Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Seed balls.

Seed balls are a method of propagation widely promoted by Natural Farming innovator Masanobu Fukuoka.

Seed balls are simply seeds mixed with equal proportions of dried compost and clay, formed into small balls, and dried for later sowing.

To make them, simply select the seeds to be used - thick-skinned seeds will need to be scarified, and some seeds need heat or cold to bring them out of dormancy. Legumes will require inoculant if they are to fix nitrogen. Also, for species that can benefit from mycorrhizal relationships, adding the spores of mycorrhizal fungi such as the genus Glomus and/or Rhizopogon, species Gigaspora margarita, and/or Pisolithus tinctorus would be beneficial, though not necessary. [This list is not exhaustive, but these are readily available through Fungi Perfecti.]

Mix one part seeds with one part dry compost.

Next, add one part dry clay and mix.

Then spray in water a little at a time and mix it together until you have just enough water to hold everything together without crumbling.

After that, form the mixture into balls 2~3 cm in diameter.

Finally, dry the balls for later use.

Once dried, the balls are ready to be spread over land that you want to plant. When the rains come, the seeds will germinate.

Using this method along with other Natural Farming techniques, Fukuoka san was able to produce 590kg (1300lbs) of winter grain (barley or wheat) and 22 bushels of rice per quarter acre of land. Moreover, these techniques require the labour of just two people working a few weeks a year to attain the crop. There is no plowing, no weeding, no application of biocides in any form, and no fertilising.

Seed balls may be obscure in North America, but in parts of the world already badly damaged by human activity, their use is easily recognised. The BCIL Alt.Tech Foundation of India uses seed balls to regreen Bangalore. And as most of the planets deserts are the creation of mankind, we can follow their lead to undo the damage we have done.

Imagine tanks used, not for warfare, but to pull land imprinters to give seedballs an advantage. Imaging cluster bombs, not killing, but being used to distribute seed balls over deserts creating green explosions. While some of these ideas may seem unrealistic, they are within the realm of possibility... if we only act.

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Oberon said...

.......fabulous..........the art of peace is medicine for a sick world.......morihei ueshiba.

Scott A. Meister said...

Talk about "beating swords into ploughshares..." If more efforts on the part of humans were directed towards healing our land, and feeding each other instead of destroying things...imagine what the world would be like. It's a matter of mind-set really. It seems to me, we have a couple choices between, competing with each other inadvertantly (or purposefully) destroying to make a quick buck for a few people through the use of a short-cut OR using cooperation to work with each other for the sake of creation, and sharing the world through long-term planning for the benefit of all.

Imagine what the world would look like if we were planting with seed bombs instead of destroying with fire-bombs.

I see great potential in having elementary school classes make a bunch of seed balls one day, and then taking them on a field trip to throw them into some desolate, barren, public land (we all know how much kids love throwing things)...then letting them return to see the results of their fun day playing with clay and seed.

Anonymous said...

The seedball campaign which Douglas has been so kind enough to feature on his blog had many school kids have hoards of fun while making seedballs and scattering them. It was fascintaing to watch wonder, joy and happiness play on their countenance sometimes woven with mischief and curiosity. World over seedball making and scattering should become an activity for children. They just love it!

Unknown said...

Radha, I am honoured to have you visit. I hope that the contact I gave you can help you regarding seeds that can survive in seedballs up to a year.

Your idea of involving children is brilliant. It would make a great activity here in Canada to rehabilitate degraded landscapes.

Scott, I agree that it is a matter of mind-set. As you are fully aware, wars are power struggles. The day that people stop trying to "get ahead" of others is the day that we can switch cluster bombs into cluster ball distributers.

Oberon, thanks for your comments. As a former Aikido student (it's what brought me to Japan originally), I appreciate your words.

Anonymous said...

A seed ball will roll to the lowest point locally and position its seeds there. Since water always seeks the lowest point, this is the exact microclimate needed for the plants. Thus the use of 'land imprinters' or hole makers is actually detrimental and counter-effective. They do not position the seeds where they will recieve the most water.

