Sunday, January 13, 2019

Except For Their Progeny!

In the beginning of 2016, I and a number of other SLOLA members went to the State Capital Building in Sacramento to rally and lobby for changes to California's seed laws. It had rained like madness the night before and as we gathered with other seed libraries, it began to pour some more!  There were seed libraries from many different parts of the state as well as farmers and, despite the cold and the wet, spirits were good. After lunch, a few of us met with Governor Brown's lead assistant on agriculture policy and then over to the California Department of Agriculture and Forestry for a few moments of conversation. In both cases, we got a very positive response; in both cases we felt we had brought their attention to a problem they would be happy to solve. 

When we started the Seed Library of Los Angeles in 2009 we had no concern that a seed library could be illegal, but as events unfolded, guess what?  It was! 

Unlike Pennsylvania and Delaware where authorities went out to the locations of these seed libraries and gave them a warning, California's Department of Agriculture and Forestry issued a statement that they wouldn't prosecute anyone for trading seeds with people up to several miles away - at that point they thought they were doing us a big favor because the actual law was not specific, merely saying "neighbors" could trade seeds. They had taken "neighbors" to mean actual neighbors, and so, allowing seed sharing clear across town was mighty big of them. Even without a seed law change, it was my impression that catching seed librarians and throwing them into jail was not going to become an urgent issue anytime soon, we wanted to show that sharing seeds, creating libraries of locally grown seeds was an issue that deserved attention. Not arrests.

A sponsor was found through work by Richmond Grows Seed Library and The California Grange (as it was known at that time - now The California Guild) located a lawyer activist who wrote an actual law seed librarians would be pleased with That proposal was introduced to the state legislature sometime near March. It went through several committees successfully and finally was primed to go for the final vote which, if it won, would allow Governor Brown to sign it. 

It was a rainy day in Sacramento when we went up to
lobby for the new seed bill that finally did become
the law of the state - and no seed savers went to jail either!

In Southern California, these events were followed closely - we were kept informed and in touch through emails and phone calls with Diana Rudรจ, lobbyist for the California Guild (formerly the California Grange). Diana was our woman on the scene and of all the people that did work on this bill, I think we owe the most to her. She emailed me in early June with the final draft that would be voted on shortly and sent to the Governor for his signature There was no real organization opposed to the bill, it was sailing through, but when I read the "final" version, I was troubled. 

"Troubled" I say, because the language had tweaked us into another corner that was worse than the neighbor clause.The new proposed law read "Seed libraries can expect nothing of value in return for the seeds they dispense." Seeing as I see seeds as valuable, that would destroy the whole concept of a "library" - we wanted the seeds of our seeds back! 

I rewrote that sentence in the proposed law: 

"Seed libraries can expect nothing of value in return for the seeds they dispense, except for the progeny of the seeds they dispense."

And that's the way it reads today! 

My point is, that seed libraries too often are considered only as places where you get seeds, in truth, and what we fought for, was the right to get the next generation of seeds back from our members. In the beginning, this is the work that took up most of our intention. We chose to do our own lending, feeling we would get more seed returns if we gave seeds out ourselves, rather than relying on a local library to do that - we felt if we were the ones giving out the seeds, people could ask us how best to grow the seeds and how best to save them - we thought that would give us a much higher seed return percentage. Now, after almost ten years of hard labor, we are proud to announce that our model of seed library doesn't work much better than the other model of seed library.  However, we can report we've made more friends.

But we remain invested in getting the progeny of our seeds back. That is the only way we can build resilience into our seed libraries - the volunteers who keep this thing going can't grow out enough seeds - we need many different members to grow seeds and return seeds to the library. 

It may well be that all we want to do is save the seeds, but that turns out to be a "big whole" built on many smaller blocks. You can be one of those blocks - it's fun and not at all scary. Just ask at your next seed library meeting, how do I return seeds to the seed library?  We'll be honored to show you and together we can exercise that part of our new seed law.


Friday, January 4, 2019

SLOLA Elections

As many of you know, we are behind in getting our elections up and running. We have had four elections since the beginning and I would like to shed some light on the history of elections in SLOLA.

From the beginning, electing the Chair of SLOLA meant electing the Chair of “SLOLA/Venice.” Even after we established the now extinct “SLOLA/SFV,” they held their own election for their own officers and Venice held the election for their officers. Venice did not vote for SFV and SVF did not vote for Venice officers.

The first seeds added to the library!  We've come a long way!
This was in keeping with our founding principles. SLOLA is to be an organization that believes in local seeds, local growing conditions and local community. There is no desire that there be a sole authority nor a city wide organization where every person sows the same thing – I think we reject that out of hand! SLOLA was founded to be hyper-local. To this end, in the past, when we were a topnotch organization, we did not have one inventory – our two branches had two different inventories because the seeds were growing in different garden zones. We used the Sunset Western Garden guide and carefully selected the seeds for the original SFV that was distinctly different from Venice. Venice has more in common with Camarillo than with Studio City.

Because of our deference to the local, we helped SFV set up and we “sponsored” them, but there was no thought, or desire, to make them subservient to Venice and that concept rings strong still. I know when we voted to have branches in Altadena and a new SFV branch, I never intended to decide policy or chose your seeds. Each chapter should have it's own chair and every chapter should work together, but yet be independent.

My personal belief is that SLOLA has strayed from its initial intention and guiding principles. We need to return to what we set out to be – a seed saving organization that is invested in local gardens, local communities and local seeds. For people who have been here since the beginning, this has been a hard two years as we have seen so much work sullied by a lack of appreciation for the reasons of that organization exists. We do not approve of a"super SLOLA" with elections all over LA. We do not concede our belief in the sacredness of our seeds, raised in our communities by our communities and for our communities. We believe that everyone in this organization should read our mission statement – it is not nuanced – and that what we are trying to do today is not what so many of us have labored over for eight years.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your work in saving local seeds every where. This is not only my viewpoint, but shared by the majority of all the pioneers that put this thing in motion. I was there from before the beginning and I helped craft and shape this organization - it is my priviledge and life's work.

David King
Founding Chair
Seed Library of Los Angeles

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The First Iteration of Best Practices for Seed Saving




Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving , Deppe, Carol © 2000 Chelsea Green

The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving, by Lee Buttala (Editor), Shanyn Siegel (Editor), Jared Zystro (Contributor),  ©2015 Seed Savers Exchange 


Bean, Lettuce, Pea, Pepper, Tomato
These vegetables offer the beginning seed saver the best chance for successful seed saving. They produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the need to be mindful of preventing cross-pollination.

Bean - Phaseolus vulgaris
PLANT: Although, ideally, different varieties should be separated by 150 feet or another crop flowering at the same time, cross-pollination is rare even when two varieties are grown next to each other.
FLOWER: Beans produce perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Cross pollination by insects is possible but rare as pollination occurs before the flower opens. Because the anthers are pushed up against the stigma, automatic pollination is assured when the anthers open.
HARVEST: Allow pods to dry brown before harvesting, about six weeks after eating stage.
PROCESS: Small amounts of pods can be opened by hand. Flail larger amounts.

Lettuce - Lactuca sativa
PLANT: Separate varieties flowering at the same time by at least 20 feet to ensure purity.
FLOWER: Lettuce produces perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Each flower produces one seed. Flowers are grouped in little heads of 10-25 flowers all of which open at once for as little as 30 minutes.
HARVEST: Some outside leaves can be harvested for eating without harming seed production. Allow seed heads to dry 2-3 weeks after flowering. Individual heads will ripen at different times making the harvest of large amounts of seed at one time nearly impossible. Wait until half the flowers on each plant has gone to seed. Cut entire top of plant and allow to dry upside down in an open paper bag.
PROCESS: Small amounts of seed can be shaken daily from individual flowering heads. Rub with hands to remove remaining seeds. If necessary, separate seeds from chaff with screens.

Peas Pisum sativum
PLANT: Ideally, different varieties need to be separated 50 feet or with another crop flowering at the same time..
FLOWER: Peas produce perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Cross-pollination by insects is possible but rare because pollination occurs before the flower opens. Because the stigma does open before pollen is ready crosses theoretically could occur.
HARVEST: Allow pods to dry brown before harvesting, about four weeks after eating stage.  
PROCESS: Small amounts of pods can be opened by hand. Flail larger amounts.

