In August, we’re almost guaranteed afternoon showers. Here’s a quick, fun, and not-too-messy project for your budding gardeners, while waiting for the storms to pass.
Seed bomb lore
The seed bomb is a “no-fuss” planting method that some say goes back to ancient times! Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka popularized making seed balls to help seeds grow with little work in areas difficult to farm. Now, “guerrilla” gardeners are using these balls as “bombs” to get seeds into neglected areas where they’d like to see plants grow.
What you’ll need
- Large bowl
- Compost—purchased or from your own compost pile for nutrients
- Powdered clay that comes from an art store to hold the balls together and help keep them moist
- Seeds—Choose seeds from flowers you enjoy growing—or if you want to pick plants that will be good for pollinators (think bees and butterflies!), choose from this list: https://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Top-25-Plants-and-Suppliers-2.pdf?fwd=no
- Box to dry and store bombs
You can find dozens of recipes online, many with different ingredients. You may want to compare how well different recipes work or how different ingredients work. If you want to increase your chances of success, here’s advice from Chris Burley, who produces seed bombs called “Seedles”:
“We’ve found the ratio that works best for us is 4 parts compost to 1 part powdered clay by weight (very important to do it by weight). The compost needs to be somewhat moist, but not wet by any means.”
—Chris Burley, Crafting a Green World
Directions for making the bombs
- Measure your compost and clay into the bowl.
- Mix the compost and clay together in the bowl—hands work best!
- Add seeds. The compost/clay mixture must surround the seeds, so don’t use too many! Save about half your seeds if you want to test how well seed bombs work.
- Add water very gradually! Use only enough to make the mix the consistency of modeling clay.
- Roll small amounts of the mixture to make marble-sized balls.
- Place them in the box to dry for 24 to 48 hours.
How seed bombs are supposed to work
Now that you know how to make them, this is why they should work:
- The compost and clay protect the seed from drying out, washing away, or being eaten by birds.
- As weather breaks down the seed bomb, the compost and clay will allow the seed to root and take hold.
How to use your seed bombs
Many people don’t know that you can plant seeds in the fall, but you can use your seed balls in fall or spring!
- Find a bare area where nothing is growing.
- Make sure you have the owner’s permission!
- Toss the bombs in that area.
- Check after each rain to see when the bombs start breaking down.
- Once the bombs start disappearing, check for small seedlings.
Did they work?
You may see seedlings this fall or next spring, and flowers next spring or summer. That shows your seed bombs succeeded. Or not!
Would it have been better just to take the seeds and plant them? You could try half and half. Toss seed bombs on half of a bare area and plant seeds on the other half, according to the directions on the seed packets.
Watch for seedlings in both areas. Which one looks better and has more plants growing? Are the seed bomb plants too close together? Maybe the answer is a little of both! It might work better to plant seeds on level ground that is easy to reach and save seed bombs for hillsides or where it’s difficult to walk.
Article written by Nancy Good, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.