The idea has its origins in the agriculture practiced by the legendary Masanobu Fukuoka and made popular by his book, ‘One Straw Revolution’. There he describes his ‘no cultivation’ farming. Apart from not ploughing, Fukuoka took to encasing his grain seeds in clay and broadcasting them freely. The seeds lie safely out of reach of birds and ants and dissolve out of the cast and germinate soon as it rains.
Fukuoka said; “You know that daikon radish seeds are in hard shells. Well, I noticed that when they drop on the ground, they decay as they start to sprout. So I realized if they need a shell like that, then clay can be the shell for a ball with many seeds inside.” And that was how seed balls were born.
Seed balls require four consituents: mixed seeds, humus, clay and water. These are mixed and covered in a skin of clay. Then comes a delightfully mystical detail. As Jim Bones a great seed ball practitioner describes, “A transformation occurs within the balls as they are rolled, and after a few seconds the clay can be felt to set up or organize, as the tiny clay platelets align themselves to each other, and the seeds they enclose. It is important to roll the clay until this polymerization is felt.” Fukuoka adds,”Seed balls are a small universe in themselves.” Before we move on let us emphasise that the crucial element in seed ball practice is using a mixture of seed types. Monoculture is anathema to natural farming.
Seed balls solve many of the problems that naked seeds face: wind blows them away, birds and rodents eat them, hot sun bakes their vitality out, excessive rain carries them off. Seed balls protect them from all the above. When they dissolve and seeds emerge, they are anchored in a small clay pile and surrounded by nourishing humus. Seed germination is very high.
Reader Viswanathan wonders why seed balls cannot be adopted by environmental groups in India. An added advantage is that they are suitable for air dropping. About 12,000 seed balls have been thus broadcast in New Mexico, USA with great success.