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Sunday, March 4, 2012

How to Make Seed Balls From Recycled Paper

Making seed balls is a great garden project for gardeners of all ages. A seed ball is a small object that packs seeds together with a growing medium for planting. The concept is accredited to Masanobu Fukuoko, a Japanese farmer and philosopher who developed the basic formula of mixing clay with humus or compost, and seeds. The balls can be sown in a "natural farming" method where soil tilling isn't necessary. The seed balls are thrown or laid on the soil and nature's rains dissolve them to reveal and germinate the seeds.

Last week I wrote about "seed bombs" and how to make them. Seed bombs are essentially seed balls with a sometimes nefarious purpose. The clay and compost balls are tossed into vacant city lots or barren fields and flowers and grasses sprout depending on the seed in the seed bomb.

For a more aesthetic seed ball, a family gardening project, and a fun gift idea, consider making seed balls from recycled paper. Instead of clay and compost, paper holds the seeds together in the ball.

Heart-shaped seed balls

When water is added to paper it can be pulverized to a pulp. Seed is mixed with the paper pulp and turned into seed balls. These seed balls can be formed into many different shapes and made in many different colors.

To make the pulp you'll need a blender or food processor. I recommend using one that is old and not regularly used for your meals. Inks in the paper will be transferred to the plastic and are hard to clean. I purchased a used food processor from Goodwill for a few dollars. It's now dedicated to the task of making seed balls.

The paper needs to be torn or shredded before adding to the blender. If you pack in a wad of paper and then add water you'll probably burn up the motor pretty quickly. Smaller paper pieces work better.

I began with four full sheets (four pages each) of newspaper and ran the newspaper through my paper shredder. I've also used shredded bills and junk mail to make seed balls. The shredded paper breaks apart easily in the blender when water is added.

Shredded paper before blending

Working in batches, put the torn or shredded paper in the blender and add water. I've found that soaking the paper in a tub of water before adding it to the blender helps it break apart easier. Even if it was soaked beforehand you'll still need to add water to the blender.

We're talking about a lot of water. The four sheets of newspaper required cups and cups of water. I tried measuring to develop a precise recipe but stopped after the first batch. A couple handfuls of shredded paper required more than two cups of water.

The paper needs to turn into a mushy mash. The blades of the blender or food processor will rip the paper into shreds only when it is overly saturated. If you don't use enough water you'll get a clump that just bounces around the blender or stays in one place, not breaking apart. Add more water as the blender is blending until you get the paper thoroughly disintegrated and a mushy pulp develops.

Blended pulp

Remove the pulp and set it in a bowl or put it into a colander to allow some of the water to drip out. Continue blending all your paper and water in small batches until all of it is pulp.

At this point try to remove a good part of the water by pressing the pulp with your hands. Discard the water or save it for another batch. With the pulp very damp, but not dripping water, transfer it to your mixing bowl.

Moist pulp

I added 1/4 cup of wildflower seeds to the entire pulpy mass that four sheets of newspaper produced. Using my hands I kneaded it all together like making bread dough. You want the seeds to be fully mixed into the paper pulp.

Adding seed

When it's all incorporated, takes small pieces of the mix and press them into molds, into cookie cutters, or form them with your hands into balls. I find that using small cookie cutters give you a greater variety of shapes to choose from. Keep adding the pulp and seed mixture until the mold is filled.

Pressing the pulp into the mold

The seed balls will need to dry so removing as much water as you can at this point will accelerate the entire process. Begin by compacting the paper as much as you can to force water out and then soak up the water with paper towels or newspaper. These blotting materials can be turned into more seed balls later on.

Blotting excess water

Gently remove the seed balls from your mold and let them dry for a few days. Removing them allows you to use the mold for the next batch and also give the seed balls exposed surface area for drying. They'll expand slightly in the process.

Silicone molds make removal easier

By using water tinted with a few drops of food coloring you can get seed balls of any color you like. You can also try shredding colored paper and mixing that with water. Varying the shapes and colors provides wonderful gift opportunities.

Tinted seed balls drying

While seed balls made with clay and compost can be thrown on the soil surface and will sprout, seed balls made with recycled paper work best when planted in pots beneath a thin layer of potting soil. The decorative shapes and colors make the planting a fun activity for kids.

Making seed balls with recycled paper works well on many levels. You reuse waste materials while adding fun to planting. It's not as messy as the clay seed balls can be and the finished products look better. The entire project takes just a few minutes and the paper seed balls can be stored for months before giving away or being planted.

If you're looking for a fun gardening project, try making recycled paper seed balls.


For more info, read "How to Make Seed Bombs."

Making seed balls is a great garden project for gardeners of all ages. A seed ball is a small object that packs seeds together with a growing medium for planting. The concept is accredited to Masanobu Fukuoko, a Japanese farmer and philosopher who developed the basic formula of mixing clay with humus or compost, and seeds. The balls can be sown in a "natural farming" method where soil tilling isn't necessary. The seed balls are thrown or laid on the soil and nature's rains dissolve them to reveal and germinate the seeds.

Last week I wrote about "seed bombs" and how to make them. Seed bombs are essentially seed balls with a sometimes nefarious purpose. The clay and compost balls are tossed into vacant city lots or barren fields and flowers and grasses sprout depending on the seed in the seed bomb.

For a more aesthetic seed ball, a family gardening project, and a fun gift idea, consider making seed balls from recycled paper. Instead of clay and compost, paper holds the seeds together in the ball.

Heart-shaped seed balls

When water is added to paper it can be pulverized to a pulp. Seed is mixed with the paper pulp and turned into seed balls. These seed balls can be formed into many different shapes and made in many different colors.

To make the pulp you'll need a blender or food processor. I recommend using one that is old and not regularly used for your meals. Inks in the paper will be transferred to the plastic and are hard to clean. I purchased a used food processor from Goodwill for a few dollars. It's now dedicated to the task of making seed balls.

The paper needs to be torn or shredded before adding to the blender. If you pack in a wad of paper and then add water you'll probably burn up the motor pretty quickly. Smaller paper pieces work better.

I began with four full sheets (four pages each) of newspaper and ran the newspaper through my paper shredder. I've also used shredded bills and junk mail to make seed balls. The shredded paper breaks apart easily in the blender when water is added.

Shredded paper before blending

Working in batches, put the torn or shredded paper in the blender and add water. I've found that soaking the paper in a tub of water before adding it to the blender helps it break apart easier. Even if it was soaked beforehand you'll still need to add water to the blender.

We're talking about a lot of water. The four sheets of newspaper required cups and cups of water. I tried measuring to develop a precise recipe but stopped after the first batch. A couple handfuls of shredded paper required more than two cups of water.

The paper needs to turn into a mushy mash. The blades of the blender or food processor will rip the paper into shreds only when it is overly saturated. If you don't use enough water you'll get a clump that just bounces around the blender or stays in one place, not breaking apart. Add more water as the blender is blending until you get the paper thoroughly disintegrated and a mushy pulp develops.

Blended pulp

Remove the pulp and set it in a bowl or put it into a colander to allow some of the water to drip out. Continue blending all your paper and water in small batches until all of it is pulp.

At this point try to remove a good part of the water by pressing the pulp with your hands. Discard the water or save it for another batch. With the pulp very damp, but not dripping water, transfer it to your mixing bowl.

Moist pulp

I added 1/4 cup of wildflower seeds to the entire pulpy mass that four sheets of newspaper produced. Using my hands I kneaded it all together like making bread dough. You want the seeds to be fully mixed into the paper pulp.

Adding seed

When it's all incorporated, takes small pieces of the mix and press them into molds, into cookie cutters, or form them with your hands into balls. I find that using small cookie cutters give you a greater variety of shapes to choose from. Keep adding the pulp and seed mixture until the mold is filled.

Pressing the pulp into the mold

The seed balls will need to dry so removing as much water as you can at this point will accelerate the entire process. Begin by compacting the paper as much as you can to force water out and then soak up the water with paper towels or newspaper. These blotting materials can be turned into more seed balls later on.

Blotting excess water

Gently remove the seed balls from your mold and let them dry for a few days. Removing them allows you to use the mold for the next batch and also give the seed balls exposed surface area for drying. They'll expand slightly in the process.

Silicone molds make removal easier

By using water tinted with a few drops of food coloring you can get seed balls of any color you like. You can also try shredding colored paper and mixing that with water. Varying the shapes and colors provides wonderful gift opportunities.

Tinted seed balls drying

While seed balls made with clay and compost can be thrown on the soil surface and will sprout, seed balls made with recycled paper work best when planted in pots beneath a thin layer of potting soil. The decorative shapes and colors make the planting a fun activity for kids.

Making seed balls with recycled paper works well on many levels. You reuse waste materials while adding fun to planting. It's not as messy as the clay seed balls can be and the finished products look better. The entire project takes just a few minutes and the paper seed balls can be stored for months before giving away or being planted.

If you're looking for a fun gardening project, try making recycled paper seed balls.


For more info, read "
How to Make Seed Bombs."

20 comments:

  1. I have a recipe for the clay and compost kind... do you think the paper would work/stick if i used paper and compost?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've experimented with different recipes for both the clay and paper types of seed balls. Compost can be used in both but I recommend sifted compost, so there aren't any sticks or chunks. A ball formed with paper pulp and rough compost didn't hold together very well. Using a basic ratio of two parts wet paper pulp to one part sifted compost results in a seed ball that retains its shape. I even pressed the mixture into a cookie cutter mold and it held shape nicely; this also works to press out excess water. A paper/compost seed ball doesn't look as good as a plain paper ball because the compost dirties up the color. Though I haven't planted these experimental balls yet, I suspect the compost would help to improve the seed germination and growth over plain paper. Let me know if you try it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello,

    i've seen seed balls being sold online but since I'm from the Philippines, i'm a bit hesitanat to order since I know there are laws for importing live seeds/plants into our country.

    So I decided to just make my own seed balls. I have a question, would vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, etc work instead of wild flower seeds? I don't think we have those in the Philippines.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Seed balls can be made with any kind of seed. For large ones like melons or sunflower seeds, modify the recipe to use fewer seeds per ball. For small seeds like carrots or lettuce, seed balls can be helpful in planting -- you know exactly where you're putting the seed. I'd suggest making very small balls when you use vegetable seeds because it will help reduce the amount of thinning you'll have to do alter.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great idea!
    Let us know how these turned out!!!
    Got so exited about Your post that i just made my first balls and can't wait them to dry out!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've learned that compressing the seed balls too much in an effort to squeeze out the water reduces the seeds' ability to sprout -- kind of like compacted soil. Keep the paper relatively loose to give them the best chance to grow.

    ReplyDelete
  7. We made the heart shaped ones with wildflower seeds for Grandma for Mother's Day. A BIG hit- thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Glad to hear it! I hope they bloom for many years to come.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hey there! I decided to make these seed bombs as a wedding favor for my guests! I need to male them red, do you think there is a more natural option for colouring? Also i find red food colouring comes out rather pinkish.. Any suggestion for a more intense red?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lashy, for a very red and very natural dye consider beet juice. Take a beet, cut it into a few pieces, and bring it to a simmer in a pot. Let it simmer for an hour or so, remove the beet pieces, and then let the water cool. Soak the shredded paper in this water before you form it into the desired shape. Shredded white paper will hold a redder color than newspaper (which tends to turn grey). Have a great wedding.

      Delete
  10. Is there a way to mix everything without using a blender? Im thinking about using this idea as party favors for our wedding. We don't have a blender yet :-) It's on the registry list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jessica, best wishes for your wedding. The blender is to shred the paper into small pieces while mixing it with water. You can achieve the same effect by tearing the paper into pieces that are as small as possible. Try stirring the water and little bits of paper with a fork to help shred them a little more.

      Delete
  11. Won't the seeds sprout within the balls while drying? Also, other than buying seeds in those little packets which would get expensive, any suggestions as to where seeds can be bought in bulk?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeff, that's a good question and something I was concerned about too. That's why I recommend squeezing and patting as much water out as possible so the paper is just damp when you add the seeds, to minimize germination problems. On a drying rack, mine were dry in a day. I suspect some lighter, smaller seeds in a mix may begin germinating, but most other seeds shouldn't be affected by the brief exposure to moisture. For bulk seeds check out an online source. I like Baker Creek Heirloom seeds at www.rareseeds.com and Territorial Seed Co. at www.territorialseed.com.

      Delete
  12. Instead of a countertop blender - you can use a hand blender. I have soaked shredded paper (from my office paper shredder) for 24-48 hours until it is mushy, then whizzed it with a hand blender right in the plastic box I was soaking the paper in - worked like a charm! We were doing paper sculptures - but I think we will try again and make seed bombs for valentines day! Thanks for the tips!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the info. Sounds like an easy way to do it if you don't want to burn out a blender. :)

      Delete
  13. Great! First time to encounter this kind of experiment? I never thought that papers could be a good kind of fertilizers, but with this blog it makes me wonder that the small papers from paper shredder is very useful. Very interesting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Milliscent, in this preparation the paper isn't really a fertilizer, but rather a soil substitute. Paper is a good additive for compost piles because it is organic and will decompose easily. That attribute allows it to act as a temporary substitute for soil when making seed balls.

      Delete
  14. Junk mail, bills, magazines, and other forms of paper can be shredded and used for composting. Many homeowners have been doing it ever since. So, I am not surprised to see awesome ideas like this. Creating seed balls out of shredded papers is definitely wonderful; a great way to recycle papers. I hope more and more people discover other things we can do out of shredded papers.

    Ruby Badcoe @ Williams Data Management

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ruby. I've actually found that much of the paper from bills is thicker and tends to shred and break down better than newspaper when mixed with water. I wouldn't recommend using the shiny magazine pages. Though they are supposedly printed with organic ink and not the metal stuff of previous years, they still take longer to break down than plain paper.

      Delete