Thursday, January 12, 2012

Moss Terrariums {Crafty Science!}

I have been wanting to make a terrarium since I first saw them on Etsy, at the end of last summer. I vaguely planned to make them as Christmas gifts, then got caught up in back-to-school & Halloween. Suddenly the holidays were upon us and it was too late. I figured we'd do it as one of our spring projects. Until I was gazing out the window, checking out the squirrels and birds, when I saw this:
 See that lovely patch of green between the dying grass and the fence? It's moss! With the weather being so mild, and even warm on some days, the moss has been "living" it up. I kept my eye on it for a few days and then I just couldn't contain myself any longer. I dressed Little Guy for a nature walk and tossed a few plastic bags and spoons into a tote and we were off to collect things for our terrariums. In January. In Michigan. (Yes, I'm going to keep saying that. I am still amazed at the weather and will continue to be awed until there is 6" of snow on the ground and the temperatures have stayed below 30 F for at least a week!)
Once he finished running around like a nut, we got down to business. It was time to walk very slowly and see if we could spy any moss growing. Once we found a good patch, we collected some of it. Now, when you look for moss for this project, make sure of a few things:
1) Only take a little from each patch and leave the rest to regenerate.
2) Use a spoon or spatula to carefully lift it from the ground. It's pretty hardy stuff, but you want to make sure to lift the entire plant - including its root system.  
3) Don't forget to get some soil from the same area, preferably from directly under where the moss was growing. We found three different types of moss on our outing and each one had a very different type of soil beneath it: One had mostly rocky, sandy soil; one had a soil that was composed mostly of dead grass; a third had very rich soil that was mostly composed of what Little Guy refers to as "worm poops".
4) Take note of how moist the soil below the moss is. You are going to want to try to mimic that amount of moisture in your terrarium.  
5) Also be on the lookout for some nice-looking small pebbles and a few sticks or pieces of tree bark that have signs of moss or mushrooms (or, what Little Guy calls "fun guys") on them. We found a stick with some white "moldy" spots on it, a piece of bark from a tree stump with a mushroom, and bark from a dormant tree with green spots. We're excited to find out if anything sprouts from them!
Now, I want to tell you that you can use nearly anything to make your terrarium. I learned quite a bit from Storm The Castle. (This is THE coolest site for finding really neat things to do, by the way. Go bookmark it right now. I promise you'll use it. Repeatedly.) We used two different things for our terrariums: old honey jars and a plastic cake carrier that someone gave us a store-bought cake in for our terrarium containers. But, really, as long as it is see-through and has a lid or small opening, go for it: aquarium with a crack in it, glass vase, 2-liter pop bottle... Just remember that you're going to have to be able to get stuff into the container and arrange it! (Storm the Castle has a great tutorial on how to make really long tweezer-type thingies from a wire coat hanger so you can reach. I told you that site is great!)

Start by laying down the dirt you collected. Because the cake carrier is near-impossible to open without really jostling whatever is inside, I knew that we wouldn't be able to open it up to add water very often. So, I took a plastic lid that is about 1/4" deep and placed some cotton into it (the white rectangle on the left of Little Guy in the photo). I put this in the center of the cake "plate" before adding dirt. After we got the soil in place, I poked a small hole in the mound above the cotton-filled lid and poured some water into it, as well as all over the rest of the soil. My reasoning for the cotton was so it would hold a layer of moisture without saturating the soil. Don't know if it will matter in the end, or not. Just my theorizing!

(After I took the photo above, I noticed that pieces of dirt and rocks were falling into the area where the dome part of the cake carrier would fit into the bottom. So, I tore up a piece of paper towel into strips and poked them into that area to keep the debris out. You can see the paper towels in the photos below. Keep this in mind while you do the next part!)

So, where was I?! Oh, yeah: add your soil. Make sure to keep track of which soil is added where if you're using different mosses with different soil needs! Pile it up so you have a nice hill if your base is a flat piece like out cake dome has. If you're using a bottle-like container, try using a funnel to direct the different soils to different areas and attempt to get a mound going in there. This is important because, if you ever really look at the lay of the land that your moss is found on, you'll notice that it is usually on an inclined surface, even if it's only slight. Make sure to save some of the soil for later - you're going to need it to fill in spaces between the moss. Once you have your mound of soil, ever so slightly pack it down and moisten it. I just poured a little water onto the cake plate, I used a spray bottle of water for the honey jars.

