What is a seedbomb?
4th May, 2011
In an exclusive extract from her new book, Seedbombs: Going Wild with Flowers, author and gardener, Josie Jeffery, explains the seedbomb phenomenon
When I tell people I make seedbombs, they look puzzled and ask, ‘What is a seedbomb?’. They think they are edible (some fancy new superfood) or a cosmetic product. Rarely do people think they are horticultural. I smile and begin a well-rehearsed explanation. Firstly, they are NOT EXPLOSIVE OR EDIBLE! A seedbomb is a little ball made up of a combination of compost, clay and seeds.
‘What is it for?’
The compost and clay act as a carrier for the seeds so they can be launched over walls or
fences and into inaccessible areas such as wasteland or railways. ‘But what is the point? Why can’t you just throw seeds loose?’ Most seeds are very light and there is risk of them being blown away by the wind, making them unsuitable for launching long distances.
‘How do I make them?’
There are various ways of making seedbombs. You need to find a carrier for the seeds. My method uses natural ingredients – compost and clay. The compost offers nutrients for the seeds to germinate and grow strong during their infancy and the clay binds the seedbomb, making it hard enough not to break when it hits the ground.
‘How do they work?’
After about three weeks the first seedlings work their way through the seedbomb and root into the ground below. The seedlings will then grow into mature plants and face whatever conditions Mother Nature has in store for them. As they grow, more seeds germinate and the seedbomb begins to dissolve. This can take days, weeks or months – it depends on the quantity of rainfall. Seeds will remain dormant until their environmental needs are met with these factors: water, correct temperature and a good position to grow in.
The beauty of seedbombing
Here you have in the palm of your hand a little revolution, something that can change the face of the earth, something that contains the early stages of a field of wild flowers, edible crops or a herb garden. You can use seeds of one plant for your seedbombs or combinations of compatible seeds. This is called ‘companion planting’, where you use plants that grow well together and assist each other in a number of ways, such as pollination, deterring pests and soil conditioning. With a little help from Mother Nature, something as small as a seedbomb has the potential to improve the natural structure of an area in one fell swoop.
A seedbomb is a little ball of life and comes with a responsibility to choose your plants and be used in the correct way. You have to consider not only the environment where you choose to launch your seedbomb, but also the welfare of the plant. It is your job as a gardener/seedbomber to make sure the seeds get a good chance of germinating and have a good probability of reaching infancy and – even better – maturing into plants that flower and fruit and connect the ends of the circle of growth.
Why are they used?
Seedbombing is another form of seed dispersal, a human intervention into what is already happening in nature anyway. It is an efficient way of deliberately dispersing seeds, but trying to work in harmony with nature, too, by being considerate of wildlife and natural habitats. Seedbombs are seeds wrapped up in a blanket of earth, which acts as a carrier for the seeds and enables them to be launched in areas that are physically challenging to access, like fenced-off wasteland or motorway banks. Because of their size and strength they can simply be thrown over the fences or out of car, train or bus windows. They provide the accuracy needed to get the plants to where you want them to grow. It does help if your aim is good though! The risk of damage to the seeds is minimised because the blanket of earth offers protection from harsh weather conditions and seedeaters such as mice and birds. Apart from the fact that they are really good fun to make, they actually work and it’s so exciting when you see thefirst shoot come through!
Where to launch seedbombs
Seedbombs can be launched anywhere as long as there is soil beneath them. Their versatility is part of their charm.
✱ They can be used in home gardens, window boxes or the veggie patch.
✱ Allotments – edible plants or wild flowers to attract bees to pollinate food crops.
✱ Launch them in alleyways and path networks around your local city, town or village.
✱ They can be used to create an explosion of colour on urban green roofs, on sheds or on outbuildings.
✱ Seedbombs are just perfect for throwing responsibly out of train, car and bus windows; they make journeys for future travellers much more attractive.
✱ Roadsides, central reservations and roundabouts, railways and urban tree pits.
✱ Unmaintained areas, so that the seedbombs can grow undisturbed.
✱ Next time you see a foxglove growing by a set of traffic lights, you’ll know a guerrilla gardener has been there!
A seedbomb history
If something has been used effectively throughout time, it is given validity; you know it has been tried, tested and perfected. When it comes to seedbombs, one man has done just that. Masanobu Fukuoka incorporated his ancestral gardening techniques into his own farming methods and, in so doing, started a revolution. Seedbombs are an ancient Japanese practice called Tsuchi Dango, meaning ‘Earth Dumpling’ (because they are made from earth). They were reintroduced in 1938 by the Japanese microbiologist/ farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008), author of The One Straw Revolution.