Pepper - Capsicum annuum
PLANT: Most home gardeners will get satisfactory results if different varieties are separated by 50 feet and another tall, flowering crop. New studies from New Mexico State University show more crossing than was previously thought. We recommend at least 400 feet between varieties to ensure absolute purity.
FLOWER: Peppers produce perfect, mostly self-pollinating flowers. Solitary bees will pollinate if a more desirable pollen is not available in the area.
HARVEST: Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers for seed. (Most bell peppers turn red when fully mature.)
PROCESS: There are two methods, dry and wet, to process pepper seeds. The dry method is adequate for small amounts. Cut the bottom off the fruit and carefully reach in to strip the seeds surrounding central cone. In many cases, seeds need no further cleaning. To process the seed from large amounts of peppers, cut off the tops just under the stem, fill a blender with peppers and water and carefully blend until good seeds are separated and sink to bottom. Pepper debris and immature seeds will float to the top where they can be rinsed away. Spread clean seeds on paper towel and dry in cool location until seed is dry enough to break when folded.

Tomato - Lycopersicon esculentum
FLOWER: Tomatoes produce perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Anthers are fused together into a little cone that rarely opens until pollen has been shed and the stigma pollinated. (Older varieties with wild tomatoes or L. pimpinellifolium in their genetic ancestry may have stigmas that stick out beyond the cone containing the anthers. Varieties with this trait can be identified by looking closely at mature flowers and need to be treated accordingly.)
HARVEST: If possible, allow tomatoes to completely ripen before harvesting for seed production. Seeds from green, unripe fruits will be most viable if extracted after allowing the fruits to turn color.
PROCESS: Cut the tomato into halves at its equator, opening the vertical cavities that contain the seeds. Gently squeeze out from the cavities the jelly-like substance that contains the seeds. If done carefully, the tomato itself can still be eaten or saved for canning, sun-drying or dehydrating.
Place the jelly and seeds into a small jar or glass. (Add a little water if you are processing only one or two small tomatoes.) Loosely cover the container and place in a warm location, 60-75° F. for about three days. Stir once a day.
A layer of fungus will begin to appear on the top of the mixture after a couple of days. This fungus not only eats the gelatinous coat that surrounds each seed and prevents germination, it also produces antibiotics that help to control seed-borne diseases like bacterial spot, canker and speck.
After three days fill the seed container with warm water. Let the contents settle and begin pouring out the water along with pieces of tomato pulp and immature seeds floating on top. Note: Viable seeds are heavier and settle to the bottom of the jar. Repeat this process until water being poured out is almost clear and clean seeds line the bottom of the container. Pour these clean seeds into a strainer that has holes smaller than the seeds. Let the excess water drip out and invert the strainer onto paper towel or piece of newspaper. Allow the seeds to dry completely (usually a day or two). Break up the clumps into individual seeds, label and store in a packet or plastic bag.


Corn, Cucumber, Muskmelon, Radish, Spinach, Squash/Pumpkin. 
The experienced seed saver's vegetables produce seed the season they are planted but require separation to keep unwanted cross-pollination from taking place

Corn - Zea mays
PLANT: Female corn flowers are pollinated predominately by the wind, rarely by insects. Pollen is light and can be carried great distances. For purity, separate two varieties pollinating at the same time by at least 1 mile. Reasonable results are obtained with separation of 1000 feet.
FLOWER: Corn is monecious, producing separate male and female flowers on each plant. Male flowers appear as tassels on the top of corn stalks and female flowers are pollinated via the silk emerging from each ear.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Corn is susceptible to intense inbreeding depression. If seed is saved from too few plants, subsequent plants may be short, mature late and produce few ears. Grow at least 200 plants and save the seeds from at least 100 of the best.
HARVEST: Corn seed is usually ready to be harvested 4-6 weeks after eating stage.
PROCESS: Process all but very large amounts of seed by gripping dried ears by hand and twisting allowing kernels to fall into container. Any remaining silk and chaff can be winnowed.

