Seed Library

The Seed Library's mission is to help nurture a thriving community of gardeners and seed savers. In addition to providing access to free seeds, we hope to help support gardeners and seed savers, from beginner to expert, through the process of growing, harvesting, and seed saving.

The Seed Library is a partnership of the community and the library, with special help from:

Learn more about our partners and donors.

Upcoming Gardening and Seed Saving Activities

Master Gardeners
Tuesday, January 6, 2015, 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Dusenberry-River Branch Library
Gardening Demonstrations
Wednesday, January 7, 2015, 1:00pm - 2:00pm
Murphy-Wilmot Branch Library
Ask a Master Gardener
Friday, January 9, 2015, 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Woods Memorial Branch Library
Master Gardeners Presentation
Friday, January 9, 2015, 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Oro Valley Public Library
Ask a Master Gardener: Success with Roses in the Southwest
Monday, January 12, 2015, 4:00pm
Himmel Park Branch Library

Using the Seed Library

Download Printable Materials

  • Seed Library Intro Guide [PDF]
  • How to Save Seeds Guide [PDF]
  • Welcome to the World of Saving and Sharing Seeds

    The seeds you borrow from the Seed Library of Pima County Public Library are lent to you at no financial cost, and they are priceless.

    A commitment to growing plants from seeds is a gift to yourself. And the seeds you save and return are a gift to your community. We hope you learn much, experience the joy of gardening, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

    At harvest time, please take some extra steps to save seeds for others. We ask that a portion of the seeds you save from the strongest, tastiest, and most vigorous plants be returned to the Seed Library to keep the library self-sustaining.

    The more seeds in the library, the more members of our community can experience the joys of growing their own food. Seed Library users will not be penalized if they are unable to return seeds back to the Seed Library at the end of the season; we understand that seed saving is new to many of our community members.

    What Exactly are Seeds, and Why Save Them?

    What are Seeds?

    A plant produces seeds in order to reproduce itself. Just like an egg has to be fertilized to become a new animal, a seed must be pollinated to produce a new plant. Understanding pollination is key to getting seeds to produce the plants you want. Some plants are self-pollinating- the male and female parts are contained within a single flower that fertilizes itself. Other plants, called cross-pollinators, have separate male and female flowers and their pollen has to get from one flower to another in order for the flowers to be fertilized.

    Why Save Seeds?

    Humans have been saving seeds for over 12,000 years. However, in our culture much of that knowledge has been lost over the last hundred years, along with significant biodiversity. When you grow and save your own seeds, you

    • develop seed stock that is well suited to our climate
    • save money

    When you participate in the seed library, you help create a culture of sharing and abundance.

    Where to Start? Choosing Seeds to Borrow, Grow, and Save

    The Seed Library is organized into 2 categories; easy and advanced. This refers to the seed saving aspect of each seed, not the growing ease or difficulty of the plant.

    Please feel free to try growing any seed that interests you. When growing to save seed, please try to match the seed saving difficulty with your gardening and seed saving expertise in order to help us maintain varietal purity.

    When you're ready to start saving seeds, start with seeds that are labeled "easy." These seeds are great for beginners and produce plants like the ones you planted.

    The seeds that are labeled "advanced" require special planning to preserve varietal purity. If certain precautions are not taken with them, then the next grower will not get the same plant. We want to ensure that the seeds that you return to the library are indeed what they claim to be. So please save seeds from "advanced" plants only after you have learned about isolating plants to prevent cross-pollination.

    Over the course of the growing season, we will provide learning opportunities to those growers who are ready to move on to more advanced seed saving.

    Easy Seeds

    The plants in these families are mostly self-pollinating. The flowers have male and female parts, so pollination occurs within the individual plant, not as a cross between plants. Seeds are reliably the same as the parent plant.

    Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower Family (Asteraceae or Compositae)
    artichoke, cardoon, endive, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, salsify, shungiku, sunflower.
    For Jerusalem artichokes, the tuber is planted.
    For others in this family, allow the plants to flower, collect dry seeds.
    Pea, Bean, Legume or Pulse Family (Fabaceae or Leguminosae)
    bean, lentil, pea, peanut, soybean
    Allow beans and peas to dry in their pods on plants before collecting and storing.
    Nightshade Family (Solanaceae):
    cape gooseberry, eggplant, ground cherry, pepper, potato, tomatillo, tomato.
    Allow fruits to fully ripen.
    Seed must be separated from flesh.
    Letting tomato pulp ferment in water for a few days is helpful.
    Seed should be rinsed and dried thoroughly before being stored.
    Potatoes are grown from tubers not seeds.

    Advanced Seeds

    These plants are self-sterile, cross-pollinating, or outbreeding and are pollinated by wind or insects. They are commonly found flowering in local neighborhoods, making isolation more difficult. Seeds that require hand pollination, tenting, and other methods to ensure varietal purity are labeled "advanced." These families will readily cross with unseen nearby plants and may create odd and possibly inedible varieties in one generation.

    Mustard Family (Brassicaceae)
    Asian greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, turnip.
    Exceptions that are easy: Arugula, rutabaga
    Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae)
    cucumbers, gourds, luffa, melons, pumpkin, summer squash (ex. zucchini), winter squash (ex. acorn).
    Exceptions that are easy: Plant uncommon cucurbits like gourds, mixta squash, luffa.
    Hand pollinate to ensure purity with this family.
    Goosefoot or Amaranth Family (Chenopodiaceae or Amaranthaceae)
    amaranth, beet, chard, lamb's quarters, orach, quinoa, spinach
    Beet and Chard are the same species, so only let one variety flower at the same time.
    Spinach is dioecious meaning each plant is either male or female, so let many plants flower at once for pollination.
    Let the seeds dry on the plant. Collect.
    Lily or Onion Family (Amaryllidaceae or Alliaceae)
    chives, garlic, leeks, onions.
    They are biennial, which means they won't flower until the second year, after winter. Let the seeds dry on the plant. Collect. With bulbing varieties, replant bulb when it sprouts.
    Parsley Family (Umbelliferae or Apiaceae)
    carrot, celery, caraway, chervil, cilantro (coriander), dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip.
    Carrot unfortunately will cross with Queen Anne's Lace, so don't save carrot seeds if Queen Anne's Lace grows nearby. Many of this family are biennials, so flowering may not occur until the second year.
    Let the seeds dry on the plant. Collect.
    Grass Family (Poaceae)
    barley, corn, kamut, millet, oats, sorghum, wheat.
    Corn readily crosses with different, unseen varieties.
    It is unlikely that saved seeds will be like their parents.
    Exceptions that are easy: Sorghum is easy to save because it does not cross.
    All other crops in this family are so uncommon in backyards that they are easy to save.

    How to Find Seeds

    In the Library

    Our seed packets are color coded by difficulty.

    • Green - Easy
    • Red - Advanced

    These categories refer to the seed saving aspect of each seed, not the growing ease or difficulty of the plant.

    Within each category, the seeds are arranged alphabetically by common name and then alphabetically by variety. For example:

    • Common name: Beet
    • Variety: Bull's Blood Beet

    If you are new to seed saving, we recommend that you start with seeds in the "easy" drawer.


    You can see what seeds are available by using the library's catalog.

    Can't Find What You're Looking For?

    Seed availability is subject to change and is on a first come first served basis. If you don't find what you're looking for this season, we encourage you to check back next year.

    Over time, the seed saving efforts of our community members will enable the Seed Library's collection to grow and become more resilient.

    You can search using such keywords as
    • The plant's common name
    • The plant variety
    • The plant's scientific name
    • The words "Seed Library"
    • The words "Heirloom Seeds"
    Or browse seed catalog by difficulty

    How to Borrow Seeds

    We hope that you will be successful in your seed saving endeavors and will return a portion of the seeds harvested back to the Seed Library, keeping a portion for yourself.

    The seed saving aspect of the Seed Library is what ensures a thriving, regionally adapted and biologically diverse seed collection that is self-sustaining.

