This past weekend, I made my first batch of seed balls: portable, pocket-sized seed-delivery devices commonly used in guerrilla gardening.
I loved it; it was so satisfying just to get my hands muddy and spend a couple hours in a zen-like trance rolling seed balls… I highly recommend the process!
Seed ball recipe
5 parts dry red clay*
3 parts dry organic compost
1 part seed**
1 – 2 parts water
I used a 16 oz plastic Solo cup as a measure, which made enough for approximately 300 seed balls. Using 1 cup as a measure yields approximately 50 seed bombs.
Seed bomb making method
- Mix all the dry ingredients together
- Add enough water to form a mix that holds together without crumbling but isn’t so wet that it won’t roll into balls
- Using a spoon or your hands, pinch off quarter-sized balls and set them aside on a tray
- Use immediately, or set aside for three or four days until completely dry, then store in a porous container such as a paper bag
*Dry red clay: Yes, this is the stuff that potters use. Commonly it comes pre-mixed, which you don’t want. You want the dry powder so it can be easily mixed. I’ve tried using grey clay from a riverbank – it doesn’t work so well. In Greater Vancouver there is something called Red Art Clay which is available at Greenbarn Potters Supply Ltd., 9548 – 192nd Street in Surrey (604-888-3411). Try asking at your local art supply store.
**Seeds: The best seeds for making seed balls are non-invasive in your area. Pollinator blends, native wildflower mixes, and cover crops are good options. I opt for smaller seeds because I’ve found that larger seeds sometimes split the seed bombs open as they dry. For this batch I used crimson clover, white dutch clover, a BC wild flower blend, California poppy, nasturtium and cilantro. You could also try the edible, perennial and drought-tolerant plants listed at Plants for a Future.
i want to do this with you. it sounds great!!!!!
Maryam in Marrakech says
I am embarassed to ask, but what does one do with these? Do you plant them like this?
Loretta Allison says
This is great- thanks for the recipe. I live in LA, and this is great for all the vacant lots-and-people’s front yards- or is that rude? Oh, well..but it’s too late for this season, we’d have to do it in the winter.
Would you be able to eat what grew out of the ball?
How clean is the red clay. Would the plant absorb any toxins from the clay?
We have chia seeds I would like to try this with.
Any ideas for good seeds to use in the pac.NW? Something that kids would enjoy?
In response to robin: You find some area where there are no plants, but ought to be some, and scatter a few of these around.
The unobtrusiveness and easy deployment makes them ideal for putting wildflowers someplace where someone would object if they saw you doing it (e.g. public planters in urban areas that have been neglected, bald spots in parks, median strips).
Diane at Carbon Tiptoes says
From what I understand, seedballs are things you throw into hedges, fields, wild spaces and they grow flowers.
I read (and I can’t remember what book it was in) that a bloke drove round the countryside throwing the seedballs ever since his wife died.
Patty Meseroll says
Thank you, this was fun and I finally found out how to make them !
Snuffy Snodgrass says
Thanks for this great, simple, but yet effective way for me to fill my neighborhood with random little sprigs of beauty this spring. I bought some wildflower seeds, much more than I need, and this is where they are needed!
Caffyn Kelley says
Thanks a million for your wonderful blog which I happened upon today. I want you to bring all these fabulous ideas and images via a feed to the Art of Engagement online network where a number of ecological artists would be so interested. If you have time, do join us. Meanwhile I will enjoy visiting and reading more here.
Joel Smith says
What a great idea! I’m definitely going to try this.
In addition to buying clay, if you have a potter nearby, you might be able to get them to save you some leftovers from throwing or trimming. It dries out pretty quicky, and can be re-powdered easily, if you don’t mind putting in a little more work.
how do you use them?
do they work?
what is the success to dud rate?
should you do this just before it rains?
Oh, I can think of at least one seed in particular I’d like to try. Turn this into a whole social movement and the DEA will have their work cut out for them.
Andrea Bellamy says
Wow – I’m so behind on replying to comments here, so instead of responding individually, I’ll just say thanks to all for your comments and then answer questions below.