Cucumber - Cucumis sativus
(All cucumbers except Armenian cucumbers which are Cucumis melo)
PLANT: Separate two different cucumber varieties by at least 1/2 mile, or segregate by time to ensure purity. Experienced, home, seed savers can grow more than one variety at a time in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques.
FLOWER: Cucumbers are mostly monoecious with separate male and female flowers on each plant. Female flowers can be identified by locating the ovary (a small looking cucumber) at the base of the flower. Cucumber vines will produce the greatest amount of female flowers when day length shortens to approximately 11 hours per day. Fruits will be aborted during dry spells and very hot weather.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Although inbreeding depression is not usually noticeable in cucumbers, seeds should be saved from at least 6 cucumbers on 6 different plants.
HARVEST: Cucumbers raised for seed cannot be eaten. They should be left to ripen at least 5 weeks after eating stage until they have turned a golden color.
PROCESS: Slice fruit lengthwise and scrape seeds out with spoon. Allow seeds and jelly-like liquid to sit in jar at room temperature for 3 or 4 days. Fungus will start to form on top. Stir daily. Jelly will dissolve and good seeds will sink to bottom while remaining debris and immature seeds can be rinsed away. Spread seeds on a paper towel or screen until dry. (See instructions for tomato.)

Muskmelon - Cucumis melo
Divided below into seven separate groups because of similar features. All C. melos varieties in all groups will cross with each other. They will not cross with watermelons which are Citrullus vulgaris. 
Indorus: honeydew, crenshaw, casaba
Conomon: Asian, pickling melons
Dundaim: pocket melon
Cantalupensis: true cantelopes (without netted skin)
Flexuosus: Armenian cucumbers
Reticulatus: Persian melons, muskmelons with netted skin and orange flesh
Chito: orange melon, garden lemon melon
PLANT: Separate two different muskmelons by at least 1/2 mile or separate by time to ensure purity. Experienced, home, seed savers grow more than one variety at a time in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. Muskmelon flowers are small and relatively difficult to hand pollinate.
FLOWER: Muskmelons are mostly monoecious with separate male and female flowers on each plant. Female flowers can be identified by locating the ovary (a small looking melon) at the base of the flower. The early flowers are the most likely to be successfully pollinated and eventually produce seeds.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Not usually a problem with muskmelons.
HARVEST: Muskmelon seed is mature and can be harvested from ripe and ready to eat muskmelons.
PROCESS: Simply rinse seeds clean, dry with towel and spread on board or cookie sheet to complete drying.

Radish - Raphanus sativus
PLANT: Separate different varieties being grown for seed at the same time by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. Satisfactory results for home gardeners require no more that 250 feet of separation. As radishes cannot self-pollinate, pollen must be carried by insects from plant to plant.
FLOWER: Radishes produce annual flowers which require pollination by insects, primarily bees.
HARVEST: Harvest 3' tall stalks containing seeds pods when pods have dried brown. Pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry place if all pods are not dried at the end of the growing season.
PROCESS: Open pods by hand for small amounts of seed. Pods that do not open when rubbed between hands can be pounded with hammer or mallet. Winnow to remove remaining chaff.

Spinach - Spinacia oleracae
PLANT: It is probably best to grow seeds for only one variety of spinach at a time. Remove plants which bolt first, and thin remaining plants to 8" for seed production. Leave one male plant for each two females to ensure pollination.
FLOWER: Spinach is "dioecious", with male and female flowers on separate plants. Flowers are wind pollinated by spinach's dust-like, powdery pollen which can be carried for miles..
HARVEST: Some outside leaves can be harvested for eating without harming seed production. If possible, wait until all plants have dried brown. Pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry place if necessary at the end of the growing season.
PROCESS: Strip seeds in upward motion and let them fall into container. Chaff can be winnowed. Use gloves for prickly-seeded types.

