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Bombing unicorns’ promises of rainbows

Outdoor Living

Nature and rewilding
Pat Fahy

I always find it encouraging when asked questions about how best to provide for the needs of our butterflies and bumblebees, all part of the to and fro of genuine interest and knowledge sharing. One question in particular is the source of much debate, depending on whether you believe the hype of their magical ‘my unicorn makes rainbows’ properties or the experience of gardeners with their encyclopaedia of collective knowledge: “Are seed bombs any good?” Here’s my opinion on the matter.
Regardless of how useful they are to ‘saving the bees’, as the online advertisements are wont to say, it has to be said that seed bombs should always have their place in the scheme of things; they mightn’t save the bees exactly, but they do create a buzz by sheer action and a little theatre – often sharing equal billing with other activities during events and weekend festivals.
Throwing seed bombs is enjoyable and lets people feel satisfied for little effort, a fun activity for budding nature enthusiasts who can rightly imagine the best case scenario, which unfortunately doesn’t occur half often enough without some care and preparation.
Overpriced and overhyped by some vendors who advertise heavily online, seed bombs are often pushed with exaggerated claims of magical properties and rainbows of colour into a sphere that at its heart should be so pure – providing flowers for bumblebees and other pollinators. Watch out for colourful computer-drawn animations but no actual photos of the promised miraculous riot of colour – warning signs that these advertisements are aimed at the total beginner who wants to believe the hype.
Each seed ball is packed with seeds, but be aware that from the moment they receive moisture the seeds are going to germinate and they’ll need regular water for two weeks to grow – which is contrary to advice of some advertisers, who say that no care or garden tools are needed. Unwanted wildflowers and grasses will also out compete most seedlings, so a prepared area with bare soil is also recommended.
Then there is the problem of over-seeding. All the seeds in the seed ball will grow at the same time, and if your lucky you might get more than one plant, depending on the species. Anything more than this is a rare occurrence.

Make your own
Seed bombing should be fun, easy and inexpensive, which is why I’d definitely like to see making your own seed balls more widely practised. Ordinary soil mixed 50/50 with peat-free compost won’t cost the planet. Add seeds from any cornfield annual wildflower mix or clover that has been dried in paper bags. Add a small amount of water to the soil and mix with compost until you have a round seed ball that you can throw up in the air and catch in your palm of your hand without breaking. Leave to dry overnight and turn in the morning, out of direct sunlight.
The best gifts are experiences; this is why arts and crafts are such a popular activity with developing minds. They stir emotions and create memories in a way that is hardwired in all of us, and in a way that ready-made, prettily-packaged promises can never do.
The thought of flowers newly growing where they were absent, where bumblebees and butterflies can visit, is definitely a dream worth encouraging though. Even if unicorns can’t imbue magical properties into mythical seed bombs, it’s still important to dream or invest in someone else’s dreams. When we were young we drew rainbows, and when we grew up we watched others draw rainbows. But telling me that your unicorn makes rainbows and asking me to pay for the privilege? I’ll tell you where you can put that rainbow!

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.