Once upon a time, like right about here and now, there was a passionate plant-nerd, seed saver and idealist. Okay maybe there were two (or more) such persons..but for the purposes of our story we’ll create a composite character, and we’re going to call her Juanita Appleseed. She is a philosophical cousin to the great American legend Johnny Appleseed (a.k.a John Chapman), a slightly pagan man of the the wilderness who spread the seeds of the apple throughout the pioneering frontier in the form of cider orchards*. Juanita has dedicated herself to the idea that “wildness survives in seed and can be cultivated” 1 and is determined to spread a little wildness (in the form of ornamental flowers) onto the barren lots and urban blight of her town, Sacramento.
In other words Juanita is a seed bomber.
Truth be told this is still just somewhat of an aspiration. How does one ‘become’ an artist? Or ‘become’ a musician? Or ‘become’ a seed bomber?
Simply by doing it!
We must start right where we are and in the acting of practicing or in act of trying and perhaps failing, we find success and the achievement of our goals. As the adage says “we must be the change we wish to see”.
Well, Juanita wants to see giant sunflowers towering over chain link fences, burgundy Amaranth heavy with it’s bounty of food for birds growing on untended lots, and she wants to see the sunny yellows of self-seeding Marigolds tenaciously growing in the spaces that nobody notices, cares for or remembers. And so she must spread their seeds.
First, to make the seed bombs (or ‘seed balls’, if you prefer a slightly more pacifistic approach) Juanita started with the basics: a whole lot of seed gathered from her own garden at the end of last summer, some clay-ish soil (the stickier, the better) , about 1/3 part compost,and a little water.
Initially she attempted to separate the seed from the chaff using a simple colander but she found that while the tiniest of seed (like the Amaranth) easily fell through, it was more difficult to pick out the Calendula (marigold) for instance. After some deliberation she decided that mixing a little more biological matter, i.e the dried fragments of the plant as well as the seed, should only increase the nutrition and hospitable environment for the little seedlings. And perhaps, she thought, add a little of the comfort of Home.
So into the witches brew it all went.
Juanita recommends the addition of little hands to almost any project that needs an extra touch of faith, magic and hope for the future. And so her small helpers stirred and stirred mixing the soil like a giant vat of batter, adding only a touch of CelluClay (a powdered paper mache mix she had on hand) when the balls didn’t seem to be holding together. This was an improvisation on Juanita’s part as most seed bomb recipes call for a binding agent more like potter’s clay, but as she is often heard saying “you have to work with what you’ve got”.
The lovely little balls were set out to dry for a week or so until they were as hard as rocks and then stored away in paper bags in the garden shed until the first of the rains began. That would not be until much later Juanita was to learn, as she impatiently waited through one of the driest winters of recent years.
As for the rest of the seed she had saved? Well, some of it was stored away for Juanita’s own garden where she dreamed of a cutting garden and a stronger yield of second generation seed. And some of it was neatly packaged up into gift bags that may have ended up at a school bake sale near you.
The gift of seed seems to Juanita (in her unbridled passion for the biological mystery that is The Seed) to be the best legacy one could leave. With care and cultivation these little packages of nature’s miracle can be passed from hand to hand, from garden to garden. If only one giant sunflower blooms in a garden from a seed Juanita has spread, then she will feel her work a success.
Finally in late winter, a few days of rain came and softened the earth enough to make it ready to receive. It was time to go a bombin’. Juanita got busy. She loaded up the carrier box on the back of her bike with the seed balls, armed and equipped her little side-kick in the trailer behind and they were off.
If Jonnny Appleseed’s primary mode of transporting his payload of apple seeds into the American landscape was a hollowed-out log canoe, then Juanita’s preferred mode for urban seed sowing is her bicycle. From the bike she reasons, you are more acutely aware of the places you travel past. What looks from the car like a simple untended patch of dirt by the light rail, from a bike reveals itself to be much more wretched and trash-strewn, and in need of alot more TLC then was first imagined.
But Juanita will not be swayed. After peppering the soil with more than 40 seed bombs, with her sidekick’s cries of “Pow” “Pow” “Pow”, she sat for a moment and offered a little prayer. May just one of these germinate she silently asked. May we pass here again in late spring and be greeted with even the smallest glimpse of color and we will know that we brought it here. And she said another prayer for the rain. It’s up to you now Mother Earth, I’m going home to roll up some more balls.
Next Juanita took her seed to the foothills of Rescue CA and spread some love on the rocky (and as yet barren-of -color front yard) of a friend’s ranch. Again with each bomb thrown was a little prayer. A wish to bring an unexpected gift, a blooming, to this home. It felt for all the world like truly sowing seeds of Love.
Just wish upon the seed and all it holds and then, let it go.
In The Botany of Desire, author Micheal Pollan writes: ” …and that’s why all the other sowers of wild seeds, all those who labor under the sign of John Chapman, are to be prized, even if they do blow it now and again, disseminating along with all their good apples the occasional stinking fennel. In the best of all possible worlds we’d be preserving the wild places… the next best world, though, is the one that preserves the quality of wildness itself”.
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* Source: “The Botany of Desire: A plant’s-eye view of the world” by Micheal Pollan, Random House, 2001.
1. Botany of Desire, pg. 57