While working at the Gardiner Library, Ken came up with the idea of creating a source of affordable and free seed for local gardeners to "check out" and grow in their gardens; at the end of the season, gardeners could save seeds from the plants they grew to return to the Library. This process would allow the community to develop a bank of regionally adapted varieties that had been proven in real-life garden conditions.
Ken tried the idea on a small scale, together with former Gardiner Library director Peg Lotvin; it gained momentum over several seasons. Last spring, Ken and I began to transform the Seed Library into a homestead-based business. We decided to expand and continue the Library program and to become a full-fledged seed farm, growing and selling seeds from heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. With little time for thorough planning or preparation, we cultivated a 7,500-square foot plot of ground and put in some of our favorite plants.
The results are available to the public this year. We successfully saved seed from Double Yield Cucumber (a New York State heirloom); Hank's X-Tra Special Baking Bean (a family heirloom received from Peg Lotvin); a slew of tomato varieties (including Mama Leone, a sauce tomato originally from an Italian immigrant in the Binghamton area); several varieties of pepper (the hot multicolored Fish Pepper, a sweet, long red Italian pepper that was developed at Phillies Bridge Farm that we've dubbed Bridge to Paris and a great bell pepper for our climate, known as King of the North); cilantro; zinnias; several salad greens and more.
While both Ken and I had gardened and saved our own seeds for several seasons before, this was our first foray into focused seed-growing on a larger scale. Many of our efforts did not pan out. We got sidetracked halfway through hand-pollinating melons; several days later we had no indication of which fruits contained properly isolated seed. Our Rat's Tail Radish plants grew enormous and beautiful, but we had planted them too late to get mature seed from them. The list goes on. We cut our teeth, wet our feet and whetted our appetite for the work.
Our plans for the coming season are ambitious: We plan on tripling the size of our seed-growing field and contracting with farmers throughout the Hudson Valley to grow seed for us. We aim to expand our catalogue offerings from around 50 varieties to over 100. And we plan on adding additional Art Packs, which are artfully folded seed packets created by Gardiner-based Sarah Snow of Treeo Design. Each pack features a cover designed by a Hudson Valley artist. Among the participating artists this year are potter Ayumi Horie, who sketched and glazed a tile for Rat's Tail Radish; Dani Leventhal, whose floating cucumbers hover mysteriously above a bull's-eye; Michael Wilcock, whose rendering of our dog, Kale, chomping his eponymous vegetable is spot-on; and Michael Asbill, whose image of Hank's X-Tra Special Baking Bean captures the explosiveness of germination.
We're also considering having a small print catalogue next year. To save money, we're only offering our seeds online and in-person for now. All of our varieties - along with a new blog and the beginnings of our how-to instructions - are available on our website. It's at www.seedlibrary.org.