stored for seed as we |
explore the use of mesquite
as a stable food crop in the face
of Climate Change.
Like many seed libraries, SLOLA started with a core of a few seeds saved by those of us involved in the founding of the seed library and complemented that with whatever seeds were given to us – many seed companies are generous with their annual culling of leftover seeds. For us, in particular, we were very much indebted to Native Seeds/SEARCH, Renee's Seeds and especially to Baker Creek Seeds. They helped us round out our inventory and allowed us to open for business straight away.
We still accept donations, let me make that clear. But today, we are honing our library and 'pruning' some seeds, while purchasing seeds we feel might better serve us than those we had gotten for free. Our central focus – and our stated goal – is to have most of our seed be returned seed from members who have borrowed from us. This is the essence of the Seed Library of Los Angeles and we continue to preach this to one and all – seeds provided by libraries should eventually be locally grown (therefore more locally adapted) except for some seeds that are just too damn difficult. We have elected to annually purchase onion and parsnip seed, for example, at this point. The seeds are short-lived and we have no one working those plants yet.
You could do a lot worse than choosing to offer Seed Savers' Exchange's most purchased seeds. Let's look at the following list and compare notes:
|Arugula, Arugula*||I am not a big arugula fan, but here in LA, this will naturalize and become an annual harbinger of warmer weather – usually spouting in our garden about the beginning of February. We can find enough of our friends that have arugula seeds stashed in paper bags in their spare bedroom, there is not much worry of this one going away.|
|Beet,Detroit Dark Red*||I love beets, but limiting a library to only Detroit Dark Red might be a crime. The other beets we carry include a mangle (a large beet grown for animal feed in the past), Burpee's Golden (a lower germination rate, but superior taste),Chioggia (also sold as a Bulls Eye beet) and others that are lesser known. Chioggia and the golden beets will not stain like the pure red ones.|
|Carrot, Dragon*||Spot on! This is a good choice – especially when dealing with children. Purple on the outside makes for interesting and delicious eating.|
|Carrot, Red Cored Chantenay*||Also one of my favorites – the standard carrot in my garden.|
|Corn, Golden Bantam||This is truly one of the best corn varieties to grow in a small urban garden. The trick with Golden Bantam is not to let them get too far along. The window of perfection is slim with this one and too old ears are starchy and take some chewing.|
|Cucumber,A & C Pickling||I am not familiar with this variety but every seed library should carry at least one pickling cucumber – they are smaller cucumbers and therefore are perfect for a salad for two, or two salads for one.|
Herb, RosemaryHerb, Thyme
|I have grouped all these herbs together because, in LA at least, it is much easier and gets you where you want to go faster, to propagate these plants asexually – from cuttings – rather than from seed. SLOLA does not carry these seeds. These are all perennial herbs.|
|Herb, Genovese Basil||But this is an annual herb and so we do carry basil seeds. SLOLA has backed away from Genovese Basil – there is a basil wilt going around and Genovese seems to be affected by it more than others. If you can grow Genovese, do it! It is the best basil there is.|
|Herb, Parsley Giant from Italy*||This herb is biennial – it's life extending out over two years. It is a worthy contender, SLOLA has Italian Flat Leaf (which I prefer) and a curled leaf variety that I can't even recall. I think that says something.|
|Kale, Dwarf Blue Curled*||I grew this one year. At harvest time, I was kicking myself all over the garden. Yes, it is a good kale. But you get half the harvest of a full sized kale and it takes the same footprint! If you love gourmet kale, go for it. We don't have this one our library.|
|Kale, Lacinato*||This is the kale almost everyone is drawn to, it has a distinctly different leaf and is prolific. We carry this one and probably will always. Kales are tough to save seed from – they are not cooperative about flowering at the same time here and can cross with so many different other veggies, this is one we'll continue to buy.|
|Lettuce, Seed Savers Mixture*||If you are getting lettuce seeds from SLOLA, you won't find any mixtures. We like to keep our lettuces straight. Although I plant different varieties together, I choose them specifically based on time of year and what I want the lettuce for. Often I am mixing Drunken Woman Frizzy Head with Mantilia which is a green butterhead variety. I set out baby plants in a pleasing pattern and the contrast between the two is astounding – they also look dynamite in a salad bowl.|
|Pea, Amish Snap*||This is a great snap pea and I can see why it's one of their best sellers. It is a climber though, so if you need a smaller plant, forego Amish Snap and look for a bush pea in our collection.|
