Last Saturday I was lucky enough to get invited to help run a seed bomb workshop at Haringay Independence Day. It was a perfect sunny summer day and we had our hands dirty for most of it, as well as getting to attend other workshops, jam sessions, swap gardening knowledge and give and get stuff for free. But let’s cut to the chase; what on earth is a seed bomb?
A seedbomb is a convenient way of sowing seed on derelict land in the hope of improving the environment either aesthetically, or by improving the soil, by encouraging native wildflowers or even planting vegetables or other edible goodies. Seed bombing probably came out of the Community Garden Movement that sprung up in New York in the 1970′s, when ordinary people decided to do something positive about the derelict land that blighted the city’s heart. They planted clandestine gardens in vacant lots, utilising seed bombs as a start when access to the desired land was proving difficult. New Yorkers were not the first to practice the creative art of Guerilla Gardening which has a venerable history wherever derelict land and human need have coincided, but seed bombing was a technique the New Yorkers made their own. So, what makes a good seed bomb, and why is it a “bomb” exactly?
A seedbomb consists of three things – the seeds, a pinch of peat free compost or topsoil, and the outer bomb casing for want of a better description. In our demonstration we used London clay for this, which is perfect because it’s free (If you live in London you just dig down a metre or so beyond all the builders rubble and crap and there it is, a rich seam of beautiful clay) and also because when it’s dry, it becomes brittle and shatters easily. If you do not have a local clay soil, you can use newspaper pulped in a blender to make papier mache mixture instead. I guess you could even use a mixture of flour and water…
So, you need:-
- Clay or papier mache
- a small amount of rich topsoil or peat free compost
- seeds of your choice
- a bit of paper to wrap each seedbomb in
Grab a lump of clay or papier mache about the size of a golf ball or a little smaller, and roll it into a ball. Next, poke your finger hard into the clay or papier mache until you’ve made a hole. Then, put a small pinch of your topsoil or compost into the hole… it only needs to be a tiny amount. Now you are ready to add your seeds – you can mix up your flower varieties if you like but a favourite seed bomb flower of mine is poppies. Once you’ve tucked the seeds into the hole, close it up by smoothing clay over the hole or adding more papier mache, and roll the ball in your hands again to make it round. Then put your seedbomb somewhere safe to dry, like a sunny window ledge.
Make as many as you like! When your seedbomb is completely dry, it is ready to use.
How do I use it? And you still haven’t explained why it’s a bomb!
Well, seed grenade is probably a more appropriate name, since what you are going to do is throw your seedbomb on the ground really hard in order to make it shatter. In the act of shattering, your seeds and their little bit of nutrient soil are dispersed much better than if you tried to sow them by hand and it’s much less fiddly… you can plant hundreds of seeds on the move and in an instant – you don’t even have to break your stride! So once your papier mache or clay balls are completely dry, put them in a bag in your pocket and go out looking for targets.
Where should I seedbomb? Any small neglected patch of land. Be creative in your choices! The dirt around a street tree might be a good place, or the long grass near some railings where the mower can never reach, or a neglected municipal flower bed. Grass verges around car parks that need brightening up. Traffic islands and roadside verges are great fun to seedbomb from a bicycle and the extra speed means they explode all the better! If you don’t have time to tend your garden – throw some down there!
Is there anywhere I shouldn’t seedbomb? Seedbombing is best done in neglected places frequented by humans – nature reserves or wild places should not be seedbombed! They may have delicate ecosystems that could get disrupted by introducing new plants.
What kind of seed should I use? Plants that don’t need a lot of looking after are best. If you just want to add a splash of colour to a neglected spot I would always recommend poppies. Poppies are a seedbombers friend because they thrive in neglected soil and wherever you live in the world there will probably be a native species of poppy you can use seeds from, so you are helping wildlife too! In fact, using native wildflowers is always better, because they don’t need looking after and will not create a pest problem. In the UK I’d recommend looking for a wildflower meadow mix as these will contain beautiful colourful plants that will do well in poor soil and with no extra effort once sown.
It didn’t shatter properly! Don’t worry, you can help it on it’s way by crushing the seedbomb underfoot if you can get to it; the weather, passing animals and insects will probably finish the dispersal for you. If it’s at least got a good crack running through it do nothing; the next time it rains the water will split it apart and disperse it naturally.
But what if my seeds grow and the council comes along and mows everything up, that would be horrible! The trick is be prolific in your seedbombing and don’t be too precious – of all the millions of seeds created by nature only the tiniest percentage survive to become thriving plants and for whatever reason this may well be true of your seed bomb babies. Don’t be downhearted… keep trying! Even if only a few plants make it you’ve brightened the world a tiny bit. There is a lovely saying – “If I knew the world would end tomorrow I would plant an apple tree today”.
We made hundreds of seedbombs on Saturday, and there was a handful left over that nobody took away. I’m going to look out for suitable sites to bomb and report back when I’m done!