Fukuoka led the way into the world of sustainable agriculture by initiating ‘natural farming’. His methods were simple and produced no pollution. His technique used no machines or chemicals and almost no weeding. Seedbombing was part of Fukuoka’s annual farming regime. He believed that Mother Nature takes care of the seeds we sow and decides which crops to provide us with, like a process of natural selection, because ultimately nature decides what will grow and when germination will occur, be that in 7 days or several seasons away.
Fukuoka grew vegetables like wild plants – he called it ‘semi wild’. He seedbombed on riverbanks, roadsides and wasteland and allowed them to ‘grow up’ with the weeds. He believed that vegetables grown in this way – including Japanese radish, carrots, burdock, onions and turnips – are stronger than most people think. He’d add clover to his vegetable mixes because it acted as a living mulch and conditioned the soil.
Where land has been intensively farmed by modern methods, the natural fertility is destroyed. Fukuoka used clover seedbombs to rehabilitate natural fertility on dead land so that food crops could be grown successfully again. In 1998, hundreds of locals in Arnissa, Greece – families, schoolchildren, ministers, farmers, journalists – were inspired by Fukuoka’s work to partake in launching tons of seedbombs over 10,000 hectares of desolate land damaged by human activity. The seeds were donated by the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Institute of Agrarian Research.
Greening deserts with seedbombs
Fukuoka encouraged people to collect seeds and instigated a movement for desertgreening with seedbombs. He successfully ‘greened up’ land all over the world, including Greece, India and the Americas.Through his works, land has come ‘alive’ again, with plants and wildlife and food for the people.
Seedbombs are full of potential wrapped up in a pocket-sized ball of mud! They can make ugly, forgotten land beautiful and useful again; restore plant and wildlife populations; nourish and feed the soil, people and animals; bring communities together, educate and – importantly – bring joy.
As seen with Fukuoka’s work, there are countless benefits to using the seedbomb method for planting. They are successfully used to grow food crops and meadowland and replant areas that have suffered from drought or forest fire damage, as well as being suitable for small-scale gardens and allotments. Seedbombs help to create vegetation in areas where it is absent or sparse due to the land being neglected. They present the prospect of attracting wildlife such as bees, birds and butterflies into our urban environment, making them available to pollinate our city flowers and food crops and help the production of fruit and seed. Seedbombs can be used to repopulate an area with diminishing numbers of wild flowers, which in turn will attract wildlife that may, too, be diminishing.
On an aesthetic level, the plants provide colour and character to otherwise unattractive sites that are usually broken into and could be littered with rubbish and the classic shopping trolleys and broken glass.
Areas such as this are in danger of fostering feelings of apathy, an ‘Oh, what’s the point, the place is a mess anyway’ attitude.
Some sites stay undeveloped for a number of years and become part of the personality of the area; numerous people will walk past these places every day and not even notice the potential. Desolate spaces may be used by people acting undesirably and are often a location for fly-tipping. Unfortunately, this kind of activity could be a danger to the public because the fences get pulled down, leaving these spaces open to adventuring children. Often no one wants to claim responsibility and implement a clear-up because ownership of the land could be a grey area, while some sites are pending construction. Guerrilla gardeners target areas like these as potential sites to glam up with donated plants and recycled, reclaimed and reused objects.
Guerrilla gardens are an open forum for people to make a positive contribution to ugly areas within their community that may have a negative impact not only aesthetically but demographically too. Abandoned wasteland can encourage antisocial behaviour and crime, whereas a sense of ownership, however temporary it may be, will encourage local communities to work together on improving their neighbourhood. Some guerrilla gardeners work stealthily and under the cover of darkness, wielding spades and plants and a torch! It’s a bit tricky and is often where seedbombs prove their worth. The anonymity of seedbombing is part of the appeal; a five-second action is less demanding than physically planting something, therefore making it easier for reluctant guerrilla gardeners to join in – no fence-scaling needed here! Seedbombs are fun and easy to make and can be an activity that appeals to all age groups and walks of life, from farmer to amateur grower. Community gardens offer a space to have group gardening days and local events, like seed collecting, swapping and the making and launching of seedbombs – and that’s gotta be good, right?
Making seedbombs is such a relaxing activity to do on your own or with the family. Kids love the whole process as it involves design, dexterity, consideration, communication, maths, botany and a big dollop of patience. And the elation and pride felt when you launch the seedbomb and when you see the seedlings appearing and maturing into flowering plants is priceless.
Seedbombs: Going Wild With Flowers by Josie Jeffery is published by Leaping Hare (www.leapingharepress.co.uk) and costs £9.99
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