Mother Earth Living

How to Make Seed Balls

The seed ball is the Molotov cocktail of the community gardener. Try mixing up your own batch! Learn how to make seed balls at home.
By Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
May/June 2011
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Seed bombs work because the clay coat protects seeds from being eaten or blown away until rain helps them sprout and latch into the ground.
Photo By Philip Douglas
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Peanut M&M-sized balls made of seeds and clay, seed balls are meant to be lobbed anywhere you want to grow something but can’t plant it and tend it in the traditional matter—a fenced-off vacant lot, for instance. You just scatter the balls on the ground and leave them. In their clay coats, the seeds are protected from being eaten or blown away until the rains come. When the rain does come, the clay softens, and the seeds sprout in the balls, where they are nourished and protected until they can latch on and get a good start in the ground.

Seed balls are an ancient technology, but they were popularized recently by natural farming pioneer and author of The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka. He calls them “earth dumplings” (tsuchi dango), and they are an important part of his hands-off methodology of raising crops—he’s used them to grow grain without invasive tilling and sowing. Though they are not well-known in North America, they are used all over the world in re-greening projects. In the city, you can use seed balls to reclaim waste land by introducing wildflowers and other “weeds” that feed beneficial insects and nourish soil. You can also try them out with seeds from plants that might feed you.

Be careful how you use these things. Never lob them into natural areas. These balls work, and the seeds you put in them will end up in direct competition with native plants.

Check with your local nursery to find out which plants grow best in your area without supplemental irrigation, which are best for local beneficial insects, and when to plant. Some classic choices for feeding insects include mustard, fennel, dill, buckwheat, clover and wildflowers such as coneflower, goldenrod, yarrow, ironweed and sunflower.

Reprinted from The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen 

How to Make Seed Balls

Ingredients  

• Seed of your choice, or a mix
• Dried organic compost of any kind
• Finely ground dry red clay: You can use potting clay or dig clay out of the ground as long as you dig deep enough so there are no weed seeds in it. The subsoil in most of the country is clay, so it’s easy to find, especially at building sites or where roads are being built. If you use potting clay, be sure to use only red clay—other kinds might inhibit seed growth. Spread it out to dry, then grind it up between two bricks to make
a powder.

1. Mix one part seeds into three parts compost.

2. Add five parts dry clay to the compost/seed mix and combine thoroughly.

3. Add a little water a bit at a time until the mix becomes doughlike. You don’t want it to be soggy.

4. Roll tightly packed little balls about the size of marbles, and set them aside to dry in a shady place for a few days.

5. To make the strongest impact, distribute these balls at the rate of about 10 balls per square yard of ground.


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