One of the easiest, and, arguably, most fun ways to keep Austin beautiful is to protect and promote the amazing biodiversity of plant and animal life we have in our city.
Biodiversity is just a word that describes the variety or number of different kinds of living things in a given space. Having lots of biodiversity in a region makes for a much healthier environment and ecosystem!
When it comes to plants in particular, we are lucky to witness a stunning wildflower season here in Austin. It is a great visual example of biodiversity in action. But there are many other plants such as grasses, shrubs, and trees that contribute to the biodiversity in the area.
We can do our part to preserve biodiversity by planting native plants around town. Native plants are plants that are indigenous, or from the area in which they are growing. A tried and true method of planting these is by making and tossing seed balls!
What are seed balls
Seed balls are a method for distributing seeds by encasing them in a mixture of clay and soil humus, or compost.
They are essentially a perfect package that include all of the things a seed needs in order to grow, aside from what they draw from the natural environment.
A common permaculture method of seeding, planting seed balls is a beautifully simple method of rehabilitating damaged lands and facilitating restoration.
It is also an incredibly cost-effective and low-maintenance way to plant native plants, as after making and scattering the seed balls in a place where they are protected from mowing, all that’s left is for the sun and the rain to do their work!
Why are seed balls important
These seed balls are important because they are a great way to plant native wildflowers and grasses, which helps to protect the local biodiversity here in our urban ecosystem.
Additionally, the clay and humus ball prevents the seeds from drying out in the sun, getting eaten by predators like mice and birds, or from blowing away.
When enough rain has seeped through the clay, the seeds inside will sprout, able to grow protected within the ball that contains beneficial nutrients and soil microbes.
Seed balls are particularly useful in dry and arid areas where rainfall is highly unpredictable, which is one reason why we like to use these when doing restoration work here in Austin!
How to make seed balls, step by step
Before starting to make your seed balls, assemble your ingredients!
For our Keep Austin Beautiful programming, we use Red Art Clay from Armadillo Clay, Back to Nature Cottonburr compost (any compost made from non-animal products will do), and seed mix from Native American Seed.
It’s also important to have water on hand to mix the seed balls, and if you’re indoors – make sure you’re working in a space that’s easy to clean up afterwards, these seed balls do get messy!
Measurements for approximately 10 seed balls: ½ cup compost, 1 cup soil, ¼ cup seeds.
- Start with your compost. For a small batch of seed balls (about 10), about ½ cup of compost will be good. This compost provides the rich nutrients the seeds need in order to grow. If you’re planning to make more, just make sure you adjust your ratio of materials accordingly (we use a 1:2 ratio of compost to clay).
- Add clay to the compost (again, 1 cup of clay for every ½ cup of compost) and mix together. The clay provides mineral content and structure for the seed balls. Be mindful that clay particles are very fine, so if working with youth, remind them to “keep the clay on the tray” and avoid clapping their hands or breathing in the clay dust.
- Time for the most important ingredient – seeds! Once the clay and soil(compost) are mixed together, go ahead and add a tiny handful (about ¼ cup for every 1 cup of clay). Then mix it all together! (With youth – this is a great time to make a volcano with your materials in anticipation of the exciting next step)
- Just add water! Here’s where things get really fun, and really messy! Pour water onto your soil and seed volcano (starting with about ¼ cup of water for every ½ cup of clay), and then dive in! Mix everything all together, adding additional water as needed until the mixture is sticky and the consistency of play dough.
- Once everything is mixed together, it’s time to make your seed balls! Pinch off a little bit of the mixture and roll it between the palms to make a marble-sized seed ball (not too big or too small). Make as many as your mixture allows!
- Now you’re ready to plant (or to store your seed balls for a later planting date). Identify a protected area, like a wildflower meadow or grow zone, a nice creek side spot that won’t get mowed down, or even a home garden bed, and scatter your seed balls in that space!
Students promoting biodiversity around Austin
Some of our local seed ball-making experts are the youth we work with year-round at Keep Austin Beautiful. With our Clean Creek Campus programming, students help restore creek side habitats all over the city by making and throwing seed balls while at their Clean Creek Campus service projects.
Over the 2019-2020 school year alone, Clean Creek Campus students planted over 6000 seed balls to help support native plant biodiversity here in Austin!