Seed Balls?

One of the great things about blogging over the years is that it has helped me meet a LOT of really cool/interesting people – people involved in a wide range of fascinating projects/businesses/hobbies etc. One such person is Dr. Blake Ketchum – a new Worm Inn Mega owner who just happened to share a link to her cool little website in a recent email:
http://www.Seed-Balls.com

What’s hilarious is that while I’d never even heard of seed balls prior to crossing paths with Blake, I’m now borderline-obsessed with the things! As you might guess, this is something that ties in very nicely with vermicomposting.

For those of you as new to this concept as I was a week ago, seed balls (also known as “seed bombs” and “earth balls”) are small spheres consisting primarily of compost and clay (can be various other materials as well). As the name suggests, they also contain seeds.

The basic idea is that you are creating a means of protecting the seeds, and providing a source of nutrition for the young seedlings that grow out of them. And, as any guerrilla gardener will likely tell you, they also offer a handy means of dispersal (easy to throw or shoot with a slingshot) when there’s a tall fence between you and a nice looking vacant lot!
😎

Making your own seed balls is very easy, especially if you happen to have some clay and (vermi)compost on hand. The video below shows you the basics, but you can also find an excellent written explanation on this page (on the Seed-Balls website): “How to Make Seed Balls.

I highly recommend spending some time looking around the Seed-Balls site in general – lots of interesting/educational info there. With a PhD in soil science from Washington State University, Blake is no science slouch, that’s for sure!
(She also happens to be a very talented website designer/programmer, and artist – among numerous other things. FYI – you can look forward to learning more about her and her work in an upcoming RWC interview this spring).

Blake also sells seeds balls (I’m not sure if she sells seed balls by the sea shore, though) – and the mix to make them (with free shipping to anywhere in the continental U.S.).

As for my own seed ball plans…OH YES, I have some very serious seed ball plans…Mooohahahahahaha!

Stay tuned!
😎

P.S. Be sure to pop over to the Seed Balls Facebook page and give it a “Like”! “Our world needs more seed balls” – and Blake needs more fans! (sitting at 90 as I type this).

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Comments

    • Reed
    • February 12, 2014

    Guerilla gardening!

  1. Fukuoka hat worked with Seedballs.
    and there is a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seed_ball

    They used Cement or Concrete Mixer for a massive production.

    http://milkwood.net/2009/12/22/seedballs_from_fukuoka_to_green_guerillas/

    • John W.
    • February 13, 2014

    The 12 year old laughs every time I read the title.

    What I am trying to figure out is…Why would you make these? seems like a lot of work to get a field next you you to sprout flowers. Seems like it would be easier to throw seeds up in the air on a windy day. You would get better spreading that way, than by throwing seed-balls. I mean even if you had 100 of them that would only be 100 spots with flowers. I would think you could get 1000 spots with flowers if you just threw a handful of seed in the air???

    • Bentley
    • February 13, 2014

    Reed – YEAAAAAH!!!

    Wurmpower – thanks for mentioning that. Definitely something I wanted to touch on at some point. I saw an interesting YouTube video showing basically how they made them. Cool stuff!

    John – John, John, John…LOL

    It’s important to note that Guerrilla Gardening is just ONE possible venue for using these things – but even in that case they are definitely helpful/beneficial. If you think seeds blowing in the wind will have the same chances of success as seeds with a protective coating that also fertilizes them…then I am really puzzled! lol

    Even just in your own regular garden – compare the difference between seeds simply placed in the soil, and seeds in a seed ball. I think you’ll be sold.

    Why vermicompost? Why not just toss your scraps in a heap and wait for them to turn into black gold?

    Why use worm castings (and go to the trouble of making them)? Why not just open a bag of peat moss and toss some of that in when you plant?

    LOL

    You are a passionate vermicomposter, John! I know that YOU know all about the benefits of worm castings – even if the protective, toss-assisting properties of the seed ball coating are not winning you over!

    As always – just having some fun with you! But hopefully you see what I am getting at.
    πŸ™‚

    • John W.
    • February 13, 2014

    Oh I understand that the percentage of seeds that would germinate would be dramatically more in the seed ball, but if i heard right on the video it said two seeds per ball. Lets say I wanted to cover the empty quarter acre lot next to me with wild flowers; It would take possibly thousands of seed balls to evenly cover the lot. Where as if I just took the bag of seeds and planted them then I could do the same job in minutes…granted, more seeds would be wasted, but “time is money”

    I see the benefit of doing a seed ball if you are working in a small garden. I just can’t see the benefit of it in anything larger than a personal garden.

