Monday, August 15, 2016

Perfectly Imperfect...

With all the hubbub in Sacramento, we feel the need to reiterate our position and our way of distributing seeds to our members.   

You should know that we share seed grown by community members with love and care like our ancestors have done for thousands of years. It may not meet state germination or labeling standards.  And it is without a doubt NOT patented seed - we don't want those seeds in our library because it should not be legal to patent life.  SOME of our seeds may be OSSI (Organic Seed Saving Initiative, pronounced like your talking about an Australian) and we are proud to state as much.  The OSSI pledge:  You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives. 

The Seed Library of Los Angeles tries our best to ensure the quality of our seed using best practices in inventory care and labeling. Nonetheless, seeds are alive and people using the seed library have varying degrees of skill in saving seeds. You should know that you might experience low germination rates or receive seeds that were not properly labeled. This is a volunteer-run project, and we do the best we can with the time and resources we have.

If you do have any problems with the seed you get from the seed library, please let us know so we can try to fix it for future users of the library! 

Email us at

Thanks for your interest in local seeds!  


Thursday, August 4, 2016

News: Some Good, Some Not So

Let's start with the not-so-good.  Last Friday, July 29th, President Obama signed into law a Federal GMO labeling bill. We at the library watch GMO legislation and development closely because pollen spreads and we are adamant that we do not want to grow or eat GMO food until it's been honestly and appropriately tested.  

The bill that Obama signed is a travesty - it is the worst possible outcome of all legislation that could have been enacted.  The law, in the first place, destroys state laws for labeling - like the perfect reasonable Vermont bill.  Vermont's law held food manufacturers to place a simple line, "This item contains GMOs" on the outside of the container.  Nothing ambiguous there - and manufacturers were complying.  

A QR code.  You need a smartphone and
an internet connection. And know how to use it.
I do, but do your grandparents? 
The Federal law makes everything massively more complex and renders a foolish and idiotic result. First off, there is no labeling for two years because the Dept of Agriculture needs that time to "study" the problem.  Secondly, many GMOs already in our food supply, will not have to be labeled according to this law - things like high-fructose corn syrup. And the label will be in the form of a QR code or an 800 number to further obfuscation.  

I have heard a lawsuit against this bill is pending.  I hope we get some sanity with some legal reprieve.  If not, prepare for wholesale boycotts and other actions to show our dissatisfaction with this horribly flawed law.

On the other hand!  

The American Association of Seed Control Officials and the American Seed Trade Association are recommending that seed libraries be exempt from the laws of seed businesses as regulated by state agricultural departments.

The RUSSL (Recommended Uniform State Seed Law) amendment is a groundbreaking document that allows seed libraries to continue operating in the commons without penalty. This means no fees, no germination testing, and no expiration dates. As the name implies, the RUSSL amendment is a recommendation and must be approved legislatively state by state.

Neil Thapar at Sustainable Economies Law Center, the lone male head
in the back on the left, and Betsy Goodman, down in front,
founder of the Omaha, NB seed libraries played a very large
part in getting this through the AASCO!  
This IS good news, but keep the corks in the champagne for a minute or two more.  This is not a law - it is a RECOMMENDATION for future laws. If the law in your state excludes seed libraries from doing what seed libraries do, this changes nothing.  BUT, it does mean, when seed saving laws come up for discussion in your state legislatures, this language from the AASCO, will be the language that will be suggested as a place to start.  That is big news, but don't roll down to your county ag office with an invitation to swap seeds just yet.
There are so many awesome people to thank for their hard work opposing the distressing Federal law and they deserve to know we value the work they did for us. In CA, Boxer stood with us, while Feinstein defected. And, of course, Obama, who had campaigned FOR labeling, was the biggest let down of all. But we will work to make sure it doesn't stand. GMOs do not play well with other crops - we have seen this contamination cause financial hardship and devastation to organic farms who are held liable for the spread of the patented genes.  
We thank Neil Thapar and Betsy Goodman and others for going to the annual meeting of AASCO and asking them to consider our seed libraries.  

I did not go because I felt it would be futile.  Shows you what I know and shows you what can happen when you do show up!  I have a great deal of respect for all these folks that made this happen - it does not change California law, which is still pending, but it's due to come up sometime in August and we'll keep you posted!


Wednesday, May 18, 2016


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, Cilantro
Herb, Rosemary
Herb, 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!