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Seed ball failure

Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
What am I doing wrong with my seed balls when the birds eat them...?

I used powdered clay and wheat seeds only (no compost) and tried to follow the instructions in One Straw Revolution. Ie. I spread the seed and the powdered clay out on a flat pan and shoke it back and forth in a circular motion spraying water from time to time. My seed balls were about 1.5 - 3 cm in diameter. After letting the seedballs dry I then broadcast a small amount on a test area and when I came back a day later, ALL the seedballs had vanished and there was some bird poo in their place

How did the crows (I'm guessing it was the crows) know what was inside, beats me! I am sure that although my seed balls varied in diameter there were none that had any part of the seed sticking out... in fact I hand-finished them all because it was such a small amount and they weren't as nice and round as I wanted after just shaking them back and forth so finally I rolled each seed ball between my hands.

Should I try and make the seed balls larger? I don't want to make them too large though because I'm worried they will take a long time to germinate. Any suggestions anyone?
Milan Broz


Joined: Feb 24, 2011
Posts: 85
Location: Croatia
This year I made a test with clover seed. I did similar like you did, put the seed in a bucket, sprinkle it with some water and stir well untill I was sure all seed is wet. Then I sprayed clay powder and again stir well. I repeat this 3 times, so around each seed there was a layer od 1-2 mm of clay (much less then your case). I throw it over some area that was clean from grass. There was no rain for at least a month. I have a lot of ants, birds and other kind of animals (it's in the forest). When first rain fall, clover germinated. Everithing is full of clover, there are no gaps. I'm quite sure none of balled seed has been eaten.

I have no clue why craws did eat your seed balls, and didn't eat mine. Maybe my balls were too small to be noticed?


Permaculture in Croatia:
www.perforum.info
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Hi Milan! Great to hear from your experience!

Clover has been no problem for me either, the birds don't seem to want to eat clover seeds at least not our birds. This year I've broadcast about 1/4 hectare with a game seed mixture mixed with red clover. I just broadcast the bare seeds on top of the almost bare soil and in time most of the clover seeds germinated. I even managed to grow some fodder kale. The rest of the stuff in my game seed mixture did not germinate or were eaten or something, I don't really know.

Two other things I've had success with this year is field bean (horse bean, Vicia faba) and buckwheat, the seeds of both of which I also just threw on top, no seedballs, just some straw and on some areas not even that. The birds did not care for these two at all.

But what to do with spelt and wheat and all those other grains that I want to grow using the Fukuoka method...

Milan Broz


Joined: Feb 24, 2011
Posts: 85
Location: Croatia
I've red that chilli pepper added to the mix can help. What you think?
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
It's certainly worth a try!

I haven't heard this problem (birds eating seedballs) mentioned anywhere so I was assuming it doesn't happen if you do things the right way and that I was just messing it up somehow or missing some important step. But you say you've read somewhere about chili pepper helping... so.... maybe this thing has happened to someone else too...?

I'm feeling a bit desperate already since I also tried many other methods for sowing the wheat/ spelt and all of them failed. Even poking holes in the ground and burying the seed at 5 cm depth didn't work out. I'm feeling desperate enough to start studying the biodynamic method (it has always sounded WAY too complicated but as a last resort when nothing else has worked...) maybe the position of the moon has been wrong every time I sowed grains (and French beans, which also totally failed this year despite doing very nicely last year) or.... as you can see I know nothing at all about biodynamic farming ops:

Anyway, what I'd like to accomplish somehow and at some point is a Fukuoka and Holzer inspired system of paddocks where the pigs do the tilling and I can then sow the seed directly onto the surface without machines. The area where I want to try this is about 0.7 hectares and I want to grow at least field bean, potatoes, spelt, oats and/ or barley, buckwheat, linseed and clover.



Rose Pinder


Joined: Nov 18, 2011
Posts: 124
The thing about Fukuoka is that his system is really about the relationship between the person and the environment, rather than a set of techniques (permaculture is like this too). What you could do now is continue with the experiments on your land and learn from them, which is what Fukuoka did. It's that deeper learning and relationship with the land that made Fukuoka successful.

You could for instance now try exactly the same seedball method, in the same place, with a different grain. Maybe do one area with something you think the birds won't like, and one with one of the other grains they probably will. What you are aiming for here is close observation and looking at the interactions happening on your land.

You could also try the seedballs with the compost in the mix (a separate experiment, you want to control the variables each time, not mix them up).

When you say all the seedballs were completely gone, what exactly do you mean? If birds were eating the wheat I would expect there to be some clay left behind. Could it have been other animals?

Having said that, I would think any self-respecting, smart bird like a crow would most definitely check out a bunch of new round things sitting on the ground all of a sudden It would only need a couple of pecks for them to realise there is food inside.

What is the ground like where you sowed? Is it grass? How long? Maybe you need to make the balls less visible/obvious.


etc.


John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6578
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
135
I seriously doubt that chili peppers will deter birds...they eat chilis for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It could deter squirrels, rabbits, voles, but birds would believe that they just found heaven!

Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
What was the ground you broadcasted onto like? Bare soil? Mulch? Grass? Other?


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Marc Troyka
volunteer

Joined: Jul 02, 2012
Posts: 356
Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
    
  14
The only thing I can think of would be to make them bigger, and make sure they're completely dry before throwing them out. Hard clay is quite challenging to break open, but if it really was crows then there's a good chance they'll figure it out anyway. Crows are insufferably intelligent, but if you make them enough of a pain just for one seed, they may decide it isn't worth it anymore (or they may just throw them in the road for cars to break).

The only alternatives I can think of would be to direct seed with a hole-punching stick and plug it with clay (ie lots of work) or maybe try to make peace with the crows by giving them an offering of hard boiled eggs and other birdseed stuff.
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Thank you everyone very much for your ideas and comments!

Rose Pinder wrote:The thing about Fukuoka is that his system is really about the relationship between the person and the environment, rather than a set of techniques (permaculture is like this too). What you could do now is continue with the experiments on your land and learn from them, which is what Fukuoka did. It's that deeper learning and relationship with the land that made Fukuoka successful.


Thank you for reminding me about this and you are so right.

I did several experiments but actually the experiment with the seedballs and wheat took place in my vegetable garden, I thought that it had a better chance of succeeding there as I haven't had that much problems with birds there as I've had in the 0.7 hectare field I talked about. I just cleared a small area, about 120 cm x 50 cm, of most stuff and placed the seed balls there. There were a few tiny weed seedlings and some leftover mulch but not much, you could say that it was almost completely bare ground. I wanted to mimick the situation I have in the field (ie not much anything growing there because of tens of years of conventional farming and badly compacted clay soil as a result). But of course at both ends of this test area there were my vegetables.

The seedballs were totally GONE. I couldn't believe my eyes at first, then I thought someone was playing a joke on me or one of the kids took them but this wasn't the case. And there was this little "gift" from the birds which led me to think it must have been the crows.

I've done several experiments also in the actual field but not with seedballs yet. I've tried eg. sowing on the surface but covering the seeds thinly with straw (all seeds gone in two days) and in a separate experiment, covering the seeds quite thickly with hay (all seeds gone in about the same time). These were a bit larger areas, about 10 m x 5 m each.

What I have NOT tried yet is the combination of seedballs and mulch. And I haven't tried sowing in areas where there is any significant amount of existing vegetation.

All of my experiments so far have been on almost bare soil, just a few weak weed seedlings growing here and there.
The surface of the soil has been moist and not quite flat but almost, (gosh, how to describe it in English...). This has been a very rainy summer in Finland, if it hadn't been I'm sure the surface of the soil would have become hard as brick as it did the year before. But it didn't and to me it looked like the conditions for germinating would have been very good if only the birds (?) had left some seeds to germinate!

M Troyka wrote:
The only thing I can think of would be to make them bigger, and make sure they're completely dry before throwing them out. Hard clay is quite challenging to break open, but if it really was crows then there's a good chance they'll figure it out anyway. Crows are insufferably intelligent, but if you make them enough of a pain just for one seed, they may decide it isn't worth it anymore (or they may just throw them in the road for cars to break).


Yes I can imagine them doing that. Or even better, throw them at the cars hard enough to dehull the seeds as well
(Someone once mentioned a machine for dehulling grain that actually did this by throwing the seeds against some surface so that the hulls would crack... one might think there would be more energy efficient ways but this was what the machine apparently did...)

I've been assuming that the crows (if it was them, I didn't see them there so I can't be sure) just ate the seedballs as such. But if I made the seedballs bigger they'd have to start cracking them and that would be more work. But it is also more work for me to make big seedballs... making the balls is not that big a deal, however what took me a LONG time was making the powdered clay! I just hit dried clay with a wooden hammer until it was powdery. Is there a better method for this?


M Troyka wrote: The only alternatives I can think of would be to direct seed with a hole-punching stick and plug it with clay (ie lots of work) or maybe try to make peace with the crows by giving them an offering of hard boiled eggs and other birdseed stuff.


I think I'm gonna try that birdseed stuff. They're not going to have my eggs though. I'm drawing the line!
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
Simply sow your seedballs hours or minutes before a storm comes in and it starts to rain. Preferably a storm that will last a few days.

I do this with my sunflower seeds as the birds get them if I toss them out with too many days to "forage" theftesh seed, after a big rain the seeds are usually hidden by debris or sprout far enough like the wheat to where the birds won't bother them at first( birds ate my entire first seedball experiment too)
Camilo Vallejos


Joined: Sep 13, 2012
Posts: 12
The one time I made seedballs I made them with wet clay. They worked very well with most seeds and were very hard. about making many, There is a video of a machine to make them on youtube.

Good luck
Xisca Nicolas


Joined: Aug 06, 2012
Posts: 979
Location: La Palma Canary Zone 11
    
    8
I just wander how one can make them seed balls with only one seed inside!!!?

And how can you do them with clay powder without having too much work?
I will NOT buy this stuff in health food stores!
Hammering dry clay is too much work, whereas wetting this dry clay is easy.
(my area is poor in clay)

But can you make them with wet clay and not dry clay powder?

I tried only once and it was an unsuccessful mess...
But sure it can help me here now...


Xisca - Canary - Look at pics! Dry subtropical Mediterranean - My project
However loud I tell it, this is never a truth, only my experience...
Camilo Vallejos


Joined: Sep 13, 2012
Posts: 12
To make them with wet clay and not make a mess you should be carefull with the amount of water you ad. In order to choose how many seeds go into a ball you can make a flat thick circle on your hand put the seeds at the center, fold in half and roll to make the ball.

Good luck
Xisca Nicolas


Joined: Aug 06, 2012
Posts: 979
Location: La Palma Canary Zone 11
    
    8
One can't make ball by ball when doing a lot of them!
What I had tried was the mesh system, choosing the size according to seeds.
winston wilcox


Joined: Sep 07, 2012
Posts: 13
What if its not a bird..... and instead maybe a squirrel or rat type critter?!?!



I have also heard of mixing potent smelling essential oils into the mix with seedballs to make them unatractive to predators.
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
winston wilcox wrote:What if its not a bird..... and instead maybe a squirrel or rat type critter?!?!



I have also heard of mixing potent smelling essential oils into the mix with seedballs to make them unatractive to predators.


It's very possible that it was a rat or squirrel or something like that. The only thing that seems certain is that whatever it was (or there could of course be many different creatures joyfully dining together) it does NOT like horse bean or buckwheat seeds as in most of the experiments there one or both of these also sown on the same field and they were left untouched and germinated in time.

The essential oils sound like a good idea, hmm... what to try first... maybe Tea Tree Oil?
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Jordan Lowery wrote:Simply sow your seedballs hours or minutes before a storm comes in and it starts to rain. Preferably a storm that will last a few days.

I do this with my sunflower seeds as the birds get them if I toss them out with too many days to "forage" theftesh seed, after a big rain the seeds are usually hidden by debris or sprout far enough like the wheat to where the birds won't bother them at first


Yes this is a good idea, the only problem is that in spring the rains tend to be very light here in Finland, it's not very likely that there will be a big storm with lots of rain at that time, those come later in June. May (grain sowing time in Finland) tends to be pretty dry after the moisture from the melted snow is gone. If one sows when the soil is still wet it is a bit too early for wheat or barley, the soil temperatures are so low particularly in clay soil that we have here. So the farmers here wait till May but then it can be pretty dry and germination can take a while.

One idea I had was to sprout the wheat before sowing. Then it would get off to a good start right away provided there was enough moisture in the soil so as not to stop the process.
But I haven't been able to figure out how to combine sprouted wheat (which cannot be let to dry) and seedballs.... Wet clay seedballs could be one answer but they sound like even more work than powdered clay seedballs. But I think I will still give it a try on small scale at least. Maybe work the sprouted grains and wet clay into a "dough" and push it through some kind of sieve...


Jordan Lowery wrote: birds ate my entire first seedball experiment too)


A thousand times thank you for revealing this! Now I know it's not just me being hopelessly stupid. Let the experiments continue
Xisca Nicolas


Joined: Aug 06, 2012
Posts: 979
Location: La Palma Canary Zone 11
    
    8
We begin to have some rain, and they announce a little more, little but some!
So.... I have made seed balls today!
I sent them wet directly.
(so they did not look very much like balls!!!)
I have put all the cover crop seeds I had, and buckwheat from the store and even quinua form the store...
8 different seeds I think.
And I mixed some rosemary and thyme bits!
Paulo Bessa
pollinator

Joined: Jun 15, 2012
Posts: 332
Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
    
    8
I have a similar problem with birds. I learn to co-exist with them.

At least near the compost, they prefer the compost bin to vegetable beds.

But they often like to browse in mulched beds in look for seedlings, seeds and worms. They uproot a lot of my seedlings and only way it works is to completely cover them with half plastic bottles. They also eat my sown rye. And slugs too. And crows and even smarter than normal birds. So now I have tested different things: I put a cover and I started some trays with rye inside first. Its too much work but at least it works. Against the slugs I sown in beds with bare soil. Guess I am going against a principle. But I notice there are weeks when there are much less slugs and birds, those might be because of fifferent weather and food availability, and it might be better to sow the cereal on that day.


Our projects:
in Portugal, sheltered terraces facing eastwards, high water table, uphill original forest of pines, oaks and chestnuts. 2000m2
in Iceland: converted flat lawn, compacted poor soil, cold, windy, humid climate, cold, short summer. 50m2
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Paulo Bessa wrote:I have a similar problem with birds. I learn to co-exist with them.

So now I have tested different things: I put a cover and I started some trays with rye inside first. Its too much work but at least it works. Against the slugs I sown in beds with bare soil. .


I confess that in my frustration I've done this too, it works but no, it's not a solution for larger areas.

With maize (sweet corn) I came up with a solution that's somewhere between direct seeding and starting seedlings indoors. Ie. I put the seeds in egg cartons (one seed in each "egg cup") together with some compost and let them germinate indoors. As soon as they had germinated I took them outdoors during the day and inside at night for two days. Then I cut the cartons and planted the seed(lings) out in their egg cups. This worked quite well, the birds (?) only took one or two seedlings. The rest survived and a few even gave some yield (This has been a lousy summer in Finland, very rainy and only one really warm week... so that has something to do with the lack of yield for sure).

Dan alan


Joined: Feb 16, 2012
Posts: 40
I have found that a guard dog keeps birds and other pest away. It might be the scale you are working at. When I seed my little 12000 square foot growing area I broadcast much more seed than required then rake some soil over it. Even with birds and escaping chickens plenty of sprouts come up. Also, soaking the seed 8 to 12 hours before planting makes it come up very fast and it grows well if planted just before or after a rain.

Sometimes we just have to grow what will work four our climate and pest situation. I cant grow zucchini squash because of shield/stink bugs so I grow butternut and sunflowers. Don't give up you will find something that works.


<img src="http://aquaponics.vacau.com/pics/ChinampaPonics/humanure.gif">
Tom Davis


Joined: Sep 08, 2012
Posts: 156
    
    7
I heard Geoff Lawton speak the other day, he suggested using a bitter tea when making seedballs, instead of plain water.


A lot of things come out of nowhere, so look everywhere.
Frank Turrentine


Joined: Nov 12, 2012
Posts: 70
    
    1
My success with seed balls has been spotty, but it's been fun throughout nonetheless. I picked up a 50 lb bag of Ranger clay (potter's clay) at an art supply house in Dallas. I just walked in and said I wanted to make seed balls, and the guy knew exactly what I should get. I mixed clay and compost and seeds with enough water to moisten it and hold it together and rolled them out into balls and let them dry on a tarp for a day and then stashed em in the house in a few big bowls until I was ready to use them. My first batch were too large - about ping-pong sized - and I saw no plants come up from them. Successive batches were smaller - marble-sized - and I saw sprouts from those. I generally made them with a mix of greens, such as turnip, kale, cabbage, etc, as well as some radish seed and the like.

But I made mine for fun, for tossing around in my neighborhood in Dallas (eco-terrorism) and not for sustenance. The cactus planters in front of a restaurant down the block from my office still have greens growing in them, though they have plucked them out from time to time. They're good natured about it, as I think they know my tricks and are nice enough folks anyway. For a while there was a large okra plant coming up there as well, and I don't remember putting okra seed in the mix, but I had a helper making them with me who is a big fan of okra.

It should be noted that picking greens from a planter full of cactus as you walk by and stuffing them into your mouth for show is not always a good idea. I had tiny cactus hairs in my mouth for a couple of days afterward. But the people eating breakfast at Oddfellows that morning didn't know that, and my image as the eccentric old guy always out with his dog is preserved and enhanced.
Claire Skerry


Joined: Jan 04, 2013
Posts: 28
Location: Converse, Texas
Don't know if anyone else has suggested this, but why not just get a bird dog? They have been training dogs to chase off birds near airports, so you could do something similar and then train it for hunting once everything is established. The birds aren't hurt, the dog gets a good hobby/game, you get a good companion for the family, and your seeds get a chance to take. Just an idea. Good luck!

Oh! and I wanted to ask why do the whole seedball thing? Is it to get broader coverage and such? Does the clay help it dig in or something?


Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. ~Frank Lloyd Wright
S Bengi


Joined: Nov 29, 2012
Posts: 1030
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
    
    5
The main reason for seed ball is to get a delay sprout/harvest.
So if in April you planted 10lbs of rice directly and 8lbs of rice in seed ball.
The 8lbs would sprout 3 months later(july) even though they were planted at the same time.
Dave Hartman


Joined: Jan 07, 2012
Posts: 47
Location: Off grid in the central Rockies of Montana (at 6300') zone 3-4ish
My family and I made seed balls and triangles last spring and tossed them. They never sprouted as we had a lack of rain. I am hoping they sprout this year if the critters did not get to them first that is.
larry korn
Author


Joined: May 17, 2009
Posts: 118
Location: Ashland, Oregon
    
  25
Thanks everyone, I just got a practical course in seed-balling! I don't have much to add except to refer you to the many Youtubes showing Fukuoka-san and other making seedballs. Also, there is a more complete description of the make up of seedballs in the Appendix of Sowing Seeds in the Desert Also, check out the three part Youtube of Sensei's visit to Greece. The second video is almost all about seedballs.


onestrawrevolution.com
There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write poetry or compose a song -- Masanobu Fukuoka
Daniel. Smith.


Joined: Apr 17, 2013
Posts: 12
Location: zone 6
Milan Broz wrote:I've red that chilli pepper added to the mix can help. What you think?


Not really. Birds cannot taste peppers. Pepper plants are hot to keep mammals from eating them, they would rather birds eat them.
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1857/are-birds-immune-to-hot-pepper-enabling-them-to-eat-vast-amounts-and-spread-the-seeds
Greta Fields


Joined: Nov 24, 2012
Posts: 218
    
    3
Fuk. may have altered his seed ball formula: in one book or video, he said he added lime to the clay. I think it was hydrated lime. I don't know if that was to hold the ball together or to keep birds away.
Frank, be careful eating plants from city land: They may contain lead or old etals from car exhaust etc.
To the person who has slugs: I read that slugs used to be controlled by quail, and that quail are nature's bug control machine par excellance. However, we have lost quail as we lost biodiversity. Everywhere you turn, the loss of biodiversity is having negative effects. I have come to value biodiversity so much that I will try to live with any animal or plant until I figure out solutions. For ex., I am amazed at the person growing buckwheat naturally. Why, mice LOVE my buckwheat. They will even pick it off plants. If mice are missing from your environment, there may be a worse problem than sprouting seeds.
alex Keenan


Joined: Nov 08, 2012
Posts: 205
    
    5
All you have to do is add a artifical grape flavoring. This has been use for a while because birds can not stand it and it does not harm anything.
You can find several papers on this. Cool-aid grape is the cheapest way to try this. Just add it to your mix.
Micky Ewing


Joined: Dec 12, 2012
Posts: 56
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
    
    7
alex Keenan wrote:All you have to do is add a artifical grape flavoring. This has been use for a while because birds can not stand it and it does not harm anything.
You can find several papers on this. Cool-aid grape is the cheapest way to try this. Just add it to your mix.

What an excellent little tidbit of knowledge. The article Daniel linked to above actually mentions the aversion birds have to grape flavoring (methyl anthranilate being the chemical name). The translation of that very bookish information to the real-world solution of grape Kool-Aid is just the sort of thing that I might never figure out for myself but could save me a ton of grief.

So for truly critter-proof seedballs, it seems a clay mix containing both grape Kool-Aid and chili powder should do the trick. Thanks for a really valuable post Alex.


Mike
http://tenderfootfarmer.ca
Seth Wetmore


Joined: Nov 12, 2013
Posts: 158
Location: Some where in the universe in space and time.
    
    1
Turkeys devoured my seed balls. The dishororable turkey clan will pay for this infringment. I shall lure them to me and enjoy dinner. In the future I shall attempt to use organic deterrents.


Be most excellent to each other.
Sue Rine


Joined: Mar 28, 2013
Posts: 108
Location: New Zealand
    
    3
I acquired some old wind break cloth and have used that to lay over germinating grain...successfully.
Chael Givan


Joined: Jan 31, 2013
Posts: 11
    
    1
Adding painted gourd birdhouses to the area will invite martins to nest. The martins, in turn, chase away crows.

Crows are very, very intelligent and might easily be onto your tricks with straw, mulch, seedballs, etc.

Out here in Kentucky, seeing 20 or so gourd birdhouses near a rural home is very common.
 
Did you see how Paul cut 87% off of his electric heat bill with 82 watts of micro heaters?
 
subject: Seed ball failure
 
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