Squash/Pumpkin -
Cucurbita maxima varieties with large, hairy leaves, long vines and soft, hairy stems and include: banana squashes, buttercups, hubbards and marrows
Cucurbita mixta varieties with large, hairy leaves, long vines and hard, hairy stems and include the cushaws
Cucurbita moschata varieties similar to C. mixta with flaring stems at the fruit and large, green sepals surrounding the flowers and include: butternuts
Cucurbita pepo varieties with prickly stems and leaves with a hard, five-angled stem and include: acorn squashes, cocozelles, pumpkins, crooknecks, scallops, spaghetti squashes and zucchinis
PLANT: Squashes from different species (see above) can be grown next to each other. Separate different squash varieties in the same species by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. (Some crossing between C. mixta and C. moschata has been reported recently.) Experienced, home, seed savers grow more than one variety in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. Squash flowers are large and relatively easy to hand pollinate.
FLOWER: Squashes are monoecious with male flowers and female flowers on each plant. Female flowers can be identified by locating the ovary (a small looking squash) at the base of the flower. (Some female flowers have stamens.)
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Not usually noticed in squash and pumpkins.
HARVEST: Squash must be fully mature before harvested for seed production. This means that summer squashes must be left on the vine until outer shell hardens. Allow to cure 3-4 additional weeks after harvest to encourage further seed ripening.
PROCESS: Chop open hard-shelled fruits and scoop out seeds. Rinse clean in wire strainer with warm, running water. Dry with towel and spread on board or cookie sheet to complete drying


Beet/Swiss Chard, Cabbage Family, Carrot,  Escarole/Frissee,  Onion,Radicchio/Endive,  Turnip/Chinese Cabbage. 

Beet/Swiss Chard - Beta vulgaris
PLANT: Grow seed for only one variety of beet or Swiss chard at any one time.
FLOWER: Beets and Swiss chard produce perfect flowers. Pollen is light and can be carried for miles by the wind.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Save seed from at least 6 different beets to ensure genetic diversity and vigor.
HARVEST: Cut 4' tall tops just above the root when majority flowering clusters have turned brown. Tops can be stored in cool, dry locations for 2-3 weeks to encourage further seed ripening.
PROCESS: Small quantities of seed can be stripped by hand as seed matures. Large numbers of tops can be put into a cloth bag and stomped or pounded. Chaff can be winnowed.

Cabbage Family Brassica oleracea

Please Note: All check outs of Brassica oleracea do NOT require returned seed. Best Practices has concluded the difficulty level of returning pure seeds (seed not crossed with other varieties) is too high. The Seed Library will continue to buy these seeds, as well as others, as needed to keep our seed genetics reliably certain. The seeds of the following plants are included, the list may not be, however, complete: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards etc.

Includes broccoli, brussels sprout, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.
PLANT: All vegetables and varieties in this large species will cross with each other. Separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens.
FLOWER: Flowers are perfect, most of which cannot be self-pollinated. Necessary cross-pollination is performed by bees. The stigma becomes receptive before the flower opens, and pollen is shed hours after the flower opens.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Plant at least 6 different plants to protect vigor and ensure a reasonable amount of genetic diversity.
HARVEST: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi heads grown for seed should not be trimmed for consumption. Brussels sprouts, collards and kale can be lightly trimmed for eating without affecting quality seed production. If small amounts of seeds are wanted, allow individual pods to dry to a light brown color before picking and opening by hand. Lower pods dry first followed by those progressively higher on the plant. For larger amounts of seeds pull entire plant after a majority of pods have dried. Green pods rarely produce viable seeds even if allowed to dry after the plant is pulled.
PROCESS: Smash unopened pods in cloth bag with mallet or by walking on them. Chaff can be winnowed.

Carrot - Daucus carota
PLANT: Separate different varieties at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. (Queen Anne's Lace or wild carrot will cross with garden carrot.) Alternate day caging or caging with introduced pollinators allows two or more varieties to be grown for seed in small gardens.
FLOWER: Carrots produce perfect flowers that are cross-pollinated by a number of insects. Flowers are arranged in round, flat groups called umbels.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Carrots can exhibit severe inbreeding depression. Save and mix seed from as many different carrots as possible.
HARVEST: For small amounts, hand pick each umbel as it dries brown. Large amounts of seed can be harvested by cutting entire flowering top as umbels begin to dry. Allow to mature in cool, dry location for an additional 2-3 weeks.
PROCESS: Clean small amounts by rubbing between hands. Larger amounts can be beaten from stalks and umbels. Screen and winnow to clean. Carrot seed is naturally hairy or "bearded". Debearding in the cleaning process does not affect germination.

