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How To Make Seed Balls

No natural farming blog is complete without the famous seed balls. I have experimented for quite some time with many different seed ball methods. I even tried to make a seed ball machine similar to a concrete mixer to make seed balls, but the seed ball machine sadly did not work as expected. So far I have found this to be the best and easiest method for making seed balls so read on..

I and my wife made seed balls by combining the seeds collected from the wild; collected from kitchen scraps; and collected from crops including various native nitrogen-fixing trees.
All of these were mixed together in clay.
My wife who took courses in pottery knows a lot more about clay than me, so I am blessed to have her knowledge and skills with me.

After all the seeds were mixed into a big ball of clay we rolled the clay into small noodles or worms (see picture) on a plywood board. After this, we took off small pieces with our fingers and placed them in a bucket. The pieces are cylindrical shaped and to make them like circular balls we swished them around in the bucket until they became almost perfect balls. Do note that your clay needs to be dry enough for the balls not to stick to each other, but still wet enough to reshape itself. If it is too wet, wait for it to dry out a bit more. And if it is too dry then spray some water over it with a mister.
Finally, I added some biochar dust (that I made in this post, Link will be added later.) to the bucket and swished the balls around again so that all the balls got coated with a thin layer of biochar. Note that the biochar can only stick to the balls if the clay is slightly sticky and not too dry.
The biochar will help prevent insects from opening the balls and eating the seeds. Another coating you could add is chili pepper powder or garlic powder. You may also use multiple coatings at the same time for optimal effect.
You can also use no coatings at all if you please, but the chances of the seeds being eaten increase slightly.

Seed balls being made into rolls.
The clay with seeds is rolled into tubes.

With this method, you can make a lot of high-quality seed balls in a short amount of time. In this method, I only used clay topsoil, because the soil on my land is heavy clay, but it might be better to also mix finished compost, gardening soil, or ashes with the clay, but it is not necessary. The clay I use is brown to dark brown and I have had success with it.
This method is close to the original way Masanobu Fukuoka made his seed balls, altho it is slightly modified.

For the method I used you need the following tools:

  • Any flat surface for rolling clay. Plywood, a plank, a large flat stone, etc.
  • A mixing bowl for mixing seeds. You can also use only one type of seed tho.
  • A bucket for swishing the seed balls.
  • Another bucket for mixing clay with water and other ingredients.
  • A container for collecting the finished seed balls.

For the seed ball ingredients itself you will need:

  • Clay
  • Water
  • Seeds
  • Optional: Soil or finished compost
  • Optional: Ash
  • Optional: Biochar powder
  • Optional: Chili powder
  • Optional: Garlic powder
Seed balls without coating.
Uncoated seed balls are made by taking pieces from the rolls.

Many people are worried about the exact recipe for the seed balls…
What clay is the best to use? What should the ratios be between the clay and the compost? How big should the balls be? How many seeds per ball? What seeds to use? When to sow them?

Actually none of that matters. As Masanobu said:

Just put the seeds in clay, toss them out there, and step away.
It doesn’t really matter how big they are, how many or what type of seeds are in each one, or when you sow them. The important thing is that you actually do it. People spend so much time trying to figure everything out first, and heaven help us if they decide to do a formal study, then nothing gets done. In the meantime the whole world is falling apart. It’s better to let nature answer those questions for you, and much quicker.

Bucket full of seed balls.
A bucket full of seed balls.

Despite the above quote, I can give you a few tips on making better use of seed balls that I learned from my own experience. Tho these should not be considered as hard rules as there are always exceptions depending on the circumstances you are dealing with.

  1. If you are sowing beans. Then soak the beans in water for a few hours first so they can swell up. If you put them in the clay seed ball they will soak up the water from the clay and swell up causing the clay ball to break and then the bean will be eaten by ants.
  2. In general, it is better to sow the seed balls just before you expect consistent rains in the coming days. However you can sow the seed balls anytime you want.
  3. Make sure none of the seeds is exposed and completely covered by clay.
  4. Do not dry the seed balls too quickly or else the clay might crack. Drying in the shade is better than in the full sun.
  5. Most seeds of the nightshade family (Chili, Bell pepper, Eggplant, etc) do not work well with seed balls or direct sowing and need to be transplanted instead.
A seed sprouting from a seed ball.
A seed sprouting from a seed ball.

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