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How to find proper CLAY for making CLAY SEEDBALLS. Will this work?  RSS feed

 
Fred Williams
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Today it is cold out, about 36 degrees. It is December 16th, 2013. Snow is on the ground.

I live in the USA, my state is Maryland.

I went out looking for clay and managed to find some samples (I'll try to upload photos below) that might work for seedballs. The samples are not as pliable as clay I have used in art class but I assume that art sculpting clay is really refined and maybe has additives? Or perhaps what I found is not really clay or is low clay content?

(I did not dig deep at all to get these following samples. All the samples are a bit red in color although not very bright in color) :

1) About the samples. Today the stream was flowing a bit higher than average. I found my first sample (sample 1) about 5 feet above the water on a very slopped valley (under growing tree roots). I didn't dig at all just grabbed from the eroded area.The water rarely if ever comes up to the point I grabbed my sample from.


2) Sample 2, was found on the side of a small stream running downhill I dug a tiny bit (4-6 inches?) and found streaks of both whitish and reddish color. I tried picking out the red. This feels a bit less sandy than sample 1.
Don't know if this will help determine if the samples are clay but; After rolling around the samples in my hand i can press my fingers together firmly/slowly and it feels slippery/smooth but when i rub my fingers together slightly/slowly it feels like there is more friction... like paste is on my fingers or something.

Both samples are similar is color and can both be formed into balls and ripped apart. The are very close in color. The only main difference I notice is what I have stated (Sample 2 is less sandy/gritty feeling)


Question: I often find considerably red, hard feeling soil?clay? attached to the roots of large fallen trees. Is this clay? It is usually super hard and i can break off chunks with a rock and crush it up, add water, and form it into a ball although it is somewhat gritty.

Are these samples all clay? Would you guess they would be good for seedballs? Mainly I don't want them to break apart when I throw them and want them to have nutrients/protection for the seeds and to work.

I plan to dry whatever sample I use and powder it like I am suppose to before mixing it with seeds and compost.

Are there any test to know if something is clay?

Thanks for any assistance.
I don't know if the pictures would be helpful since the quality isn't great and it does not show the location but I don't have a real camera only a webcam. I figure they would not hurt to add.
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Fred Williams
Posts: 2
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More.

Last picture shows what is looks like crushed up.
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Josef Theisen
Posts: 236
Location: SE Wisconsin, USA zone 5b
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Hi Fred,

I am a long way away from being an expert here, but hopefully I can help to answer your question. First off, I don't know of any information out there regarding which types of clay work better or worse for seedballs. There may well be differences in using different clays, but I don't believe that anyone has actually studied this. The recommendations I have read usually say to look for red clay commonly found in stream beds, so I think you are on the right track. I have only tried seedballs once, using a grey clay excataved on our property and had good results. Honestly I think any heavy clay soil that will stick to the seeds, coating and protecting them, could work. Only way to find out for sure is to try, but I wouldn't risk a large investment of seed until you have tested the mix on a smaller batch.

Clay is one of the classifications we give to soil particles based primarily on size. For the most part any piece of mineral that is less than 2 micrometers in size is considered clay. Silt is the middle sized particles, and anything larger than .05mm is considered sand. Soils are classified into different types based on the percentages of sand, silt, and clay they contain regardless of what minerals those particles are made of. The thing that really sets clay apart from the other two, is that the particles bond together and don't allow water to permeate through. The simplest way to test for clay is called the ribbon test. Take a handful of soil and squeese it together between your thumb and forefinger, feeding it out into a ribbon about the thickness of your thumb. The test is how long a ribbon you can make before it breaks off from it's own weight. Higher clay soils will make a longer ribbon. With a little practice you will quicky learn to judge the clay content. Bear in mind that almost all soils will be a mix with some percentage of clay sized particles.

Another simple test is to dissolve the soil sample in water and let it settle out in a glass jar or other see through container. The soil will seperate into the three distictly visible sections making it easy to determine the percentage of each particle type. Just measure the thickness of each layer vs. the thickness of the entire sample to determine percentages.

Hope this helps.
 
Gail Saito
Posts: 88
Location: Medford, OR
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Hi Fred,

You certainly can dig for your own clay and whether it is clay or a mixture of clay and soil does not really matter when making seed balls, as the main purpose of the clay is to protect your seed. As far a nourishment goes, use compost for that purpose. If you are up for the work, drying out the clay is fine. An easier way... you can check with a ceramic supply store to purchase powdered red clay and give your attention to making and experimenting with the seed balls. Some are willing to sell you small amounts.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Gail Saito wrote: purchase powdered red clay


Purchase?!? Ack!

Fred is welcome to take a shovel to my back yard anytime he needs clay. I suppose I am spoiled, living as I do down the road from a huge kaolin mine, that any time I want clay, all I have to do is remove 6" of topsoil. Clay is not that hard to find. Muddy water transports it to where there is some sort of obstruction, and then leaves it as it evaporates in the sun. River beds, dry lakes, swamps and wetlands, they all have plenty of clay. No need to pay for refined pottery grade clay to be making seedballs. One of the negative artifacts of modern industrial civilization is that we have been conditioned to think that we cannot obtain from nature things that are as good as stuff that has been packaged in a factory and put on a shelf with a price tag.

If the dirt holds together when you squeeze it and stays in one piece as it dries out, you've got enough clay in your seedball mix. Just my humble opinion, and I will leave you with a song about "the bright red Georgia clay":

 
Gail Saito
Posts: 88
Location: Medford, OR
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"Purchase?!? Ack!" (not sure how to use the quote button!)

I agree, when you can find it, why purchase it? Just sayin...sometimes our time is more valuable than the effort we must employ to get the result!
 
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