Garden and Yard Care

Published on May 18th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance


Environmental Activists Plant Seed Balls in Abandoned Lots

I’ve long been fascinated by guerilla gardening, in which gardeners illegally under the cover of night cultivate plants in public spaces.  Now, activists have a new tool for cultivating abandoned spaces:  seed balls!  Developed by Japanese Masanobu Fukuoka, a pioneer in “natural farming”, seed balls are made out of mulch and seeds mixed together.  The seeds and mulch are kneaded into a red terra cotta clay.

Image by _foamActivists use seed balls to plant abandoned city spaces.

Activists use seed balls to plant abandoned city spaces.

Recently, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG), formerly Neighbors Against Garbage, in Brooklyn, NY are tossing seed balls into abandoned lots.  From building a town hall to fighting for tenant rights, NAG is not just about planting random seeds around Brooklyn, but seed balling has gotten national attention.  Michael Freedman-Schnapp, one of the co-chairs of NAG, explains why the guerrilla gardening movement is a reaction to city abandonment:

We are at the end of a development boom, and it is clear that the city’s resources are going to be constrained. They are not going to be able to take care of everywhere in the city. And so the city is going to have to rely on citizens stepping up and taking care of their own surroundings.

Becky Striepe of EcoLocalizer explains how to make a seed ball:

  • Combine 2 parts mixed seeds (Maybe ones from a local solstice seed swap?) with 3 parts compost. (I bet that organic potting soil would work, as well.)
  • Stir in 5 parts powdered red or brown clay.
  • Moisten with water until mixture is damp enough to mold into balls.
  • Pinch off a penny-sized piece of the clay mixture and roll it between the palms of your hands until it forms a tight ball (1 inch in diameter).
  • Set the balls on newspaper and allow to dry for 24 – 48 hours. Store in a cool, dry place until ready to sow.

The clay helps protect the seeds from birds, and the small ball shape makes seed balls easy to toss throw chain linked fencing surrounding abandoned lots.   After several rain storms, the seed balls break down and start to germinate.  Of course, it is best to use native species for seed balls; who can resist a wildflower show in abandoned lot?

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