Sitka Public Library launches new Sitka Seed Library

Photo from Sitka Public Library page on Facebook

The Sitka Seed Library, located at Sitka Public Library, is now open to the public.

Photo by Robert Woolsey of KCAW-Raven Radio

You can check out all kinds of seeds to bring home and grow in your own garden. The Sitka Seed Library also accepts donations of saved or purchased seed to share with the community. No library card is required. Just come to the library, fill out a registration form, and start growing.

“The original idea came after speaking to a friend who thought we needed a seed library in Sitka,” Sitka Public Library Adult Services Librarian Margot O’Connell wrote in an email. “After doing some research, I found it would be an easy project to start and would accomplish a lot of our programming goals.”

The Sitka Seed Library is a community seed project dedicated to feeding our community, sharing knowledge, and building resiliency. We offer free seeds to all participants and encourage donations of both purchased and saved seeds. All are welcome to participate. Members are encouraged to learn basic gardening and seed saving techniques, and to help us grow the project into the future.

“Folks are encouraged to return seeds, but it isn’t required because I want it to be as accessible as possible,” O’Connell wrote. “I have a feeling that the folks who donate will make up for those who don’t.”

Several public libraries have started seed libraries in recent months, following the model of the Growing Ester’s Biodiversity program at the John Trigg Ester Library in Ester, located just outside Fairbanks and one of the oldest public-library-based seed libraries in Alaska. Other seed libraries are in Dillingham, Homer, Soldotna, and other communities. In 2018, the Alaska Legislature passed a bill that removed several barriers to sharing seeds in the state.

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, O’Connell was a guest on the Morning Interview show on KCAW-Raven Radio, where she gave more details about Sitka’s new seed library.

For more information, please call Margot O’Connell at 747-4020 or email

• Saving seeds helps improve your future food crops, and it can be an act of defiance


Container of kale bolting (going to seed)

Container of kale bolting (going to seed)

photo 2

Collected kale seed

Farmers have been saving seeds for thousands of years, but in recent years saving seeds also has become an act of defiance. Saving seeds is a way to preserve and improve the biodiversity of your crops, while also thumbing your nose at agribusiness giants such as Monsanto who have made it difficult and even illegal for small farmers to save their own seeds.

In Sitka, saving seeds means preserving the best crops that grow in our rainy climate. You also can share seeds among friends to help them get the best varieties of a particular crop.

photo 1

Kale seed pods ready to be split so the seeds can be extracted and saved

So how do you do it? Saving seeds isn’t that difficult and there are many resources available online that can give you the basics. Here is a primer on saving seeds from the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service, and the Seed Savers Exchange provides these resources.

The John Trigg Ester Library, located in the town of Ester just outside Fairbanks, provides a list of Alaska resources for saving seeds. The Growing Ester’s Biodiversity program is believed to be the state’s only official seed library, where saved seeds are collected with the intention of sharing them with other gardeners and farmers. That’s different from a seed bank, where seeds are collected and stored, but not for sharing. Here is a FAQ page about how people can borrow seeds from the Ester seed library, and here is a tutorial from the seed library about saving tomato seeds.

Deirdre Helfferich, who also is the managing editor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station, coordinates the Growing Ester’s Biodiversity seed library at the John Trigg Ester Library. This is how she explains the difference between a seed library and a seed bank, and this is why she says we need to save seeds:

A seed bank is a depository for the owners of its seeds or germplasm. So, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (in Norway) is a seed bank. Until recently, Native Seeds/SEARCH  (in Tucson, Ariz.) was a seed bank with limited availability for growing. It now has a seed library program.

The basic difference is the mode of preservation and distribution: the bank holds the seeds for its depositors, and as though the seeds are in a museum, to be regenerated only every so often to keep the line going. Seed banks won’t just share the seed with anyone, and will store their seed in deep dormancy as long as possible.

A seed library, on the other hand, preserves through distribution and growth each year. This means that the plants tend to adapt to the local where they are grown over time, of course, and don’t remain unchanged.

Seed libraries are also usually focused on the traditions and human context associated with the seed: what it means, the stories associated, the uses, the histories, etc. Seed libraries have to do with the cultures in which their charges were domesticated, preserved, passed down, donated. This can be as simple as “We traditionally use this tomato in grandma’s lasagne recipe so we call it Grandma’s Lasagne Tomato,” to “This tomato has been in our family for generations back when we were living in a little village in Italy and tomatoes were first introduced from the New World.”

The other thing about seed libraries is that they are libraries, and a library is grounded in sharing, in the abundance mentality. One gives away, trusting that good things will come back. And that network of relationships builds a community of trust. Contrast this to a bank, which holds its contents at bay from a hostile world.

Of course, we need things like Svalbard because there ARE nuts out there running our regulatory agencies and monocropping everything to the point where we simply may not have the variety we need. Seed libraries and seed banks offer two kinds of bulwarks to the crazies.

In an earlier conversation, Deirdre said part of the mission of the Ester seed library is “to inspire other seed library programs or variations on the theme.” With that in mind, I decided to see if I could save some seed.


My bag of kale seed pods hanging in my living room to dry

I’m not the most experienced gardener, but this year I had a container of second-year kale that bolted after growing all winter (see photo at top of article), providing me with a nice crop of seed pods instead of leafy kale this summer. So, rather than toss the kale, I decided to collect the seed pods and see if I could save some seed.

Since it’s so rainy in Sitka, I couldn’t dry the seed pods outdoors. So I threw them into a plastic shopping bag and hung them in my living room for a month or two (out of the reach of my cats).

When the seed pods were finally dry enough so you could split them like shelling peanuts, I took the bag down and started collecting the seeds in a plastic margarine tub (see third photo). It can be somewhat tedious work, splitting all the seed pods to get the seeds loose, but it also can be meditative. Once you have all of the seeds separated from the seed pods, you should store them in a cool, dry place until you are ready to germinate them. Hopefully, these kale seeds will sprout next spring.