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  • Raju Titus
    Clay balls protect seeds from sun, wind and birds Old method of hand-forming spheres attributed to Indians By Christine Arpe Gang Special to The Commercial
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2007
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      Clay balls protect seeds from sun, wind and birds
      Old method of hand-forming spheres attributed to Indians
      By Christine Arpe Gang
      Special to The Commercial Appeal
      Friday, November 2, 2007
      Gardeners who love playing in the dirt might try their hand at making
      some mud marbles, called seed balls.
      These compact spheres of clay, compost and seeds have several
      advantages over sowing and scattering seeds in traditional ways.
      The tightly packed balls hold the seeds in place so they will not be
      dried out by the sun, eaten by birds or blown away by the wind.
      When it rains, the mud "melts" into the earth where the seeds will
      germinate exactly where they were placed. The balls should be placed
      on top of the soil, not buried.
      This method of distributing seeds for flowers and vegetables is being
      used in urban gardens, farms and wild areas in the United States and
      all over the world.
      Master Gardeners in DeSoto County received wildflower seed balls at
      the International Master Gardeners Conference in Little Rock last
      summer, said Dr. Joy Fox Anderson, an extension horticulturist who
      splits her time between DeSoto and Shelby counties.
      "The flowers grew wherever the seed balls landed," Anderson said. Some
      of the Master Gardeners tossed theirs onto beds or in uncultivated
      areas.
      Others set them out more carefully.
      They are not difficult to make. In regions where the soil is sandy,
      gardeners mix pottery clay, compost, seeds and water to make the firm
      ball.
      Our native soil has enough clay to use it exclusively to make the
      balls, Anderson said. Or you can blend in a little compost with the
      clay. The compost gives seeds a boost of nutrients as they germinate.
      The most common seed ball recipe is one-part clay soil, one- part
      compost, one-part seeds and a little water sprayed in to hold the ball
      together.
      Once the mixture is blended, take a little wad and roll it between
      your hands into balls about 1/2 - to 1-inch in diameter.
      It's important to allow balls to dry before storing them because
      excess moisture can rot the seeds. You can place them on a screen in a
      sunny place.
      "Seeds of annuals work best," Anderson said. Some suggestions are
      sunflowers, zinnias, poppies, cosmos and larkspur.
      Ellen Le Blond placed a mud ball with amsonia (bluestar) seeds in a
      flower bed last January. In the spring when they sprouted, she thinned
      the crop until she had an amsonia right where she wanted it.
      This method of planting seeds is attributed to North American Indians.
      But Masanobu Fukuoka, natural no-till farming pioneer, also
      experimented with them. Seed balls have also been used in urban
      community gardens in New York City and on farms in developing
      countries.
      A few commercial seed companies sell them. Gardens.com offers thyme,
      parsley, chive and basil seeds in packages of eight seed balls. Each
      ball has 20 to 30 seeds, enough to cover a square foot in plants.
      At gardenbasket.com you can buy a brand called Seed Ballz with mixed
      herbs, sunflowers, poppies, sweet peas, cosmos and a blend of all-pink
      flowers called "Seeds of Hope."
      Seed Ballz hires people with developmental disabilities to make its products.
      A portion of the sale of the pink flower blend goes to help women
      fighting breast cancer.
      So get a group of adult friends or children together to make seed
      balls. You might find that you enjoy making mudpies again.
      Dixon floriculturist honored
      Greg Francis, floriculturist at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, won the top
      prize for the flower arrangement he created for a competition at the
      national conference of the Specialty Cut Flower Grower's Association
      in Raleigh, N.C.
      It wasn't a carefully practiced design. He chose his container, a deep
      purple glass piece, and flowers at the conference right before the
      competition began.
      "I wanted to make a fall arrangement, but knew I could use yellow and
      orange flowers with an aubergine container," said Francis who
      estimates there were about 100 entries.
      Instead he chose dark red celosia, the burgundy flowers of Autumn Joy
      sedum, dark plum dahlias, twisted vines and grasses with seed heads.
      "It was a modern fall arrangement," he said.
      Judges praised him for his choice of plant materials, color
      combinations, proportion, drama and texture. "It has 'wow power,' "
      they said in their judging notes.
      Lavender, hostas and hydrangea
      Some gardening questions from readers:
      Vicki Scholting planted lavender in two containers last spring. One is
      Spanish lavender and the other is an English type. She wants to know
      if she should leave them outside, put them in the garage or shelter
      them in a sun room.
      "The English lavender will be fine outside during the winter," said
      Sara Burnette, a past president of the Memphis Herb Society who has
      had great success in growing lavender. But Spanish lavender needs to
      be covered when temperatures dip below 25 degrees, or it can be
      brought into the garage or the sun room.
      "Be sure not to over-water them if you bring them inside," Burnette
      said. "They don't need much water." Watering about once a month might
      be enough.
      Scholting also asks if lavender should bloom more than once.
      "They're basically spring bloomers," Burnette said. "Once in awhile
      you will see another flower or two but not a lot."
      Jane Crabtree has some small hostas in containers and wants to know if
      she should bring those in.
      Hostas can be planted in the ground now, or kept in their pots
      outdoors. They need a period of cold dormancy.
      Fannie Hayes wants to know why there are black spots on the leaves of
      her hydrangea and why it is still blooming.
      Hydrangea leaves are often infected with fungal diseases. They usually
      don't hurt the bushes in any significant way but do look unsightly.
      Fall is not a time to prune, so wait until the leaves fall off after
      the first frost, which should occur in early November. Then remove the
      leaves from the ground, bag and throw them away.
      The hydrangea in question is probably a reblooming variety or it could
      be an older variety with a sporadic flower or two.
      Questions or comments? Contact Christine Arpe Gang at
      chrisagang@... or call Home & Garden editor Peggy Reisser
      Winburne at 529-2372.

      (c) 2007 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers
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