    Seeds can be checked-out with your Pima County Public Library card just as you would any other library material. They do count against total items checked out on your account.

    • Most of the seed packets contain enough seeds to grow 2-3 plants.
    • The seeds that are available have come to you through donation, because of this, supplies are limited. We are asking that you limit your check-out of seeds to 6 seed packets at a time.
    • There are no due-dates or overdue fines with your seeds.

    We wish you happy growing!

    How to Save Seeds - Seed Processing

    To save seed there are only three simple processes to know. Once you have an understanding of each of the processes, you can save almost any seed.

    Dry seed processing
    Refers to seed that dries down on the plant and needs to be kept dry until it is sown. The steps involved are harvesting (usually cutting the seed stalk off of the plant), threshing (separating the seed from the stalk and chaff) and winnowing (removing the seed from the chaff using a breeze). Dry seed processing is used for grains, lettuce, brassicas, onions, beets, carrots, celery, cilantro, and chicories, among others.
    Wet seed processing
    The process by which the seed of many garden fruits are saved. This includes melons, peppers, eggplant, tomatillo, and squash seed. Wet seed processing involves removing the seed from the fruit, rinsing clean of debris, and then drying. A jar of water can be used to separate seed from debris -- seeds sink and debris usually floats. Drying the seed quickly and completely after wet processing is very important.
    Fermentation seed processing
    Similar to wet seed processing, but the seeds and their juices (as in tomato and sometimes melons and cucumbers) are mixed with a little water and allowed to ferment for a day or few. The fermentation process breaks down germination inhibitors such as the gel-sack that surrounds tomato seeds. When a layer of mold has formed on top of the water and the seeds sink, the fermentation is complete. You simply need to add more water, swish it around, then decant the mold and pulp. You may need to repeat this process several times, as the good seeds sink to the bottom and the scum floats off the top. After all of the pulp, bad seeds, and mold is removed, drain the water from the seeds and set them out on a plate, screen, or paper towel to dry. Once the seeds are thoroughly dry, place them in a moisture-proof container, label and store them for the future.

    How to Donate or Return Seeds to the Seed Library

    Make sure to familiarize yourself with all the information on this page before getting started.

    If you have any additional questions about seed saving, we're here to help!
    Contact us at 520-594-5542 or

    We invite you to attend one of our scheduled seed saving classes too.

    Once you have collected seed from your crops, set aside some for yourself and some for the library in clearly labeled envelopes or containers.

    Seeds for the library should be in envelopes labeled with the Seed Donation Label. You can print out a label at home from the website, or pick one up at any Branch Library.

    Bring your labeled seeds to any of the Pima County Public Library branches, we will get them processed and added back in to the collection for others to have access to.

    Helpful Key Concepts

    There are a few fundamentals to know when saving seeds. Once you are familiar with these concepts you can easily and successfully save just about any seeds you want.

    Types of Seeds

    Open-pollinated or heirloom varieties
    Seeds that have been grown for so many generations that their physical and genetic qualities are relatively stable. Open-pollinated can refer to self-pollinating plants (tomatoes and beans), or cross-pollinating plants (cabbages and beets). Open-pollinated is usually used to describe plants that are not hybrids. This seed will be "true to type" if saved. In simple terms, you will reap what you sow. Because we want to be sure that people are getting seeds that will produce "true to type," the Seed Library is only sharing and accepting donations of open-pollinated seeds.
    Hybrid seeds
    If a packet has hybrid, F1, or VF written on it, seeds from those plants will not produce plants like the parent plant. They may produce something somewhat or very different, or they may produce nothing at all. Hybrid (or F1) refers to plant (or animal) varieties that are achieved by the crossing of two distinct inbred lines. Seed saved from hybrids will not grow "true-to-type." Hybrids are used extensively in industrial farming because they are uniform and yield all at the same time, which is often good for commercial needs, but not for the purposes of the Seed Library. We only want seeds properly saved from open-pollinated or heirloom plants.


