Thought I'd let people see some of what I have been up to out here in Montana.
The photos below are about making seed balls. For those of you who don't know, basically, seed balls means that you take one third clay one third manure and one third seeds and combine those together and roll them into little balls. Then you dry them out and you can plant them. The advantage is that it's like a little seed packet with nutrients in the manure and clay and when it rains the clay gets moist and holds the moisture long enough for the seed to sprout. So you don't have to water them, you could just put them out where you want to plant and wait for the rain to come. This is a technique that was first popularized by Masanobu Fukuoka.
In the photos you'll see…
1) on the right are the finished and dried seed balls Sam and I made last night. They contain cold weather greens like spinach and chard, mixed wildflowers from echinacea to calendula, And herbs like forage parsley. So the seed balls are designed to bring in pollinators as well as provide some fast growing greens to eat after the snows thaw when the Spring begins. On the left is some clay that is drying out to use for our next seed ball making adventure. These are drying out on a marble table that is the mass for a rocket mass heater, which I'll explain below.
2) A large rocket mass heater which is installed in the main house at base camp. I run it most mornings for about 45 minutes which heats a large table mass connected to it. The mass stays warm enough throughout the day to keep the house warm until the next morning. But due to its great efficiency I don't have to tend the fire all day, nor do I have to use a ton of wood. I put the photo here, Because the seed balls are drying on top of the mass from the heater. What you see in the photo is a large metal drum where the rocket mass heater combustion occurs and below that the batch box where you put the wood.
Penny - yea, we were in the same boat as you, we had read about it, seen videos, even recommended it, so with spring coming, we figured it was time to do it. And it was super simple, now the question, as you said is, will it work? And even if it works here, will it work for you? Andy one way to answer that question. And we will do more speedballs in the next few days as base camp ramps up its food production systems in order to cut food costs, eat better food, and reduce travel time when we have to go into town and shop, or have food delivered. I will also be taking some seed balls back to California to try in my own fruit tree guilds and observe what happens, so we will be sure to post. It took us twenty minutes, and below there is a link to the video we followed, so, well, I am kind of suggesting that it is so easy and fast that you could also try it out and that we both report back on our experiences/experiments. But, I assume you also have a million other awesome things to do, so no pressure, we will post our results. has anyone else used this technique who has so feedback on there experience?
Miles - we did what we have seen the most. We used 1/3 buffalo compost, 1\3 seeds, and 1/3 powdered clay we go dig up. Put all three together in a shallow Tupperware, added some water, shook it back and forth and the seedballs formed automatically. We added a little dryp owdrered clay, to get the right consistency/mix and seperated seedballs, then we dried them on the rocket mass heater, hurray!
Here's the link of the you tube video we followed to give you a better idea:
These seedballs were the first 'round', so we will continue to make more seedballs, with other varieties, this month while I am here and in preparation for spring planting. We also plan on planting a few now to test their germination rates. Lastly, we will try to get a video we recorded of us making them up to this thread.
It may fail the first time, but Javan Bernakavitch of BC permacukture, once gave me permission to fail, in fact he recommended failing better. after all failure is often the stage right before before success.
One thing that we ran into was the larger the seeds the more difficult the seed balls are to make. This last batch that we did we had a mix that included pea seeds which are about 3/16ths of an inch wide. When we were doing these large seeds the seed balls didn't form uniformly and there were a lot of pea seeds that were coated in clay but they didn't form into balls and the ones that did form into balls were not very uniform. they varied in size from .25 in to 1.00 in where as the batches that were made with smaller seeds were more along the lines of .5in to .75in.
If no one from the future comes to stop you is it really that bad of a decision?
Anyone doing the seed ball thing, do not cover them in soil. They sit on top! I use a slightly different ratio...5 parts clay, 3 parts compost and one part seed, which seems to work fine for me. If the seeds are large, I use even less. Oh yes, and my internet business is seed balls! Check it out at www.seedsinaball.com. I also have a gardening blog, so look for it!
Hey, thanks for posting a picture of the (not yet finished) rocket mass heater at base camp! I've been wondering about it's placement as I've listened to podcasts about it. It looks like it's sort of the world's hottest coffee table??
(Dang it, can't look at the picture again while I'm making a reply. . . )
If anyone is interested in scaling up this method I made 3.3 MILLION, yes million, seed balls for a restoration project in the back country of San Diego County. Our balls were made with a little bit of sand, peat moss (can substitute for manure I would think), red clay and seed. We used seeds from 7 native species, some grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs, all part of a guild.
The awesome way we found to made this many seed balls without spending our entire lives making them is using a cement mixer. We got a regular old cement mixer, took the paddles out so it is pretty smooth inside the mixing chamber, then added our dry mix with all the ingredients, started the mixer up and slowly added water with a hose nozzle. There is not really a good way to explain how exactly to add the water, it was kinda magic and different ways worked for different people as our group made the balls. After a few minutes the spinning action of the mixer would start to produce perfectly round balls. Then we took a scoop, like a animal feed scoop, cut about 1 inch holes all around it, then used the scoop to get out the balls, letting the smaller ones fall through and the bigger ones we scooped out, put on a rack and let dry outside in the sun. We kept adding small amounts of water and scooping out the balls. The end of the batch was difficult to get to ball up properly.
Later we went out and distributed the balls at our restoration site. Unfortunately the person in charge of the project did not set up a good system to test the efficacy of the balls, like test plots, but we did monitor the balls and found them to properly dissolve after significant rain. We also found appropriately aged target species in the distribution area beginning to come up and it seemed to look better than other areas. As my own test to be sure the balls would sprout I took some of the balls, threw them out at my place and watered them by hand, they did sprout fantastically.
I have an acre of woodland/forest garden in which I am trying to increase the diversity of the herbaceous layer. I also have areas of meadow - one dry sandy one richer moist - that I hope to encourage more herb flowering plants into.
I love the idea of seed balls and have been collecting seeds and saving them in different habitat categories.
When is it best to make the seed balls? - spring for spring dispersal?
but what about all the seeds that need the winter to break their dormancy? eg rattle (Rhinanthus minor) for the meadows? If I make seedballs containing them and scatter them now then surely the winter will brake down the clay ball and it will be no better than sowing naked seeds? (which is what the plant does i suppose!) should I separate these from the spring sowing?
Perhaps there are different recipes for seedballs that need to last longer?
any advise gratefully received thanks or sites explaining a bit more about the use of the seedballs rather than the making of them
Yes thanks: I should add that I am in the UK midlands~about 8b and usually a wet winter.
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that seedballs are most often made in the winter or spring for spring dispersal. I would advise exposing your seeds needing stratification to cold temps prior to incorporating them into the seedballs.
I think you're right - seedballs distributed in the fall or early winter (in a moist cool climate) will have so much rain hit them that the clay will spread out too much to help. The compost or manure/clay mixture will help and I'm sure much depends on local conditions.