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Orcas Island Seed Library

The Orcas Island Seed Library seeks to empower Orcas Island to be a resilient seed stewardship community.
We aim to make a diverse variety of open source seed available to the public, and promote knowledge of seed saving practice and importance through outreach and education.

How This Library Works

This library contains seed for our community to share and grow. The idea is that people learn to save seeds and return some for others to use. Like a regular library, the seeds you borrow must be returned again. How? By growing this plant through its life cycle and choosing to save some of the seeds to return to the library for others to grow. In this way we can develop a free and reliable local seed source!

The seed library is located in the foyer of the Orcas Island Public Library and is open during regular library hours for self-service use.

Why Save Seed Locally?

Humans have been saving seed for over 12,000 years. In our culture, however, much of that knowledge has been lost over the last hundred years. Agricultural diversity and heritage is being lost with the consolidation of the seed industry. When we grow and save our own seeds organically and locally we:

About the Seeds in this Library:

Many seeds in this library have been generously donated by local seed stewards. In time, it is our goal that ALL of the seed here will be locally grown by the community. Since we are just starting out, we have also included non-local seeds that are open source and from reputable seed companies.

Why Open Source Seeds?

Open source seeds are seeds that can be freely shared without violating patent law. Orcas Island Seed Library shares only non-genetically engineered and non-utility patented seeds.

Help Support Us

The most important way you can help keep the seed library going is by using it, and we thank you for doing so! We invite contributions to help fund the cost of materials related to the upkeep of the library and educational programming. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please talk to a staff member at the Orcas Island Library service desk.

Seed Club

Become a member of the Seed Club where we will geek out about seeds! We will meet quarterly to talk about seed saving techniques, problem solving and other exciting business. Further opportunities to get involved in plant breeding and trialing will be discussed. Indicate your interest in our Checkout Log, or contact us for more info.

About the Library

The Orcas Island Seed Library was created in winter 2012 as a Food Masters project led by local residents interested in promoting seed saving and education. The Seed library works in partnership with the Orcas Island Library, Orcas Island Seed Bank, FEAST, Food Masters, Sustainable Orcas Island, and local seed stewards.


We would like to thank all of the local seed stewards on Orcas and Lopez for sharing seeds; to Emmett Adam for building the wonderful seed cabinet; to Phil Heikkinen and the Orcas Island Public Library for graciously hosting us; to the Orcas Island Garden Club for awarding us a generous grant, to the Lopez Island Seed Library for advice and resource materials; to Sarah Ross and George Orser for donating books, and to YOU for helping save seeds!

Online Resources:



Q: Can I donate seed to the library?

A: Please note that our return drawer is only for seed that has been saved from library stock. If you are a seed saver already and would like to share some with the library we would certainly appreciate it. Please contact us before dropping seed off as we need to catalog it first.

Q: Can I use seed from the library but not return it?

A: The purpose of this library is to build knowledge of seed saving practice and gain a larger resource of seed over time for our community. To that end, if folks take seed but don't return any, it will cease to be a sustainable enterprise. If you want to grow plants from local seed but aren't interested in saving it, you may want to consider a local/regional seed company such as Greenheart Gardens, Uprising Seeds, Adaptive Seeds, Peace Seeds, Wild Garden Seeds, Horizon Herbs.

Q: What if I can't grow enough seeds to meet the suggested population size?

A: Listed population sizes are for commercial scale and we realize for the home gardener it may not always be possible. The general rule is to save from as many plants as you can. Some crops are more affected than others by the size of the genetic pool (such as carrots for example - they need a large population or else genetic diversity is quickly lost). You can still save the seed, but when you return it to us let us know your population size. Once nice thing about having a community library is that we can combine resources, so if several of us all grow Red Russian Kale, we can then 'mix' our seed together to keep the genetic diversity strong.

Q: What if I don't have enough room to create the ideal isolation distance between varieties?

A: Try isolating by time. Let just one variety of Brassica crop go to flower per year. The benefit of the library is that someone else may be saving other varieties. Or, you could consider manual isolation techniques such as hand pollination or alternate day caging. You can check our resource section for more info.