    Plant Families
    If you learn the family, genus and species of vegetables, you will also learn their basic seed saving needs and risks.
    Families define the basic form of the flower parts of plants. All plants with the same flower (and reproductive) structure are in the same family.
    Genera (singular: Genus)
    define more closely related plants. Crosses between genera are rare but can occur.
    define specific botanically recognized plants with similar fruit, flowers, and leaves. Plants within one species will readily cross with each other.
    are cultivated varieties that can cross with each other but will not cross with varieties of other species. When we save seeds we usually want to maintain a cultivar or breed a new one.
    Open-pollinated (OP)
    OP plants are allowed to reproduce according to the whims of the bees and the wind, or whatever pollination mechanism they depend upon. Open-pollinated can refer to self-pollinating plants (tomatoes and beans), or cross-pollinating plants (cabbages and beets). OP is usually used to describe plants that are not hybrids. OP seeds can be just as vigorous, disease resistant, and commercially useful as hybrids if properly stewarded.
    Refers to a variety of plant (or animal) that has been passed down from generation to generation. Usually a minimum of three (human) generations are required for a plant to be known as an heirloom, but the term may also refer to old (over 100 years) commercial varieties. All Heirlooms are OP, but not all OP varieties are heirlooms.
    Hybrid (or F1)
    Refers to plant (or animal) varieties that are achieved by the crossing of two distinct inbred lines. This results in increased uniformity & sometimes vigor and disease resistance. Seed saved from hybrids will not grow true-to-type. Hybrids are used extensively in industrial farming because they are uniform and yield all at the same time, which is good for grocery stores.
    Refers to plants are out-breeding/cross-pollinating, which is to say the flowers they produce usually do not fertilize themselves. They depend upon having a large population and, in the case of insect pollinated plants, the participation of sufficient pollinators to get the job done. Crossers may be either insect pollinated or wind pollinated or both. They may have perfect flowers (containing both male and female parts, as in the case of carrots or broccoli) or imperfect flowers (male and female parts found in different places, as is the case with corn; or spinach, which has male and female plants). Only one variety per species of a crosser should flower at a time if seed purity is one of your objectives.
    Selfers, or self-pollinating plants
    Flowers are always perfect. They usually pollinate themselves before they open, but sometimes depend on pollinators to trigger pollination. Some selfers can be cross-pollinated depending on conditions such as temperature or the friskiness of pollinators present. Bumblebees have been known to tear bean flowers open and cross-pollinate flowers before self-pollination has occurred. When saving seed, many varieties of a self-pollinating species usually can be grown at the same time.

    Learn More

    • take seed saving classes
    • join the forum
    • read about seed saving at your local library
    • talk to experienced seed-saving gardeners
    • keep good garden records

    Volunteering with the Seed Library

    Share your love of gardening with others by becoming a Seed Library volunteer. Some volunteer activities may include:

    • Seed sorting and repacking
    • Help with seed saving workshops
    • Mentor new gardeners and seed savers
    • Help with Seed Library outreach and events
    • Plus many more opportunities!

    Please print and complete the volunteer form found here and bring it with you to one of the Seed Library locations. The minimum age for volunteering at the library is 14 years old.

    Partners and Donors

    The Seed Library would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to Native Seeds/SEARCH, the Community Food Bank, and the UA Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners for their support in launching the Seed Library. We also want to acknowledge the Seed Library trailblazers that inspired us and helped pave the way for Pima County's Seed Lending Library, most notably Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library and Westcliff Seed Lending Library who have kindly mentored us through this process.

    The seeds that make up the collection have come to us through the generous donations of local and national seed companies. We'd especially like to acknowledge Aravaipa Heirlooms, BBB Seeds, Botanical Interests, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Garden Medicinals & Culinaries, Gardens of California, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Many thanks to the other businesses and individuals who have contributed time and seeds to this endeavor. We will continue to accept donations of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds in any quantity, from anyone in the community that is willing to share.

    We would like to send a special thank you to Patagonia Public Library and community member Lisa Wagenheim for their wonderful donations of the vintage card catalogs now housing our seeds at the Flowing Wells Library and Joel D Valdez Main Library.

Pima County Website