That mighty oaks grow from the smallest of seeds is a bit of a cliché. But in the case of the Hudson Valley Seed Company (HVSC), it’s entirely appropriate. Founded by then-librarian Ken Greene in 2004 as the Hudson Valley Seed Library in the Gardiner Public Library (yes, patrons could “borrow” seeds, plant them, then return seeds gathered from their harvest), this modest endeavor has turned into a full-blown movement, with more than 400 similar seed libraries across the country in the ensuing years.
“I was interested in local food,” Greene says about how the project started. “Where does it come from, where is it grown, who grows it.” Learning this part was fairly simple, according to Greene. But he ran into trouble when he started asking similar questions about the seeds. “The more I started asking these questions, the more I learned about the loss of genetic diversity….I really wanted to do something about that.”
The initial seed stock came through a range of sources, including catalogs, seed exchanges, and donations from local growers. After a few years, Greene and his partner Doug Muller decided to quit their jobs and found the Hudson Valley Seed Company. “We saw this as an opportunity to make a difference, and to give people a way to buy seeds that match their agricultural and cultural values.”
Now the HVSC consists of several different growing operations: Some they tend themselves, and some are grown by farmers under contract. “We grow 50 percent of what’s in the catalog,” Greene says. “And we teach (seed growing), because it’s not common knowledge. Growing seeds is very different than growing food.”
One thing you’ll notice right away about the HVSC is the detailed artwork adorning their seed packets. The company maintains an online submission database where artists upload examples of their work. Greene curates these submissions and matches each artist with the right type of seed to commission works for the packets. “Once a year I review all of the submissions, and then I act like ‘match.com’ of the plant and art world,” Greene says.
Heirloom and open-pollinated seeds are available for a wide variety of vegetables, flowers, and herbs that are well suited to the local growing environment here in the Hudson Valley. “Sharing seeds through the library was a way of finding community around seed, and creating our own local seed source,” Greene says. “There are now quite a few ethical and responsible seed companies out there….This has really been exciting to see.”
For more information about the Hudson Valley Seed Company, or to order seeds, please visit www.hudsonvalleyseed.com.
Get Started Now
Believe it or not, February is a good time to begin your own garden, as some seeds can be started indoors as early as this month. Here are some tips from Hudson Valley Seed Company:
- Know your last freeze date so you can work out when to sow different varieties. The last freeze date for the mid-Hudson Valley area is around May 10. Individual seed packets indicate how long after the freeze date is good for planting; count backwards from then to find out when to sow seeds.
- Good seeds to sow indoors include cabbage, chard, chives, collards, kale, and leeks. You should also sow tender seeds indoors such as peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. For flowers, try anise hyssop, breadseed poppy, and lavender cloud nicotiana.
- To start seeds indoors, you will need high quality seed-starting mix, pots with drainage holes (we love ceramic self-watering trays for quality, functionality, and zero waste), a heat source to keep your sprouting seeds warm (temperature depends on the variety, so check the packet), and a light source (run it for 12±14 hours/day, if possible).
- To sow, pack soil into containers loosely, and try not to compact it. Most seeds prefer a depth of about two times their length. The tiniest seeds can be sprinkled directly on the surface. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil or peat.
- Hardening off – indoor-grown seedlings require gradual exposure to the natural elements. Start with a couple hours the first day; increase gradually before transplanting them.