One cube revolution

Scientists at the Forest College and Research Institute, Mettupalayam, have come up with technology that can make seed balls more viable

The seed ball has become a phenomenon now with hundreds of them being dispersed by well-intentioned people. But sadly, very few seed balls survive. “This is because everything about them is wrong — from the shape to the kind of seeds used,” says R Umarani, Professor of Seed Science and Technology at the Forest College and Research Institute, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Mettupalayam. There is a science to making viable seed balls and Umarani’s student R Jawahar has worked on it as part of his MSc thesis.

To start off with, Jawahar has come up with ‘seed cubes’ that retain the shape even after they are planted. “The soil, when in a spherical shape, tends to disintegrate faster if exposed to water, leaving the seed exposed,” says Umarani. This is a shame, for the seed is a living being. “But the cube anchors the seed firmly in place, equipping it better to root itself.”

At a laboratory in the tree-lined campus, Jawahar shows us a wooden frame he has made with the help of a carpenter. It looks like an ice-cube tray and Jawahar has made several batches of seed cubes with it.

To make the perfect seed cube, Umarani advises that we pick the right seeds. “Clean the seeds, remove any dead ones,” she explains. To identify seeds that are alive and kicking, she suggests germinating some samples inside a layer of soil. “Those that sprout are, of course, alive. Use seeds from the batch to make seed cubes,” she says, adding that bigger seeds, such as neem, tamarind, and pungam, are ideal for the process.

Umarani says that seeds must be subject to treatments such as ‘seed coating’ and ‘seed priming’ so that they are able to sprout in all kinds of environmental conditions. Then comes the most important part — the media used to make the cubes. She says soil, vermicompost, saw dust, arbuscular mycorrhize (a micro-organism) and guar gum that serves as an adhesive, make for the best possible media.

If this goes over your head, get in touch with the scientists at the Institute. “Spend half a day here and we can teach you how it’s done,” says Umarani. “We can in fact make the cubes for you.” These make for thoughtful return gifts. “My student Jawahar, in, fact, makes seed cubes on order,” she adds.

Umarani and Jawahar lead us to the Institute’s nursery, where we plant four seed cubes — we place them in two columns inside a cardboard frame that they’ve fashioned for the process, cover them with coconut pith and some mulch, and water them. “That’s it,” smiles Umarani. “They’ll soon be saplings.” And one day, if all goes well, strapping trees.

For details, call 9489056727. The Forest College and Research Institute is located on Kotagiri Road, Mettupalayam.

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