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Monday, January 14, 2013

Seed Balls - Winter Project for Spring Readiness

I actually found this posted in a chat room, but loved it! So I'm going to try it!

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. 


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. Specify DRY.

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!

Here's a great "How To" video I found!

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