Following on from my ‘Seedballs part 1’ article, we can explore a little how we can use seedballs within education. Encouragement of holistic learning seems to me to be a very energy-efficient way to propagate regenerative ideas; much in the same way that making seedballs creates the perfect mini-environment for the seeds to grow, so they will spread by themselves wherever they are tossed. So too an inquisitive mind, once ‘seeded’ with inspiration, will go on to create and discover independently of the original ‘teacher’.
This article goes through a suggested method for making seedballs which can be implemented as part of a holistic educational approach, for any age.
Mental farming and Reggio inspiration
In my articles ‘Mental Farming’ part 1 (1) and 2 (2) I explored some common inspirational holistic education approaches, such as Reggio Emilia (see for example 3), forest schools (see for example 4) and forest asylums (asili nel boschi) (see for example 5).
These educational approaches are aimed primarily at very young children, such as Reggio Emilia-inspired preschools in Italy and elsewhere (3), and forest kindergartens in Denmark (4). In this article I will go through a quick and easy way to introduce seedballs as an activity as part of holistic education. My youngest participants so far have been age four; if you plan to do it with younger children I think it would be safe as long as you check they do not eat too much of the ingredients. The following steps are given as a guide for conducting the activity with young participants, but it can be adapted to any age group.
Step 1: Gather your ingredients
Gathering your Ingredients (feline helper optional).
Before you conduct the activity it is important to make sure you have the required materials. This is what I used to make around 50 seedballs:
- About half a bucket of compost – I used the compost I made in my garden.
- About the same amount of clay – again, I used clay from the clay-rich soil in one part of my garden, which is grey clay. Masanobu Fukuoka recommends red clay as being optimum if you have it (6), but grey seems to work fine as well.
- A garden sieve – this is to make the materials fine and easy to mix. Especially important if you are using ingredients from your garden, like me. I pre-sieved my compost and clay for use in the activity.
- Chilli powder – adding a small amount of this to the mix helps to deter insects from the seeds to ensure they get a healthy start in life.
- The seeds themselves – the ones in the picture are Butterfly Pea, Clitoria Ternatea (7). I was also using Marigold, Tagetes Erecta (8). Both of these species attract beneficial insects and are adapted to the climatic conditions of the local area. I harvested the Butterfly Pea from wild specimens so they are Open Pollinated and probably resilient and adaptable. For more on why this is important you can refer back to part 1 of this article series.
- A large bowl, bucket or box for mixing in. Depending on the number of participants, you may wish to use three or four mixing receptacles so that they can be shared in groups.
- A trowel or other implement to do the mixing with: you need as many of these as you have participants, so that everyone can have a go. Kitchen spoons are fine, as long as you don’t mind them getting compost-y.
- Water – During the actual activity, I had a watering can nearby but not generally available. Depending on how long you want to spend on the activity, if you are conducting it with small children, you may wish to be the sole guardian of the water. Enthusiastic addition of water is fine but if your mix is too wet, you will need to add more compost and clay for the balls to be successful, which takes more time.
- A tray – to lay the finished seedballs on to dry.
Optional extra materials:
- For one group, I included a ‘Make a Wish’ card on the tray, so that when the participants lay their finished seedballs on the tray they are also encouraged to make a wish about how they want their seedballs to grow.
Step 2: Introducing your seedballs
As we explored in ‘Seedballs — Part1’, these spheres of energy are a great way to create optimum growing conditions around the seeds you wish to see growing, without having to go into the environment and create those growing conditions yourself, using potentially labour-intensive or energy-inefficient digging methods. Seedballs have been used in many places throughout the years as part of Natural Farming (6), ecosystem regeneration and reforestation (9), re-introduction of wildflower species (10), and as part of peaceful revolution in guerrilla gardening (11); and as such are part of a rich history of inspiring actions.
If you are making seedballs with young children, however, the chances are they may not be so interested when you start quoting Masanobu Fukuoka, or giving them statistics of wildflower habitat loss and the importance of ecosystem regeneration. Part of Reggio Emilia teaching is that the students should be interested in doing an activity themselves before you conduct it with them, so how can we get them excited about seedballs?
One of the key activity outlines in Reggio Emilia is a ‘provocation’ (see for example 12); this is where you ‘strew’ materials in the learning space, along with materials for the students to do their own discoveries and explorations, and then allow them to generate their own interest. For example, you could place many different types of flower seeds in a space, along with materials for drawing the seeds, or a ‘shadow-board’ to explore the shadows they make, and see how the students react. Chances are some may be intrigued enough to ask what the seeds are, and you can go from there into the seedball activity.
Another aspect to consider is that of context. It can be very helpful to introduce the seedballs as part of a wider ongoing story. For example, in a recent educational program, I told the students a story about a Butterfly Fairy and Bee Fairy whose flowers all began disappearing one day. The students, having learned already about the connections between bees and flowers, suggested that we plant more flowers. We also made ‘Fairy Houses’ or insect hotels as part of the same ongoing tale.
Step 3: Mix compost and clay
A good consistency for compost.
Once your participants are sufficiently interested in the activity you can move on to the process. First, mix about equal parts of compost and clay together. I found it easier to use already-sieved compost and clay for my participants, and they added it themselves to their bowls and mixed together.
Step 4: Add the spice and water…carefully!
Once the clay and compost are mixed, you can add a little bit of chilli powder. I found one dessertspoon for around 20 seedballs seemed effective, you can make your own experiments with this. After the chilli powder is mixed in, you can carefully pour some water into the mixture as the participants continue mixing (if you are short on time or if the participants are young children – otherwise you can encourage the participants to add the water themselves).
Adding the spice.
Step 5: Achieving ball-like consistency
Once you have poured a little bit of water into the bowl and mixed, it should begin to resemble dough in consistency. This is when anyone who hasn’t already connected with the earth by touching the mix should be encouraged to get their hands in there. In order to achieve the perfect consistency for the seedballs, it seems important that you test with your hands by taking a small amount of mix and rolling it into a ball in your palm. If the mixture is too wet, the ball will not hold its shape, and if it is too dry, it will fall apart. Experiment with the consistency until you are satisfied you can make balls.
Testing the consistency.
Step 6: Adding the seeds
This part can be done in a number of ways. If you are using many different species of seeds, and in particular if you plan to use the seedballs in ecosystem restoration or wildflower regeneration in the wild, then it is more energy efficient to mix all the seeds into the mix, and then roll the balls afterwards.
If you are doing it more as a demonstration for a small garden, you may wish to add the seeds individually to the seedballs. This method is a lot more time-consuming but aids with focus of attention and intention and so could be a beneficial part of the learning process for the participants. If you are adding the seeds individually, first make a ball, then use your finger to make an indentation in the ball, and place one or 2 seeds inside the indentation before closing it up.
Adding the seeds.
Step 7: Place the seedballs on a tray
Now your seedballs are finished, you can place them on the tray and leave them to dry. Depending on your climate, it could take between 12 and 48 hours for them to set into hard balls.
Insert picture filename: 6 – Drying the seedballs
As an extra activity after the seedballs are finished, you could go around the participants and ask them to share an intention they have which they wish to put into their seedballs. This is especially helpful as a tie-in back to whichever activity you used to introduce the seedballs. For example, if you are using a story about fairies as I did, you can then remind your participants of the fairies, and suggest they make a wish. The results will probably be endearing, and almost definitely you will get some surprises! I have had a lot of children wishing for healthy flowers for the fairies, but some wished for other things; such as that the flowers would grow tiny TVs so that the fairies can watch TV.
Test seedballs after three days.
We can take inspiration from these holistic education ideas and apply them to older children and adults as well. In my experience, adults love self-guided exploration as much as children, though most of us have been trained into accepting direction from others in a much more rigid way. Arguably, it is important to ‘disestablish’ (see for example 13) these patterns of obedience in humans of all ages.
I have often wondered why techniques such as Reggio Emilia and settings such as Forest Schools seem to be aimed almost exclusively at very young children; when it seems to me that we are all in need of holistic connection to our wider ecosystem. One idea could be that connection to trees and wild ecosystems is an essential part of human development (14), so the younger a person is when they engage in activities such as these, the healthier they can be. Whatever age the participants in your educational setting, I hope you enjoy making seedballs with them and feel inspired to try further holistic education techniques.
A seedball sprouts.
Photography by Charlotte Ashwanden. Featured image from Pixabay.
- Ashwanden, C, 2015. ‘Mental Farming: Ideas for Improving Educational Approaches’. Permaculture News, 26/11/15. https://permaculturenews.org/2015/11/26/mental-farming-ideas-for-improving-educational-approaches/
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