Seed balls, also known as "earth balls", nendo dango (Japanese: 粘土 団子?), boule de graines in French and so on, consist of a variety of different seeds rolled within a ball of clay, preferably volcanic plastic red clay. Into this medium various additives may be included, such as humus or compost. These are placed around the seeds, at the center of the ball, to provide microbial inoculants. Cotton-fibres or liquified paper are sometimes mixed into the clay in order to strengthen it, or liquified paper mash coated on the outside to further protect the clay ball during sowing by throwing, or in particularly harsh habitats.
The technique for creating seed balls was rediscovered by Japanese natural farming pioneer Masanobu Fukuoka. The technique had been used in ancient times in the Middle East, Egypt and parts of North Africa. The technique was also used, for instance, in ancient Egypt to repair farms after the annual spring flooding of the Nile. In modern times, during the period of the Second World War, this Japanese government plant scientist working in a government lab, Fukuoka, who lived on the mountainous island of Shikoku, wanted to find a technique that would increase food production without taking away from the land already allocated for traditional rice production. He read extensively and came across mention of the ancient technique which thrived in the volcanic rich soils of Japan.
To make a seed ball, generally about 5 measures of red clay by volume are combined with one measure of seeds. The balls are formed between 10mm and 80mm (about 0.4 to 3.15 inches) in diameter. The patent has been deemed unenforceable throughout the world because of the ancient practice.
Seed balls have use in nearly any region where plants can grow: for reseeding ecosystems into areas of man-made deserts, avoiding seed eating insects and animals and protecting seeds until rains fall to soak the clay ball and stimulate the seeds. Seeds contained in such balls then germinate in ideal conditions for each climate/region.
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