One of the really awesome things some public libraries have started doing is creating a seed lending library. Patrons “borrow” seeds from the library to plant in their gardens and then in the fall they save seeds from what they grew and return them back to the library. Great idea, right? It promotes community sharing, healthy food and good exercise, what could be wrong with that? Back in June of this year the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture told the Mechanicsburg public library it could no longer distribute seeds. The seed-exchange program violated a law passed in 2004 that required anyone distributing seeds to conduct quality tests, adhere to labeling and storage rules, and to have a license.

This makes sense for companies that sell seeds for profit. But for a library seed sharing program?

Now the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has gone after the Duluth public library for its seed sharing program. They cite the very same reasons as they did in PA. You don’t have to have license here but apparently anyone who sells, trades or exchanges seeds in Minnesota must follow state rules and proper labeling. One of those rules is having the seeds tested to make sure they will germinate. It costs $50 for each germination test. Typically, about 400 seeds have to be tested for a valid result but what do you do if you are looking at one to two dozen seeds? The Ag Department said they’d allow the library to have a gardener in Duluth test a smaller sample size.

This means the Duluth program is not going to be shut down, it just means they have lots of hoops to jump through every year to continue the program. And it’s a big program: 200 members borrowed 800 packets of seeds in the first year of the exchange.

Even more ridiculous is the law applies to everyone in the state. So should I give my neighbor some flower or bean seeds from my garden and I don’t first test them or label them I am breaking the law. Supposedly the law is meant to protect consumers and create a level playing field for seed companies which to me means make free seed sharing programs difficult so people will have to buy seeds from companies more often than not.

Don’t worry though, there are some laws worth breaking and this is one of them. If you ever come visit me and my garden and want some seeds from my calendula or coneflowers or zucchini, I’ll gladly provide them to you. Seed sharing is part of what gardening is all about and I am not going to let short-sighted laws that protect companies keep me from it.

On a bookish note, I have five days of work and then two glorious weeks of vacation. I have a little pile of gardening books that I have accumulated from the library that I plan on enjoying as part of that vacation:

  • Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan. This is a marvelous book that I am going to buy myself a copy of. It is filled with recipes for small batch canning. And by small batch I mean one or two small pint jars. The book is intended for gardeners and farmer’s market shoppers who want to preserve small amounts of in-season produce. In other words, you don’t need five pounds of strawberries to make jam, just a few cups. If you have a gardener on your holiday gift list or you are a gardener with a wishlist, this is one you will definitely want to take a look at.
  • Latin for Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison. Because a plant’s Latin name contains lots of information, this book is intended to help the Latin ignorant like myself to figure it out.
  • The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr. Herbs, herbs and more herbs. And what to do with them from culinary to medicinal to the purely ornamental. It’s a hefty A-Z book with more herbs than I have ever heard of, how to grow them and what to do with them. I get the feeling after just a quick browse that I am going to want to own a copy of this. Also, my herb spiral is going to be crammed full next summer and likely overflowing into the rest of the garden.
  • The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. Rumor has it that I might be able to extend the growing season into January or longer using the right equipment and techniques. I had thought I’d like to try it in a couple of years. Bookman says, we should totally try it next winter. Guess who gets to be the one who figures out how to do it? Bookman says he’s just the muscle. So I have some learning to do. Most likely I will be buying myself a copy of this book too. Glancing through, it seems like it will be quite a bit of work getting it all set up so we’ll start small, make lots of mistakes and then expand after we (I) learn how it works in my own garden. Even though it is daunting, I must say the thought of having fresh lettuce from the garden in December is rather appealing. Have no fear, you’ll be hearing all about it!

I have been happily reading the giant seed catalog I bought. I limit myself to reading it for short periods of time. I am looking forward to utter indulgence during my vacation. I might have to check in to a rehab center afterwards. But it will be totally worth it.

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