Bomb Detroit!

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, March 31, 2010 |

So I've been working on some fun community projects that have been sucking away some of the free time I have to write blog posts. One thing we're planning is making a thousand (or more) wildflower seed bombs with some kids in a few weeks, but first we wanted to experiment at home before we drag all the materials over to the neighborhood where we're going to set up the seed bomb assembly line. Seed bombs, if you don't already know, are an old hippie guerrilla gardening technique of mixing soil, seed, and compost into a throw-able device in order to "plant" wildflowers in inaccessible lots or just overgrown places on the side of the road. As you've probably noticed from my photos, there are a lot of places in Detroit that look like this:

Illegal dumping is a huge problem here. I went through a pile of dumped belongings a few weeks ago and found wedding albums, tchotchkes, and unopened mail from a house in a suburban community where I presume the owner died and someone was paid to haul the contents away and didn't want to pay the disposal fee at an actual dump. I've also seen suburban rat poison dumped in the city. But many Detroiters are just as guilty of treating their city like a trash heap. I can't tell you how many times we've walked behind someone who just tossed an empty bag of chips or soda bottle on the ground just feet away from a garbage can. The best evidence of this annoying behavior is usually a chain-link fence somewhere near a bus stop on a windy day:

Well, Spring is here and we figure it makes sense to start tossing something into overgrown lots other than garbage. We started by heading up to Busy Bee Hardware for the basic ingredients.

When we brought our native wildflower seed packets, potting soil, and plant fertilizer (don't hate, you hippies) up to the counter and told Sandy what we were doing, she refused to let me pay for any of it. When I threatened to leave a sawbuck on the counter, Roy advised from across the store that it was definitely not in my best interest to do so. I promised to make our huge purchase for the full project at Busy Bee and walked out wondering when the last time a cashier at Home Depot fell so in love with the story of a project that she let the customer walk out without paying for any of the materials. At the store, Sandy and I speculated about how we were going to get the seed balls to stick together. She suggested using emptied eggshells and I told her the old hippies used Christmas ornaments. Clay was the consensus. I didn't want to go to the art store to buy fancy (and expensive) molding clay, and it occurred to me that kitty litter was just clay pellets. I went to the nearest pet store and sure enough, the cheapest kitty litter available listed clay as its only ingredient. 

We waited for the next sunny day and went outside with a bucket of potting soil, a bunch of different wildflower seeds, a big bowl of kitty litter, and a 2-liter of water (in which we mixed some of the miracle grow). The kid poured the water onto some kitty litter until it turned into nice plain clay:

We started with a few seeds, balled them up in the soil, and then surrounded the soil with a layer of clay. The idea is that when thrown, the hardened clay will break and the seeds will flourish in the soil (ideally, the soil would also have some compost rather than fertilizer mixed in). When we used up all the seeds, we'd made 60 or so bombs (each had about five seeds inside):

We lined up the balls to bake in the heat of the afternoon sun, and then went inside to wash our hands. After a few hours, the balls were grayish and hard, and we put them in their secret-seed-bomb satchels. I put mine in the old Freitag messenger back I bought on eBay back in 2003 when everyone was making simple text posters with Helvetica and the Swiss could do no wrong:

The girl put hers in a fanny pack we found at the thrift store. My wife said the only way it could be better would be if it had the Jordache mustang on it:

Soon (right before the next good rain) we'll be off to start seed bombing Detroit. I'll take before/after pictures of the spots we bomb to see if it works. There is, however, a part of me that won't be crushed if somebody tries to steal that tempting Jordache fanny pack out of our car or bike and then finds themselves wondering why we keep a fanny pack filled with tiny balls of poo.

I'm no professional hippie; if anyone wants to POLITELY offer some advice about how we could do this better I'd be glad to hear it. We're going to be getting a lot of little hands dirty making these in a few weeks and I want to make sure we do it right.