How to start a community seed bank during a pandemic

By Earth Restore and Bantry Community Garden

This work owes a debt of gratitude and respect to Brown Envelope Seeds and Irish Seed Savers. They taught many of us in Ireland what we know about seed saving. Without their work we would be in much deeper trouble than we are.

What is a seed bank?

A means by which people can grow, save and share seeds for mutual benefit from now into the future

Why a community seed bank?

The current crisis has made many of us concerned about the future. Things seem uncertain. Growing our own food gives us something practical to do with our minds, provides us with exercise and helps us meet some of our basic food needs and strengthens communities. Lots of people are already thinking this way as shown by how local seed companies and garden centres have been overwhelmed by orders. The government have defined food production as an essential service but unfortunately a lot of local markets have been closed down. By growing our own food and learning to save seed we make ourselves healthier, happier and more resilient.

You will need:

A community of people living within easy travel distance of each other. If you don’t live in a strong community use this project as a way to start making one. It is helpful if some of you have some growing and seed saving experience already but you will have to work with what you have.

A weather-proof box large enough to take a series of smaller boxes or containers. I used polystyrene boxes lined with opaque cardboard which I stuck on using silicone. It musn’t get too hot in there or the seeds will cook. Think about this when placing your box. Wood would probably be the best

A generally accessible but safe place to leave the seed bank. This could be a community centre, someone’s garden, a community garden or allotments, outside a school etc. Leaving it outside makes it generally accessible and reduces the risk of infection but use your common sense and work with what you have.

About 10 smaller containers with lids. I used old takeaway containers

Sticky labels for labelling the smaller boxes. This is so you can categorise your seeds a bit which reduces hassle and rummaging time. The categories we used are: Brassicas and spinach; Grains and maize; Roots, Peas and beans; Herbs; Flowers; Chili, Peppers and Tomatoes; Onion sets and potatoes; Salads but go with what works for you

Some smaller seed packet sized packets. Best if people bring their own as it makes the system easier to run.

Seeds – it is recommended to use open polinated seeds and where possible avoid saving seed from f1 or f2 hybrids. This is because seeds saved from hybrids do not breed true. You don’t know what you will get from them.

Sanitary equipment – hand spray, wipes etc. Develop your own protocols for keeping safe.

What we did

  • Bantry Community Garden held a seed swap in a local cafe before the virus happened. We ended up with ten times more seed than we arrived with and gave us enough to help lots of people with their gardens. This told us that a lot of seed that gets bought every year gets wasted unless we have a means of sharing the surplus. Use the seed bank as a way to tap into the surplus in your community.
  • Let people know you’re going to do it. This gives everyone time to look through their seed collections and gather a surplus to give away also to see what they need
  • Put your equipment together. Label the small boxes with your categories. Put your seeds into the appropriate box and put them in the bigger box.
  • We also added some small seed packets and sellotape. Also an address book so we can keep in touch if the internet goes down. (I’m a hope for the best prepare for the worst kind of guy)
  • Decorate and label the big box so people know what it is for
  • Place hand sanitiser outside but near the big box with instructions if you need them
  • Put the whole caboodle in your chosen location
  • Let people know it is there. With instructions on how to use it via your chosen medium.
  • Encourage people to take seeds and bring seeds on a basis of mutualism and trust.
  • Start learning how to save seed and plan your growing accordingly. You ar enot going to be able to save seed from everything you grow so start co-operating with your neighbours.
  • Get to know each other so you can co-operate better in keeping your community in healthy food in uncertain times.

This is only to get started.

There is much to be learned about how to save seed.

The time to start doing this is now.

Good Luck and Happy Growing

Further Resources:


2020 Earth Restore/John Baker. How to start a community seed bank during a pandemic.

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