Unknown said...

Anonymous, I will have to disagree with you because a land imprinter does just that: it makes many little impressions, or low points, in the ground that accumulate water (as well as windborne debris like other seeds and bits of organic matter). A land imprinter is just a microclimate making machine setting up arid lands to be more accomodating to plant growth.

Dave Coulter said...

I found this post some time ago after I helped make some seed balls here in the Chicago area. Would you mind if I posted a link to this at my blog? Thanks!

Unknown said...

You are more than welcome to, Dave.

Dave Coulter said...

Thanks again. I posted today.

Unknown said...

It is worth mentioning in light of recent attention this piece has received that Fukuoka's techniques have been modified by people around the world to suit their local conditions.

In my experience, heavy "lasagna" mulch beds can be used to create very fertile soil and establish a plot that requires no weeding and little top no watering (depending on local conditions). Once the systems get established correctly, there is not really a whole lot to do.

Anonymous said...

Does it matter when I throw my seeds? Can I mix different kinds of seeds into the mix? Should I consider acting out the hole puncher microclimate maker on my more steep sites to ensure all the seed balls don't roll off the hill?
theoretically, if I made seed balls, I could just throw them out the window of the car as I drove/ rode along, planting wildflowers and edibles all along my drive home, huh?
That man in Japan is some awesome. is he still living? I'd like to have tea with him

Unknown said...

Does it matter when I throw my seeds?

Basically, no. It would depend on both your regional climate and the seeds you are using, but in most cases, it wouldn't matter.

Can I mix different kinds of seeds into the mix?

You absolutely can! For example, you can combine nitrogen fixers with plants that accumulate different minerals, or that break up compacted soil.

Should I consider acting out the hole puncher microclimate maker on my more steep sites to ensure all the seed balls don't roll off the hill?

If you have access to this machinery, then it mightn't hurt, particularly in areas of hardpan where imprinters were designed to be used. Another option is hydromulch. Waste paper (no glossy colour paper, as it may contain toxic chemicals) pulped in water with seed mix added can be sprayed directly onto bare soil with a pneumatic sprayer.

theoretically, if I made seed balls, I could just throw them out the window of the car as I drove/ rode along, planting wildflowers and edibles all along my drive home, huh?

Yes, and that is a very good idea!

That man in Japan is some awesome. is he still living?

Masanobu Fukuoka is still alive, but at 95, he is no longer taking visitors.

Anthony said...

Thanks for your information. I think you're one of the only ones suggesting the incorporation of mycorrhizal symbiosis in the seedball microcosm. Directing the reader to P.Stamets, such a huge knowledge hub, and an apparently very nice guy, is the cherry on the cake (as we say in France).
Well, I am in the process of consolidating all web-based and non web-based knowledge on seedballs in one webspace (including worldwide map of projects, contact info, multimedia resources, etc...) I would like to know whether you'd allow me to use your info (I quote my references) on the above mentioned webspace,as well as your contact informations.
Love the last sentence of your post.
my email is delfau.anthony at gmail.com
Take care

Unknown said...

Anthony, I'm glad you like the information. Please feel free use my info as you like.

Unknown said...

i am looking to build a manual skeet trap type launcher to fling 1 - 1 1/2" diameter seed balls into the california desert instead of clay disks. i am looking to cover a considerable distance. any suggestions on design of the apparatus as well as modification to seed ball formula to aid seedball*s in surviving launch as well as impact. thank you for putting up your site!


Unknown said...

Sorry, John, I don't have any advice for that. I think you will need a little trial and error. Perhaps a little double or triple-shredded straw in the mix would help? Let us know how it works out for you in the end!

Blake said...

As far as the number of seeds, careful not ti add too many because the seedlings can compete for nutrients and water, weakening eachother.

Nice writeup! Thank you.