Nature is getting its own guerrilla soldiers, with adults and children alike seed bombing barren spaces and planting seed paper—all in the name of sustainability. By Surya Praphulla Kumar & Anoop Menon
The first day of January, and the rush to meet print deadlines take a backseat when the New Year’s pick of planners arrive at the office. We make a grab for the Hyatt calendar, for one simple reason: made of seed paper, it has Baby’s Breath for January, tomatoes for November, and more. All it takes, says an instruction guide, is some soil and water.
At a time when the world has lost 94 per cent of its seed varieties and the rest are in the control of corporates—as is vividly shown in the soon-to-be-released Seed – The Untold Story, a crowd-funded film by US documentary filmmakers Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz—the seed is now the hero of many an initiative. In fact, products made from seed paper or just containing seeds—like the pencils you can plant that will grow into basil or the chilli plant—are fast becoming the stamp of companies and individuals who want to show that they stand for an eco-friendly, sustainable future.
Meanwhile, another bunch is looking at the other growing trend, the seed bomb—little clay-and-compost seed-filled balls that have rolled on to our shores after ‘greenifying’ spaces in the West. You might recall Kama Ayurveda’s Diwali surprise last year, when they gave away a tulsi seed bomb with their gift bags. A part of their eco-awareness movement, ‘Bombs for Clean Air’, Aakriti Sawhney, who handles communication and marketing, says this year customers will get a ‘bomb’ (handmade by the inmates of Tihar Jail) with each purchase—“to promote guerrilla gardening (planting in open/public spaces) rather than bursting firecrackers”. Fast catching on in cities, with enthusiasts bombing medians and barren land along the highways, the concept is also becoming a popular tool to connect children with nature. So we decided to take a peek behind the hype.
—With inputs from Priyadarshini Nandy & Arya P Dinesh
It’s a feel-good thing. It’s also relevant for brands like a Kissan and a Kama Ayurveda. A clever idea (packaging with seeds), it draws the consumer in with its novel approach and strengthens the brand’s image, too, by addressing something that resonates with people. This trend is also encouraging children to be more sensitive
to the environment. Maybe next we can look at seeds in mobile phones!
national creative director, O&M India
|THE MAKERS21 FoolsThe ones who made the calendar we all want this year, founder Divyanshu Asopa started 21 Fools as a greeting cards company in 2010. Three years later, the Mumbai-based startup took an eco-friendly turn when they teamed up with Jaipur-based plantable paper manufacturers to create a range of products. “The response has been has been amazing, with a 2:4 success ratio (of germination). Currently, we are work with corporates like the Grand Hyatt group of hotels, Maruti Suzuki, Flipkart and Cipla, and we are moving forward with paper materials and indigenous seeds such as Indian basil , tomatoes and carrots,” says Asopa, adding that they intend to place seeds in cigarettes next. Rs 500 onwards. Details: 21fools.comJalebiRenuka Shah is the brain behind the plantable pencils that are getting children excited about doing their homework—the faster they wear them down, the quicker they can plant them. “I wanted to make the world a little greener for my child,” says the Mumbai-based interior designer-turned-entrepreneur, explaining that she started her brand, Jalebi, in 2014 with her own savings. “It has taken me months to come up with final products as finding a balance between the right kind of seed and its successful germination is tough to achieve,” adds the 30-year-old. Most of her products contain vegetable seeds like tomato, brinjal, lettuce and chilli. Pick up Grow Me kits (a selection of plantables) and more on amazon.in. For customisation, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. From Rs 150. Details: ecofriendlyjalebi.com
Tomato & Co
Their biggest claim to fame: teaming up with Unilever to distribute tomato seeds with newspapers and in Kissan ketchup bottle lids—which people could then plant. Launched by Jaipur-based environmentalist Kritika Parwal in 2014, the idea for Tomato & Co germinated when she was given a marketing solution challenge while pursuing a business degree in the US. With memories of garbage-strewn roads back home, she drafted a plan to create handmade seed paper that would sprout when discarded. She teamed up with Sanganer artisans to produce the paper embedded with tomato, carrots, basil and lettuce seeds. “The venture was quite a challenge as we had to skip the calendaring process, which uses presses to flatten the paper,” says Parwal, who now turns seed papers into coasters, cups, bookmarks and more. Details: tomatoandco.in
|THE EXPERTSJosie Jeffery is a leading authority of seed bombing and guerrilla gardening, with over a decade of experience in seed collecting and horticulture. The author of Seedbombs: Going Wild with Flowers—who was in India in 2012, to spread the word of seed freedom and help set up gardens at schools in Hyderabad and the Institute for Rural Health Studies—talks to us about the concept.What is seed bombing?