    (still giggling)

  2. Somehow the “Advanced Seed Bomb Recipe” seems more like something you would do Bentley (seedballs are for sissies)
    http://seed-balls.com/how-to/details/advanced-seed-bomb-recipe

    Mike

    • Bentley
    • February 13, 2014

    Ok – I see what you are saying. Yeah – obviously if you need coverage like that, this isn’t going to be your best choice (nor would it would be recommended if you were trying to seed a lawn – LoL) – but I think in a lot of cases they just want to introduce a bunch of plants (and then the plants themselves can take care of the rest).

    As for this only being relevant for small-scale stuff, I don’t agree. BUT, I’m still pretty new to seed balls so I will wait to provide you with a proper rebuttal! haha
    My hunch is that you can make a LOT of these things very quickly – and without burning through tons of castings or clay.

    Anyway – I’m sure I’ll be writing much more about seed balls in coming months. So stay tuned!
    😎

    • Bentley
    • February 13, 2014

    MIKE – LoL! You know it, brutha! I definitely have some “twists” up my sleeve.
    😎

    • John W.
    • February 14, 2014

    Nobody mentioned Seed Bombs?!?!?!
    Now we are talking about something I can get behind!

    • Matt
    • February 14, 2014

    I love interesting & new (or old, but newly re-discovered) ways of doing all things gardening/composting/etc., but I’m just not sure I understand why anyone but a remote few would use this…I don’t mean to be the naysayer I just don’t see the benefit.

    It seems really targeted to the guerilla gardener type who literally wants to throw their seed balls into unused lots. But for those of us who have access to the components of seed balls (seeds, compost, clay, microbes, etc.), why wouldn’t we just make it much simpler on ouselves and work those things into the soil and plant regularly?

    I mean heck if you can buy them *super* cheap that may be one thing, but I sure as heck am not making my own.

    • John
    • February 14, 2014

    Masanobu Fukuoka was quite a fan of the seed ball, and he ran a very large farm.

    • Lee
    • February 14, 2014

    I just received some seed balls from Dr. Ketchum and I’m pretty happy with the concept. Consider: The seeds are protected (from parching, being eaten by birds, washing away), and they’re in a medium that will help them stay put and suck in and hold the moisture they need to germinate well. Also, most wildflower and perennial seeds need to be “stratified” (left out in the freezing cold several months) before they’ll grow. Seed balls will allow the freezing without (again) their being eaten or washed away. So I’m pretty excited with mine. I’ll post again come spring to let you know the germination rate.

    • Bentley
    • February 16, 2014

    JOHN W – How about seed grenades?
    http://kabloom.co.uk/blog/
    πŸ˜†
    (and yes I did mention that “seed bombs” was another name for seed balls)
    ——-
    MATT – It’s always great when not everyone wants to drink my “kool aid”. John W. is always helpful in that department (lol) – forces me to give things more thought and just generally come down from the clouds a bit. In this particular case, I don’t happen to agree with your assessment. Yes, the design of seed balls makes them well-suited for the work of guerrilla gardeners, but that’s only scratching the surface of their potential in my humble opinion.
    For me, the big deal is having a means of protecting and boosting the growth of young plants. Having all the various elements that make up a seed ball on hand is great – but just putting them in the planting hole won’t offer the same advantages in my humble opinion. Plus I like the idea of NOT lugging around multiple buckets of material when I am planting.

    My hunch is that there would be a pretty big difference between sewing seeds and seed balls in your garden soil. I for one haven’t had much luck with the former, since the seedlings that DO emerge invariably seem to get munched by various critters, or just generally dont grow as well.

    I agree that it is very valuable to add compost etc to your soil regularly (and will still continue to do so) – but to me, this seems like an excellent way to add one additional boost, likely encouraging the development of a very healthy root system and soil food web.
    —-
    LEE – thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Bentley
    • February 16, 2014

    Really interesting seed ball article (discussing Fukuoka’s work) here:
    http://windward.org/2.0/notes/2013/2013andrew010.htm

    • Matt
    • February 18, 2014

    Certainly compost is not a 1:1 correlation to the seedball. But for me throwing down some compost, vermicompost, mycorrizhae (1 application at beginning of season), etc. has made germination and growing healthy plants so easy & successful that I’m doubting how much better it can get.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative, it’s just that time is such a valuable commodity that I cannot imagine putting 1-2 seeds at a time (I grow peppers, toms, carrots, eggplants, leeks, onions, cukes, and many more–and grow several varieties of each) in a seedball mixture and keeping them all organized and then planting them. Having said that, if it works for you, keep on it! I’ll be the first to change my mind if I see some clear benefits that can’t be obtained otherwise.

  3. I read ya loud and clear, Matt! (lol)
    It’s all good.

    For me, this actually has my mind racing in a number of different, related, directions beyond seed balls themselves. So that’s part of the reason I am as excited as I am. But I DO also just like the idea of preparing the seeds ahead of time, thus minimizing at least some of the fuss and bother often associated with getting seeds started in the spring (while providing young plants with a nice additional boost).
    😎

    • John W.
    • February 18, 2014

    There is more controversy on Seed Balls than when you talk about bad worm sellers!

