Seed balls, green grenades, seed bombs … they go by many names but are all primarily the same thing: small balls of potentiality formed from soil, clay and seeds. In a nod to one of my favorite topics, Guerrilla gardening, spring 2015 met my army of young gardeners lobbing seed bombs in the most unlikely places around campus. While we may not be restoring junky, abandoned urban lots with community gardens (as the traditional Guerrilla gardening term refers to), we are certainly no strangers to the concept of planting outside of the “garden box” here at Green Chimneys. Take a moment to check out a previous post about our first attempt at Guerilla gardening in the fall of 2013, inconspicuously planting bulbs across campus.
As a project, making seed balls offers a variety of opportunities for sensory stimulation. This is especially important for many of our students who find difficulty learning in the more traditional way, sitting quietly behind a desk. By creating open-ended opportunities children can benefit in the following arenas;
- Cognitive: we give students enough information and materials to be successful, yet we also give them enough space to build their problem-solving and analytic skills. Is this mixture the right consistency? Will I be able to make a ball that stays together? What seeds should I use?
- Physical: building fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination is important for many of our students, and projects such as these supports growth.
- Social/Emotional: we help boost confidence by setting the stage for students to be successful. When it came time to lob our seed balls, there were many opportunities for all of our students to share a positive experience with their classmates, outside of the classroom.
- Linguistic: children build their vocabularies and expressive capacity when working with new materials and concepts.
- Creative: self-esteem and the ability to be creative are improved with non-conventional projects like making seed balls.
We began by mixing potting soil and clay in a 4:1 ratio. Mr. Kevin, our experiment guru and garden teaching assistant, developed this particular proportion one day with one of his Learn and Earn students, Aaron. For a really thorough DIY set of instructions, along with the science behind why seed balls work so well, visit Gardening Know How.
Students had a lot of fun stirring up their mix, slowly adding water until they had a consistency that clumped together nicely. With some classes we made our balls with one particular seed, while in other classes we gave the students the opportunity to choose a variety of flowers and create their own custom blend. As the kids combed through our box of donated year-old seed, they showed great interest in this opportunity to make some decisions. Most children had never heard of or seen many of the varieties we had to offer. Seeing and touching the seeds — all the different sizes, colors and shapes — made eyes light up with anticipation, joy and wonder.
The seeds were worked into the soil/clay mixture and when they were no longer obviously visible, the students transformed themselves from scientists to chefs and started rolling mini-meatballs-sized items. Some students chose to wear gloves while others preferred to work bare-handed. There were a lot of smiles on faces since most children enjoyed feeling the soil form into a shape between their fingers. This project confirmed my plan for creating a mud kitchen this summer in the garden. Kids need to be kids, and in my book, that means enjoying a healthy dose of fun! Can you say, mud pies?
We gave the seed balls a week to dry, and when our classes returned the following week we talked a bit about the philosophy of guerrilla gardening, the concept of food deserts and even touched on some ideas linked to social justice. But let’s face it, students were hooked once they heard that I wanted them to sneak around campus and lob green grenades where they saw fit; excluding places with no dirt, or areas that would be mowed.
Now all we have to do is wait. And remember where we threw our seed balls. As my wonderful colleague Anne noted, “You’ve concocted your own little botanical secrets!” I rather like that observation. Our hope is that sometime this summer a few of us will be lucky enough to stumble upon some random outcroppings of floral explosion, the result of the green grenades! For the long term, my hope is that my students truly are learning and growing right alongside our seedlings.