I would like to announce the news of a Free Public Seed Bank in the City of Darebin, initiated and run by the community and supported by local government and local businesses!
Back in 2014, as part of the Darebin Leaders in Sustainability course (an initiative run by local government), Kerrie Ludekens and Angelo Eliades (me!) began a project to establish a free local seed bank. Kerrie initiated the project and invited me to come on board as a project partner. A local government grant of $500 was provided through the Darebin Community Support Program which helped fund the project.
Why a Free Seed Bank?
Kerrie explains the rationale of the Free Public Seed Bank Project:
My project is to establish a seed bank (seed library) for the Northcote Library Food Garden (NLFG). Seeds are collected, catalogued & stored in a central location. The seeds are available for NLFG, other community gardens/projects plus the Darebin public.
A major purpose of the seed bank is to both grow seedlings for the NLFG community garden, and also to grow seedlings to sell to the community so the project will become self-funding in the future.
The benefits also include:
- the protection of valuable heirloom seeds & locally adapted seeds
- assist in preventing the loss of genetic diversity
- food security and the strengthening of the local food system
- educate the community on gardening & seed saving
- source of seeds for community gardeners at NLFG, Darebin community & other community projects
As you can see from Kerrie’s explanation, a free seed bank offers many benefits and is a valuable addition to the community.
Where Can I Get Free Seeds?
Free seeds from the Northcote Library Food Garden (NLFG)!
Kerrie and the NLFG are offering seeds to Darebin home gardeners free of charge. Collect them from:
- Northcote Library Food Garden (NLFG) at their working bees – Working bees: Second Sunday of the month 10am, except long weekends.
- Northcote Library; Preston Customer Service Centre, 274 Gower Street
- Kiln Café, 85C Clyde Street, Thornbury
- Darebin Information and Volunteer Resource Service, 285–287 High Street, Preston
Also, the Northcote Library Food Garden (NLFG) are looking for more members to share the experience of growing and sharing healthy organic food together.
The NLFG is next door to the Northcote Library at 32 – 38 Separation Street.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 8470 8888
Working bees: Second Sunday of the month 10am, except long weekends. Autumn working bee dates: March 20, April 10, May 8
Project Recognised and Awarded by Local Government
Both Kerrie and I were awarded the Darebin Leaders in Sustainability ‘Highly Commended’ award (runner-up award) as part of the Darebin and Banyule Sustainability Awards in 2014 for our work on this project.
It was great to get both support and recognition from local government for a project that will benefit the community and promote sustainable living!
Designing a Public Seed Bank Project
When thinking through how we would run a seed bank that was free to the public, we had to design a system that was easy to manage and very time efficient.
The central idea which drove the project design were the seed envelopes. It was important to capture all necessary information on the seed envelopes without making them too cluttered or hard to read.
We decided that along with a logo, the seed envelopes should contain the following information:
- Plant name: The type of plant, example Tomato
- Variety: The variety of plant, example ‘Roma’
- Donated by: Name or initials of person supplying seeds to be able to identify source
- MM/YY collected: Date to record when seeds were collected to determine age
- Use by: Date to use seeds by to help maintain stocks of fresh and viable seeds (see Seed Storage list below)
- Sow: Information on sowing seeds – either directly into soil, into punnets or both
- Notes: Any additional notes that may be required.
This information was used to produce a design for the envelopes, shown below.
The design was taken to a company that makes stamps and we had a stamp made up (single colour) so we can stamp blank envelopes quickly and easily for seed storage and distribution.
Designing a Seed Storage System
One of the most important issues for a seed bank is that the seed is fresh and viable, in other words, the seeds if sown will germinate and grow into healthy plants.
Seeds need to be kept in a cool dry place for maximum storage life. If you’re handling a large number of varieties of seeds then you’ll also need some means of organising them. We used a recycled filing cabinet with suspension files to hold the seed enveloped (in alphabetical order of course) and provide a cool, dry storage location.
The problem with seeds is that they can’t be stored indefinitely, different seeds can be kept for different periods of time.
Knowing how long to keep seeds for can get confusing, so I designed a Seed Storage List which makes it as easy as possible. In this system, there are only three categories:
- Short time periods – store for less than one season (< 1 year)
- Medium time periods – store for up to or at least 3 years (1-3 years)
- Long time periods – store for five years or longer (>5 years)
Using this system, we can look at the ‘MM/YY collected’ date on the envelope, look up the plant in the Seed Storage List and then work out the ‘Use By’ date, which will eithe be 1 year, 3 years or 5 years after the collection date.
Seed Storage List
Seeds not to be kept longer than one season (short time periods)
Seeds can be stored up to at least three years (medium time periods)
Seeds can be kept five years or longer (long time periods)
- All Brassicas (Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Collards, Kohlrabi)
- Chicory (Endive, Escarole, Radicchio)
Reviewing the Project
With any project it’s important to regularly review its progress to ensure it’s on track and achieving its intended outcomes.
When speaking the the people at one of the seed collection points (where members of the public can collect their free seeds), Northcote Library in this case, I was advised by the staff that the project was a great success and they could barely keep up with the supply of free seeds to the public.
From the early stages it appears that the Northcote Library Food Garden (NLFG) Free Seed Bank is being very well received by the community, and why wouldn’t it be, who would turn down free seeds and miss the opportunity to grow their own vegies and herbs at home!