This is an ancient Japanese technique where seeds, compost and clay are mixed together and rolled into a ball. These are then launched on to the ground. The balls acts as a carrier, while also protecting the seeds from being eaten by mice and birds, and supporting the seeds as they grow into healthy seedlings.What are its advantages?
Seed bombing is a great way of helping nature to restore habitats with native wild plants, thus creating forage for wildlife and increasing biodiversity. It is a fun and easy way to make the world your garden and to take responsibility for urban wastelands.What seeds should we use?
If you are seed bombing in the wild, use wild seeds. But if you are seed bombing in your own garden, use vegetables and ornamental flowers. The best way to find seeds is to find a seed bank (navdanya.org can advice on sourcing seeds) or ask members of your community. You can also harvest them from the wild—then you will know that the plants will colonise the area and feed the wildlife.
We do not recommend seed bombing to a layperson, unless they understand the ecosystem. Otherwise they threaten that very system. We’ve done seed bombing in the Western Ghats, Auroville and in the North East—in places where we know the bio-diversity is dying. We make the bombs with seeds that are indigenous to the region. We work a lot with forest species
founding trustee, Annadana – Soil & Sedd Savers, Bengaluru
|THE GROWERSShaan Lalwani, VrikshaRight before last year’s monsoons, this Mumbaikar seed-bombed waste lands in his city, focussing on Andheri, Bandra and the sides of the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway. “We made seed bombs using 15 kg of seeds (like Indian basil). This rainy season, we aim to throw even more,” says the 30-year-old with a post graduate in landscape gardening from the University of Sheffield, who runs the nursery Vriksha. “We distribute seed bombs at our nursery and also ship them, according to requests placed via our Facebook page.” Rs 200 (for 100 seed bombs). Details: facebook.com/VrikshanurseryAnkit Singh, Shanti Trip
He is one of 14 co-founders of Shanti Trip, an eco-friendly company that is into several ventures, including a sustainable art café near Manali and a sustainable community that is currently being developed. “The latter is a 10-year project and we are working on the farms now, where we plant with the help of seed bombing. It’s better as we don’t have to plough the land and, as we put in more seeds than is required for a plot of land, we get a good yield,” says Singh, an advocate of natural farming, who makes bombs with rice, maize, legumes and vegetables. “We also conduct workshops in Delhi on how to make them,” he explains, adding that his Facebook page, Seed Bombs India sells boxes with 10 seed bombs (Rs 500, buy one and gift one free). DIY kits are in the making. Details: facebook.com/ecobombing
Janani Eswar & Ganeshram, ArtyPlantz
Eswar (20) and Ganeshram (25) are both involved with ArtyPlantz, a social enterprise in Bengaluru that connects people to plants. “The idea of seed bombing came when I began to work with restoration of land. But instead of fruit trees, we work with wild trees,” says Ganeshram, who is involved in native landscaping and natural farming, adding that he involves corporate houses and young people to make seed bombs. “Since I’m also a musician, we host gigs where we make them as well,” he says. Eswar, on the other hand, works more with children. “ArtyPlantz was started by my mother, Radha. We host workshops to teach children (mostly eight and nine year olds) how to make seed bombs. And given that they work with mud and water, they not only learn about plants, soil, and growth, but have a lot of fun as well,” she says.
|THE NEYSAYERSWith seed bombing, you can spread weeds. This mistake has happened in Maharashtra where NGOs, to popularise nature with children, gave them non-indigenous flower seeds to plant. But these soon become an invasive species. Also, the trend of importing plantable pencils from China is dangerous as you don’t know if they have passed quarantine or if they carry any pathogens.
— Dr D Narasimhan,
associate professor & botanist, MCCIn the South, the climate is not conducive for broadcasting (seed bombing). Also, thanks to our biodiversity, the moment you spread the seeds and turn your back, something will eat it! But the experience is great. However, I’d urge you to do some research first, on what grows in your area and in which season.
— Nina Sengupta,
ecologist and authorA few years ago, we bombed several acres along the ECR with seed bombs filled with khatwa seeds, a fast-growing deciduous tree. But nothing happened. Trees don’t grown well in our hot, baked earth. We need to do a lot of things to nurture them.
— Janaki Lenin,
author and filmmaker
|How to make the little red ballsUse wet clay (preferably red soil) and mix with some neem oil.Make small balls and create a depression to place the seed in.Then roll it again.Choose small seeds as bigger ones will crack the clay it’s embedded in n Pick the right season to
plant seed bombs.Just before the monsoons is good n Planting seed bombs under bushes is a good idea.
They need time to let the clay melt and germinate the seed.
It should have access to decent soil, sunshine and rainwater.