How to make seed?

Contents

Make it! Cottage Garden Seed Bomb Favours | Airdry Clay Method

Eco friendly, fun and totally adorable, Cottage Garden Seed Bombs are a wonderful party favour or small gift you can hand make for under a $1 each (under $2 if wrapping individually). No great skill is required, just a willingness to get your hands a little dirty!

What are Seed Bombs?

Seed bombs are round balls made up of seeds, potting mix and in this instructional, airdry clay. They are super fun, just throw them into a barren spot in the garden or that vacant lot you’ve been looking at for the last several months and fill it with colour.

No care is required with seed bombs, the idea is that they germinate on their own to become a delightful floral display.

Here’s how to make your own!

Supplies

  • Air dry clay
  • Searles Premium Potting Mix
  • Searles Seed Packet
  • Fabric (cut into 18cmx18cm square lots)
  • Ribbon
  • Tags to explain how to use

How to Make Cottage Flower Seed Bombs

Step 1: Moulding Air Dry Clay

Pinch off enough air-dry clay to make a sphere approximately 2.5cm diameter. Model the clay into a bowl shape.

Step 2: Adding the Seeds

Add a pinch of seeds to each clay bowl. If a mixed seed packet, remember to mix the seed varieties, it’s always a good idea to have large seeds with smaller seeds as these assist in breaking apart the clay.

Step 3: Searles Premium Potting Mix

Fill each clay bowl with a good teaspoon of Searles Premium Potting Mix, then pinch two sides of the clay bowl together and fold over itself, striving to blend and kneed as much of the potting mix and seeds into the airdry clay. Roll into a sphere when complete.

Step 4: Outer Coating

It’s a good idea to give your seed bombs an outer coating of Searles Premium Potting Mix. Simply roll the clay sphere in the palm of you hand with the potting mix.

Step 5: Seed Bomb Favour Presentation

Fabric is a lovely choice for the presentation of Cottage Garden Seed Bombs. Best of all as fabric breaths you can wrap your bombs immediately after you’ve made them and not have to wait for them to dry out.

Sit the bomb in the middle of the square of fabric and simple tie in place with a ribbon. A little tag makes for a lovely finishing touch.

Supply quantities used to make 50 individually wrapped Cottage Flower Seed Bombs:

  • 6 Packets Searles Cottage Garden Seeds
  • 3 Cups Searles Premium Potting Mix
  • 3kg Airdry Clay
  • Approximately 2 meter fabric material
  • Approximately 3 meters ribbon

Why not try making Sunflower Seed Bombs!

Make Seed Balls

Disclaimer: This material is being kept online for historical purposes. Though accurate at the time of publication, it is no longer being updated. The page may contain broken links or outdated information, and parts may not function in current web browsers.

Make Exploding Seed Balls!

Credit: Kevan Davis.

Want to have some fun while making the world a greener, more environmentally-friendly place? Make exploding balls of seeds that are both fun to throw and an easy way to grow native wildflowers.

Here’s what you need (makes 8-10 balls):

  • 1/2 oz native wildflower seeds.
  • 3 1/2 oz dry, organic potting soil
  • 1 1/2 oz dry clay (we suggest powdered red pottery clay)
  • Water
  • A mixing bowl
  • A cookie sheet for drying the seed balls
  • wax paper

Here’s what to do:

  1. Line cookie sheet with wax paper.
  2. Mix seeds and potting soil together.
  3. Add dry clay and mix again.
  4. Slowly add water while still mixing the seeds, potting soil, and water into a well-blended paste.
  5. When you are able to form a ball of the blended material without it falling apart, you are ready to stop mixing.
  6. Mold the mixture into small (~1 inch diameter) balls and place cookie sheet or tray with wax paper.
  7. Allow balls to dry in the sun for at least one day.

Now that I have made seed balls, what do I do with them?

  1. All you have to do is throw them at a patch of dirt and watch it explode! Once it rains (or you water them), they have everything they need to grow.
  2. They also make great gifts! Put them in a plastic bag and give them to all your friends.

Credit: Herder3.

Seed Bombs: Be a Garden Rebel

Seed bombs are designed to be launched over fences, out of car windows, or when passing by on foot or bike. They are a stealthy way to plant an array of seeds in places that are neglected or devoid of greenery. Abandoned lots, roadside strips, dismissed patches of soil (between houses, under trees, and deserted yards) are perfect opportunities to be a garden rebel. Resist practicing your throwing skills onto private properties.

Seed bombs or seed balls are not a new idea. Research shows that many Native American tribes used seed balls to protect their newly planted corn from drought and birds. A few decades ago, Japanese’s gardeners started fashioning clay seed balls as a beneficial way to plant their next crop without unsettling the current crop. Now a days, rebel gardening is a great way to introduce plants into areas that are lacking vegetation, thus attracting bees, butterflies, and birds to otherwise barren plots.

The clay protects the seed from hungry animals and absorbs water from dew and rainfall. The soil or compost gives the roots something to dig into when the seed sprouts. As the seedling grows, the seed ball breaks down slowly. This provides the plant a flourishing platform for continued growth. The best time to “plant” your seed bombs are in the spring or the fall seasoning.

clay powder (flour)

You can use any seeds you want. Many gardeners recommend using native plant seeds. However, garden rebels do not limit themselves to just native seeds. There is nothing wrong with mixing in pumpkin seeds, beans, non-native flower seeds, maple tree seeds, etc. Blue Rock Herbs collects many seeds over the years. Every couple of years, we “clean-out” older seeds (because the germination rate decreases over time) and seeds that we have decide not to plant in the garden. We take those unwanted seeds and give them a new life as tenacious seed bombs.

collected seeds

Making seed bombs is fun and simple. Adults and kids alike will enjoy both the making and launching of their very own seed bombs.

Seed Bomb Recipe with clay flour (powder)

Needed items:

  • plant seeds (1/2 cup)
  • clay flour or powder (2 1/2 cups) –find at any craft shop or online
  • potting soil or compost (3 cups)
  • water (1 cup)
  • large mixing bowl or tub
  • large flat tray or pan (like a baking tray)
  • measuring cups

clay powder seed bomb ingredients

Instructions:

Place the seeds, clay flour, soil, and water into the mixing bowl or tub. Use your hands and blend them together in a squeezing motion, until you get a consistency that allows you roll a blob of the mixture between your palms into small clay balls. Place the clay balls onto the flat tray or pan to air dry. Let the seed bombs dry for two or three days in a shady location.

clay powder seed bomb ingredients combined

After they have dried, it’s bombs away time!

You can toss them onto your desired location or store them in a dry, dark container.

seed bombs (clay powder recipe)

Seed Bomb Recipe with air dry clay

Needed items:

  • plant seeds (1/2 cup)
  • air dry clay (1 1/2 cups) –find at any craft shop or online
  • potting soil or compost (1 cup)
  • water (1/4 cup)
  • large mixing bowl or tub
  • large flat tray or pan (like a baking tray)
  • measuring cups

air-dry clay seed bomb ingredients

Instructions:

Place the seeds, air dry clay, soil, and water into the mixing bowl or tub. Use your hands and blend them together in a kneading motion, until you get a consistency that allows you roll a blob of the mixture between your palms into small clay balls. Place the clay balls onto the flat tray or pan to air dry. Let the seed bombs dry for two or three days in a shady location.

air-dry clay seed bomb ingredients combined

After they have dried, you can toss them onto your desired location or store them in a dry, dark container.

seed bombs (air-dry clay recipe)

This is not a sponsored post, but I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. That means that I will receive a small percentage of any sales generated from one of my affiliate links, but you won’t pay any extra. It’s one more way that you can support our educational website.

Clay Seed Balls | Seed Bombs | Seed Scats!

SERIES 29 | Episode 15

Raising seed directly in the garden is all about timing – ensuring the soil and air temperature is right and moisture is consistent through germination.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to always be home on the perfect seed sowing day so Millie has discovered a way to make some set and forget seed starters – seed balls or seed scats!

You’ll need:

  • An old baking tray or pan
  • Some sieved, dry compost
  • Dry, smashed-up clay (you can use potters clay, or dry and crush your local stuff)
  • Seed
  • Water in an atomiser

Millie is making 3 types of seed balls – a simple version using clay only, a combination version that uses clay and fertiliser and version using clay from her own garden!

Simple Seed Balls

For this method, Millie is coating artichoke seeds in clay.

  1. Place seeds in a tray or pan
  2. Sprinkle dry clay powder over the seeds
  3. Use a water spray/misting bottle to moisten the seeds and mix to coat them in the clay powder
  4. Keep adding clay powder and water until the seeds are well coated.
  5. Leave them to dry in the sun

Nutritional Seed Balls

This method packs nutritional matter for the seeds into the seed ball. It’s a great method to use for smaller seeds. Millie is making some combination seed balls using Cosmos sulphureus (Orange cosmos) and Alyssum seeds.

  1. Mix equal parts of the compost & dry clay powder and add a similar amount of seed.
  2. Continue to mix, slowly misting with water until the mix just comes together around the seed.
  3. Gently roll into little balls – about 2cm across – being careful not to damage the seeds
  4. Set them in a sunny spot to dry.

DIY Clay Seed Balls

Millie has dug up some clay soil in her garden and dried it to see how it works making seed balls – this time making Rocket seed balls

  1. Mix equal parts of dried clay soil and compost and a similar amount of seed.
  2. Continue to mix, slowly misting with water until the mix just comes together around the seed.
  3. Gently roll into little balls – about 2cm across – being careful not to damage the seeds
  4. Set them in a sunny spot to dry.

The dried seed ball can sit dormant for as long as the seed is viable, but for best results deploy them in the following season.

Drop your seed balls before good rain is coming, or just when you have time. When the conditions are right, they will germinate!

How to Make Seed Balls

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.

-Advertisement-

— 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.

How to Make Seed Balls from Recycled Paper

Learn how to make seed balls from recycled paper, a fun craft and science activity inspired by the popular children’s book, The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers. This activity is perfect for kids of any age and makes a great addition to a unit on Earth Day, gardening, plants, and even makes a special homemade gift for Mother’s Day.

Follow our Science for Kids Pinterest board!

This post contains affiliate links.

Being a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers, my brain just raced with ideas of activities for kids to do based on one of our favorite stories by him, The Great Paper Caper. In The Great Paper Caper, animals around the forest begin noticing their trees have started to go missing. They put together a task force to investigate and discover what’s happening to their homes. Their investigation finally leads to the culprit, a bear chopping down trees to turn into paper, which he then uses to create paper airplanes. It turns out he’s trying to win a paper airplane flying competition. In the end the bear not only replaces the trees by planting more, but all the animals come together to help the bear make the most spectacular paper airplane!

This fantastic children’s book can lead to all sorts of discussions about tree conservation, the importance of trees to animals and other wildlife, where paper comes from, recycling, planting seeds, designing paper airplanes (a fun STEM activity), and working together as a team to help someone in need.