Now it's time to add the moss! The pieces we had were rather large chunks, so I showed Little Guy how to gently pull them apart into small pieces. I had him decide where to place it. He loved being in charge of this part of the operation! It took forever for him to decide. He kept putting a piece down, turning it a little... moving it to the left, to the right... Sometimes he completely abandoned a piece in favor of a different one. It was really cool to watch him!

Once the moss was in place, I carefully added the reserved soils in between the pieces of moss. Then it was time for Little Guy to add the embellishments we collected. Now, I considered grabbing some tiny "guys" toys and a couple of tiny cars to include in the terrarium, but though better of it. Just before I went digging through the toys, I had a very disturbing vision: Little Guy attempting to recover his toys. Dirt everywhere. Terrarium ruined. Now, if your kids are cool with using toys inside, go for it. I think it would be pretty cool to create a scene with them. Just make sure that whatever you add to your terrarium will be able to withstand the high levels of moisture that it will encounter. Also consider whether it might give off any toxic fumes when wet or warm. The cute little plastic bunnies you add could end up killing all of the living things in there.

I think that I probably added too much moisture to our cake dome terrarium. Since opening and closing it just isn't an option, I have a back-up plan. If I notice that the dome is constantly coated in water droplets or the mosses or fungi start dying, I am going to poke small holes in the top of the plastic dome. This can be done very easily without marring the view: Just take a small nail or even a thick sewing needle and hold it with a pair of pliers over fire (a lighter or the burner of a gas stove.) Um... make sure your pliers are insulated or you're wearing an oven mitt! It doesn't have to get red hot, just hot enough to melt the plastic. Then, poke small holes through the dome, toward the top. This should allow enough moisture to escape without completely drying it out.

Our Finished Products:

This was such a fun and easy project to do. While we worked on it, we had some great conversations about ecosystems, habitats, what plants need to grow, what kind of rocks we were using, the water cycle... We also pondered the possibility of small insects, seeds, and spores being mixed into the soil we used. I'm anxious to see if any surprises grow in our terrariums.

I have another plastic domed container that has been sitting on top of my refrigerator since last spring. I've known it would be great for some use, but was waiting until I was inspired with an idea to use it. This thing is 18" in diameter! I want to do a similar project with that one. I'm not telling you what it is just yet, so watch for a post. It's going to be a little while, though. I need to have the space for the thing to have a home near a window, so I really need to do some purging of "stuff". One of these days, my husband and oldest will be gone all day. That's the day I call Salvation Army for a pick-up, get out the boxes, and get rid of all of this crap we don't really need! That day is coming soon and I can't wait for it. :)

One more thing: If you like this idea, but don't have the time or desire to make your own terrarium (or if you just don't have a moss supply available to you), you can get there ready-made. One Etsy shop I know of that sells these is 8Days Of Treasures. (You can check out the review I wrote of her shop for the Made in Michigan Blog Hop in October HERE.) Stephanie lives in Michigan and creates some pretty awesome terrariums! She also sells some unique glass containers that you could make your terrarium in, such as vinegar decanters, salt ans pepper shakers, and covered candy dishes.

If you make a terrarium and write about it, 
please leave me a link in the comments. 

If you have an idea of what could be added to a terrarium 
for a cool scene, share it! 

If you have pictures of your terrariums, 
I'd love for you to post them to my Facebook wall!

This post has been linked at:
Preschool Teacher Chestnut Grove Academy Classified: Mom Photobucket


Michelle said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

What a great project! I especially love the one using the cake plate! Thanks for sharing with Brag Time Thursday!

Jen said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

very neat! I have to try this sometime, thanks for sharing at BTT!

Jen Crum said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Love it! Looking forward to seeing your plan with the other container!

Beth ( said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Ooooh I LOVE this!! What a cool idea! I'd love for you to come link up at TGIF kid oriented Linky Party - - I know my readers would love this too =-)
Have a great weekend,

CacheyMama said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

This is so cool! I have wanted to make a terrarium for a long time. Will have to get one together soon. Thanks for sharing the idea and for linking up at Thinky Linky Thursday!

MiaB said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

This is really, really COOL!!! What a fun and great idea...Thanks so much for sharing this at Sharing Saturday.


Kelli said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

This was an awesome post.Thanks for linking it up on my Homeschooling on the Cheap! last week. You were my #3 most clicked post. If you have something else homeschool or educational that you would like to share, the new linky is live.

Thanks, Kelli

Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

these are awesome!!!! Thanks for sharing on the Sunday Showcase - hope to see you this week.


Jamie Keifer said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

A moss terrarium? That’s pretty cool, and really light on the budget! And how cute is Little Guy, helping out in making the terrarium? The one in the cake jar looks really good, almost like a miniature set from an adventure movie! Very cool!

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