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Libraries Add Seeds to Circulation

Fri, 03/10/2023 - 12:31
Kathleen Ernst, who's in charge of the seed exchange at the Montauk Library, let Grace and Laura Niggles select some wild flower seeds to plant in their garden.
Jane Bimson

With the East End frost-free date about a month away, for gardeners now is seed-starting time. Resources for experienced, casual, and beginner growers include free "seed libraries" at most local libraries.

Details may vary, depending on library policies, however, the concept is to make gardening more accessible by supplying seeds, as well as literature and handouts about how to get going.

The Montauk Library seed exchange is an ongoing effort not just to hand out packages from commercial suppliers, but to encourage local gardeners to save their own seeds to donate back to the collection. The goal is to ensure a "robust variety of seeds that do well in the Montauk climate." Library cardholders can take up to five packets per month. A seed-saving guide is on the library website.

In Amagansett, community service hours are available for teenagers who help out at a March 29 seed-sorting session. Kimberly Parry at the library has more information. The library typically has had a big selection, including vegetable and flower old standards, herbs, greens, and some more exotic types, such as Thai basil, fennel, and bok choy. Seeds will begin to be available the week of March 20.

Sag Harbor's John Jermain is beginning to stock its seed library, with more varieties to be added soon. East Hampton's opened this week; it also takes donations of saved seeds.

Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton is in on the seed thing, too.  It has a wide variety of herb, flower, and vegetable seeds available throughout the spring, summer, and fall. The staff tries to time it so that at any given time patrons can plant what they select the day they pick it up. For example, in early spring there are different varieties of lettuce, kale, and onions then as it gets warmer, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. Patrons can take up to three packets of seeds per visit from collection, which is maintained in a repurposed card catalog. The library accepts seed donations, though not a requirement. The seed library is "open" whenever the library.

In the winter months, Rogers Memorial has windowsill garden kits with recipes or instructions for things like dry-herb rubs or herbal sachets and all the seeds necessary to get started. These been a big hit and help keep the seed library active all year, Sara Fiore, the reference librarian there, said.

The time is now for cool-weather planting. National Weather Service statistics available from 1999 on have Montauk's latest-frost date as about April 9, though frosts have been recorded as late as May 1 (in 2008). In Bridgehampton, the average annual freeze-free date is April 22; in 1992, frost formed on May 20, in a freak cold spell.

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