paul has a new video  

 



visit the thread.

see the DVDs.

  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Seed Balls -- a good winter project  RSS feed

 
Susan Monroe
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
1
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Homemade seed balls are a clever way to sow seeds (single species or a mix) without digging.  It’s inexpensive, easy and you can cover a lot of ground.  They are just scattered onto the soil surface, not buried.  Then they just sit there, ensconced in their mud-and-compost ball until it rains, safe from birds, rodents,  drying out, and they won’t blow away.  They are especially useful in areas with unpredictable rainfall.  If there’s no rain, the seeds just sit there and wait. When enough rain falls to soften the balls (usually 3-5”), the seeds sprout.  The clay and compost work together, as the clay is good at retaining soil nutrients and moisture, and the compost provides the nutrients.  Using seed balls, you can “sow” seeds to grow plants for beneficial insects in your backyard while you’re vacationing in Italy, plant that property you own that’s a few hours from home, or help to re-vegetate damaged areas with grasses. 

HOW TO MAKE SEED BALLS

For about 50 penny-sized seed balls, mix thoroughly together:
1 ½ cups of sifted dry red terra cotta clay *
1 cup of sifted finished homemade compost
¼ to ½ cup cup of assorted seeds

*You can usually find dry terra cotta clay in an art supply store that caters to people who work in ceramics.  The Clay Art Center in Tacoma, WA, sells a 55-lb bag for $20. They may have smaller bags, but specify DRY.  Call them at (253) 922-5342 (or toll-free at 1-800-852-8030).

Spray or drip small amounts (from a spoon) of water into the dry mix, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Gradually add just enough water so the mix sticks together.  Form into ¾” diameter balls (the size of a penny).  Set them in the sun or in a warm (not hot) dry place for a couple of days. 

When sowing, aim to scatter about ten seedballs per square yard.  You can sow them right away if it’s the right time of year.  Seeds that prefer or require the cold temperatures of winter to give them the signal to sprout can be sown after the winter solstice.  For Spring sowing, keep them in a cardboard box or paper bag until you want to sow them in Spring.  [Note:  don’t store them in plastic – if the balls aren’t dried inside, the seeds may sprout and then die.]

Note that at least 3 to 5 inches of rain are needed to start the seeds in the seed balls germinating, and follow up rains must be sufficient to let the plants develop.

Ideas for seedballs:

Herbs – a seedball herb spiral?
Umbelliferae collection -- the tiny clusters of flowers of this group will attract beneficial insects.  These could include Anise, Angelica, Caraway, Carrot, Celery, Chervil, Cilantro, Coriander, Cumin, Dill,  Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Parsnip, Sea Holly, Sweet Cecily, etc.  These also make excellent companion plants.
Guild groupings
Cover crops -- annuals or perennials, single types or mixes, suitable for your conditions.  You’ll want to include any necessary inoculants in the balls.
Domestic flowers (food for the soul), like delphinium, larkspur, poppies, snapdragons, hollyhocks.  Toss some Annual seedballs among the perennials.
Flowers for drying (ageratum, alliums, baby’s breath, bells of Ireland, cockscombs, feverfew, globe amaranth, goldenrod, immortelle, love-in-a-mist, sage, statice/sea lavender, strawflowers, yarrows, etc.
Wildflowers suitable for your area (something for that vacant lot next door)
Grasses suitable to your area (could be especially valuable to replant burned areas or to help stabilize slopes or eroded areas)

And don’t overlook specific placement, like a row of peas or beans or sunflowers. Just grab a 3-ft length of plastic pipe, place the bottom where you want the seed, and roll the seed balls into place.  It just doesn’t get easier than that!

And if you’re a Guerrilla Gardener….. the possibilities are endless.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
Posts: 2603
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
thats a really cool idea!
 
Kelda Miller
Posts: 769
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Last time we played around with seed balls we refined the different types. The above one I call 'guerilla -style' because its perfect for launching into vacant lots. It's bigger so you can throw it farther.

The other style I call Fukuoka-style. In this one the individual seeds are each coated with clay, etc. To do this we poured some clay onto the seeds, rubbed it all over with our hands. And then added some of the drier soil/finished compost until the clay got dry enough to come off our fingers.

With the guerrilla recipe, I kind of skip the measurements because the type of clay differs so much. I mix up the soil/finished compost, then add clay until it feels sticky. Then it will work. If it doesn't feel sticky then the balls won't hold.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22594
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think the starhawk story about making "seed bombs" is a hoot.
 
Susan Monroe
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As I run between Olympia and Seattle, I see California poppies growing in the median of the freeway.  Whenever I see them, I wonder if the birds planted them there, or if some guerrilla gardener tossed some seedballs in the dead of night... smiling to themselves when they see the golden flowers blooming on a sunny day.

I've seen other places, vacant lots with flowers growing in random patches.  I visualize a guerrilla gardener, in her disguise as a bag lady:  old droopy clothes (lots of pockets filled with little lumpy things, funny hat, clompy shoes, casually walking along, and occasionally tossing seedballs as she goes.

We need people like that.  Lots and lots of them.

Sue
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
1
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I just found a good instructional video.

Jim Bones: The Seedball Story

I like the balling agglomerator setup...the Von Bothmer (sp?) drum, by Alfred von (Botmeier?) of Tesuki, NM. Especially the skimmer tool...just so elegant.

FWIW, a treadle-powered drum would be much more energy-efficient than rolling them by hand, but functions like education, gossip, etc. are easier to stack on top of less-mechanized methods. In the case of a treadle, the drum itself has a great enough moment of inertia to act as its own flywheel (cf. treadle spinning wheels). 
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22594
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22594
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm watching the video ....  there seems to be a lot of emphasis on actual balls.  Whether by hand or by using the contraption, it seems like a lot of work.

I thought fukuoka just pushed the seed ball glop through a mesh and ended up with big square snakes which broke up easy.  So instead of balls I guess you have "cubes".  That seemed about 10 times faster.

 
Kirk Hutchison
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Interesting! I will have to try that.
 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I made some seed balls for my apple tree guild (see http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/1475_0/permaculture/fruit-tree-guilds).  Here are some photos.  I'll post more photos as they sprout & grow.

Much of our dirt is clay and I had just done a bunch of planting in it so there was a lot of clay laying around.  I just went around and picked up clumps of red clay that I had recently dug.  I screened it through a mesh pot (used for pond plants).  It took a bit of smashing with a 2x4 to break up the clods.  I screened regular soil the same way (very easy).  I screened the compost through a wire mesh (very easy).  I mixed 5 parts soil, 3 parts compost, 1 part clay, and way less than 1 part seed.  I did not have enough seed to make a full part.  I guess we'll find out if that was a mistake.  But I don't have a big area to plant.

Rolling the balls is a little boring and would be much more fun to do with a group or while watching TV/radio or something.  But it really does not take long - maybe an hour & a half to make about 150.  This is less time than it would take me to carefully prepare a seed bed, carefully cover the seed, carefully keep the ground moist for 2 weeks, etc.  Some of the seeds were long & pointed which poked my hands a bit, but it was fine as long as I did not push too hard.

It is tempting to make them too big.  They are supposed to be the size of a penny.  At first it seems like it is going to take forever, but once you get into a rhythm it goes pretty fast.

It was cold & rainy so I dried them in the garage, next to the furnace.  Took a couple of days.  The last day was sunny so I put them outside and the sun dried them well.

Photos:









 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Seeds are just starting to sprout:



And nature is fertilizing them for me (this is from a wild bird):

 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Still sprouting...




However there are still many that do not seem to be sprouting.  We have had the wettest spring ever here so I'm guessing that is the main reason, e.g. tons of rain -> tons of slugs -> slugs eat sprouting seedlings.  I have been killing off the slugs though so we'll see what happens.  I know most gardeners who planted in early spring had all of their seeds rot so that may have happened to many of the seedballs as well?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Some seeds need mineral soil: redwood for certain, probably many other species. These seeds are not naturally protected against rot, and active compost will digest them before they manage to sprout.

That would mean seedballs made only of subsoil or of subsoil plus ash are:

a) a better choice than common recipes in some instances, and

b) perhaps an alternative to slash-and-burn in establishing traditionally fire-dependent species.

As to slugs, I wonder if dusting the seedballs with sand or eggshell chips while they're still a little moist would help at all.
 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A few photos of the seedballs I took today:

 
Chris Watkins
Posts: 80
Location: SE Asia.
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Susan & all sharing your wisdom here - thank you. Can I encourage you to share here, by clicking edit and typing some words of wisdom?
Seed balls & How to make a seed ball

Paul - I like the idea of quick seed cubes. Quick is good.
 
                    
Posts: 0
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Susan this is a great thread, I can't wait to try this! This idea solve most of my problems with the depth of planting & water washing the soil off.

& thanks adunca for the great pictures!
 
Maddie Bern
Posts: 28
Location: Sierra Nevada foothills, zone 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been making my seed balls flat, as the area I want to seed is a very steep slope next to my driveway. I don't want all the balls to roll to the bottom of the slope! The seeds are a  mix of 3 native grasses.

Gotta try that idea of pressing them thru mesh!
 
Chris Burley
Posts: 1
Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
madronewood wrote:
I have been making my seed balls flat, as the area I want to seed is a very steep slope next to my driveway. I don't want all the balls to roll to the bottom of the slope!


