Seed Library

Banner with seed library logo and related images

Seed Library is currently CLOSED. Please check here closer to spring 2022 for news about the seed collection.

NEW! To celebrate Spring, we decided to start some seeds at the library using a container BPL's Patrick made with our laser cutter. Learn about how seeds grow through our time-lapse video of beans, radishes, and carrots, and tag us on social media (facebook, instagram or twitter - @BurlONLibrary) to let us know how your seeds are doing.

Read about how our Seed Library usually works below.

Borrow seeds to grow your own healthy food and contribute to a sustainable community—it’s 1-2-3 easy with your Burlington Public Library card. Our seed collection is located at our Central branch. Here's how our seed library works:

  1. Browse & Borrow... select what plants you’d like to grow – then checkout the seed packages
  2. Sow & Grow... plant, tend, and enjoy your crop
  3. Reap & Return... if you are able, harvest new seeds and return them to the library, packaged to be borrowed by local gardeners next growing season. Returning seeds is not a requirement for borrowing seeds. Seeds returned from successful plants will grow our collection and help cultivate seed stocks best suited to our local climate.

Q: What is BPL Grows Seed Library?

BPL Grows Seed Library is a free community seed initiative that provides an opportunity for local residents to grow their own healthy, affordable food. With a library card, people can borrow seeds at no charge. Members plant, grow, and harvest plants while letting a few plants mature and return to seed. These new seeds are then returned to the library for the next growing season’s collection. By returning seeds from successful plants, local gardeners help sustain the library’s collection, as well as help cultivate seeds that are especially suited to Burlington’s growing conditions.

Q: What seeds do you have?

We order a selection of vegetable seeds you would traditionally see in a home garden, as well as herbs. We attempt to order a few varieties in each category. All seeds are non-hybrid and organic where possible. Our seed suppliers are William Dam Seeds in Flamborough, and Seed Savers Exchange.

Q: How many seeds can I check out?

You are now part of a community of gardeners and we ask that you respect that the Seed Library is a shared public resource. Please borrow responsibly; borrow only what you intend to plant, grow and save/return. We request that you borrow up to ten packages and do not exceed one package per plant variety.

Q: Are the seeds at BPL Grows Seed Library all organic?

The start-up collection of seeds in the library were heirloom varieties (saved and passed down for generations) and bought from a vendor that is certified organic by an independent certifier, Pro-Cert Organic Systems Ltd. BPL Grows Seed Library encourages seed donors to practice organic growing methods and to be honest when providing information on their seed donations. However, there is no guarantee that the seeds donated by community members are organic. As long as you use organic growing methods, your vegetables will be essentially organic, just unable to be certified by an independent certifier until you have been growing them organically for a minimum of 3 years.

Q: Are seeds available year round?

The seed library will have materials available throughout the year, though not all seeds can be planted year round. More information about when to plant various seeds can be found in our seed library catalogue.

Q: What do I do if I can’t find the kind of seed I’m looking for?

If there is something that you would like to see next growing season, let us know. Or, if you choose to purchase heirloom seeds instead this year, you can choose to save those seeds and donate some to the library to help us grow next year. Here is a great listing from Seeds of Diversity where you can find heirloom seeds.

Q: How do I properly save seeds after harvest?

The methods for saving seeds will depend on the variety of plant. Some seeds are quite easy to save. The seeds in this collection have little risk of cross-pollination, so when you plant seeds next year you’ll get the same fruits or vegetables that you got last year. These seeds also require fewer steps to successfully save seeds. Some seeds, like those in the squash and pumpkin family, require a bit more work to successfully save. These seeds easily cross-pollinate and need plenty of space between plants; they also may need to be hand-pollinated.

We encourage home gardeners to save seeds from the "easy" plants: tomatoes, lettuce, beans, peas, and peppers. (Some extra know-how needed for peppers.) Please do not save seeds from plants in the "medium" or "advanced" drawer until you have more experience seed saving.

Q: Do I have to "return" seeds?

We encourage you to try your best to save your seeds and return some to the library. Seed saving is new to many of us and everyone has varying levels of knowledge and experience. We will provide as much guidance and support as possible, and understand that growing conditions may affect your ability to save and return your seeds. If you are unable to save seeds, it would be helpful to us to hear why and we will factor this into the seeds that are provided in the future.

Q: When do I have to return saved seeds to the library?

You can return seeds any time after you’ve completed the seed saving process. After saving your seeds, please package and label them — indicating the species, variety, year saved, and any other information you’d like to share with others. BPL Grows Seed Library stores the seeds in the fall and makes them available again next spring.

Q: Do I have to bring back the same type of seeds I borrowed?

Ideally, yes, you will bring back the same type of seeds that you borrowed. However, many factors may affect whether the seeds you checked out will grow and produce seeds. If you borrow seeds that are more difficult to save and do not follow all of the instructions on how to save seeds, it is best that you do not bring those seeds back to the library. It’s possible that they will not produce a plant with the same traits next year.

You are welcome to bring back seeds from additional varieties, as long as they are heirloom and correctly saved.

Q: What if I am unable to return seeds?

We understand that seeds are not a typical lending item and many things can affect whether your seeds grow into plants or are able to live long enough to grow seeds.

If you are unable to return the seeds, we would like to know why so that we are able to improve the seeds and information next year. Did the seeds simply not grow? Was there a pest that caused a lot of damage? Did the plant grow but never produce seeds? Please complete the short confidential survey that we email/send to you in the fall and explain what happened as best you can.

Q: May I donate my own seeds?

Yes, you may donate your own seeds. You need to make sure you save seeds from an heirloom variety of plant, rather than a hybrid plant. While hybrid plants may produce well in the first season, they are not able to reproduce the same results the following year. Follow the instructions for seed saving that are available through this program, resources available at the library, or from the Internet. When the seeds are ready, you can bring them into the library anytime and fill in a form that identifies the variety of seed and any tips you have on growing it successfully.

Q: How is the seed library funded?

BPL Grows Seed Library was initially funded with the generous support of Burlington Community Foundation Grant and BurlingtonGreen in 2015, but the sustainability of the library depends on you! By returning saved seeds (and donating other seeds), library members help us continue to supply the community with access to free seeds. Cash donations are appreciated anytime and proceeds will go directly towards purchasing new seeds.

Q: Is there supporting information for the seed library?

BPL Grows Seed Library provides access to information to support our gardeners in growing their own food. As well as information sheets on basic gardening and seed saving, the library may offer workshops of interest to gardeners throughout the year. Burlington Public Library also has a wide variety of resources of interest to gardeners.

Q: Who do I contact for more information?

For more information, please call Susan at 905.639.3611 ext 1206.

Browse our Seed Saving collection

Burlington Spring seed starting dates (pdf) from Burlington Community Gardens

Canadian Seed Catalogue - Seeds of Diversity Canada

Basic Seed Saving - Seeds of Diversity Canada

Seed Saving Basics by K.Ruby Blume - Institute of Urban Homesteading

How to Save Seeds: Easy - self-pollinated seeds

How to Save Seeds: Medium - wind or insect pollinated seeds

How to Save Seeds: Advanced - overwintering seeds