    • PODZOL
    • February 20, 2014

    Hi Folks!
    This is Blake of Seed-Ball.com. Great discussion here… just thought I’d add my 2Β’.

    Seed balls were developed in arid climates over the millennia in different parts of the world. There’s a lot of information and mix-information online. The earliest written reference that I have inferred is of romans using pelletized seeds at some point.

    The initial purpose, which is embraced in Australia, is that of dryland cultivation. It protects the seed from foraging critters until the rainy seasons come, lengthening the interval of time available for dispersion. For guerrilla gardening, the purpose is similar, it’s an easy way to sow and neglect with a reasonably high success rate. I would imagine that if you’re working a no-till garden and have a bad back- why seed balls would be perfect (my initial reason for getting into seed balls)

    Another application was developed in Africa and imported to the US with slaves. This was to coat seeds of rice and then toss them on the place to be flooded. When the area was flooded for cultivation, the rice grains would stay put and not float off.

    For the avid vegetable gardener with a compost bin and worms, the seed ball might serve little practical purpose. It does seem, however, to have an appeal to those new to gardening. As a vector to the green universe, I think seed balls are a powerful tool. If it gets more people interested in growing things… great. Native wildflower seed balls are a LOT of fun to throw in ditches, especially from a car window.

    As far as bulk production: A typical sowing rate is 1 per sq. foot, about 5000 per acre. When we get a bulk order, we use a different process. We make a matrix and mix the seeds into that as a whole, then pinch off bits for the balls. We use a tumbler to round them off. It goes very fast and we can produce seed balls for acres of land without substantial lead time. If our simple set up can do this cost effectively, I would imagine a process engineer, who I am not, could scale it up remarkably well. Just finished up an order for 3k, and this weekend will tackle a 5k order for a prairie in TX, so it is do-able for larger areas.

    So… seed balls are fun, kinda sassy, they are of significant benefit in situations where the seed will have to wait to grow or not be tended. You can add some microbial life, and nutrients for poor soil so the seed can have a better chance in the form of compost. In a well tended garden? In all fairness, I can’t say that there is much advantage other than just trying something different.

    If you checked out the website, thank you very much. I would be happy to answer any questions you have to the best of my ability. We just moved our worms to a Worm Inn MEGA and they are doing fabulously. THANKS BENTLEY!! πŸ™‚

    • MaryT
    • March 13, 2014

    Reading all this makes me think that if I employed a home-made paper technique incorporating seed ball ingredients, I could make carrot seed mats for my square foot garden. What do you think? If anyone gets to experiment with it, please post results.

    • Greg Garriss
    • March 13, 2014

    Since shipping clay ( or anything else ) to Hawai’i is expensive, we’re using a mix of vermicompost, shredded paper bokashi and coffee grounds. Wet, the combination is a bit sticky but holds together well when dry. You could make it into sheets easily.

    • MaryT
    • March 13, 2014

    Thanks for the tip, Greg!

    • Trina
    • March 28, 2015

    I was checking / hoping to hear back from Lee. Also… thanks PODZOL. My interest is regarding a neighboring lot we purchased. The developer clearcut the forest for views of Lake MI before we purchased. Immediately afterward, here comes the very invasive spotted knapweed, with poison roots. Everything else died and the native animals don’t like walking in it. Very unpleasant. And ugly when not in bloom. For 7 years we pulled it out till we finally regained control and natives got a foot-hold. Now native bugs are returning and the native birds that come for the native bugs. But the ground is on a west-facing windy dry area, so there are still bare spots and much of the forest’s topsoil has blown away and was compacted by the developer’s trucks that carted off the valuable old forest. Just the conditions that spotted knapweed loves. πŸ™ I’m going to try the seedballs ! It seems they should have a greater chance of survival than those native flower seeds that we’ve tossed out there each spring. I’ll need to find a seed ball source that would be willing to send me balls containing MI native flower seeds. Suggestions? Anyone?

    • Trina
    • March 28, 2015

    Regarding my comment of a moment ago… an online source for the clay everybody is talking about would be helpful too. If I must make my own balls, I would prefer not to drive around looking for stores that carry the right clay. (And btw what IS the right clay?)

  4. Hi Trina,
    We have a host of seed balls for Michigan for sale on seed-balls.com. Click the mapsearch tool in the main navigation bar, then on Michigan to see our offerings for that state.

    The clay we use is a standard low-fire red pottery clay. You should be able to pick it up at any ceramics supply company. We also sell supplies, but you can avoid shipping costs and packaging costs if you just pick up some at a local store!

    Blake

  5. I should mention, if you want to make your own, I recommend everwilde farms http://www.everwilde.com/, from Wisconsin for Northern Prairie state seeds. They have top quality seeds and an outstanding selection of US natives.

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