[permaculture] how - On Seedballs

Lawrence F. London, Jr. venaurafarm at bellsouth.net
Tue May 31 23:16:11 EDT 2011

how - On Seedballs

On Seedballs

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"I do not want you to copy my experience. All that I know I learned by 
observing nature ..."
- Masanobu Fukuoka

"It's 'difficult in a simple kind of way"
- Jamie Nicol


     1 On preparation technique
         1.1 A note on handrolling
         1.2 Masanobu Fukuoka's
         1.3 Panaoitis(Panos) Manikis'
         1.4 The Beej Upchaar-Sanskaar', by Deepak Suchade
         1.5 The Von Bachmayr'
         1.6 Milkwood permaculture farms'
         1.7 SOS Organics - James K. Douglas'
         1.8 Mike A. Smith's concept a treadmill converted into a 
seedballs mill...
         1.9 David Hilston's
         1.10 The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's
     2 On proportions
     3 On propagation

     On preparation technique

A note on handrolling
As Jim Bones 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.”
Masanobu Fukuoka's
"If rice is sown in the autumn and left uncovered, the seeds are often 
eaten by  mice and birds, or they sometimes rot on the ground, and so I 
enclose the rice seeds in little clay pellets before sowing. The seed is 
spread out on a flat pan or basket is  shaken back and forth in a 
circular motion. Fine powdered clay is dusted over them  and a thin mist 
of water is added from time to time. This forms a tiny pellet about a 
half-inch in diameter. There is another method for making the pellets. 
First, the unhulled rice seed is  soaked for several hours in water. The 
seeds are removed and mixed with moist clay  by kneading with hands or 
feet. Then the clay is pushed through a screen of chicken  wire to 
separate it into small clods. The clods should be left to dry for a day 
or two or  until they can be easily rolled between the palms into 
pellets. Ideally, there is one seed in each pellet. In one day it is 
possible to make enough pellets to seed several acres.  Depending on 
conditions, I sometimes enclose the seeds of other grains and vegetables 
in pellets before sowing." Masanobu Fukuoka (1978). The One-Straw 
Revolution, p.99.

Masanobu Fukuoka conducts a workshop for making seed balls at his 
natural farm and forest in Japan
Watch, and watch again and learn.

'There is another method for making the pellets. First, the unhulled 
rice seed is  soaked for several hours in water. The seeds are removed 
and mixed with moist clay  by kneading with hands or feet. Then the clay 
is pushed through a screen of chicken  wire to separate it into small 
clods. The clods should be left to dry for a day or two or  until they 
can be easily rolled between the palms into pellets.'
- Masanobu Fukuoka (1978). The One-Straw Revolution, p.99.

- Make sure to place the mesh on a rod frame, and this frame on some 
sort of support (bricks, etc). Test the strength of the system (mesh, 
frame and support)before loading the mix.

The chicken wire technique, by Injun. Source

Injun, who visited the Fukuoka farm drew this figure to help us 
understand the 'chicken wire technique'

     Mix the seeds and powder clay (in proportions of one to seven)
     Add a little water, mix thoroughly, knead
     Top view of the picture # 2
     Spread over a metal mesh and apply pressure from above.
     Use your palms to roll the balls on the mat, giving them a round 
shape. Place the seedballs to dry in the shade, in a well-ventilated 
place for 2-3 days.

Panaoitis(Panos) Manikis'

     The Beej Upchaar-Sanskaar', by Deepak Suchade

     This alternative seed pelleting method, part of the Natueco Farming 
Method that proposes  alternative ingredients such as termitarial as 
binding agent, cow urine as a predator repellent and ash as a source of 

     1.  Determine the crop variety and volume of its seed needed for 
the area.

     2.  Collect equal volume of the following

         a.  Soil from the field you are sowing – surface 10-15 cm, 4-5 

             This will help to identify the Ph and the nutrition 
available from the Soil to the life when seed going to germinate life 
enter in the seed and this life after analyzing asked to the microbes to 
provide deficiency at the root zone area.

         b.  Ash (a source of 100 elements).

             Will provide potash and help in germinating the root zone 
as it is attached to the seed and also provide nutrition in available 
form to the roots when they do not get from soil. Also help from attack 
of virus and insect as it work as vital force.

             It is known as antibiotic by organic farmers.

         c.  Fresh cow-dung (a source of anaerobic and microaerophilic 

         d.  Termitaria soil (a binding agent, and source of nutrients 
and agriculturally beneficial micro-organisms)

     3.  Mix all the three material and make into dough using cow-urine.

         Note: urine is a source of salts and also perhaps a repellent 
of insect-pests

         Present of this will help in growing of microbes, which will 
help in Photosynthesis.

