Making Seedballs: An Ancient Method of No-till Agriculture

Seeds balls are an ancient technique for propagating plants from seeds without opening up soil with cultivation tools such as a plow.

June 18, 2014 | Source: The Permaculture Research Institute | by Andrew Schreiber

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Dried and Finished “Clay Dumplings”

What’s a Seed ball?

Seeds balls are an ancient technique for propagating plants from seeds without opening up soil with cultivation tools such as a plow.

The rediscovery and popularization of seedballs (or “Clay Dumplings” as he called them) in modern times is typically ascribed to Japanese natural farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka.

As with many natural farmers, Fukuoka believed that tillage over large areas is laborious, destructive to soil health, and ultimately not needed and thus a waste of time and energy. Thus, seedballs have become an important aspect of many natural farming and conservation enterprises around the world.

After many years of observation and experimentation, Fukuoka developed a method of growing rice, barley, vegetables and fruit over his small farm with very minimal disturbance of the soil or need for fertilization. He referred to these methodologies and philosophical perspectives as “natural farming”, and wrote several inspiring and informative books on the matter. The One-Straw Revolution, and Sowing Seeds in the Desert being two of the most renowned.

The architecture of seedballs is pretty basic: seeds are combined with clay (preferably red volcanic clays) and organic material like compost, worm casting or well-decomposed manure. A portion of fibers such as paper mash, finely cut straw, cotton or wool can also be added to give the seedballs greater tensile strength.

The mixture is moistened and formed into compact lumps or balls, allowed to dry, and then cast out into fields at the appropriate time of year, depending on the seed mixture, climate and rainfall patterns.

Bill Mollison and Masanobu Fukuoka — two great folks

Why are seedballs so great?

With knowledge, skill, and patience, seedballs can be as effective a way of establishing plants as plow-seeding or drilling, and they can be made by anyone anywhere in the world that has access to clay, soil, and seed – for no money.

Seedballs are commonly employed in urban areas where tillage is simply not an option. But seedballs can be just as relevant to people in broad-acre contexts such as at the Windward Education and Research Center where seedballs have been employed to establish perennial pasture on marginal degraded highlands where steep slopes, existing woodlands, shallow soils/exposed bedrock, and general rockyness make the use of seed-drills and rippers impossible.