Onion - Allium sp.
Varieties within each onion species will cross with each other. Crosses between species although not common, are possible.
Allium schoenoprasum: Common chives
Allium tuberosum: Garlic chives
Allium fistulosum: Japanese bunching onions (Occasional crossing between A. fistulosum and A. cepa has been observed.)
Allium cepa comprised of three groups: Aggregatum includes shallots, multiplier onions and potato onions; Cepa our biennial, common storage and slicing onions; Proliferum includes the Egyptian or walking onions.
PLANT: Separate from other flowering Alliums of the same species at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens. 
FLOWER: The Alliums produce perfect flowers, most of which are cross-pollinated because stigmas in each flower become receptive only after pollen in that flower is shed. Flowers in an individual umbel open and shed pollen at different times so crosses can and do occur on the same plant. Cross-pollination is performed mostly by bees.
INBREEDING DEPRESSION: Onions display a fair amount of inbreeding depression after two or three generations of self-pollination. Save and mix the seeds from at least two different plants.
HARVEST: Clip umbels as soon as majority of flowers have dried. Seeds will start dropping from some flowers at this time so check often. Allow to dry in cool, dry location for up to 2-3 weeks.
PROCESS: Fully dried flowers will drop clean seeds naturally. For small amounts, rub remaining flowers to free seeds. For larger amounts, rub heads over screens. Winnow to remove remaining debris.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Regarding Best Practices and Seed Inventories of SLOLA Branches

This paper is to address a few discrepancies in the last several months that are a significant part of the core concepts by which the Seed Library of Los Angeles was founded. This paper begins to establish a network for the management of the inventories each library has and those concepts. The addition of the Sepulveda Branch brought out several facts that need to be recalled:

  1. Never should any hybrids be offered as a part of SLOLA inventory. Hybrids are not likely to bear true and this has several ramifications – specifically, borrowers are given a false sense of our priorities and of the capabilities of hybrid seeds, at minimum, granting permission for them to feel that hybrid seeds are not only condoned, but must be replantable to be saved in the future; and that SLOLA believes hybrids are A-OK. Neither assumption is true. Our founding documents make it very clear that SLOLA does not condone or offer hybrid seeds at any time under any condition. It is better that we not have seeds than have hybrid seeds. This is in no way negotiable.  
  2. SLOLA libraries should have different inventories at all times. The exact proportion of inventories is dependent on the number of members and availability of seeds appropriate to the microclimate served by the branch. The easy way to determine this is to look at a Sunset Western Garden Guide and use the Sunset Zones described in the beginning of the book. More than any other publication on gardening, the Sunset Zones allow a gardener to become intimately connected to the garden conditions in that area.

        For example, in setting up the Sepulveda Branch, we ascertained that their zones were much more appropriate for melons, cucurbits, large tomatoes, squash and sweet corn than the gardens of Mar Vista and Venice. Hence, the majority of those seeds went to them.
  1. Inventories should include seeds returned, and seeds should be returned to the library where they were dispensed. This restocks the shelves with seeds already moving towards a variety adapted to those conditions specifically.
We are looking for “hyper-local” seeds in the end. All branches, for example, might include Burbank Slicer Tomato, but in several generations seeds at each branch, differences in growth should begin to be apparent. Once the seeds have segregated, only in case of a disastrous loss should the other branches step in to help another branch – unless there are plenty of extra seeds on hand. Of course, branches may share seeds for cross-polination experiments, or if one branch has rare seeds that have been procured locally, those seeds should be shared with other branches as soon as possible to prevent a catastrophe at one branch from loosing all the seeds.

This is very simple. Whatever will work to save seeds and to build hyper local productivity should be every librarian's goal. As SLOLA matures and every branch's seed diversify, I remain grateful for the support in bringing seeds to new communities and reinvesting others with the spirit of the seeds. All of this encourages us, as seed savers and seed stewards, towards creating solid educational programs that all of us can use for the betterment of the communities' seed independence and seed sovereignty for years to come. Our part in this is vital.

