Soil Science Primer – Part 3

Relating to seed balls

Back to Part 1 or Part 2

Safe and Nurturing

A plant’s genes can stay safely nestled within in a seed for a very long time. It’s basically a genetic time capsule. While in the seed, the genes are in a minimal-risk situation. As soon as that seed opens, the precious chance for life becomes vulnerable.  It’s a wild world out there for a plant embryo- every living critter in that soil from bacteria to elephants, could eat, infect, crush or otherwise ruin its chance to grow and make more seeds. The transition from seed to plant is the most vulnerable phase in a plant’s life cycle.

The seed ball acts as a buffer to assist the seedling make that transition. The seedling in the seed ball has the following soil-related advantages:

  • The temperature and moisture variation are buffered, which reduces the risk of shock and fungal infection to the seedling,
  • The seedling is protected from many soil-born pathogens while it is leaving the seed and most fragile
  • The seedling does not have to work so hard to find nutrients, there are plenty right there in the seed ball while new true leaves are forming.
  • Our seed balls have a very beneficial microbial community, one we foster through the addition of bokashi tea and post-ferment compost.

The result is a seedling that has more vigor and resilience as it grows.

The Adult Plant and Reality

Once the seedling has emerged, its roots going deep into the soil and the true leaves searching for light, the plant will thrive only when you, the seed-baller have made certain that the plant and native soil will get along well. A great resource is the USDA Web Soil Soil Survey. Use their map tool to find the target, and read about the soil. You can find out the Soil Series name (That’s the identifier for the unique soil that we discussed in theFirst Soil Science Primer. Using the Soil Series name, you can find out all about the soil – the climate, slope, how sandy, rocky, clayey, wet, and so forth. Cool stuff. All this is available online at the USDA Soil Series Descriptions page.

This is all fine and good, but more often than not, the Soil Series Description will describe natural soil. Meaning un-disturbed, or minimally disturbed. If you are planning on seed-balling a construction site, the soils will be a jumbled mess. They will not have the nice stratified structure of a natural soil. On the Soil Series Description, take a look at the B horizon. That’s a deeper layer. For the purposes of seed-balling, it’s probably a good bet to guage your plants’ success as if it were growing in that material. It will have less organic matter, and a more clay than the top of the soil (usually called the A or O horizon, depending on its nature.

Planning a Successful Seed Ball Adventure

  1. Scope your site, check for soil disturbance
  2. Map it on the USDA Web Soil Soil Survey
  3. Learn about the soil series from the USDA Soil Series Descriptions page
  4. Find suitable native species. (BONAP) is a great resource.
  5. Make or buy your seed balls
  6. Bombs Away!

Have fun, be safe and respectful.

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