The History of Seed Bombs
Seed bombs, seed balls, ballistic seeds, seed packs, earth balls -- have nearly as many names as they have purposes and histories. The simple act of putting seeds into a protective casing is not a new idea and not an idea unique to a single group, but instead a fairly common theme in the history of farming.
Today, we often focus on seed balls as a great tool for guerrilla gardening or seeding hard-to-reach areas, but seed balls have many other benefits, which explains their near ubiquity across cultures -- from China and Japan, to Native North Americans, to ancient Egypt.
Modern-Day Seed Bombs
The modern history of seed balls begins with Japanese microbiologist and farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote the book on seed balls in 1957 (The One-Straw Revolution). New York City activists, the Green Guerrillas, introduced seed balls as a way to beautify urban landscapes as urban decay took its toll on predominantly sub-altern and low-income communities. Even more recently, organizations across the globe are using seed balls in ecological restoration projects, in areas like Thailand, Kenya, India, and Tanzania.
Seed Bombs Explained
Seed balls are, first and foremost, a way to protect seeds -- the clay exterior prevents rodents from eating the balls, the drying process protects them from rot, when exposed to sufficient rain, the absorbent compost helps to provide the right amount of water for germination for most seeds (some plant species, especially water plants, will require more water or soaking, and should not be used in seed balls), and the compost provides nutrients for germination and early root establishment. Seed balls also help to protect the soil ecosystem, by encouraging no-till agriculture and preventing disruption of soil microbial communities.
Seed Bomb Tips
You can join Edible Kent for a simple seed bomb how-to demonstration at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market on July 16th, and a simple Google search turns up plenty of other instructions as well. Some things to remember are seed choices, ball design choice, storage, and planting. Seed choice can really be as simple or as complex as you want. A simple weekend project to beautify the neighborhood might benefit from the choice of mixed native perennial flowers, while trying to do your own garden landscaping may push you to include more annuals or do single species balls. Vegetable gardening tends to lend itself to single species seed balls also (although the Three Sisters gardens - corn, beans, and squash grown together - are an area where mixed seed balls do very well). In mixed seed balls, try to avoid plants that have allelopathic chemical defenses (the inhibition of one plant or organism by another, due to the release of substances into the environment that act as germination or growth inhibitors), which can make the soil inhospitable to other plants. Ball type is also important, and most of the time a simple mixed ball will do the best. The exception is if you’re looking to make seed balls for use in the next planting season, as the protective outer coat of clay helps these balls to last longer, and do require extra attention to make sure balls are thoroughly dried before storing in a dark, cool environment. In general, the longer you plan to store the seed balls, the more time and care you should take in preparing them. Combining seed saving and seed ball making in the fall can also be a great way to reduce the costs of gardening.
If you're interested in learning more about seed bombs, please join us at the Haymaker Farmers' Market on July 16th! You can also learn about seed saving with Edible Kent, later this summer - stay tuned for more details!