To prioritize plainly:

  1. Save the seed/save the variety; save the name. Using the Ark of Taste as one guideline, we could also reach out into our communities (i.e. community gardens) and find the growers of seeds that are not readily available and commit to save those varieties and not lose the significance of their origins.
  2. Share the seeds when you have enough to share without fear of losing all your seeds; SLOLA chapters could come together for an Annual Seed Swap among all the branches to meet and greet one another and seed savers from each branch could be recognized for their efforts in saving local varieties of seed.
  3. Historical seeds from local gardeners and farmers should be shared with other branches as soon as any give branch has sufficient inventory. Each branch is encouraged to find ways of bringing seeds and the stories about them to their branches and disseminate the stories with the seeds as a branch project.
  4. Germane to the idea of branches saving seeds, we also need to preserve the story about those seeds! Programs might be developed around stories of the seeds, whether they come from local individuals or stories that come to us from other sources. At some time in the future, such stories could be put into book form for further dissemination.
At this time, (November 2018), SLOLA, recognizing the difficulty of saving certain seeds would rather all but the most experienced seed savers, simply check out seeds of the Cabbage family and not attempt to return the seed. Experience of some of our best seed savers suggest that saving seed from plants (for example, the cabbage family) is simply impossible. It would be better to have no seed in stock than to have seeds that won't come true. An ounce or two of seeds for these plants should be inexpensive enough and it would be better to have seed that can be produces true. At some time in the future, we may have the ability to produce good seed for the Brassicaceae, but until then, let's just buy the seeds. Corn, because of population sizes to keep the varieties healthy is another one we should buy seeds until we can find the land and the volunteers to keep varieties viable.

David King
Best Practices Chair

Librarians and Seed Inventory (First of Series)

Dear Librarians,

We are all grateful for the work you do! No one in a seed library does more for the well-being of the library than you! In your hands rest the sacred seeds we share with one another,holding in trust for the generations that will follow on.

There has never been a consistent way to deal with how many seeds should be found in a packet. Initially, with SLOLA, librarians weighed the seeds at checkout. You can imagine what that scene was like! There were long waits to get your seeds, even with three or four librarians helping check out seed.

We tried measuring spoons for a very short time, but it never caught on with librarians. The general attitude seems to be more seeds is “more better and lets fill that envelope up!” But this process needs to be reconsidered as contradicts the reasoning for a seed library to exist in the first place.

We did not feel when we started out that members should expect to get ALL their seeds from SLOLA. Our library was not created to supply every seed to everyone. In fact, looking at the library from a viewpoint that emphasizes out-flow from the library, misses the entire point. I hate it when people say “Oh, it's free seeds!” It may be, but that's not the whole enchilada and starting with the “free seeds” thinking totally ignores why hundreds of hours have been volunteered to get these seeds to people.

Seeds from our library are meant to be returned.

We do have a few varieties of seeds we give out and do not want back (I..e. cabbage family plants that cross) but for the most part, we are providing seeds in order to build up an inventory of seeds grown in and adapted to our community. It is one of the reasons why SLOLA did not start with city libraries. We wanted actual gardeners to dispense and check in seeds – someone who was more or less familiar with the seeds and each of their limitations or strengths. We have proven, in the last 10 years, that our reasoning was faulty in that we get no more seed returned that the library seed libraries – and in fact, our insistent harping on the return of seed may have, in fact, backfired as people began to stay away in droves. However, in filling packets, we work with the idea that members get enough seeds to attend to their purpose leaving enough plants to return.

The seed packets we hand out are not meant to be full enough to compete with commercial packets. They are meant to have enough seeds for the member to grow and harvest for a family, providing sustenance and some seeds left over to produce seeds for the library.

In practice, checking out seeds for a large tomato, one might include 8 seeds per envelope, but for a cherry tomato, only six. Especially for those more vigorous vines of cherry tomatoes. You can get by with less tomato seeds in Altadena than you can on the coast because so many fall to powdery mildew on the coast and the dry heat in Altadena at minimum slows powder mildew.

In both cases, the member should have plenty of tomatoes to eat with enough left over to save seeds.

It is important, in the case of the larger tomato, to try to obtain seeds from more than one plant – if this means harvesting tomatoes from several plants and only taking seeds from a quarter of each tomato, this is preferable to having all the seeds from a single specimen plant. Diversity is a challenge when we have so few people actually returning seeds. The larger the gene pool for the seeds we save, the better!

Having used the example of the tomato, remember that each plant and each seed are unique and deserve their own attention. The more seeds you've grown and played with in your garden and the amount of hours you have spent in formal instruction on seed saving, the more grounded you will be – and I say that without the slightest bit of irony.

Each type of seed must be considered differently according to season (warm or cold), annual, biennial or perennial, method of pollination, likelihood of crossing, and level of difficulty in growing in our climate – taking all that into consideration for how many seeds are given per checkout. Every so often, someone brings in a bag of a million cilantro seeds – put them on the free table – most of us have stash of cilantro hidden under the bed and those who don't, soon will!

Return of the progeny of seeds checked out is one of our most important principles. We want to ask folks to make an effort to save seeds – but also give them the information on returning seeds. There is a balance to this that I'm afraid has not been mastered. From the beginning of SLOLA we held monthly meetings where members were admonished to bring back seeds from their plants and I am convinced that the constant drumming of that theme managed to scare enough people into leaving SLOLA rather than bring back inferior seed. There has to be a middle ground where people recognize they are not being given “free seeds” but are expected to bring back seeds as soon as they possibly can. There will always be a gang among our members who do not grasp what the organization is actually all about. I believe we are strong enough to proceed without their contributions or understanding. Still, we should try to reach them.

If there are comments and thoughts about this memo to Seed Librarians, please respond to me at I look forward to exploring this topic with you in greater detail and encourage ideas and commentary. This paper is posted – along with others at where I am keeping all the SLOLA Best Practices memos as they are written.

David King,
Best Practices

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hard Seed Saving

Whenever there is a seed saving class, you see seeds divided into easy, moderately hard and hard - or some variation of that.  Easy seeds are defined with the least amount of brain power and the least effort - presumably 'hard' is the opposite of that.

That aint necessarily so.

Oftentimes the difference between easy and hard is simply the willingness to observe what's happening in your garden and use that knowledge to your advantage.  In small scale seed saving, there is a minimum of tools required (which I feel is a flaw, being an avid tool collector myself) and the techniques are fairly straight forward.  Corn is not, of itself that hard to save.  But our location, throughout Los Angeles makes it hard to save; someone somewhere has corn flowering the same time yours is!  The only way to save it without doubt is to pollinate it by hand.  I intend to cover that in the near future, so stay tuned!

Corn is wind pollinated - and so it pollinates nothing if no wind blows the pollen (from the boy flowers - the tassels) to the silks (aka the girl flowers) of other corn plants. The descendents of the European invaders are very uptight about keeping plants "pure."  That's what makes corn maddening to us.  It's hard to get that wind to blow only where you want it! 

There are ways to control corn pollen and get plants pollinated with only the genes you want.  This article is not about that.

The peoples who took corn from a sad little grass plant into the culinary powerhouse it s today, had a very different view of plants and plant breeding.  Isolating a given set of genetics was the European design, but the breeders of corn took a different approach from ancient times to present day, they allowed the corn to freely cross - and they saved corn from all ears, not just the big ones.  The result is that there are hundreds of different corn varieties available for a huge  variety of different ways to cook and eat it! 

Corn unshelled on the right, bowl of Red Bread seed center and the
empty cobs, already shelled on the left.
I was gifted with some ears of Mohawk Red Bread Corn from Rowan White a few years back.  I grew it out, got a nice harvest and hung onto the seed, stored it somewhat indifferently until last month when I was asked if I had any corn for a ceremony and I offered up the Mohawk Red Bread. 

It was making a whole circle in may ways.  The corn was now going back to Mohawk country to help Eliot Cowan, author of "Plant Spirit Medicine"do a ceremony. The woman who asked for the corn seed had met Eliot through his book, which was stocked in that book store because I asked for them to stock it as it was supplementary reading for my Botany class.  Now the lot of us had come together for a ceremony that brought this wonderful corn out of California back to upper New York state.

Pulling the corn seeds out of storage was a mystical experience.  The seed was no longer fresh, so my instructions were to plant more seeds than he needed just to ensure a good stand of seed.

I didn't have time to give these seeds a "germ test" (see my other article, Are Those Seeds Any Good, Mister? for some back ground on this). 

I brought out my corn sheller and tried my best to NOT just take the good looking kernels from good looking cobs.  I tried to emulate the corn growers and I tried to shut my internal neediness for a stab at perfection.  

A corn sheller.  This one is sized for popcorn, but it
was the right size for my Red Bread Corn too!
These seeds were put into a quart glass canning jar to sit in the freezer for three days.  At that time, they'll be reintroduced to the ambient temperature and I will get a germ test done.  Here's hoping I didn't give Eliot bad seeds!