In this activity we decided to focus on repurposing paper (like they do in the story- don’t want to ruin the ending for you!) and on planting seeds, just like the bear does in the book. So we combined the two ideas into making seed balls (not to be confused with seed bombs made with clay). A seed ball is a small item that holds seeds together with a growing medium- in our case, old paper! You bury the seed balls below a layer of dirt for the seeds to grow.

Lucy and Theo were so excited to turn their old school worksheets and artwork into something new they could plant and watch grow later on. In addition to our seed balls, we also made seed airplanes since the bear was making paper airplanes in the story.

In this post I’ll show you how you can make seed balls in just about any shape, making it a great gift idea for holidays, Mother’s Day or any special person in your life. And it’s a great way to help our environment too!

See it in action here:

Materials for Making Seed Balls

  • Old paper (worksheets, newspaper, junk mail etc.)
  • Seeds
  • Bucket or plastic bin for soaking paper
  • Blender or food processor
  • A few bowls or containers
  • Strainer or colander
  • Optional: Paper shredder
  • Optional: Cookie cutters if you want to make your seed balls into shapes (We used this airplane cookie cutter, but you could also use hearts or any other shape. Remember: Cookie cutters are optional. You can just make balls with your hands.

Directions for Making Seed Balls

1. Gather up paper you want to reuse to make your seed balls. You can use things like old newspaper, old worksheets from school, junk mail, paper towels, etc.

2. Tear up your paper into small pieces and place them into a large bin, the smaller the pieces, the better. (This is a great activity for an entire class to do together.) You can also use a paper shredder if you have one rather than tearing the paper. My kids went absolutely nuts over the paper shredder. It was like the most exciting thing they had seen in their life. And they loved finding bits of their old worksheets in the paper we shredded. “Look! There’s part of my math sheet!” If your kids are ever bored, introduce them to the paper shredder. (Monitoring them closely of course.) It can provides hours of fun. LOL!

3. After you’ve placed all your torn paper into a large bin, fill it with water to soak. We put just enough water in to cover all the paper and mixed it around with our hands. We let it soak overnight so it would blend more easily and quickly, but this length of time isn’t necessary. Even just letting it soak as you rip paper would work.

4. Place the torn paper in a blender. Be sure to use an old, cheap or used blender, as blending lots of paper can take its toll on your machine. Don’t fill your blender all the way to the top with paper. The paper is sure to clump and get stuck and cause all kinds of blender craziness. We filled ours about 1/3 of the way full. That seemed to be the magic number for us. Then fill the blender with water. We liked having the water rise about 1-2 inches above the paper. (You’ll have to play around with your ratio of paper to water.)

WARNING: Never let a child use a blender unless heavily supervised by an adult. An adult should be present at all times or do the blending on their own while the children observe.

5. Blend until you have mushy pulp, somewhat like the consistency of oatmeal. We found the more it was blended, the better it held together.

6. Place a colander inside a bowl. Pour your pulp mixture into the colander to drain some of the water. Continue with steps 4-5 until you have blended all your soaked paper. Now you have a giant batch of mushy, wet pulp sitting in a colander! Slosh it around in the colander with your hand, getting out the extra water.

7. Pour the contents from the colander into a separate bowl. Don’t squeeze all the water out. You’ll want it to be wetter than you think. It helps to keep it from falling apart when making your shapes.

8. Now it’s time to add your seeds. You can add any seeds you’d like. We chose seeds that were native to our area. Pour the seeds into your pulp. Knead and mix them into the pulp with your hands.

9. If you’re just making seed balls (or pancakes) rather than shapes, grab a small handful of the mixture, squeeze out as much water as you can, and roll it into a firm ball. (Making balls or pancakes is much easier for younger children.) Squish it like a pancake. (It’ll dry faster.) Place if on a drying rack or stack of newspaper to dry.

If you’ll be making your seed balls into shapes, place some of the mixture into cookie cutters. Press the pulp firmly and use paper towels to remove any excess water. (Be sure to save the paper towels for your next batch of seed balls!) Carefully remove them from the cookie cutters and place them on a drying rack or stack of newspaper to dry. If any part breaks off, you can mold it back in place kind of like play dough.

Depending on the size of your seed balls, they can take up to 3 days to completely dry. Placing them in the sun on a hot day will speed up the process!

10. After your seed balls or seed shapes are dry, they’re ready to be planted or given as a gift to a loved one. These burlap gift bags would be perfect to hold your seed balls!

Tips

  • You can add color to your seed balls by either using colored paper or adding food coloring to your mixture.
  • Some local nurseries will be willing to give you seeds for free. Be sure to check nurseries or stores in your community.
  • Smaller children might find it easier to just make shapes with less intricate spaces, like using a heart or cloud cookie cutter. Or even just making random balls and pancake shapes.

PAPER MAKING KIT

Want your own paper making kit? I bought this one for my daughter for her birthday- excellent quality and lots of fun! It would make a great birthday gift (obviously- LOL!) and would be fun for classroom use too!

More Science Activities Inspired by Children’s Books

This post was part of the Storybook Science Series, made up of a group of awesome bloggers sharing posts centered around Sensory Science, Science for the Future, Science in the Garden, and Science with Robots. Be sure to check out all the wonderful additions to the series!

  • Blake Ketchum is JUST the kind of polymath we need in this epoch of science denial. The eco-entrepreneur has a PhD in soil science, a master’s degree in forestry, and a bachelor’s in visual arts. She lists JavaScript, web development, and e-commerce alongside forensic reconstruction and native plant ecology as skill sets on her resume. Oh, and she’s an accomplished artist–a sculptor who specializes in portraiture with commissions from Yale, Cornell, and the International Special Olympics. With her understanding of diverse disciplines, she can make the complex premises and processes of science understandable to the rest of us.

