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Libraries now ‘lend’ seeds to local gardeners

Allowing cilantro to flower results in coriander seeds to use as a spice or for planting. (Deborah Mayaan)

As my friends and I say the motzi (blessing over bread), I have a new appreciation for the effort our ancestors put into growing wheat, thanks to the Pima County Public Library, which now “lends” seeds at several branches. People may choose from a wide variety of seeds, grow the plants, and save the seeds, some to keep for replanting, some to “return” to the library. I’ve been saving seeds for years but I’m not quite ready for wheat; it’s in the hard-to-save category. The pamphlet from the library suggests that folks new to seed-saving start with easy ones that produce plants just like their parents, without any special precautions.

Tepary beans from a summer garden — some to eat, some to save as seeds. (Deborah Mayaan)

Beans and sunflower seeds are in the easy-to-save category, and I have plenty to share. There is a story to these seeds, and it’s fun to write on the library’s donation form about how the current year’s tepary beans are from my first summer garden at this location, which was watered 80 percent by water from roof runoff collected in a rain barrel I made at a workshop with Watershed Management Group (see http://azjewishpost.com/2011/buying-or-selling-a-green-home-in-tucson).

Each year I buy lettuce seeds, but this year I borrowed some and will allow several plants to “bolt,” or flower and go to seed. Eggplant is also in the easy-to-save category, so I’ve borrowed seeds for planting this spring, dreaming of baba ganoush.

In the medium-to-save category, I’ve been letting my cilantro bolt, and saving the coriander seeds mentioned in the Torah (Exodus 16:13). Talking over Shabbat dinner, a friend got interested and took some of the seeds I had set aside to donate. Cilantro/coriander is in the medium-to-save category because it easily cross-pollinates with other members of its family (including parsley, carrots, celery, dill, caraway and fennel). Since I have a good supply of cilantro seeds, this winter I’ll try letting parsley go to seed, being careful not to let the cilantro flower at the same time.

Onions are also in the medium-to-save category, since they also easily cross with other members of their family (including garlic, leeks and chives). As I planted my onions, I reflected on the flavorful foods the Israelites recalled from Egypt (Numbers 11:5). And the next time I make borscht? It may be with beets from my garden. Again, if I want to save the seeds, I’ll be careful not to let them flower at the same time as their relatives such as chard or spinach.

While Native Seeds/SEARCH carries varieties of wheat grown in this region since Father Eusebio Kino introduced it in the 17th century, wheat, barley, oats and millet are in the hard-to-save category. Crops such as these that are pollinated by wind or insects may cross with plants far beyond a garden plot; the saved seeds are unlikely to produce plants like their parents. Kale and other members of the brassica family (including broccoli, bok choy, collards and mustard) are also in the hard-to-save category. I’m not ready to learn hand-pollination, so will continue to buy packets of kale seeds each year — a small price to pay for the cancer-preventing benefits of vegetables in this family. And those cucumbers and melons that the Israelites recalled so fondly (Numbers 11:5)? They’re also hard to save.

To learn more about borrowing seeds, stop by one of the branches that stocks seeds (Joel D. Valdez Main Library, Himmel Park, Martha Cooper, Flowing Wells, Quincie Douglas or Salazar-Ajo) or visit www.li brary.pima.gov/seed-library. Library patrons may search the online library catalog and request that seeds be sent to their local branch for pickup. The library website lists upcoming events, including talks by local gardening experts and dates when the seed library will travel to a farmers market.

When I searched the offerings in person at a library branch, some seeds had accompanying growing directions. Others, such as a certain type of lettuce, I knew how to plant based on experience growing other varieties. For seeds that were new to me, I searched online to find planting directions. For a planting schedule, the most comprehensive one I found is at http://communityfoodbank.com/pdf/plantingguide_new.pdf

The seed library was created in partnership with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, Native Seed/SEARCH, and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. The initial seeds were donated by local gardeners and a variety of seed companies. There are also seed libraries in cities across the nation, and one at Native Seeds/SEARCH (3061 N. Campbell Ave., https://nativeseeds.org).

Deborah Mayaan is an energy work and flower essence practitioner based in Tucson. www.deborah mayaan.com

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