I have kept a 0.15 acreland for my no-till experiments where I have grown multiple cover crops of cowpea, green gram,sunhemp and now was trying to grow sesame crop. Previous to this, I tried to grow rice, which didn't establish uniformly, so yield was very poor, just handful of seeds.
This field had grass already growing along with rice and I cut the long grass using Scythe and kept them on boundary and used a brush cutter to cut all the small grasses. I made seasame seed balls using white ant hill soil and brodcasted them and then flooded the field which takes around 2 hours of time. Mulched with cut grass lightly. I had used around 0.5Kgs of seeds for the area of around 0.15 acres. But I could see only a few seeds germinated. Wanted to find the reason and could see that since seed balls were having very thin coating of soil, after flooding, most of the coating would have gone and seeds would have been eaten by ants.I found out this by putting seedballs in a glass of water for 1.5 hours and seeds just came out.
Any guidance will be appreciated. More detailed pictures can be seen in the following link.
Our climate is also dry now, but I irrigated the land, since anyway sesame does not need much water. Yes, without enough moisture, seeds won't germinate anyway. But if you lightly till the land, you will be able to use the residual moisture in the land.
I was going to write some stuff, then I checked your blog and sure you did write down some ideas! I am going to repeat some of them. Nice blog!
First thing first; if I am remembering correctly, Fukuoka mentioned that seed balls were used in Nile delta AFTER the annual spring flooding. The original recipe is not meant to withstand flood conditions. Of course you can add additive to make clay balls hold their shape such as a small percentage of cement (it makes clay balls brittle though). Will cement have an adverse effect on germination? Didn't have a much impact on radish seeds, you might want to give it a try. Or after you finish producing seed balls, you might want to coat them with a very thin layer of cement.
The other thing I will comment: why are those seed balls too small? It would be easier to mass-produce for sure, but if you want those to endure environmental challenges, bigger is always better. I use seed balls to force an unproductive hostile land (neighbors land) to give some harvests, so I bombard the place and leave it for 6-8 months. Seed balls just sit there, waiting for the time to come. My seed balls have a diameter of min 1,5 cm, usually 2,5- 3cm (a bit bigger than 1 inch) and they have additives to make them undesirable for wildlife (grape seed powder against birds, Carolina reaper powder against mammals /any chili would do/). It rains some years, smaller sized balls germinate and fail. Bigger seed balls will wait for their turn. Other additives also help with germination: adding powdered goat manure gives them an initial boost, coconut coir helps the balls stay moist longer for better germination rates. Each additive increases the cost and it is easy to fall into over-think/design trap. But give it a go, try to add some stuff. I suspect adding char to clay will adversely affect your situation.
A bit of overthinking for your situation: How do you get your clay? Do you let it sit in water for 2-3 days before you dry it to use? Biological activity increases plasticity properties of clay. How pure is your clay resource? Silt and sand, even for small amounts will make balls crack and dissolve. How compressed is it? You don't want voids in your clay balls if it is going to withstand flood conditions.
About mulch layer, my experience (for larger seed balls) is that mulch heavily under seed balls and lightly over them. No much layer should be thicker than 2 inches (5cm) when the expected germination happens (such as fall rains). Sprinkler irrigation gives higher harvests but it contradicts with the initial motive to use seed balls.
Hope it helps.
Yes, seedball is small and I have to make it bigger next time. The way I make it is, first I will put a handful of seeds make them slightly wet and then will add powdered and sieved soil and mix it with thoroughly, keep adding little bit of water and soil and each time mixing, so each seed gets a coat of soil. If I have to make it bigger, this process has to be repeated many times. Last time, I made 0.5Kgs of sesame seedballs in 45 minutes. Completely mixing seeds with soil and making one by one will take a long time, not sustainable...If I can make them retain moisture after one irrigation, that will be excellent, so coir, may be an option, but how to add this in the procedure which I use is a question?
Mulching one layer under and one layer above also is a workable solution, has to try it out.
Thank you so much for these thinking, as people say, 'devil is in details' we have to observe and keep correcting and it should work for the local situation, that is the challenge in natural farming.
Nandakumar Palaparambil wrote:
I don't like to use cement, so will avoid it.
Just free rolling: Gypsum? Anything that gets solid when hydrated will do. I don't know the impact it will have on germination (pH?) and overall performance though. Gypsum will make clay fall apart if pre-mixed, but maybe cover it like an egg-shell? Speaking of eggs, egg whites might be an alternative, but those seed balls would definitely get devoured. I was going to recommend magnesium (epsom salt for example) to make clay stickier but I am not so confident on that idea
Bigger seed balls are harder to produce for sure. It is real time consumer. I built a seed ball mill couple years ago, it worked great (it can definitely produce more than 40000 seedballs in one day) but the largest I was able to get was like 1 cm (half an inch) in diameter. I guess you watched this video, but as a recommendation: You can change the mesh size of the tool for size you want (skip to 19:07 at the video). Also; somebody mentioned in youtube comments as "Mixing a little black pepper powder in the mixture will keep the ants away."
Some other ideas, smaller sized mills etc Seedball machines
Thanks for the video, never watched this, didn't give much attention to seed ball, thought I knew how to make them. Red chilli powder or pepper powder looks to be a good idea to deter ants. May be in my case, as you suggested, bigger balls and some chilli powder or black pepper may do the work, will update how it goes.
I may use summary of suggestions came from you in my blog, so that others can benefit, hope that is fine with you.
Thanks once again.
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