|Pepper, Jalapeno Traveler Strain||Only one pepper??? I'm sure there are many devotees that are just a little hurt. This is, of course, one of THE most popular peppers grown in gardens all across the states. I have grown it and it is a good pepper – although I can get by with no more than 10 hot peppers in a year. SSE doesn't list any sweet peppers in their top 24, but I'd throw in Marconi and maybe Torno di Toro as well.|
|Spinach, America*||I totally agree with America Spinach – vs the old standard Bloomsdale's Long Standing, which may be long-standing, but the crinkled leaves are hell to free dirt and debris from. America, with a very agreeable flavor, is as productive but has smooth leaves which take a lot less time (and water!) to clean. Hands down, skip Bloomsdale's.|
|Squash, Black Beauty Zucchini||I think Black Beauty is responsible for my reluctance to like zucchini. So productive! You turn your back on it for 25 seconds and that cute little zuke you were just admiring, is now the size of Godzilla and twice as forbidding. I would MUCH RATHER go for a better tasting, less productive variety like a French or Lebanese type (i.e. Cocozelle or Lebanese White Bush), light green and much more susceptible to bruising, you rarely find these in markets, even farmers' markets. We have been using Genovese Summer Squash as our standard for seed saving – this year will be our second annual Polli-Party where we illustrate how to ensure no crossing in your squashes saved for seed.|
|Squash, Golden Zucchini||This is a better pick than Black Beauty, but it's not going to be on my list anytime soon. Also, make sure you don't get any variety of squash that is more susceptible to Powdery Mildew which is rampant in any garden that gets ocean influence or in an enclosed garden in which the air circulation is limited.|
|Squash, Waltham Butternut||This is a great winter squash – with a hard skin for storage until winter. It is, however, also a very large plant. Keep that in mind when choosing. Almost all winter squashes have that problem, though. This is a large squash, plan on freezing half or three-quarters when you do cut into it. The plant itself will wander around under other plants – and act as a kind of living mulch to protect your soil if managed diligently.|
|Swiss Chard, Five Color Silverbeet*||The standard of colorful chards. I have no problem with this choice. It will be hard, for seed savers over the years to maintain the five colors. It seems like most of my chards are now red veined with only an occasional pink, white or orange showing up.|
|Tomato, Amish Paste||This is certainly a good tomato! I know they took the sales figures to make up this list, but how on earth could you reduce all those tomatoes to just two? This would certainly be a must on my list along with about 30 others!|
|Tomato, Italian Heirloom||I'm not familiar with this variety – guess I'll be planting some soon!|
|Watermelon, Oh So Sweet||Because of the Powdery Mildew mentioned earlier, I have not even tried to grow melons in my garden for over 15 years. Even though I love watermelons and grew many as a child in KS, I'm no longer the authority I was when I was eight. I'm glad others can grow them!|
Please note that SLOLA's inventory sheets are divided between warm and cool season – therefore, not all these seeds are available all the time. An asterisk (*) denotes cool season, the others are, by default, warm season.
It is important to look for varieties that grow well in your own garden. SLOLA has planned for our two branches to have different inventories to serve the different climate zones. We agreed in the beginning to use Sunset's Western Garden Guide as our reference on climate. SLOLA Venice serves primarily Zones 22 and 24 while the San Fernando Valley branch is composed of gardeners in zones18 and 19. If you are not familiar with Sunset's zones, get familiar with them ASAP. They are much more specific than the USDA's zones which cover all of the US and only go up to 10, 11 or 12 depending on which version of their map you see. SFV people can grow melons and winter squash much easier than we can in Venice with our ocean influence. They also can grow better tomatoes – and the larger tomatoes too.
Combining this list with others, the Slow Food movement's Ark of Taste, for example, SLOLA hopes to broaden our initial seed inventory into a cornucopia of what will do well in Southern California and teach our members how to save these seeds to build stewardship and develop the agriculture we need in LA. We have tried to reach into our communities and find locally adapted seeds that have been grown here already, but have found very few so far. That doesn't mean they aren't there! I hope that SLOLA continues to work to make our library more inclusive.
We have started to change the loss of genetic diversity in our food. Join in, learn one variety and agree to steward that variety. Learn all you can about it and grow it out for a few years. Learn how to save it and share your results with others.
Save a seed, build a community. We welcome you!