James – I think you should be able to eat whatever grew out of the seedball; I’ve definitely seen edibles done this way. Though I’m not sure about the red clay and how clean it is – perhaps a potter out there could help answer this?
Amy – Choosing the seeds for your seed balls is a matter of using common sense. Obviously, you want to avoid using plants that are invasive in your area, and I’d add non-native prolific self-seeders to that list. Also, avoid seeding areas that are near natural areas (so plants don’t end up encroaching on those native species). Some people would say to use only native species in your seed mix, but personally, I don’t see anything wrong with using carefully-chosen non-native annuals. I like using plants that attract butterflies and other beneficials, for example. Recent mixes included Columbine (aquilegia), campanula, lupine and poppy, with a base mix of red clover (an excellent green manure!). As for annuals that kids enjoy, you can’t beat sunflowers!
JChot – How do you use them? Like this. Yes, they work. Your success rate will depend on a number of variables, but in my experience, the seeds readily germinate following the first rain. At least some of the seeds in each ball will germinate. The more decisive factor is what happens next. Is there consistent rain, so that the seedlings don’t wilt and die? Does the City come and weed wack your work? Seed balls are just a delivery method for seeds that help them survive to germination (less chance of being eaten by birds, scattered by wind, etc). After that, they’re on their own. As for when you should do it, just before a rainy period is good, but not necessary, as the seed balls will stay dry and ungerminated until it rains.
Bob – I love it! Too funny. If you had to buy the seeds, though, it’d be an expensive laugh.
Please don’t include invasive species like nasturtium…
Andrea Bellamy says
Dubby – I’d never heard of nasturtium being invasive before. It certainly isn’t where I live – it’s not even winter-hardy. That’s why I suggest that you use plants appropriate to your area. “Invasive” to some areas is just fine elsewhere!
Red Icculus says
This is a great recipe. We used something really similar to this to beautify run down parts of the city.
thank you for the tutorial.
This is actually going to be a christmas present :D
The red clay is not toxic. On the contrary, it has been used to bind arsenic in contaminated soil. It’s composition is 65% silica, 16% alumina, 7% red iron oxide and 4% Potassium. Calcium, magnesium, sodium and titanium are also present in amounts of less than 2%. You might not want to ingest these balls but you can certainly eat what grows out of them! Red clay is a naturally occurring ingredient in many arable soils.
Seeds I have…just bought the powdered red art clay today. Yesss! I so want to see my majestic 10′ sunflowers blooming along the road amongst the teasels and reeds! I’m throwing in some flax, and cosmos. Who knows whether it will work..will keep you posted!
(I normally hang out at gardenweb..check out wintersowing for a great way to start seeds)
this sounds like a revolution to save the planet earth. So,bob your not the only one with seed ball dreams. great balls of flowers from outer space.
Thank you for great idea! We
Union Glashutte says
This is a great idea. I wouldn’t have thought to use the clay in dirt form, I would have gotten the already hardened kind and tried to stuff the seeds in to it. Thanks for the heads up that it doesn’t work as well. Kudos.
Would it be wrong to plant mint in a hedgerow? I’ve just seen how mad a plant is growing on my windowsill and imagine in a year it’d fill all the space you gave it.
Nature’s very own, ever-lovin’ Green Corps.
I imagine the seed-ball capsule would work as well for tree seeds? Acorns, maples seeds and so forth. Not to mention, what a great way to re-establish heirloom plants and threatened species once abundant in a given environment. Wow, wonder what Johnny Appleseed would have thought of this.
What a way to change the world–one seedball at a time!
I made some seed bombs using your recipe for my year-end gift to my students: http://luckybydesign.blogspot.com/2011/06/seed-bombs.html
Doing this project with our 4th, 5th and 6th graders on Friday… I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks for the idea!!!
i’m making a huge batch for bridal shower favors! Just putting 3-4 in a bag with instructions. the shower is in May, so perfect timing for guests to go home and toss their balls!