The La Crosse Public Library and Hillview Urban Agriculture Center are partnering  to lend free heirloom seeds to community members in order to promote the art of heirloom seed saving and sharing. We support local sustainability efforts that encourage growing and eating wholesome, fresh, and affordable food.

For the benefit of those who are starting seeds indoors, the Seed Library will be opening on Monday, March 6.  You can check out up to 10 seed packets at the Reference Desk.

Why Save Seeds?

The seeds available to you from our seed library are heirloom seeds—seeds that have been saved for generations by our ancestors from all parts of the world. Heirloom seeds differ from commercial hybrid seeds because they are open pollinated and will grow true to themselves year after year. This means that you can grow your favorite varieties every year without buying new seeds. If you haven’t tried them before, you’ll find the color, taste, and quality of heirloom vegetables to be a delightful surprise.

The seeds you borrow from The Seed Library are lent to you at no cost, but they are priceless. At harvest time, we ask you to take extra steps to save seeds and bring a portion back to us so that others may check them out. We hope you learn much and experience the joy of growing your own food.

The Basics of Seed Saving

Saving heirloom seeds takes a bit of education for some plants, and more education for others. Our seeds are divided into Easy and Advanced, and when you first start out, we recommend that you start with Easy seeds.

Easy Seeds

Easy seeds do not readily cross-pollinate and do not need to be protected by planting distance or other means. The flowers are obvious, and the seeds are fairly easy to collect and dry. Plants in this category are:

  • lettuce
  • beans
  • peas
  • tomatoes
  • arugula
  • chives

Advanced Seeds

Advanced seeds are just a bit more difficult than easy seeds because they are more likely to cross-pollinate with other varieties and need to be grown certain distances apart from others. Advanced does not mean that the seeds are hard to save, it simply means that you have to be aware of cross pollination and you should commit to growing only one variety of that species in your garden, or you can separate different varieties by specified distances. Another option is to learn how to bag plants when they are flowering, allowing you to grow more than one variety in the same garden. Plants in this category are:

  • peppers
  • melons
  • sunflowers
  • squash
  • some herbs

The majority of our heirloom seeds come from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, and we recommend that you spend time browsing the great educational information they offer on Our seed catalog, located on the second floor of the Main Library, contains seed-saver seeds from 2014 and 2015, and seeds that have been returned to us from other growers—the most exciting part of our seed collection!

Here’s how to get started: 

  • Come to The Seed Library area on the second floor of the Main Library and browse through the photo binders of seeds that we offer.
  • Choose up to 10 packets of seeds, along with growing instructions, and take them out of the catalog.
  • Take a Save This Seed bookmark for each type of seed you are checking out. This will give you the specifics of how to gather, dry, and save the seed.
  • Take one labeled return envelope for every envelope you check out.
  • Check out your seeds at the reference desk on the second floor.
  • Grow your seeds and enjoy your plants, but let some plants go to seed.
  • Follow the Save This Seed directions for saving and drying seeds.
  • When your seeds are dry, fill out the labels on the return envelopes and drop them off at the Main Library circulation desk.

Most of our seeds have been saved at home by amateurs. The Seed Library at La Crosse Public Library cannot guarantee their purity or germination rates. Seed saving (and gardening) carries an element of chance.

If you check out seed that doesn’t come true, please let us know by filling out our comment card, Tell Us! We want to hear about your experiences.

Our Seed List   2018

Vegetables & Fruits

  • Arugula
  • Peppers
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Watermelon
  • Beets
  • Radish
  • Carrots


  • Sunflower

Culinary & Health

  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Cumin
  • Dill
  • Hyssop
  • Lemon Balm
  • Sage

You can download instructions for seed saving here: