To reiterate, in this chapter our focus is to create soil fertility that is passed onto the growing plant. In Chapter Two we illustrated what nutrients organisms need to be healthy; our intention in the bubbler is to give our beneficial organisms a balanced diet with all the nutrients that they may need in place.
With regards to the choice of clay as a cheat, cat litter can be used, but beware, the synthetic ingredients or other additions of certain litters are inappropriate for seedball repurposing. Organic, biodegradable and compostable litters are available, however some contain walnut shells (allelopathic) which would inhibit growth unless you were developing a walnut tree guild with plants that could handle this. Others use non-clay materials which would rather defeat the point. Another important feature to be aware of is that the best litter is of the clumping type for obvious reasons. So choose your cat litter wisely.
Many practitioners like to mix a number of companion seeds together when making their seedballs which can add considerable further interest to the process.
- 30g kelp meal (fungal nutrient and traces)
- 7 litres kaolin clay or 1 spit (as per photo approx. 20cm × 19cm × 10cm) locally sourced clay from the garden subsoil (habitat)
- Previously steeped seeds as described (only if you intend to sow/germinate immediately)
- 1 litre (1-3/4 pints) live home compost
- Optional: Use clay based, clumping, organic, biodegradable, cat litter
- Optional: Mycorrhizal fungi, oyster mushroom spores
Note: Use gloves at all times during these procedures because the oils and microorganisms from the skin may potentially compromise the process.
1. The larger seeds (>5mm) can be placed in a separate pouch in the bubbler a day before completion. Seeds 2-5mm can be placed in a fine mesh pouch. Any seeds smaller than this can just be folded into the clay when making the seedballs without any steeping.
2. As basic preparation Step 2 on p.126.
3. When the bubbler run has finished, remove the seed pouch and open into the small container. Pour some fresh compost tea onto these seeds, since there may by larger organisms in the tea that could not travel through the pouch to the seeds inside.
A spit of clay.
4. Break up a spit of clay (approximately 7kg) into 10 or more manageable portions and place in a five gallon bucket. Take a pointed object such as a skewer for testing cakes and make more holes in the clay to increase the surface area further. Pour on the compost tea until it is covering the clay. Leave for two hours somewhere with an ambient temperature; if the clay is too cold it will be difficult to work.
Seeds and clay.
5. Lay out a workspace as shown above. Take a portion of steeped clay and lay out your seeds.
Balls making process.
6. Work the clay until it’s malleable then gently work in the seeds to form the finished ball as above; 1-3cm is recommended unless the seeds are particularly large. If the seeds are 0.5cm or more you can roll two to three seeds into small balls and more for smaller seeds. The spit of clay (7 litres/ approx. 7kg) photographed (20 × 19 × 12cm) above is enough for at least 350 seedballs at 3cm diameter. Making seedballs tends to send an adult back to childhood days with memories of playing with Plasticine. It is a very messy activity and kids love it. It is also an excellent opportunity to bring out your languishing and overlooked old stock. Seeds are known to hold a concentrated source of many nutrients to develop new life, so if they have are too old to be viable they will still be useful in the future when they break down.
7. Continue with steps 5-6 until you have run out of clay. Egg boxes may be used as a convenient storage medium.
If you intend to broadcast your seedballs, rather than put them in plant pots just to see what they do, it is recommended that you do so as swiftly as possible after preparation because depending on your choice of seeds, germination processes can get underway rather quickly. Wherever possible, use seedballs in conjunction with no-till practice and after broadcasting, finish with a misting of compost tea.
It is a matter of taste whether the point of a seedball is to shatter on impact or remain a stable base for seeds to develop. If you happen to be a guerrilla gardener with limited access to your chosen site you may prefer to let the balls dry out a little more so they shatter more readily, leaving the seeds with remnants of clay still adhering. This latter practice however may offer a narrower window between broadcast and germination as understandably it would be poor practice to pitch fragile plants after they have emerged.
More from Compost Teas for the Organic Grower:
Cover courtesy of Permanent Publications
Excerpted with permission from Compost Teas for the Organic Grower by Eric Fisher, published by Permanent Publications and distributed in the USA by Chelsea Green Publishing, 2019.