Five years ago, the Daviess County Public Library added tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and an assortment of other vegetables to its collection that was once only reserved for books.
Those vegetables, along with flowers and herbs, are part of the library’s ever-growing seed catalog housed on the first floor near the front checkout desk.
The extension office and local master gardeners keep the seed library replenished with vegetable, flower and herb seeds of the season.
Currently, it’s stocked with cool-weather vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, radish, onion and cauliflower, which can withstand a light freeze after being planted in the early spring.
On Tuesday, Annette Meyer Heisdorffer, Daviess County extension agent for horticulture, attracted a room full of eager gardeners ready to make use of the free seed library and learn about using the seeds to grow transplants — a method preferred over direct ground seeding in order to achieve the best results.
Clarence and Linda Keith of Owensboro were among those looking to take advantage of the seed library while also receiving helpful tips from Heisdorffer.
The Keiths said they used the seed library last year but mainly for its flowers and herbs. This year, however, they plan to grow vegetable transplants.
“It gives you a chance to try something different like varieties of tomatoes that you might not want to pay $2 for a package of seeds,” Linda Keith said. “…It’s kind of like when you go to Sam’s and get the free samples and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to try that again’.”
Heisdorffer said the fresher the seed packets the better but the ones offered through the library will be no later than 2019. Leftover seed packets from the previous growing season can be preserved by refrigerating them in a dry container at 40 degrees.
“The germination may be reduced but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a big reduction depending on what it is,” said Heisdorffer about using year-old seeds. “So usually for us, it’s an acceptable loss when using last year’s seed.”
The seeds are just one component when considering transplants.
Heisdorffer recommended placing the seeds in soilless media such as seed starting mix, peat pellets, coconut fiber or potting soil. They can be placed in peat pots through the growing process and then placed directly into the ground once leaves are present.
“We call it soilless because it’s not like taking a shovel full (of soil) out of your garden,” she told the audience. “Why do you think we might not do that? It has diseases and it doesn’t keep its structure.”
Other tricks of the transplant trade are growing temperature, having bright light and keeping the plants watered.
The recommended inside temperature for starting cool-season crop seeds is 55 degrees at night and 65 degrees during the day. For warm-season crops, it’s 65 degrees at night and 75 degrees during the day.
Heisdorffer said grow lights are ideal — regular cool white fluorescent or LED lamps. The lamps should be adjustable for height as the plants grow inside the home. The transplants should receive 12 to 18 hours of light per day.
“A windowsill just isn’t enough light,” she said. “When you have a (cloudy) day like today, it’s tough to grow nice, strong transplants.”
And depending on the vegetable, the time for starting seeds for transplants is this month.
For example, Feb. 24 is recommended for starting broccoli seeds for transplants. It usually takes from five to seven weeks to grow, with March 30 being the target date for transplanting to the garden.
For the popular tomato plants, it’s recommended that seeding should start by March 16. Grow time is between four to six weeks, with April 25-30 being the target date for transplanting to the garden.
Users of the seed library are limited to five seed packets per month. The seed packets are arranged in alphabetical order in the card catalog’s drawers. The library does request users to sign their first initial and last name and the number and kind of packets they took on a sheet of paper next to the card catalog.
Samantha Taylor of Owensboro said she also plans to take more advantage of the seed library after using it last year for herbs.
“I think it’s a hidden gem in our community and I think it’s a great asset for our community for experienced and novice gardeners,” Taylor said.
Don Wilkins, dwilkins @messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299