Q: My plants may have cross-pollinated with ones they should not have; can I still return the seed to the library? (ie. I grew different varieties of summer squash but did not hand pollinate)

A: Yes, but let us know the circumstances when you fill out your return label so that others know about your experiment. Hybrids are a part of nature and can yield interesting and fun results, but many folks are interested in keeping varieties pure.

How to Borrow and Return Seeds:

You can come to the library to "borrow" seeds any time the public library is open. You can "borrow" seeds from any drawer, but when you first get started, only save seeds from the "super easy" drawers.

Please don't save seeds from the "Easy" or "Advanced" drawers for the library until you have learned more about seed saving or already have that knowledge. You can read our seed saving info in the binder or visit our website for tips on how to save seeds so you can return seeds at the end of the season for others to borrow. We also offer occasional free classes on seed saving, which will be posted here and listed on our website.


  1. Locate the variety you are interested in. (Starting with SUPER-EASY if you are a beginner).
  2. Take only the number of seeds that you will actually plant. (Keeping in mind we ask you to return 2 X as much as you borrowed)
  3. Please do not take an entire packet or of seeds unless it says otherwise. Please do not empty a jar unless there are 15 or fewer seeds left.
  4. Place seeds in a new envelope and fill out the label completely.
  5. Sign the Checkout Log in the green binder.
  6. Gather the necessary information to know what steps you need to take to save seed from the variety you have decided to grow. Check our orange Resource Binder for more info.
  7. Grow your crop. Have a great growing season!


  1. When time comes to collect your seed, make sure seeds are dry and have been reasonably cleaned by removing as much of the chaff as possible.
  2. Properly saved: Only return seeds from plants that you know how to save properly. "Super Easy" seeds can be fairly reliably saved without cross-pollination (and unintentional hybridization). Do not return seeds from the advanced category (such as Brassica or Curcurbit), unless you have taken appropriate steps to prevent cross-pollination, such as hand-pollinating.
  3. Be sure to save some for yourself. Return 2 X the amount you first borrowed to our library.
  4. Label! Label! Label! Place in a new envelope, fill out the label completely.
  5. Sign the Return Log where you can write important information about your saved seed such as the population size and purity. More info is better!
  6. Stick your envelope in the 'Return' drawer on the cabinet.
  7. Thank you for participating in growing our community's independence!

Library Organization

The drawers are organized by seeds that are Super Easy, Easy and Advanced. Within these drawers, seeds are organized by plant families and common name.

If you are new to seed saving, start with the Super Easy seeds. These seeds are less likely to cross-pollinate. Seeds in the Easy and Advanced drawers require more planning to preserve varietal purity, otherwise varieties will cross. We want to be sure that the seeds you return are what you say they are, so please only borrow these seeds if you have learned about isolation and cross-pollination. See orange Resource Binder for more info.


These can most reliably be saved by the home gardener if you are new to seed saving. They produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the risk of cross-pollination.

Examples: Tomato, Pea, Bean, Lettuce, Arugula, many herbs and flowers


Plants in this drawer require a little more time and know-how. Some plants are biennials, which means they produce seeds the second growing season. These are still suitable for some beginners. The issue is space! Many of these require larger populations and isolation from things that could cross-pollinate with them.

Examples: Radish, Carrot, Onion, Leeks, Pepper, Spinach


With seeds in this drawer, you don't always reap what you sow. These vegetables are often biennials, normally require more than one year for seed production and most require separation to prevent cross-pollination. Beets and Swiss Chard are wind pollinated and require care to prevent cross pollination and knowledge of your neighbor's garden! Cucurbits (squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons) are not hard to save seeds from, but you need to hand-pollinate them if you want to return quality seeds for others to borrow. If you don't hand-pollinate cucurbits, you can't assure other borrowers that the seeds you return have not been cross-pollinated by another variety.

Examples: Brassica Family (Kale, Cabbage, Mustard, Broccoli etc), Chard, Beets,Cucurbit family (Cucumber, Squash, Pumpkin), Corn


All of the below are the same species and are insect pollinated. If any of these are flowering at the same time, cross-pollination is likely. You need to bag or isolate the different varieties, or allow only one variety to flower at a time: