Inside: Below is a simple recipe for seed balls that kids of all ages can enjoy making. It’s not too late to add a delicious serving of mud pies to your spring garden.
Table of contents
What exactly is a seed ball?
A seed ball is a small sphere made of clay, soil, and seeds. They range from marble size (good for dropping in gardens and flower pots) to golf ball size (good for throwing). People spread them in disturbed areas, along roadsides, or across abandoned properties in the hope of greening lifeless places.
Seed balls are known by many names, including seed bombs, seed pellets, earth balls, nendo dango, and clay seed dumplings.
Gardeners have been tossing seed balls for centuries
You may think seed balls are a new thing, but they have a long history. The earliest records of seed ball planting arise from ancient Japan where farmers made spheres of clay, compost, and seeds as a way to distribute seeds evenly across large fields.
Much later, in the 1930s, a Japanese farmer named Masanobu Fukuoka reintroduced seed balls as an efficient way to replant degraded forest lands. He believed that the careful distribution of seed balls could help restore biodiversity with minimum amounts of human labor.
After World War II, Europeans dropped seed balls from planes and helicopters to help restore ravaged vegetation that had been burned, trampled, or shattered. To help the earth heal, real bombs were replaced with seed bombs.
More recently, seed bombs were revitalized by the guerilla gardening movement. In a form of gardening activism, guerilla gardeners planted on land they didn’t own as a means of protest against pollution, urban decay, and unsustainable practices. They often tossed seed bombs at night, hoping to plant in secret.
Seed balls and pollinator protection
The call to “save the bees” has given seed balls another day in the spotlight. In today’s world, people wishing to provide more flowers for pollinators have embraced seed balls as an easy way to plant disturbed areas, abandoned properties, roadsides, ball fields, and even private property.
Getting people outside is probably the best part of seed balling. Kids—and even adults—who make and plant seed balls develop an increased appreciation for the needs of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and all the other animals that depend on flowers for their lives. Each time we learn something about our environment, it’s a win.
What are the drawbacks of seed balls?
Actually, seed balls don’t work very well. They work best when they are designed to fit a particular environment and primed with seeds that can live in that environment. But in practice, we tend to make “all-purpose” seed balls that don’t work in most places.
In another post, I explain why this happens. Before you get too invested in your own batch of seed balls, I urge you to read it: Seed bombs: reasons why a fascinating idea barely works.
If you are going to plant your seed balls in many different microenvironments, it helps to use a seed mixture that is designed for that purpose. Most mixes have something for (nearly) every growing condition, giving you a better chance of success.
Why make seed balls when normal planting works better?
Excellent question. Even though making seed balls is messy and only marginally effective, it gives you a chance to play in the dirt and interact with your kids. Plus, there’s something satisfying about throwing something at something else, which is kind of fun.
If any plants actually grow from your seed ball, that’s a bonus for both you and the pollinators. Before you dig into this project, just be aware that there are better ways to plant for pollinators. Seed balls are a trip down the bunny trail, but that’s okay as long as you’re having fun.
A simple recipe for pollinator seed balls
You can make seed balls with just four simple ingredients:
- Dry clay
- Potting soil
- Wildflower seeds
Clay is the glue that holds the balls together and keeps the seeds moist. You can use clay from the ground or buy powdered red clay from art supply stores or Amazon. If you use clay from the ground, sift out any large debris.
Potting soil contains plenty of nutrients that help the seedling get established. You can also use purchased or homemade compost, sifted as necessary.
Water makes the clay and potting soil pliable.
Wildflower seeds should be from local native plants. A mixture of species works best.
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- Measure four parts of potting soil to one part of clay by weight. Mix these together with your hands.
- Add the wildflower seeds and mix well.
- Add water a little at a time. Use just enough to make the mixture hold together, but don’t make it wet or drippy.
- Take spoonsful of the mix and roll them into balls in the palms of your hands. Larger seeds require larger balls.
Each ball should have 3-5 seeds because not all of them will germinate. Some people prefer to add the seeds after the balls are completed by making a hole in the ball and dropping the seeds inside. You can do it either way.
- Place the balls on a piece of wax paper or parchment.
- Let them dry for a day or two until they no longer feel damp.
- Store dry seed balls in a cardboard box until you are ready to “plant” them with a flick of your wrist.
Where to plant seed balls
For best results, make sure to drop the balls where they will get ample sun and plenty of rain, but make sure they don’t land in puddles.
Once in place, the balls will begin to fall apart exposing the seeds to the environment. Then, when conditions are right, the seeds will begin to sprout.
Honey Bee Suite
Well now I want the EDIBLE seed dumpling recipe. : )
Approximately what “part” wildflower seed to the four parts potting soil and one part clay by weight?
Each ball should have at least 3-5 seeds. You don’t want too many seeds because the seedlings will compete with each other. On the other hand, you want at least several because some won’t germinate at all. Using 3-5 seeds of different species should give you a good chance of success. Don’t worry if the number of seeds in each ball varies: some seeds are so small it’s hard to see them.
This is a fun post. I’m an elected official in a community where many residents care about pollinators — residents are keenly curious when they learn about all the beekeepers in our area. That said, most of our residents could be called, bystanders – they watch from the sidelines, not knowing how to help without putting forth a lot of effort and expense. Even if they wanted to try, many of them don’t have time because of family activities (school, etc) and at some point, even educating folks becomes too much about handouts/reading another document, or hearing another speaker. While these goodies don’t solve the problem, I can imagine how great they’d be at inspiring discussion because the discussion can include an interactive exercise – We’re opening a new neighborhood park…and, in it is a pollinator garden. Perhaps the grand opening can include, “help us plant our pollinator garden,” and we hand out or even make these seed balls at the event. I’ll need to track down a supplier of appropriate wildflower seeds….do you have a suggestion for us about that?
You don’t say where you are so I can’t say who a local supplier would be. However, many large seed companies have regional wildflower seed mixes that might work for you. You could also check with your state (or provincial) extension office for advice, or perhaps you have a local seed-savers exchange. Local garden clubs may be able to help as well.
If you do this, I would love to hear how it goes, and photos would be great. It sounds like a lot of fun.