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Omaha Magazine

Story in The Soil: OPL’s Seed Library

Feb 24, 2023 12:49PM ● By Patrick McGee

Image provided.

Gardeners looking to enrich their soil beds with local vegetables and flower varieties this summer needn’t look further than the Omaha Public Library’s Common Soil Seed Library. Library patrons can choose from dozens of seed types, from Amaranth (a flowering perennial) to watermelon, and can check out up to 15 seed packets per month (each containing 10 seeds), similar to how one would check out books and DVDs. And just as with all library materials, the seeds are provided at no cost. The only difference being there are no late fees for seeds. The expectation is that patrons will sow the seeds and write their own garden tale.

OPL seeds generally aren’t typical F1 hybrid varieties found in the lawn and garden section of the local hardware store. The Seed Library catalogs and promotes mostly open-pollinated seeds. Jacob Lee, Urban Gardening Subject Librarian for OPL, explained these seeds are better adapted for the local climate, as they are planted and harvested year after year. Gardeners who enjoy heirloom varieties of squash, peppers, or tomatoes, for instance, will benefit, as these varieties are open-pollinated (however, not all open-pollinated varieties are heirloom).

Lee began working on the Seed Library in 2012; at that time, OPL had approximately 50 seed varieties. The library’s selection now sits at 150. Quantity and type of seeds fluctuate throughout the year, as the library receives donations, runs short, or reorders seeds. Although Lee prefers to maintain locally sourced open-pollinated seeds, he said the Seed Library supplements its catalog with good-quality seeds from reputable sources, such as Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek. The Omaha community just isn’t big enough to generate enough local supply, he explained. Lee encourages patrons to donate their open-pollinated seeds back to the local branch in hopes of fostering a seed-saving culture that expands with each growing season.

The Seed Library catalog operates like any other library catalog. In fact, the seed catalogs are stored in repurposed wooden card catalogs from old libraries, which are the perfect size to store the packets. The seeds also lend themselves to the cataloging methods frequently used by libraries because of the descriptive qualities of plants and their botanical classification.

The OPL catalog contains more than 20 herbs, including dill and lemon balm, and 20 to 30 varieties of flower seeds as well. Lee confirmed most are native wildflowers, such as milkweed (two varieties) and echinacea. The Seed Library promotes open-pollinated, native flowers much like it does open-pollinated fruits and vegetables, he added. Most flower seeds are sourced from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and American Meadows, both of which are reputable vendors with high-quality products.

Still, Lee would prefer to catalog seeds of Seed Library patrons who plant and harvest locally. He intends to offer educational courses through OPL to promote the Seed Library in the near future. Look for upcoming courses regarding seed saving, and enroll; then start cataloging your own open-pollinated varieties. Perhaps one day your favorite seed will be a local heirloom enjoyed by friends and neighbors and generations to come. 
Douglas County residents can sign up for a free library card at Learn more about the seed library by visiting

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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