    Seed balls: It’s more complicated than ” throw and grow,” says Ketchum. Photo courtesy Seed-balls.com

    One of her most effective platforms is Seed-balls.com, a conservation start-up she launched in 2013 with her teenaged son. Its mission: biodiversity through green business. “Educate people. Disperse seed. Be green.”

    I caught up with Ketchum recently in the course of updating my annual post on seed balls. My research led me to the Seed-balls.com website where she and her small band of “mudslingers” evangelize and educate on the wonders of seed balls, tidy germination bombs which have the potential to transform vacant lots, degraded fields and blank areas in your vegetable garden.

    I sought Ketchum’s expertise out of frustration. For a decade I’ve been making and dispersing seed balls, but have had very little success. Every autumn I collect local, native seeds from our property, throw them in a paper bag and save them for a seed ball party. Friends who don’t mind muddy hands help fashion hundreds of seed balls. We’ve thrown thousands of them on our family’s Llano River ranch over the years in an attempt to restore overgrazed pastures to former glory as prairies. We’ve also spent a substantial sum on native seeds broadcast directly onto the soil.

    Polymath Blake Ketchum works her magic making seed balls. Courtesy photo

    My experience: seed balls do not live up to their hype. Our singular success has been in the Chigger Islands which dot our stretch of the Llano River. There, we’ve thrown many Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata seed balls. A handful have grown into robust milkweed stands.

    Yet the hands-on activity of molding soil, clay, seeds and water into seed balls has been touted as an effective way to plant wildflowers in hard-to-reach places. The act of tossing seed balls is often referred to as guerrilla gardening since you can plant flowers or edibles on property not rightfully yours. Seed ball making has also become increasingly popular as an activity at conservation and environmental events in recent years. Kids of all ages love getting their hands dirty while learning the importance of native plants and pollinators.

    So, what am I doing wrong?

    Apparently, not managing my own expectations. Tweaks to the seed ball recipe can help, says Ketchum. Adding mycorrhizal fungi or worm casings also boosts success rates. But Ketchum soberly explains that seed balls actually are better as an engagement tool than as tactical conservation. Throwing wildflower seed balls into an established landscape will likely not result in success. “Wildflowers are typically NOT fierce competitors and are easily outcompeted by weeds and turf grass,” says Ketchum.

    The mudslingers at Seed-balls.com will make custom orders from specific seeds. Color coordinated, too. Courtesy photo

    That shouldn’t stop us from making and throwing seed balls, however. “Conservation is a multifaceted endeavor,” she says. “One part is transforming landscapes, another part is educating people about what that takes and getting people excited and enabled. Seed balls are really good at that.”

    Read more of Ketchum’s insights on seed balls, below.

    Q. What is the primary reason seed balls don’t germinate?
    Ketchum: They are planted at the wrong time of the year. We see this a lot with milkweed. Well-meaning gardeners plant it in the spring assuming it will sprout. However, milkweed needs several months of cold, wet weather before it will germinate.

    They are planted too deep. Seed balls should be pressed halfway into the soil so that they can get plenty of sun and moisture.
    They are planted in the wrong location. Sometimes they are planted in the wrong climate or in the wrong landscape position. It’s important to know what plants are native to your region and where they like to grow.

    Swamp milkweed pods, Asclepias incarnata, ready for harvest on the Llano River. We’ve made plenty of seed balls from these. Photo by Monika Maeckle

    The seed balls are over-compressed and do not break down. Seed balls should disintegrate, allowing the seed to make contact with surrounding soil. If not, the seedlings can’t break free from the seed ball and will die.

    The seeds were placed inside of the seed ball. Many seeds require sunlight to germinate and if they are placed on the inside of the seed ball, they will not grow.
    The compost may not be sufficiently aged or the pH may not suit the seeds.

    Q, Any tips for amateur seed ball makers/throwers?
    Ketchum: Do your research. Select the right seeds for your region and landscape position.

    Manage your expectations. Seed balls planted where they can be cared for will do better than seed balls left to survive on their own. Many seeds need to stay moist throughout their germination. If left without rain or regular watering, they will die.

    Avoid the ‘Throw & Grow’ Myth. Seed balls thrown into neglected landscapes will not likely survive. In these locations, seedlings are forced to compete with established and nonnative plants. For the best results, clear the area of competing plants, and press your seed balls halfway into the soil.

    Swamp milkweed in full bloom, late summer. Thanks, seed balls! Photo by Monika Maeckle

    Q. It seems seed balls have really taken off in the last few years. It used to be such a fringe thing. To what do you attribute that?
    Ketchum: Seed balls are a fun, accessible introduction to gardening. They are easy to market and companies like ours and our competitors have done great work educating the public about Guerrilla Gardening and the need for native wildflowers.

    We do a lot of work with wholesale companies whose businesses are driven by Millennial customers. As the fastest growing population in the US, this generation is shaping trends. What we have learned from these companies is that millennials care about saving native pollinators and they want to be good stewards of the planet. Seed balls give millennials a way to do both.

    Q. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center says they’re really not effective for large-scale restorations. Would you agree?
    While seed balls are a great introduction to native wildflower gardening, they are not an effective strategy for large-scale restoration projects. They require a sizeable investment of both time and money. Buying seed is a more effective and affordable option. We recommend conservation seed companies like Native American Seed or Ernst Conservation Seeds. They can help you select regionally appropriate species, as well as provide restoration advice to help achieve your restoration goals. Because restoring disturbed landscapes is nearly impossible, it’s important to be smart about your project.

    More posts like this:

    • Winter Solstice suggests it’s time to make seed balls–here’s how
    • Q & A: Dr. Anurag Agrawal challenges Monarch butterfly conservation conventional wisdom
    • Q & A Journey North’s Elizabeth Howard talks tech, citizen science and mass butterfly releases
    • Fungus among us: Wildroot Organic praises the magic of mycorrhizal fungi
    • Guidance on milkweed management confuses butterfly gardeners
    • Late season Monarchs create gardening quandary
    • What to do with late season Monarchs
    • Tropical Milkweed: To Plant it or Not is No Simple Question
    • Oh Those Crazy Chrysalises: Caterpillars in Surprising Places
    • Butterfly FAQ: Is it OK to Move a Chrysalis? Yes, and here’s how to do it
    • Should You Bring in a Late Season Caterpillar into Your Home?

    Like what you’re reading? Don’t miss a single post from the Texas Butterfly Ranch. Sign up for email delivery, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, @monikam.

    • Garden guerrillas: Seed bombs

      For those of us who have tried to establish wild flowers in the relatively cossetted confines of our own gardens with little success, the chances of seeds that are lobbed over a fence on to an unpredictable surface seem lower still. And if they aren’t worth bothering with, are there better methods?

      Who initiated seed bombs?

      The late Liz Christie, who started the Green Guerrillas movement in the US, devised methods of enabling wildflowers to colonise waste land sites that were inaccessible. She would make bombs of balloons or old Christmas ornaments, filled with wildflower seeds, water, fertiliser and compost.

      She would then lob these over fences to inaccessible areas, where they burst on landing, in the hope of creating flower-packed vegetation on otherwise sterile sites.

      A more crafty version of seed bombs are “seed dumplings”, which are created by mixing dried clay (one part) with compost (three parts), vegetable seeds (variable), and a little water, and kneading them into small balls, as you would dough.

      When these are lobbed onto their target, the compost and clay coating supposedly protects the seed from being eaten by birds or drying out.

      In Japan, they use these “dumplings” in areas of erratic rainfall to bring rapid vegetation to large tracts of dry land with compacted soil.

      How successful are they?

      Professor James Hitchmough from the University of Sheffield is known for his pioneering work establishing native wildflowers in parks, gardens and public areas. He considers seed bombing to have little effect, pointing out that rainfall is a vital factor.

      Last spring, for example, was so dry that germination would be much lower than this spring. Also, if you are aiming your seed bombs where there is existing vegetation, competition from neighbouring plants makes it very difficult for new varieties to grow.

      If there is a space where you are desperate to use seed bombs, he recommends choosing plants that germinate rapidly such as corn poppies, corn marigolds or red flax. Seed bombs, despite their emotive name, can be impotent. Letting nature take its course is a beautifully simple alternative.

      If you observe any area of derelict land, it inevitably becomes colonised with plants such as groundsel, willow herb, poppies or dandelions. This is as a result of “seed rain” – seed that is carried there by wind and animals.

      Thousands of seeds can land on every square metre, but the amount that actually germinates and flourishes is minimal, which illustrates just how slim the chances are of the relatively low numbers of seeds in a “bomb” coming to fruition.

      Where should I use them?

      They are best used on sites where it is impossible to gain access, but again success rates are likely to be low. A much more successful strategy would be to liaise with the owners of, for instance, a derelict area waiting to be turned into a housing estate, to try to cultivate wildflowers in suitable spots to create a green oasis for insects, birds and passers-by to appreciate.

      Richard Scott, who works for LandLife (0151 737 1819, www.wildflower.org.uk), one of the oldest urban wildlife charities in Britain, suggests that you target land with bare patches, which means your seeds won’t have as much difficulty in getting established.

      Is there a better way?

      The approach must be appropriate for the site. Around the country, there are countless odd bits of “forgotten” land that may be owned by the local council, managed by highways authorities or private organisations. These would benefit from wildflower, native shrub, bulbs or other appropriate planting.

      It is feasible that the owners will grant permission to establish planting so you can carry it out in a way that satisfies all parties concerned.

      Working with owners is not perhaps in the spirit of Green Guerrilla movement, but a co-operative approach can produce fantastic long-term results, as we have seen from the numerous encouraging examples that readers have sent in to us in the Plant the Streets campaign.

      Please keep letting us know what you are doing this summer to improve your neighbourhood.

      • On Guerrilla Gardening (Bloomsbury) by Richard Reynolds, is available through Telegraph Books (0870 155 722) for £12.99 plus £1.25 p&p

      Seedles Is a Cute San Francisco Startup That Wants to Save the Bees

      Did you drink coffee this morning? Or did you have avocados, pickles, or lemons with any of your meals this week? If you consumed citrus fruit, berries, apples, almonds, cucumbers, onions, pumpkin or carrots you owe your diet partially to bees.

      Bees, along with birds, bats, beetles and butterflies make up a category of agricultural aides known as pollinators. Bees are particularly industrious pollinators, carrying the dust on their furry bodies while spreading pollen from one flower to the next. They even do a little dance to invite hive mates to join the party. When bees pollinate, it’s like a celebration.

      But unfortunately, environmental factors have interfered with the party—specifically, the declining availability of quality flowers.

      That’s where Seedles, San Francisco-based company that makes so-called “seed bombs,” comes in.
      By combining a mixture of organic compost, worm casings, and a special “home brew” of compost and native, non-genetically modified wildflower seeds, Seedles set a goal to grow one billion wildflowers.

      “We first set out to grow one million wildflowers to leave the world a better place for our son,” Seedles “Lead Pollinator” and CEO Chris Burley told Motherboard in an email. “After reaching that goal in a month we decided it was time to kick up the game a notch and aim for one billion. We’re over 35 million already and our goal is to reach 1 billion before 2020.”

      The nickel-sized balls look more like luxury bath bombs than weapons potentially used to fight bee depopulation and global hunger. They are also surprisingly easy to use, helping even the laziest and most clueless wannabe gardeners turn into environmental warriors. Kits start at $9 and average about $1 per seed ball.

      Some of Seedles’ seed bombs. Photo: Seedles

      “Our aim is to make growing clean food for the bees as easy and fun as possible,” said Burley. “Seedles are simply tossed on the ground and when given a bit of water and love, grow into delightful bunches of wildflowers.”

      Is it really that simple? For the most part it is. Organizations like Greenpeace encourage seed bombing and say it’s an effective way to to help the environment.

      While some say its roots can be traced to aerial reforestation in the 1930s, the term “seed grenade” was first used in popular culture by Liz Christy in 1973 when she started the “Green Guerrillas.”

      Her seed grenades were made from balloons filled with a mix of tomato seeds and fertilizer and were tossed over fences onto empty lots in New York City Neighborhoods. Christy’s seed bombs are considered to be the beginning of the guerilla gardening movement.

      This type of rogue crop development was more about aesthetics than necessity, so innovative environmental advocates are developing more sophisticated and scalable ways to seed bomb the world for survival.

      What can you do to add wild flowers to your city? “Urban dwellers can plant them in their backyards, front yards, porches, or wherever else you want wildflowers to grow in your neighborhood,” Burley said. “We’ve tossed them into vacant lots before and seen miracles happen as the year progresses, although we always recommend doing things legally. You can also advocate for more wildflowers at work, many businesses have plenty of landscape to activate into wildflower gardens.”

      Here is a map Seedles created to help determine what type of wild flowers are grown in your region.

      If you’re looking for a more DIY approach, online guides like Instructables have instructions for making homemade seed bombs. Be aware that experts including the Natural Resource Defense Council recommends using high quality compost and seeds in order to get the best results.
      Seed bombing property without permission is illegal in many places, so make sure you’re allowed to spread the joy of wild flowers before bombing your hood.

      Seed Ball Recipes: Some Considerations

      Recipes: Basic Seed Bomb Recipe or Advanced Seed Bomb Recipe
      Related: What kind of seed ball to buy

      Seed Ball Anatomy

      Many folks that are interested in seed bombing are do-it yourself types and are considering making their own. I’m that way about most things. I thought I’d write a post about what to look for in a seed bomb recipe and method that will help you get the seed bombs that you need. Seed Bombs are exciting no-till tools and there are a lot of different considerations in choosing the right seed bomb recipe.

      Are Seed Bombs the Solution?

      I’d like to say that they always are, but that may not be the case. Think first about this. Consider the soil, the location, the effort, will the seed fare just fine on its own? In some cases, a seed bomb isn’t necessary.

      Seed mixes would be so easy!

      Many recipes call for a mix of seed species (wildflower mix, for example) and measure the seeds by the cup. I am skeptical. Some seeds are kind of like elephants. They are big, powerful, and rather independent, not needing a lot of nurturing. Others need to be coaxed along. If you use a handful of sunflower seeds and a hand full of columbine, guess who will ALWAYS win out? It may be convenient to use a wildflower mix, but those work best dispersed as seeds. Seed bomb dispersion requires cohabitation of seeds within a small area, so you don’t want to have competing species within one seed ball. I think it’s best to make seed balls with one species each, then throw the assortment of seed balls in your target site.

      What kind of seeds?

      Some of this depends on your personal preference, but a good part of it depends upon the location, climate, season, and soil. Research your site well and understand that it may take your seeds a while to germinate. Don’t plant seeds that will sprout quickly right before the frost, for example. Don’t pre-stratify the seed balls and plant before a drought. A reputable seed source will have germination instructions online or accompanying the seed. I always check a few different sources, and some non-commercial sites for information. You need to consider the natural reproductive and germination calendar of the plant, the temperature, soil, and water requirements.

      If you will be using native wildflowers for your seed bombing campaign (please do!), check with a university extension service or nature conservancy in your area. They can help you select seeds that look good and really help where needed. People who work at these types of agencies LOVE inquiries from people who take native species conservation seriously. Your questions will be welcome and your interest appreciated. If run into a cranky person (these organizations are often underfunded and under staffed), just ask if there is a better time, or someone who might be able to spend more time that isn’t so busy. Plants.usda.gov is a treasure trove of information about native plants.

      How many seeds go in a seed bomb?

      This is an area where I am in staunch disagreement with the popularized recipes. Some recommend as much as ¼ cup seed mixed in with 4 cups soil materials! We all love a chia pet, right? Ever see a mature chia pet with flowering perennials? That’s because perennials and even annual plants don’t grow that way in nature- except maybe duckweed. The problem is that the seeds compete with each other for water, light, nutrients, and space if packed too densely and none thrive. I hate thinning baby seedlings: I feel like I’m doing something terrible, but if I don’t thin the carrots, they’ll be spindly and I won’t get much out of them. With seed bombs, we may not have the luxury of weeding. A part of the effectiveness is that they can be left. So don’t over stuff your seed bombs. I really wish folks would stop popularizing those recipes! They waste a lot of seed, time, and good intentions. I guess I am opinionated on the matter.

      But really, how many seeds in a seed bomb???

      If you’re as big of an egghead as me, go for it. But here’s a table of some of the numbers that I use.

      Likelihood of Germination of At Least One Seed in a Seed Bomb

      You need to know the approximate germination rate. Reputable seed sellers will know this and pass it on. If you wild harvest your seeds and they look healthy and without bugs, use the rates available on line at reputable sellers, or test them yourself if you have the time.

      I like my seed bombs to germinate. I add enough seeds to get the germination rate for each seed ball to 95% and that’s plenty. If I am dealing with a really low germination success seed, I accept 80% or 90%. I don’t want to end up with 10 seeds germinating in a seed ball just to get a 95% germination rate instead of 90%.

      Seed Bomb Recipes and Methods

      If you want to make seed bombs, you need to settle on a method. There’s the Fukuoka method of shaking the clay and compost in a pan and spritzing. This is great for bulk production. It doesn’t let you micro-manage the number of seeds in each seed bomb like I do for my commercial business, but for your purposes, that may not be necessary. Do consider the ratio of seeds to earthen material, though. I think that recipe, however classic, calls for too many seeds. It is fun to watch the seed balls form, it’s magical for kiddos to seed the seed bombs take form.

      If you don’t mind the effort and aren’t making 1000 seed balls at once, mixing the matrix like dough and adding the seed to the bombs manually gives you a much finer control. You can control the number of seeds, and their location in the bomb. This is rarely discussed. Some seeds are just happy campers wherever they end up, but some like dark, some like light. What do you do if your seed requires light to germinate? What I do with my fancy commercial seed balls is use a small tool to tuck or smear the tiny seed right under the surface of the seed bomb. When using light obligate germinators, I always place at least three seeds in different locations on the seed bomb, so some will see the light of day however the seed bomb lands. That way, with only minor erosion, the seed will get the exposure that it needs. It’s a lot of work, but hey, I feel good about selling them knowing that I have optimized the germination potential.

      Compost for seed bombs

      Make certain the compost is sufficiently aged (should be a mix of smeary and fibric material) and has a near neutral to slightly acidic pH (pH 6-7) Don’t use straight up worm castings or bokashi. Always cut these with aged garden or leaf compost.

      Clay for seed bombs

      Another thing about which there has been significant discussion. Here, I have shared two articles about the oxidation state of clay as it is moistened and dries (Color of Clay, Redox Experiment). Traditionally, red clay is used, but that isn’t necessary. Make certain your clay doesn’t smell of rotten eggs. That’s an indication of hard-core reduction reactions. If it is stinky, let it air out for some time until it is dry and considerably lighter in color. Then slake it in fresh water or grind it up and follow the method that you prefer.

      It is often suggested that you use local clay. This great, but make certain that you are not transporting invasive species seeds, corms, tubers, etc. Lowland areas where you might look for clay are often victims of serious invasive species problems and weedy seed banks. Here’s what I mean:

      Up in Northern Michigan where I got my MS, there is a huge Purple Loosestrife invasion. It is replacing native cattail marshes. What happened in one particular locale is that the Loosestrife appeared somewhere else with its showy purple plumes, and some happy gardener in an upland landscape position transplanted some to their irrigation ditch. The seeds of that damned plant traveled via sediment transport through irrigation ditches to formerly pristine cattail marshes and took over. Just an awful mistake by a well-meaning but short-sighted plant lover.

      Don’t let that be you! You really don’t want to inadvertently bomb an area with weeds. I use commercial clay (and well- digested compost) for this reason; I ship my seed balls all over the place and don’t want to take that risk at all. Can’t find clay? Try local elementary school art rooms. They often throw unfired clay scraps out. We get as much of our clay from schools as we can. Has no weeds, is quality stuff, and has the physical properties for awesome seed balls!

      In Summary

      It’s easy to get carried away when you think you are doing good things. I know I do. Keep in mind, that with a little bit of planning, you can make your seed ball project even more effective, more green, and more memorable. I hope you found this helpful, and perhaps thought provoking. Share it with some fellow guerrilla gardeners and see what they think.

      Spring is seed season—and a good time to think about gifting seeds to gardeners, friends, and green-thumbed moms (think Mother’s Day, May 8).

      Musing about how to share some of the seeds that she gathered at February’s Seed Swap, horticulturist Nancy Clifton got interested in the guerrilla gardening-inspired idea of “seed balls” (or seed bombs, as they’re sometimes called). While the guerrilla gardening movement leans toward stealth seeding, Nancy thinks seed balls make an ideal gift item—they’re easy to make, easy to “plant,” and an easy way to teach kids about germination.

      Clay powder gives seed balls a reddish color and even texture; using clay chips makes a slightly chunkier, greenish seed ball. Both work equally well.

      Here’s the easy seed ball recipe:

      • 1 cup powdered clay or potter’s clay (can be purchased online)
      • ½ cup dried compost (the finer, the better—Nancy used a pre-bagged compost mix)
      • 2 tablespoons desired seeds (see seed choice section below)
      • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (to deter critters from eating the sprouts)
      • Water

      Mix the dry ingredients; then add ½ cup water. Stir, then begin to judge the consistency. Wearing gardening or plastic gloves, roll a teaspoon-sized ball in your hands (size can vary). Think “mud pie”—the ball should hold together when you squeeze it, without crumbling or dripping water.

      Roll all of the mixture into balls; then let the balls dry on newspaper or waxed paper for two or three days. Don’t worry about smoothness—rustic-looking seed balls are as interesting as marble-smooth. The color will change to dark red/terra cotta as the balls dry. This recipe yields about 24 seed balls.