Warren Brush from the Quail Spring Permaculture site in Santa Barbara, CA has taught me that he makes seed triangles(or pyramids as I would describe them) so they don't run down sloping hills he covers.

Thus far, we've had great success at Hayes Valley Farm (San Francisco, CA), mixing up a huge batch of clay, compost, and seeds at the beginning of our volunteer work days. Whenever people get tired sheetmulching or any other activity they go to the gathering / classroom area and relax with others making seedballs. It's a great activity, low energy, and creates a lot of connection for the volunteers to the earth and one another.

Peas and borage!
 
                    
Posts: 47
Location: Bainbridge, Wa
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
good god
good job you just kicked up the ease of my life, taking care of all this wasted land.

I find myself target practicing with rocks all day, now it makes sense.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22594
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
 
Philip Freddolino
Posts: 53
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Another good source for the red terracotta clay is Seattle Pottery Supply. They are a few blocks south of the Seahags Stadium off 1st. 
 
Peony Jay
Posts: 145
Location: B.C.
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So, I guess I have a project for tomorrow. Thanks, guys, for all the good ideas and info here.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 6027
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
398
bike chicken fungi trees urban woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Now that we are getting a little rain I am thinking fall planting. I would like to try seed balls for the first time. We have red clay that I am hoping will work along with our compost. I am wondering if others have had success seeding large areas this way and if you pushed the clay mix through a mesh or made balls. I am not able to watch the videos on this topic on my kindle so am looking for someone elses first hand experience . I am wanting to plant vetch and some clovers and maybe one other (?)
 
James Colbert
Posts: 272
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You can make a lot of seed balls quickly with a cement mixer. Or if you don't have a cement mixer you can rig up a 5 gallon bucket to a hand drill placed in a vice to make a poor mans "cement mixer." Simply place all your dry ingredients in (compost, clay, seeds) and spray with a light mist of water ( a squirt bottle or a pump sprayer are ideal). You can also add powdered pepper (preferably bhut jolokia but any hot pepper will do) as a slug and bug repellant.

I love seed balls and guerrilla gardening
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 6027
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
398
bike chicken fungi trees urban woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks! we don't have a cement mixer (I don't think you meant a wheelbarrow and a hoe) but I've used the five gallon bucket and a drill for dry wall mud.....what did you use in the drill to mix?...I don't think the kitchen whisk we used for the plaster would work. I guess I need to dry out some of our clay and try to pulverize it so it will mix in...love the guerrilla gardening possibilities also....
 
James Colbert
Posts: 272
10
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I should clarify. I meant fix the bucket to the end of the drill so that the bucket rotates like a cement mixer. What you get is a rotating barrel of mixed dry ingredients. All you have to do is then spray this tumbling mix of ingredients with a fine mist of water and balls will naturally form. I saw a youtube video of a man doing this. Can't find it now but I will look for it and post if I can find it. He was making about 40,000 seed balls in about an hour or perhaps a couple hours I believe, that is enough for an acre. He had this cool scoop device too which allowed him to remove seed balls of the proper size without stopping the mixer. I am probably gunna spend the rest of the day searching for this video
 
James Colbert
Posts: 272
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Couldn't find the video but here is a link to a forum where someone used a five gallon bucket in the manner that I described. The only difference is that I think using a drill is easier and faster. A series of bolts and washers is all you need to attache the bucket to a bolt bit.

http://guerrillagardening.org/community/index.php?topic=3852.0
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 6027
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
398
bike chicken fungi trees urban woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for more explanation...I can visualize the set up now and I think we can figure out the hardware...don't worry about the video, I can't look at them on this kindle and won't be at the library computer for awhile. I can't wait to try this out including the planting...we have a party every fall and usually sow crimson clover to get tromped in...I think I'll have seed balls for the kids to plant this time.
 
Zach Whisen
Posts: 15
Location: eastern CT
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This is an awesome thread! I'm in a hash house harriers group in new england I think I'm going To start swinging the seed bombs out into the empty lots and rundown properties along our running trails. Maybe even do a Straight Seed swinging balls hash run!
 
Greta Fields
Posts: 218
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think Fukoaka began adding lime to his clay, which would produce cement almost. I made seed balls out of clay from subsoil. I put large vetch seeds in the balls. The balls just cracked, just drying out on my table, so I did something wrong. Vetch is about as big as buckwheat.
Ordering clay by mail contradicts principles of living sustainably< I think. I would not do it. I think I will try to add limestone gravel dust to the clay and see if that works. I always have a pile of gravel here for compost additives. That's not sustainable either -- I think I paid $6 for a scoop of gravel in my truck..
(: (
 
Nicholas Mason
Posts: 98
Location: Colton Or
1
dog duck goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Awesome ideas. This thread has helped me get my mind running.
 
