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Bird, Bee and Butterfly Friendly Seed Balls
by Karin Kliewer
Originally published in Issue 14::WILD
Permaculture-inspired seed balls are a simple way to attract pollinators, create forage opportunities and rewild your landscape by filling it with beautiful and useful native plants, medicinal herbs and wildflowers. Making your own seed balls is easy, fun and affordable—and is a great project for children.
Sourcing the materials for seed balls is not hard—you may already have them in your own yard for free. You will need four basic ingredients: compost, clay, water and small seeds.
The compost should be sifted to be free of large pieces of bark or uncomposted material. Compost from a worm bin is perfect as it is usually finely broken down and is rich in nutrients.
Clay can be dug from your own property or reclaimed from a local potter. If clay is old and has hardened, simply let it rehydrate by adding some water. We are still using old clay that is left over from the earthen plaster of our strawbale house construction nearly eight years ago.
The seeds you choose should be small enough that they can stick evenly into the seed balls. To attract pollinators, use wildflower and herb seeds that are native to your region. Native plants are hardy and adapted to your climate, and you can mix up a variety that will provide blooms from spring to fall to give you color, beauty and diversity all season long. You can make your own seed mixture using seeds saved from your property, or purchase a wildflower/pollinator mix from a local organic seed company. The Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of pollinator and invertebrate habitats, has a useful listing of plants suitable for every region. Although they are not talking about the seed ball method of planting, a helpful rule of thumb they suggest for native plantings is to use approximately 20-40 seeds per square foot. This comes to about ¼–1/3 pounds of seeds per 1000 ft, 3-5 pounds of seed per ½-acre plot and 3-10 pounds of seed per 1-acre field.
Where we live, in the Great Lakes region of northeastern Canada, our seed balls usually include plants such as anise hyssop, New England aster, lupine, lanceleaf coreopsis, wild bergamot, boneset, purple coneflower and butterfly weed. Really almost any seed will do, depending on what your goals are. If you are not concerned with planting native seeds only, you can include wildharvested dandelion, clover, mullein, milkweed or goldenrod. These can provide not only pollinator habitat and food, but wild forage for your own harvests. Seed balls are such an efficient way to plant that some permaculture enthusiasts even plant their companion vegetables and grains using this broadcasting method.
1½ parts clay
1 part compost
your choice of seeds (e.g. native plants, wildflowers, herbs, pollinator-friendly mixtures)
- Make sure clay and compost are free of debris. Compost can be sifted through a mesh strainer to separate out any large pieces.
- Mix clay and compost in a large bowl. Add just enough water to hold the mixture together. Stir with your hands or a good solid stick.
- Add in the seeds of your choice. Distribute them evenly through the clay-compost mixture. You will definitely want to use your hands by this stage.
- Shape mixture into balls. You can make your seed balls any size you want, but the larger they are, the longer they will take to fully dry. We suggest anywhere from penny to golf-ball sized if you are using small wildflower seeds.
- Let the seed balls dry in a well-ventilated outdoor area (e.g. old window screen or cardboard piece) for about one week, depending on the weather.
- Now they are ready to use! Toss them liberally, give them away to friends and neighbors and enjoy watching the unfolding of a wilder landscape around you.
To use the seed balls, simply toss them onto the landscape you wish to rewild. We have been tossing seed balls all around our town for many years, have given out seed balls as wedding favors, made them with groups of children as a nature-based birthday activity, and distributed them to neighbors during our annual spring seedling sale. We like to imagine our seed balls lying on the open ground everywhere, protected by the clay until they break open with the first heavy rainfall, the seeds then scattering on the ground with compost ready to nourish them as they take root. We like to imagine birds, bees and butterflies finding our flowers, collecting pollen and sipping nectar in summer, and enjoying the tasty dried seeds left standing on their stalks in the winter months. We like to imagine people all over the country helping create a healthier, more diverse and wilder landscape around them, one little seed ball at a time.