Most people ask, “Wait, I can just take this?” when picking up a seed packet at Sawyer’s seed library. Seed libraries are meant to be self-sustaining, and yes, you can use those seeds. When those plants grow, you can harvest the seeds in the fall, and donate them back to the seed library. Whether you’ve squirreled away a sunflower seed before or have a full seed library, now is the perfect time to harvest and donate seed back to the library. We suggest dreamy walks on sunny, dry days, to collect seeds.
Every morning, I walk outside the library to check on the seedpods budding from the butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, scattered around the marble blocks in the quad. They have an orange vibrance that has always stood out to me when they flower. They are finally ready for seed collection. Once the tubular pods are completely dry, they break open to reveal a fluff of seeds. There’s always a wonder associated with a seed that can be carried away in the wind. This plant attracts butterflies with their bright flower, and I look forward to adding it to the library this fall.
Can you think of a plant that you would like to share with the community? Maybe you’d like to collect Butterfly Milkweed too… We’ve got materials that can help you get started. Atop our seed collection are brown bags, a seed collecting tip sheet, and an information slip for recording the seed’s information. When accepting donations at our library circulation desk, it’s important to attach or copy any information you have on the plant so we can pass it along to others.
Tips for seed saving…
- Find a plant that has successfully matured and gone to seed
- Identify the plant, make sure you’re collecting from an open-pollinated variety so the seed will grow true-to-type. No hybrids please
- Copy any information you have on the plant
- Collect the seeds when the seed pods are dry
- Separate the chaff from the seed, aka, remove other parts of the plant
- Put them in a brown bag, envelope, or other dry container so they won’t mildew
- Deliver them to the circulation desk in Sawyer Library with the seed’s information and let us know you’re donating to the seed library
We’ll repackage the seeds into individual portions and put them back in the library. We’ll even add stories to seeds you’ve donated.
So far, our community has used over 330 packets of seed and we’ve packaged over 1,600 individual packets in our first six months of having a seed library at Williams. There’s a few favorites in our community already, including marigolds, calendula, bouquet dill, cilantro, sugar snap-snow peas, beets, carrots, and radish. Nothing comes close to how we feel about bees though – Bee Feed is #1.
Thanks to Zilkha’s summer garden intern, Sabrina Antrosio ’26, there’s a new planting of our favorite mixture in square plots behind the Environmental Center. For beneficial pollinators, it’s an extended summer this fall with yellow Coreopsis, Echinacea purpurea, or Linum perenne (blue flax) still in bloom.
Regardless of the 200 varieties we currently have, we’re always looking for diverse plants that can be added and shared. Strong plants that grow specifically in this region help us build a library with ecologically specific seeds to share with our community. Explore our Seed Library Webpage for more resources, downable seed-saving zines, recommended reading, and local resources.
If you’d like to participate, share your knowledge, or ask questions, feel free to email May Beattie at [email protected]. We hope you will add something to our seed library!
If you’re new to seed saving, here’s a couple videos to get you started!
May Beattie, Sawyer Circulation Desk Coordinator