Gardeners and prospective gardeners will be pleased to know that they can get an early start on their flowers, herbs and vegetables Saturday, Jan. 29, as the Blount County Public Library celebrates National Seed Swap Day from 10 am to noon. The event is free and open to anyone who wants to stop by the Dorothy Herron Room and swap seeds — and stories — with other gardeners or simply pick up some free seeds to try their hands at gardening for the first time.
In addition, Master Gardener Deena Trimble will present a program beginning at 11 am in the adjoining Sharon Lawson room on winter sowing, an outdoor seed starting method that uses repurposed plastic containers to create mini outdoor greenhouses.
In conjunction with National Seed Swap Day, the library will open its seed library on Feb. 1, a month earlier than usual. Patrons must have a current library card to check out seeds in the seed library program, but anyone is welcome to participate in the seed swap on Saturday.
Seed swap and more
Sheila Pennycuff, reference librarian overseeing the seed library, said, “National Seed Swap Day is always the last Saturday in January, and that’s why we picked that day.
“Each table will have categories of seeds, and people can bring their seeds that they want to swap. A lot of gardeners will have extra seeds that they just want to give away. We’ll have those all categorized for people.”
The seed library received many donations last year and will also have extras to give out, especially beans and flowers. “Those will all be out on the tables,” Pennycuff said. “People can leave the seeds that they want to give away and take what they need. It’s free, and it’s open to anybody that wants to come.”
The tables will be spaced out around the perimeter of the room to allow for social distancing. Masks are recommended but not required.
At 11 am in the Sharon Lawson Room, Trimble will speak on winter sowing.
“Winter sowing is a way a lot of people start their seeds,” Pennycuff said. “It’s really growing in popularity. I’ve had a lot of people stop by the reference desk and ask about it.”
Winter sowing involves cutting clear plastic jugs in half. “You leave the handle attached so you can flip it up, poke holes at the bottom for drainage, then you put your seed starting medium and seeds at the bottom,” Pennycuff said. “Then you duct tape it together and set it outside in the wintertime, and that acts as a little greenhouse. A lot of people are doing that now to start their seeds because it saves money. You don’t have to have the expensive setup, the lights and trays and all that. A lot of people wear by it.”
The seed library was an outgrowth of the BCPL’s first seed swap in the fall of 2018 as part of the Southern Appalachian Studies Program. Pennycuff said, “After it was over, people kept coming to the reference desk and bringing me more seeds. After awhile I thought, well, my yard is not big enough to plant everything they’re giving me. At the time, seed libraries were just getting going in public libraries in the United States, so we decided to start the seed library and see how it went.” The seed library officially opened on March 1, 2019.
“The most popular seeds are flowers, then herbs, tomatoes, beans and corn. Flowers have been our number one seed checkout every year,” Pennycuff said.
A Blount County Public Library card is required for using the seed library, and each individual may check out five packs of seeds per month. The library asks that patrons will grow the plants, learn how to save the seeds and then give back to the seed library to keep the cycle going. The focus is on Southern Appalachian heirloom seeds that have been grown in this area and saved for generations.
“We’d really, really like for people to grow the Southern Appalachian seeds, and that’s what we try to collect,” Pennycuff said. “We don’t want hybrid seeds, we want open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds. That’s all we have in the seed library. If you plant those and follow the rules to prevent cross-pollination, then you’re going to get that same seed back that we can then give away over and over again.
“Seeds are our living history, and that’s part of what the library does. We save history – we cultivate it and we save it for future generations.”
National Seed Swap Day and the seed library, which opens for the season on Feb. 1, so much more than seeds. “I don’t know who said it, but there’s a quote that says, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,'” Pennycuff said. “We want to get people hopeful about the New Year, and we’re hoping for a better day. And also, the price of food has skyrocketed, and if we’ve got extra seeds, we want to get them out there so people can grow their own food and save money.
“Gardening is good for our spirits. I couldn’t have made it without my garden the last two years. It’s such a source of peace and relaxation. I don’t know how to explain it, but I think a lot of people feel that way.”