Around the Island

Savoring seeds

The Shelter Island Seed Library is stocked with heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.

Flowers and fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future. – Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Shelter Island Seed Library sprang to life for its fourth season last week with a presentation by farmer and educator Scott Chaskey and Layton Guenther, farm manager at Amagansett’s Quail Hill Farm about the work they do and the importance of saving and sharing heirloom seeds. It’s a joint project of the Shelter Island Library (SIL)and Sylvester Manor Educational Farm and the brainchild of reference librarian Jocelyn Ozolins and Maggie Higby, formerly of Sylvester Manor.

“Four years ago Maggie proposed the idea to me. I had been hoping to have a seed library “someday” so it was exciting to hear from her,” said Ms. Ozolins. “I now work with Jocelyn Craig, the windmill field manager at the Manor who provides her expertise. We get many of our seeds from the Manor and this year we got donations from Seed Savers Exchange, High Mowing Seed Company, Hudson Valley Seeds and the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium. We have heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.”

As its name implies, the Seed Library works a lot like a book library. Gardeners browse its collection of seeds located in SIL and “check them out” to plant and grow in a home or community garden. While there is no obligation (or late fee) for not returning seeds, the Seed Library crew hope that both experienced and novice seed savers will return seeds at the end of the season and share new ones they’ve grown and harvested. 

“Our library has vegetables, herbs and flowers. There are some unusual varieties,” said Ms. Ozolins.

According to Ms. Craig, it’s important to understand the difference between open-pollinated and hybrid seeds when considering seed-saving. Open-pollinated plants produce seeds that will grow into plants very similar to the parent plant with the possibility of slight and subtle variations. 

“Seed breeders and selective seed savers can save seeds from the plants that have the characteristics they desire. Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down through history,” explained Ms. Craig.

Meanwhile, hybrids have been bred with two distinct parent lines. If you collect the seeds from a hybrid plant you cannot be guaranteed that they will grow into a plant that resembles the parent. Instead, it may have attributes from either of the parent lineages. 

The Seed Library at the Shelter Island Library.

“I see the goal for the Shelter Island Seed Library to encourage community members to share seeds from the plants that have done well in their back yard and move toward being a resource for seeds that are particularly well-adapted to our unique environment on Shelter Island. In the meantime, we are literally “seeding” the library with seeds that have been purchased and donated from reputable seed companies,” said Ms. Craig. 

Ms. Ozolins noted that the Seed Library already has the community coming together to grow food at home. 

“The program has been popular with patrons. Cris DiOrio of Island Time Farm was in recently picking out seeds for kids from the school to grow. Darren from SALT came by the other day and it was fun to hear what he’d grown and Kimberly Atkins and Katherine Moore from the Library have been a big help organizing our seeds this year,” she said. 

By saving seeds and growing heirloom crops in home gardens, small farms and community gardens, we practice the preservation of biodiversity. In turn, that supports nature’s effort to spread out and multiply as many varieties of a plant as possible, giving each species the best chance of surviving. The more versions of a plant species saved and collected by those around the world, the better the plant’s chances of long-term survival. 

To help preserve nature’s genetic diversity, join a seed-saving organization like the one at the Library or an international network like Seed Savers Exchange, meet with local farmers and share the importance of saving seeds with children, teachers and friends. Plant a garden or join one already going in your community. 

Ms. Ozolins noted the Library has future endeavors planned to share the joy of seed saving and growing food. She said the LIRSC website offers a wealth of information and it’s “been very supportive of the Library’s efforts.” 

“Sylvester Manor has hosted seed-saving classes and we are working on having a seed-saving talk this fall,” said Ms. Ozolins. “The important thing is to get people excited and growing!”