Muddy hands, happy hearts: seedballs for healthy soils and diversity

There’s really nothing like getting your hands in the earth. I love the feel and smell of rich moist soil. I love mixing up blends of my own propagation mix with my arms deep in a barrow blending the ingredients. I love gathering armfuls of compost and spreading it over a newly prepared bed. I love meditatively rolling little seedballs to scatter out. So many ways … it’s deeply connecting and ‘grounding’.

Drying the first batch of seedballs today for the inaugural seedball slingshot games.

My boys, in particular, love getting muddy too – any day they get the chance to smear themselves all over with mud is a happy day.

Always looking for the next muddy puddle. A muddy day is a happy day!
A little rhyme of Dr. Seuss just popped into my mind, but with different words… I wonder if you can pick it. (answer at end of post)
My nails are short
My clothes are dark
I love to garden 
with bare feet.
My hat is wide
My gloves aside
My hat is wide
My gloves aside
I love to garden 
with bare feet.
My nails are short
My clothes are dark
I’m happy where there’s soil about.

I have to admit, my gardening hands and nails are always needing a good scrub. My clothes are typically dark ‘serviceable’ colours (thanks Mum for that word!) or vibrant patterns – that way no-one can tell if I may have smeared a muddy hand. I’ve tried, but I can never wear pale colours – it just doesn’t work, especially with a 2 year old who loves cuddling with muddy hands.

Anyway today I had another muddy adventure….


You won’t believe how much fun I had making seedballs and experimenting with slingshot designs using bamboo and cuttings of weed trees. We’re getting ready to make a whole lot more with kids on Monday for our ‘Inaugural Seedball Slingshot Games’ – a holiday activity of the Nature Kids program I run. I made about 100 little sample ones today that dried quickly on the verandah rail.

These little seedballs are filled with seeds of flowers, legumes, beneficial insect attractors, and organic matter building plants.

Already half of them are down our block already. Hugh was super keen to help test and refine my slingshot designs. Even his trumpet teacher gave us some excellent ideas, as well as our WWOOFer, a visitor, Evan…. I am beginning to wonder if the adults are going to be just a little too helpful on Monday. Perhaps I should create a special grown-ups ‘sling-off’ to satisfy the childhood reminiscing of slingshot fun (safely of course, always directed away from others!)

We will be making hundreds of seedballs to send out into the Ethos Farm area to help improve the soil and add diversity. We are adding seeds for this season which help to add nitrogen, build organic matter, open up the soil, and attract bees and other beneficial insects.  Because they are being spread immediately and not into an arid area, they don’t need to be dried. We just need to make the consistency strong enough to withstand being thrown out. There will be some rains very soon to water them in.

Where did seedballing come from?

Seedballing is an ancient technique from Egypt, China and the Romans and renewed in the 1940’s by the late, Masanobu Fukuoka, who is considered the founder of Natural Farming, and an inspiration for permaculture, used seedballs extensively to rehabilitate damaged lands and practice no-till farming. 

Seedballing – working with nature

I like the gentle philosophy behind seedballs – following the lead from how seeding works in nature. Seeds fall to rest on the ground and germinate when the conditions are right. Plants don’t dig their seeds in. 

Digging, according to Fukuoka, disturbs the soil ecosystem (adds oxygen, tears apart mycelia mats, stimulates weeds, etc).  So he designed a method that would both protect the seeds and protect the soil. The seeds are already planted in the ball (protected from predators) and they stay there dormant until the conditions are right. Typically, the plants that survive the first year are the right plants for that place and time.

I have spent much time observing the plants in my garden – identifying what grows well without much help from me, what things come back year after year, what things flourish with primarily being watered by the rain. These are the plants which form the core structure of my edible landscape.



Fukuoka originally conceived of the seedball concept after observing the structure of daikon radish seeds, which are encased in a protective shell that rots as the seedling sprouts.  Others have suggested that seedballs are similar to seeds passing through the gut of large herbivores and being deposited in clumps of manure.

Seedballs are a mix of clay, compost and seeds. Roll them into little balls, dry them, then distribute them in the landscape to wait for water to come and release their potential.


Seedballs: how to make them (a brief intro)

There are many ways to make seedballs. Those for use in harsh environments need to be far more robustly made. Usually they are dried for 24-28 hours before use.

My simple mix was:

  • 5 parts clay
  • 1 part compost
  • 1 part seeds
  • and a little water to make the right consistency

I found some good reddish clay in the cut out the back of our house. The compost heap is always ready with some of the good stuff, and my place is bursting with seeds of all kinds.

I found some great clay just out my back door.  The cut behind the house needs to be retained and planted up – but I’m so glad we hadn’t done that job yet

Some recipes suggest more compost, but my clay had a fair bit of organic matter mixed with it already, and together this created a really stable ball consistency that held together even when catapulted.

Word of caution: It is important only to use appropriate seeds in seedballs and not spread invasive weeds, or disrupt native habitats with non-native species. Please roll the seeds into these balls with care, and with clear consciousness of where they are going to be distributed.

Seedballs are sometimes called seed bombs, but the non-violent person in me can’t call them that. They are not destructive bombs, but little balls of potential abundance awaiting activation, to help regenerate the soil.

Answer: Dr Seuss rhyme from One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish


One Response

  1. Selina B
    Selina B at |

    that sounds like an intriguing idea with the seed balls, have seen it before long time ago. wonder if it would work here? it is so dry & the clay turns to cement in dry weather & slosh in the wet. though i will put this aside as an project to try.
    thanx for sharing