Monday, February 16, 2015

Seed Balls; Rich's Quick and Dirty, Not Quite Right Way of Trying To Make Some

I read The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka a few years ago and one of the techniques he wrote about was making seed balls to plant crops.  

Seed balls are basically little balls of compost and seeds covered with a layer of clay.  The compost is supposed to supply the needed fertility to get the seeds germinated, the clay holds the ball together until there is enough moisture to germinate the seeds, tillage isn't needed due to the covering of compost and clay, and the seeds are less likely to be eaten by birds or rodents compared to just broadcasting seeds.

Once they're made you can line them all up in a neat row in a garden, or you can just throw them with abandon all over a field.  You can put just one type of seed in them or you can put dozens of seeds in one, it'll work either way. 

There's a bunch of information online about the exact and proper way to make perfect seed balls and all kinds of finicky things you're supposed to do to make it work (you have to have a certain percentage of compost, you need a special type of clay, it has to dry for these amount of days), but I find that more and more I'm not really a finicky-doing-stuff-sorta-guy anymore.  

After planting my test plot of oats and turnips the other day, I had a little bit of seed left over in the drill so after I vacuumed it out, so I decided to try my hand at making some seed balls.  

Like I said before, I want make some quick and dirty seed balls without a lot of fuss, so I took the oat and turnip seed mixture I cleaned out of the drill, added some more turnip seed to the mix, threw in about the same amount of dry composted cow manure I had laying in the stock trailer from the last time I hauled some cattle, and mixed it all together.  

After I had it mixed together pretty good, I started spraying a little water at a time and mixing until it all started sort of "clumping" together, then I decided to throw a little clay into the mix to help the "clumps" clump even more (it'll make sense to anyone that decides to try their hand at making some seed clumps too).   

At this point, it would have been a simple matter for someone to start rolling this mixture into little balls to make a proper seed ball that would get the approval of most of your permaculture buddies (if you happen to have any).  I don't know why some of the seed ball making information online makes it seem like such a big deal to make seed balls similar to this.

But I decided to just make seed clumps instead of seed balls, and used a shovel (just rock it slowly to drop clumps as you go) to skillfully spread my seed clumps over about a 300 square foot area of my garden/cover crop test plot area. In a few weeks I'll see if it's worth it to make some proper seed balls in the future since if seed clumps will work then seed balls might work even better.
Some oat and turnip seed

Cow manure and seed mixture
Skillfully spreading the clumps with a shovel
I spread my seed lumps along the left side, so keep an eye out for some turnips
If these experimental seed clumps sort of work, I might try making some clover seed balls to throw all over my pastures, or maybe use it to plant some small deer and turkey food plots, or plant a no-till Fukuoka style garden,  or make some apple-seed seed balls to plant some trees around the farm.  

It might even be possible to just mix some cover crop seed or garden seed into a wheelbarrow full of moist compost and then plant a no-till garden by just spreading the compost.

Of course, before any of those other ideas are tried, I'd like to see if any oats or turnips actually come up in the garden. So, stay tuned for seed clump progress reports.


  1. Huh... that's a pretty cool idea. I must have missed that when I read 'One Straw Revolution'. It certainly makes sense.

    A couple of ideas popped into my mind while reading...

    I wonder if a cement mixer could roll it all around to create decent balls? Would the addition of some gravel help to break up big clods?

    And once one had a bucket of balls... what about feeding them into a chipper/shredder? Heck, a guy could sit on his deck and plant his whole place that way...

    Or what about golf-ball sized clods, shot out of a PVC cannon? (obviously, check for people in the line of fire... I was hit by a flying potato once...)

    1. It's possible that it wasn't in that book, but I'm pretty sure that he was doing something similar at some time in his life.

      I've seen some videos online where they use a little concrete mixer (it might need to be modified slightly) to make seed balls. It seems like I might have also seen a technique where the balls are roughly made and then "swirled" around in a bucket to firm the outside up.

      I've also seen some seed balls online that were the size of softballs, although that seems a little excessive unless you were trying to make something like acorn seed balls to plant oak trees or something.

  2. Take it to the next level, make seed pellets and make your own (lower powered) 10 gauge shells with them and go out and have some fun with your shotgun. See if you can plant some corn in the crotch of that old oak tree 40 feet off the ground!

    1. There are people that call themselves guerrilla gardeners (it might be mainly in Australia) that make seed balls and spread them in urban areas. They'll throw them in medians along roads, into vacant lots, or line them up along cracks in the sidewalk. Putting some seed balls in the crack of a sidewalk or a crack in something like a rock ledge wouldn't be too far off from putting some up in a tree.

  3. Guerilla gardening! I like that concept.