Tim Ries
Posts: 17
Location: Arkansas - Zone 8a
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Anyone know a good source of clay in the Arkansas area?
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 478
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm thinking about how to disperse a lot of seed balls over a large area. I thought of 2 possibilities:

Using a compressed air "cannon" to launch the balls similar to those pumpkin launchers.

Using something like a tennis ball launcher that uses two spinning wheels to fire the seed balls machine gun style from a hopper.

Anyone come across anything like that on the net?
 
Peter Liepmann
Posts: 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you have clayey soil, all you need to do is mix some with seeds, add a little water, compost if you want, and agitate. I use a swirling motion in a #10 can. If you have the right moisture content, they will make balls of various sizes. Too wet- bigger; dryer=> smaller. I scatter these immediately. You can get very elaborate with this, but you probably don't need to.
 
Johann Paetsch
Posts: 12
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I don't know if this was posted before but here is the Japanese version of making the seed balls.

 
Jocelyn Campbell
master steward
Posts: 4275
Location: Missoula, MT
420
books food preservation forest garden hugelkultur toxin-ectomy
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Any one making seedballs in honor of Fukuoka today (and Imbolc/St. Brigid's Day/Groundhog's Day)?
 
Ian Rule
Posts: 89
Location: Nevada County, CA
8
books food preservation fungi hugelkultur trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Happy Birthday, Fukuoka!

Sitting on a pile of winter blues, and doing seedballs this spring... since Sepp-style seeds mostly just made the birds happy last year.

However, last year while seeding the hugels, some of the seeds I was handfulling around were fennel.
While I wasn't pleased to yank all my happy little fenns from the ground, I was quickly made aware that fennel is apparently a pretty dastardly companion to about everyone but dill.

I cant find the 'A' word in my search, but this seems a tad more legit than the anecdotes I based my actions on:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants

Id really *like* to grow fennel, but now Im caveman-scared of what it may or may not do.
Anyone have solid experience with 'fennel v blank'?
 
Jeff Reiland
Posts: 67
Location: Central Iowa
3
bike forest garden hunting
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We did ours bit early, but it was for the kids
http://abundantdesigniowa.blogspot.com/2016/01/blast-family-fun-seed-bombs.html?m=1


My how to video
 
Jeffrey Dustin
Posts: 9
Location: Providence, United States
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Great topic, folks.

This is my first post on Permies, I've been a creepy lurker for a long time now.

In that vein, why now start off on the right foot: what about rabbit poop seed balls? They've got lots of *yummy* nutrients pre-digested by Peter Wabbit. The seeds would have to survive mastication, masturbation, and digestion. The nasty bit is mashing them into a clay-like mixture. I'd wear rubbery gloves and a clothespin for my nose or earplugs in the nostrils.

Anybody have experience with firing seedy rabbit turds into vacant lots? Hey, some weeds shoot right through their digestion and make new weeds...maybe I could feed the rabbit the seeds I want to plant, then harvest from the backend hopper and make them into seedballs? That would save me a step of making seed balls altogether?

Am I crazy or the only sane one?

End of creepy post.

 
Chris Meador
Posts: 39
Location: San Diego County, CA (9a) ~15-18"precip/yr
3
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If anyone is interested in super scaling up this method I made 3.3 MILLION, yes million, seed balls for a 35 acre restoration project in the back country of San Diego County. Our balls were made with a little bit of sand, peat moss (can substitute for manure I would think), red clay and seed. We used seeds from 7 native species, some grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs, all part of a guild.

We got a regular old cement mixer, made sure there were no paddles in it so it was pretty smooth inside the mixing chamber, then added our dry mix with all the ingredients, started the mixer up and slowly added water with a hose nozzle. After a few minutes the spinning action of the mixer would start to produce perfectly round balls. Then we took a scoop, like a animal feed scoop, cut about 1 inch holes all around it, then used the scoop to get out the balls, letting the smaller ones fall through and the bigger ones we scooped out, put on a rack and let dry outside in the sun. We kept adding small amounts of water and scooping out the balls.

Later we went out and distributed the balls at our restoration site. Unfortunately the person that set up the monitoring of the project did not set up a good system to test the efficacy of the balls, like test plots, but we did monitor the balls and found them to properly dissolve after significant rain. We also found appropriately aged target species in the distribution area beginning to come up and it seemed to look better than other areas. As my own test to be sure the balls would sprout I took some of the balls, threw them out at my place and watered them by hand, they did sprout fantastically.
 
There is no beard big enough to make me comfortable enough with my masculinity to wear pink. Tiny ad:
Thread Boost feature
https://permies.com/wiki/61482/Thread-Boost-feature
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!