      About Your Seed Choice

      • Less is more. You only want a few seeds to sprout from each seed ball. Too many seeds mean too many sprouts, resulting in too much competition for nutrients and water.
      • All sun. All shade. All herbs. All spring. Choose seeds with similar needs to maximize success in their container or garden spot. Nancy’s variations:
        • All summer annuals
        • All lettuces
        • All cool-season herbs
      • Use organic, non-treated seeds from your own garden or from trusted sources.
      • Choose native species for flowers and perennials that will grow successfully in our USDA Zone 5 region. Be responsible: do not use seeds from invasive species.

      Wear plastic or latex gloves when making seed balls. The mixture tends to be very sticky, and clay can dry out your hands very easily.

      Seed balls can be set into a container of potting soil (sink it down just a bit into the soil), or placed, randomly or intentionally, on bare soil in the garden. A rainy day is the perfect day to “plant” seed balls—rain helps to break down the clay and compost, giving seeds a good dose of food and water to get started growing.

      Throw one in your garden. Fill an empty space. Gift a brown- or green-thumbed friend. And happy spring, everyone!

      ©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

      Will Seed Bombs (Balls) Made With Air Dry Clay Germinate?

      Seed bombs/balls are spheres of soil and clay with seeds inside. When dry, the sphere of clay and soil protects the seeds within. When they get wet, the seeds are stimulated to grow and they will break the sphere apart as they push out, giving the seedlings a perfect start.

      They are ideal for throwing into places where people can’t really get in to plant, and can contain any sort of seeds, however wildflower seeds are the best for helping the bees and butterflies in your local area.

      I received my first introduction to seed bombs via a recent random conversation with a friend, and I thought it would be an excellent idea to make some of my own with wildflower seeds to spread on our adventures walking through the countryside.

      So of course, I consulted the Google with my query and found many pages with recipes for how to make seed bombs/balls, but they mostly seemed to involve clay powder, which I was having trouble sourcing. Then I remembered that I have a brick of non toxic air dry clay in my craft hoards, so I started looking for recipes using air dry clay.

      I found a few which basically walked me through how they made the balls, but none of them seemed quite right to me, and it made me feel fairly sceptical when I couldn’t find one actually confirming with photos that the balls germinated. I mean… anyone can chuck a few seeds in some clay and take photos, but the important thing about a seed bomb is that it actually facilitates the growth of the seeds inside.

      Below I’ve outlined what I did to create my own seed bombs (which are all sprouting nicely) using easily sourced materials in the UK.

      I’ve made my balls two different ways with the air dry clay, one using a miracle grow scatter mix and compost and the other using a packet of seeds and compost. Using the miracle grow compost/seed mix worked really well, but unfortunately there is no way to actually tell how many seeds are in the measured compost, so it’s a bit of a gamble.

      The clay that I used is from Hobbycraft, a local craft chain and runs about £3.75/kg… so it’s quite affordable, especially since making a batch of seed bombs will only use 100 grams of it at a time.

      It was too hard to really work like a dough, so I thought back to my elementary school days experimenting with clay and thought that it would work really well if I turned it into slip. Slip is just water mixed with clay, it’s usually used to bond two clay pieces to one another, but for seed bombs, it’s sort of just acting as the thing that will bond everything together as it dries out.

      My first recipe is for the balls made with miracle grow (wildflower magic) shake and rake. Yield is roughly 16-18 seed bombs.

      100g clay

      100g miracle grow wildflower magic mix

      100g fine compost/soil

      100ml water

      Method:

      1. Combine water and clay in a bowl until clay is completely dissolved in the water. I used my hands, and it took a bit of work, but by all means, experiment and do whatever works best for you. (if you are doing this activity with children, I’d suggest doing this part ahead of time as they will extremely messy, before they get bored!)
      2. Mix compost and seed mix in with the slip. This should make you a nice pile of damp soil which can be gently squeezed and manipulated into ball shapes roughly one inch in diameter. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water, but be aware that it probably does not need additional water, even if you think it does. Using the miracle grow stuff, the balls will feel a bit gritty and dry on the outside, but it’s ok!
      3. Dry the balls on a plate or sheet for 2-3 days before distributing them in nature or storing them.

      I don’t actually know how long they will keep for when storing at this point as I have made mine with the intention of gifting them and using them right away!

      I burst one of them by applying gentle pressure as i was curious as to how many seedlings were growing inside the ball besides the one I could see popping out the side, there were 4!

      Here is the second recipe using just clay, seeds and compost: Yield is roughly 16-18 seed bombs

      100g clay

      200g fine compost/soil

      1 packet of seeds (ones that can be handled without being destroyed)

      100ml water (less if possible so they will dry out faster)

      These rolled out in my hands a lot easier than the ones made with the miracle grow compost which were a bit gritty and they were a lot easier for my 6 year old daughter to help me with as well. My balls from this last batch started showing seedlings only two days after they were made and they weren’t even totally dried out yet… I must have bought some very eager seeds!

      1. Combine water and clay in a bowl until clay is completely dissolved in the water. I used my hands, and it took a bit of work, but by all means, experiment and do whatever works best for you. (if you are doing this activity with children, I’d suggest doing this part ahead of time as they will extremely messy, before they get bored!)
      2. Mix compost and seeds in with the slip. This should make you a nice pile of damp soil which can be rolled into ball shapes roughly one inch in diameter.
      3. Dry the balls on a plate or sheet for 2-3 days before distributing them in nature or storing them.

      Remember to deploy your seed bombs when rain is expected within a couple of days. The moisture will reconstitute them so the seedlings inside can break through and begin growing. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *