Posts tagged ‘terrariums’

January 6, 2015

Home Connections: Bringing the Forest Inside with Terrariums

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0106

The winter is a hard time to be a plant person, especially a gardener. No one wants to putter around in the yard when the wind chill is below zero and, no matter how beautiful a fresh snowfall is, it is hard to plant flowers in a frozen ground. One way to cure the winter blues and feel more connected to nature is through the use of houseplants. Houseplants are beautiful and make a house feel homey; additionally, caring for houseplants can reduce stress and the plants themselves earn their keep by cleaning toxins out of the ambient air. Houseplants are a real winner and the winter is a great time to invest in some new ones! One of the ways that we get our students excited about houseplants in the winter is by planting terrariums. Children love to take home plants; planting a beautiful terrarium garden is a great way to combine the fun of taking home a plant with learning about tropical ecosystems, the water cycle and clean air plants.

Terrariums are not only on trend, but are a great way to give kids the experience of having their own greenhouses. Typically a terrarium is a closed ecosystem, with the water recycling itself over and over again. However, not every terrarium has to have a lid; in fact, sometimes it is better to leave the lid off if you are planting anything that would easily die from overwatering.  Plant selection is important in this regard. Some of our favorite plants to put in a terrarium with children are: mosses, spider plants, Pothos, and Philodendron. Make sure that the plants you choose are short enough to fit in your container, as it will look a little silly if it is not all the way inside the glass. Remember that after you add soil, there is significantly less space for your plant. If you want to mix it up, try some succulent plants in a lid-less “desert” terrarium.

Any clear glass container will make a great terrarium; finding jars that are uniquely shaped or particularly beautiful is fun, but a spaghetti sauce jar works just fine as well. This is also a chance to repurpose a recyclable item and give it new life, rather than purchasing something new. The same goes for plants; try taking a cutting or two from your favorite houseplants and propagating them within the terrarium, as the moist environment is great for root growth. Pothos and Philodendron are especially great plants for propagation.

To make your own terrarium, you will need:
Glass jar (lid optional)
Activated charcoal (available in pet stores near the aquarium section)
Potting soil
Plants
Small stones or gravel
Other decorative objects (optional).

1. Fill an inch of the bottom of a clean jar with charcoal.
2. Layer some small stones over the charcoal, followed by a layer of potting soil; this is necessary to assure proper drainage.
3. Plant your plants.
4. Give them a small drink of water. (Remember, the water that you add will remain in the terrarium until you open the lid, so just add a little.)
5. Add any decorative objects you wish and close the lid.

This is a great time to get creative – anything that will not decay in a wet environment is perfect for adding to a terrarium; plastic animals are a favorite of ours. You can also get creative by decorating the lid or the jar itself, taking care not to block too much of the light.

Terrariums are easy to make from materials that you already have. No activated charcoal, no problem! Feel free to improvise and have fun with your project. The goal is to have some fun with plants and create something that will inspire you and make you feel connected to nature for the cold months to come!

To read more about how nature, including plants, can make us happier, check out this post.

If you are interested in creating a fancy terrarium, check out Terrarium Ideas and Inspiration at By Stephanie Lynn. Very pretty!

Photos by Science Education and Research staff.

January 3, 2014

Home Connections: Bringing the Forest Inside with Terrariums

by Melissa Harding

copyright molly steinwald

The winter is a hard time to be a plant person, especially a gardener. No one wants to putter around in the yard when the wind chill is below zero and, no matter how beautiful a fresh snowfall is, it is hard to plant flowers in a frozen ground. One way to cure the winter blues and feel more connected to nature is through the use of houseplants. Houseplants are beautiful and make a house feel homey; additionally, caring for houseplants can reduce stress and the plants themselves earn their keep by cleaning toxins out of the ambient air. Houseplants are a real winner and the winter is a great time to invest in some new ones! One of the ways that we get our students excited about houseplants in the winter is by planting terrariums. Children love to take home plants; planting a beautiful terrarium garden is a great way to combine the fun of taking home a plant with learning about tropical ecosystems, the water cycle and clean air plants.

Terrariums are not only on trend, but are a great way to give kids the experience of having their own greenhouses. Typically a terrarium is a closed ecosystem, with the water recycling itself over and over again. However, not every terrarium has to have a lid; in fact, sometimes it is better to leave the lid off if you are planting anything that would easily die from overwatering.  Plant selection is important in this regard. Some of our favorite plants to put in a terrarium with children are: mosses, spider plants, Pothos, and Philodendron. Make sure that the plants you choose are short enough to fit in your container, as it will look a little silly if it is not all the way inside the glass. Remember that after you add soil, there is significantly less space for your plant. If you want to mix it up, try some succulent plants in a lid-less “desert” terrarium.

Any clear glass container will make a great terrarium; finding jars that are uniquely shaped or particularly beautiful is fun, but a spaghetti sauce jar works just fine as well. This is also a chance to repurpose a recyclable item and give it new life, rather than purchasing something new. The same goes for plants; try taking a cutting or two from your favorite houseplants and propagating them within the terrarium, as the moist environment is great for root growth. Pothos and Philodendron are especially great plants for propagation.

DSC_0106To make your own terrarium, you will need:
Glass jar (lid optional)
Activated charcoal (available in pet stores near the aquarium section)
Potting soil
Plants
Small stones or gravel
Other decorative objects (optional).

1. Fill an inch of the bottom of a clean jar with charcoal.
2. Layer some small stones over the charcoal, followed by a layer of potting soil; this is necessary to assure proper drainage.
3. Plant your plants.
4. Give them a small drink of water. (Remember, the water that you add will remain in the terrarium until you open the lid, so just add a little.)
5. Add any decorative objects you wish and close the lid.

This is a great time to get creative – anything that will not decay in a wet environment is perfect for adding to a terrarium; plastic animals are a favorite of ours. You can also get creative by decorating the lid or the jar itself, taking care not to block too much of the light.

Terrariums are easy to make from materials that you already have. No activated charcoal, no problem! Feel free to improvise and have fun with your project. The goal is to have some fun with plants and create something that will inspire you and make you feel connected to nature for the cold months to come!

To read more about how nature, including plants, can make us happier, check out this post.

If you are interested in creating a fancy terrarium, check out Terrarium Ideas and Inspiration at By Stephanie Lynn. Very pretty!

Photos by Molly Steinwald and Hanna Mosca.

December 23, 2013

A Night in the Tropics: Phipps Campers Explore the Rainforest

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0090

Last Friday night, six young botanists braved the unknown and dared to tread into the heart of the jungle. These modern-day Darwins went into the rainforest with the same spirit of discovery as the early explorers;  Juan Ponce de Leon, Lewis and Clark, Joesph Banks, and many others took great risks for the sake of science, hoping to learn more about the world. Of course, our young explorers were not braving the dark jungles of South America, merely the seasonally lit rooms of the Conservatory. However, the spirit of adventure was the same!  In this most recent Evening Ed-Venture, A Night in the Tropics, campers took to the Conservatory to learn how to be botanists in the field.

To be proper scientists, campers made themselves rainforest journals to record all their new discoveries. They used pictures of rainforest birds and mammals to give them extra pizazz. Our scientists were so eager to go that we forwent any briefings and just took the journals into the jungle! As botanists in the field, campers learned how to use their powers of observation to “discover” some new plants in the Conservatory. At least, they discovered plants that were new to them. Armed with their journals, pencils, magnifying glasses and rulers, each camper chose several different plants and created field entries about each of them. Campers recorded information about the color, size, shape, and smell of their plants, creating their own field guide entries. After the expedition was over, campers came back to the classroom to share their findings with their fellow explorers. As the real Darwin said, “Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue.” These campers were certainly respectable; they had tons of observations to share!

DSC_0096

By then, it was time for a snack. After all, exploring the jungle can get tiring. Campers made healthy fruit kabobs out of papaya, pineapple and banana pieces. Unfortunately, papaya was not a popular choice and we recycled the remainder of it by feeding it to our worm bin (possibly the most exciting part of the night!)  After a fortifying snack, we all went back up to the Fruit and Spice room to create “Plantbook” pages on the trees there. Campers drew their plants, found their “friends” and gave them imaginary thoughts and hobbies. Campers loved inventing imaginary status updates for their plants; one memorable update was “I wish I was taller!” Finally, campers went back down to the classroom and made terrariums to take home a bit of the rainforest with them; they chose Reullia and Tradescantia, understory plants known for their air cleaning properties, to place into jars filled with gravel and soil. They watered them and sealed them up; if the lid remains on, the water inside the terrarium will recycle over and over again and it will never need to be watered. Campers were then ready to take them home and observe how their rainforests grow over time, continuing their scientific careers.

To see more images from the night, check out the slideshow below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If program sounds fun, check out our next Evening Ed-Venture on February 14, Conservation Investigation; in this exciting program, campers will hone their detective skills and solve a mystery to learn about the importance of conservation. To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

The above pictures were taken by Hanna Mosca.

April 23, 2013

Home Connections: Giving Glass Jars a New Life

by Melissa Harding

copyright molly steinwald

In honor of Earth Day, April’s Home Connections will detail how our department uses recycled materials to enhance our programming and teach sustainability.

In last week’s Home Connections post, we talked about how our department utilizes reused materials in our programming; in many of our programs, students make crafts from reused and repurposed materials. Additionally, we repurpose items for program props, storage and general creative use. Reusing materials not only saves resources and money, but it is a great way to teach by example.

In addition to plastic and cardboard, we also like to repurpose glass jars. Many foods that we eat come in glass jars: pickles, olives and spaghetti sauce to name a few. These containers are recyclable, but we prefer to reuse them at least one more time before they are destined for the curb. Glass containers are waterproof, sealed, and often come with a lid. They are clear, meaning that you can see through them and light can penetrate inside. An empty glass jar is just a craft waiting to happen. Here are some ways that we use these items at Phipps; hopefully you will be inspired to reuse some of the glass in your own life:

Terrariums
Terrariums are not only on trend, but are a great way to give kids the experience of having their own greenhouses. Typically a terrarium is a closed ecosystem, with the water recycling itself over and over again. Any clear glass container will do; finding jars that are uniquely shaped or particularly beautiful is fun, but a spaghetti sauce jar works just fine as well. Children love to take home plants; planting a beautiful terrarium garden is a great way to combine the fun of taking home a plant with learning about tropical ecosystems, the water cycle and clean air plants. Not every terrarium has to have a lid; in fact, sometimes it is better to leave the lid off if you are planting anything that would easily die from overwatering.  Plant selection is important; some of our favorite plants to put in a terrarium with children are: mosses, spider plants, Pothos, and Philodendron.

To make your own terrarium, you will need: a glass jar (lid optional), activated charcoal (available in pet stores near the aquarium section), potting soil, plants, small stones, and other decorative objects (optional). To begin, fill an inch of the bottom of a clean jar with charcoal. Next, layer some small stones over the charcoal, followed by a layer of potting soil; this is necessary to assure proper drainage. Plant your plants and give them a small drink of water. Remember, the water that you add will remain in the terrarium until you open the lid, so just add a little. Finally, add any decorative objects you wish and close the lid. This is a great time to get creative – anything that will not decay in a wet environment is perfect for adding to a terrarium; plastic animals are a favorite of ours. You can also get creative by decorating the lid or the jar itself, taking care not to block too much of the light.

IMG_1587Pickles and Mung Beans
In all of our cooking camps, every camper makes homemade pickles and sprouts a jar of mung beans. Glass jars are perfect for this because they are easily reused and sanitized for each new camp, they are clear to let in light, and they don’t hold on to odors or tastes. These are fun activities that the campers can replicate at home and each illustrates a different lesson. When making pickles, campers learn how vinegar and salt preserves produce. When sprouting beans, they learn how a seed germinates. To top it off, both of these activities have delicious results!

To make your own pickles, you will need: a glass jar with lid, 1 cup vinegar, 1/8 cup salt, 1 quart water,1/4 cup sugar, 2 cloves of peeled garlic, cucumber slices, and dill (optional).  Place salt and sugar into your jar, adding a bit of warm water and stirring until dissolved.  Add dill, cucumber slices and garlic to jar. Fill jar with vinegar and the rest of the water. Replace the lid and swirl to mix. Put in the refrigerator, swirling each day to mix. After a week, check your pickles and see if they are done to your satisfaction. These pickles will be sweet and dilly and are best eaten slightly crunchy.

To sprout your own mung beans, you will need: a glass jar, dried mung beans, small square of cheese cloth, and a rubber band. Place a handful of mung beans into the bottom of your jar. Cover the opening with cheese cloth, holding it in place with a rubber band. Hold jar under the faucet and run water into it; swirl to moisten all seeds and then invert to let all the water run out. Place your jar in a dark place to germinate. Every day, check your beans and repeat the watering process. In several days, you will have sprouts. You can eat them on sandwiches or just by themselves!

March_1_13_camp_19Lava Lamps
There are many interesting organisms that are bioluminescent, such as lightning bugs, glow worms and fox-fire fungus. This property is fun to teach about, as every child loves things that glow in the dark. One way to illustrate how chemicals combine inside of these critters to make them glow is to create a lava lamp. Using oil, denture cleaner and food coloring, lava lamps show how these reactions take place. Glass jars are perfect for this because they seal well and are clear, making it easy to watch the reaction inside.

To make your own lava lamp, you will need: small glass jar with lid, canola oil, water, denture cleaner tablet, blue or green food coloring, and a flashlight. To begin, fill you jar 3/4 of the way full of oil. Add 20 drops of food coloring  and then fill up your jar with water, leaving an inch free at the top. Add a denture tablet and close immediately. Invert the jar a few times to mix. Turn off the lights and shine a flashlight through the jar. The mixture inside will bubble as the tablet dissolves; shining the light through the jar makes it look like a real lava lamp. Repeat as desired!

Storage
People have reused glass jars as storage containers for many years. A glass jar is perfect for storing buttons, nails or any other small items. They are clear, so you will always know what is inside them, and they look beautiful lined up on a shelf. Some people store all of the grains and pastas in their pantry in glass jars; it’s both trendy and sustainable!

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Hopefully some of these fun ideas will help you think about ways to repurpose the glass jars in your own home. Once you start thinking of the items in your recycle bin as resources instead of trash, anything is possible!

For more ideas, check out Eight Ways to Reuse Glass Jars Around the House at Simple Homemade or 50 Ways to Re-purpose and Reuse Glass Jars at By Stephanie Lynn.

If you are interested in creating a fancy terrarium, check out Terrarium Ideas and Inspiration at By Stephanie Lynn. Very pretty!

The above photos were taken by Molly Steinwald, Christie Lawry and Pam Russell.

December 13, 2012

A Night in the Tropics: Phipps Campers Explore the Rainforest

by Melissa Harding

DSCN1489-001

Last Friday night, seven young botanists braved the unknown and dared to tread into the heart of the jungle. These modern-day Darwins went into the rainforest with the same spirit of discovery as the early explorers;  Juan Ponce de Leon, Lewis and Clark, Joesph Banks, and many others took great risks for the sake of science, hoping to learn more about the world. Of course, our young explorers were not braving the dark jungles of South America, merely the seasonally lit rooms of the Conservatory. However, the spirit of adventure was the same!  In this most recent Evening Ed-Venture, A Night in the Tropics, campers took to the Conservatory to learn how to be botanists in the field.

Of course, before our scientists could go into the field, they needed to learn about their area of operation. Campers were briefed on the what, where and why of the tropical rainforest biome; they were introduced to the four layers of the rainforest and some of the plants that grow in each. They learned that some of their favorite foods like chocolate, pineapple and vanilla are actually tropical plants and that human beings depend on the rainforest for many products and services.

DSCN1457

After this initial debriefing, the campers were ready to explore. As botanists in the field, campers learned how to use their powers of observation to “discover” some new plants in the Conservatory. At least, they discovered plants that were new to them. Armed with a camera, notebook, pencil, and ruler, each camper chose several different plants and created a field entry about each of them. Campers recorded information about the color, size, shape, and smell of their plants and took pictures of them with their cameras, creating their own field guide entries. After the expedition was over, campers came back to the classroom to share their findings with their fellow explorers. As the real Darwin said, “Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue.” These campers were certainly respectable; they had tons of pictures and observations to share!

DSCN1464

By then, it was time for a snack. After all, exploring the jungle can get tiring. Campers made healthy fruit kabobs out of mango, pineapple and banana pieces. Finally, they made terrariums to take home a bit of the rainforest with them; they chose spider plants, understory plants known for their air cleaning properties, to place into jars filled with gravel and soil. Campers watered them and sealed them up; if the lid remains on, the water inside the terrarium will recycle over and over again and it will never need to be watered. Campers were then ready to take them home and observe how their rainforests grow over time, continuing their scientific careers.

If program sounds fun, check out our next Evening Ed-Venture, Conservation Investigation; in this exciting program, campers will hone their detective skills and solve a mystery to learn about the importance of conservation. To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

The above pictures were taken by Christie Lawry.

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