     4.  Make small pellets of the whole dough, depending on the size of 
the seed.

         For pigeon pea for example, pellets of about 1cm diameter may 
be enough.

         For other way of sowing the seeds other then the research 
farmers can mix seed which will provide in-situ(their only) nitrogen and 
other nutrition like Mug, Tur (which take care of N) Safed till provide 
energy and nutrition as well as repellent to insect like this Chana, 
Kothmir (Dhania), Muster, Methi etc all this mixture will be one forth 
of the main seeds by volume.

     5.  Push one seed per pellet and shade dry them

     6.  Sow the pellets while following other requirements

     Important: to make the method workable in field conditions on large 
area, one would need to mechanize/semi-mechanize the pellet-making. A 
machine used for making tablets at a village level enterprise may be 
explored. If making seed pellets is cumbersome for some, a thin layer of 
diluted dough can be coated on to seeds.
     Seeds can then be air-dried and sown by machine or bullock-drawn 


     Although this seed pelleting technique is not strictly a 
'seedball'( seedballs are, to my understanding scattered on the ground 
not planted or drilled in the soil), the alternative ingredients 
recommended here : the termitaria soil, which reinforces my intuition, 
the urine, the fresh cow dung similar to the goat dung reported by Pliny 
the Elder in Naturalis Historia, the ash that was proscribed by Masanobu 
Fukuoka only when spread on fields, are very interesting.

     Thanks a lot, Deepak for sharing it.

The Von Bachmayr'
Making seedballs for a large area by hand can be quite cumbersome. 
Several machines have been designed such as the Von Bachmayr drum
" designed and made by Alfred von Bachmayr, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is 
capable of making thousands of half inch (one centimeter) diameter seed 
balls per hour by nearly continuous process. A seed, soil, clay, mix is 
introduced into the rolling drum, water is sprayed in, and then the seed 
balls are "harvested" periodically as they "grow" to the desired size. 
With this collapsible machine, one trained operator, under optimum 
conditions, can make enough seed balls for one acre in one day.
Modular task drums are available for making seed balls, compost, soil 
mix, and building materials. Drive options include gasoline, electric, 
steam, wind, water, pedal and animal power to name just a few. Desktop 
models made to order". (seedball.com archives)

Alfred von Bachmayr info at worldhandsproject.org

All pictures below are Copyright (C) 1996 Jim Bones.

     The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia Forum has a post 
detailing th ebuilding of an electrical rolling drum.

Milkwood permaculture farms'
This bike powered rolling drum at Milkwood Permaculture Farm, in 
Campbell Creek, NSW, Australia, is an example of a machine to roll 
seedballs for large revegetation projects.

SOS Organics - James K. Douglas'
At SOS Organics, at Chitai, Pant Village, Almora, Uttarakhand, India.
James Seedballs stories here

Due to formatting issues the plan is here for the moment
Mike A. Smith's concept a treadmill converted into a seedballs mill...

David Hilston's
Born in 1986, David graduated from Florida State University in 2008 with 
a bachelors degree, majoring in International Affairs and studied 
Japanese. He became seriously interested in sustainable farming in college.
He thought farming might not excite him as much as other pursuits so he 
decided to try farming in another country to spice it up. David farms in 
Wakayama, Japan since June 2008. He uses organic methods, works for 
someone else at the moment but plan to farm for himself in the future, 
using methods similar to Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming.

     The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's

The mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase 
the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and 

     On proportions

The adequate proportions vary with the nature of the ingredients you 
use. Try for yourself.
But generally one 1 volume of seeds, 3 volumes of soil (if 
compost/worm-castings), 5 volumes of clay, water as needed will do.
This will again depend on the nature / texture of the soil you use.

     A remark on the size & shape a seedball

I am interested in figuring out the correlation in between the seedball 
optimal diameter and environmental factors (humidity & precipitation 
In a sphere, the surface area to volume ratio is inversely proportional 
to the size of a sphere (size determined by its radius)
The constant curvature of the sphere (the seedball) and gravity allow 
for all water to be directed towards the south pole of the sphere . It 
happens that it is at this very pole that the seedball is most likely to 
be in contact with the soil. That's were the water will enter the 
seedball by capillary action and humidify it from the inside out.
Therefore I do not think that the clay has to dissolve first, but that 
the strength of sprouting seed(s) will likely destructure the seedball, 
again "from the inside out".
In the video of M. Fukuoka in Greece, M. Fukuoka says that the ball 
should be 5 times the size of the seed inside of it.

     On propagation

     Hand propagation is probably the most widely used mean of 
propagating seedballs.
     But in Maara Roa, New Zealand, kids have propagated seedballs with 
slingshots and tennis rackets to reach inaccessible gullies covered with 
very thorny gorse (Ulex europaeus).

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