Check out these plants! - Albuquerque Journal

Check out these plants!

Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

The library has always been known as a reliable place to gain knowledge and information.

Now, it’s also the spot where fledgling green thumbs and advanced gardeners alike go to help bolster the quality – and variety – of their harvest. Founded in 2014, the ABQ-BernCo Seed Library began with the mission of “encouraging a community of water-wise gardeners,” according to abqlibrary.org. That is achieved primarily by offering free vegetable, flower and herb seeds to library card holders while also providing them with access to various educational gardening-related programs.

The Seed Library is housed at the South Broadway branch (1025 Broadway SE), and patrons can check out as many as 30 packets annually.

“We get all sorts of people (participating),” said Jennifer Lee, South Broadway library site supervisor. “We get people who are beginners. We get people who are master gardeners or people who have been gardening here for a long time. We get people who have been gardening in other states for a long time, and they’re really bewildered on how to grow in a high desert environment. We really get just a lot of different types of people who are checking out seeds with us.”

When the program began, seed saving was a primary objective, meaning that members would check out seeds and then return whatever they saved to the library at the end of the season. That is no longer the case.

“There is no expectation that they’re going to save seeds and return them to us,” Lee said. “We encourage people to grow or save the seed, whatever they want to do.”

While the seeds are housed at the South Broadway Library, they are browsable online only, and orders are placed via email at southbroadway@cabq.gov. The packets can be picked up at any of the following locations: East Mountain, Juan Tabo, Rudolfo Anaya/North Valley, San Pedro, South Broadway, South Valley, Taylor Ranch or Westgate.

A recent glance at types of seed packets available revealed 39 varieties of vegetables, five herbs and six flowers. That document is ever-evolving, according to Lee, and the website is updated accordingly as inventory changes. In recent months, peppers, tomatoes and various herbs have been popular items, but gardeners will find a plethora of other options available including beans, cabbage, corn, cucumbers, peas, pumpkins and watermelon, to name a few.

Labels on each seed packet indicate seed-saving potential as well as the amount of water needed to grow each respective plant. Seeds are obtained from several suppliers, but the top two sources are Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, based in Virginia, and Territorial Seeds, located in Oregon. The library typically receives two big orders per year.

Seed donations from patrons are no longer as common, however, and those that are donated come with a disclaimer that there is no guarantee of germination. Donated packets do not count against a library member’s 30-per-year limit, either.

“What started happening is we were getting seeds but there were a lot of cross pollination and vegetables weren’t growing true to type,” Lee said. “We do take some donations of flowers, where if for some reason it ends up being a hybrid it’s not as big as a deal as if it’s something you were meaning to eat or consume.”

Those looking to enhance their gardening knowledge are encouraged to attend one of the many seed library programs that are offered on a yearly basis. These can cover general topics like container gardening or something more specific such as fig tree “editing.”

The Seed Library program only seems to be gaining in popularity. By May of this year, the number of seed packet orders had already exceeded the entirety of those requested in 2021, Lee revealed. She believes the program is beneficial to gardeners in a variety of ways while still maintaining the core values of the library.

“I think that it’s an important program because one of the things is that libraries are meant to be educational places,” Lee said. “Our seed library encourages education of gardening, particularly water-wise gardening with our unique climate here in Albuquerque. It’s a very good and important thing to know about.”

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