Masanobu Fukuoka - "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings."
This is my first attempt at making seed balls as inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka. The theory is that by encapsulating the seeds in a mixture of clay and compost they are protected until conditions are right for germination. This allows seed to be sewn on top of the ground without the need for tilling and was a critical part of the way Fukuoka grew barley and rice out of the same field without plowing, fertilizing, or pest control. In his small farm he produced extremely high quality food without any of the machinery or chemical inputs that were standard for his time. My plan is to use them to seed our forest garden after the chickens have destroyed the lawn.
Digging a post hole last fall produced some good clay which I dried in a bucket in the garage. Pulverizing it to a powder proved to be fairly challenging. At first I tried using a hammer and a piece of flat rock inside a plastic tub to catch the dust, but this was a very slow process. I had much better results by rubbing the flat rock across a 1x4 piece of wood and crushing the clay pieces in between them. If I am going to do this more than I couple of times I think it will be a good idea to make a large wooden mortar and pestle out of logs like I have seen Fukuoka's people using. Using a small piece of window screen I sifted the powder into a jar.
I never got around to sifting and drying some compost for this project, so I substituted some seed starting mix instead. For the fist batch I started with just white clover seed in a smooth bucket. holding the bucket at an angle, I lightly misted the seeds with water then sprinkled some powdered clay and a little of the seed starting mix, then turned the bucket to mix. Repeating this process until balls started forming. The mix tended to stick to the sides of the bucket and needed to be scraped off frequently. A rubber scraper is a handy too to have for this. The balls that resulted from this process were rather uneven and rough, and a lot of seed remained free.
I did not manage to get all the seeds on my original list. Time being a factor I ended up going through my seed box and making a mix out of what I had available. I have to admit it did seem a little crazy to be dumping dozens of packets of seed together in a bucket so hopefully we get something good out of all this.
Here is the final mix
(In no particular order)
Chard (Fordhook & Gold Glebe)
Kale (Pentland Brig)
Nasturtium (Mixed Dwarf)
Jung annual flower mix
Wild flower mix (wedding favor)
Pea (melting sugar)
Columbine (Deep blue alpina)
Spring Greens mix (sand hill)
Delicata Squash (just 2 seeds)
About 1/2 of the balls formed deep cracks when drying and many of them broke apart when I put them in paper bags for storage. This might be a good thing, as I made them somewhat large and each one could contain dozens of different seeds, so some smaller chunks are nice. Many of the large seeds especially beans and peas broke free of their coating. Many of the seed balls, though, were more solid and stayed intact. So I think there will be a diverse range of protection on the seed offering a staggered germination rate and greater chances for success. We will see. It won't be long before the chickens have wrecked the lawn on their first paddock and it will be time to sew. Then we are taking Fukuoka's advice to throw the seed balls with a child like mind and let nature guide us on the details.