Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Growing Container Veggies in Outer Space

What if you had to thrive in the same container as your container garden? Astronauts aboard the International Space Station dined on romaine lettuce grown on board in a specially designed planting "pillow" of substrate and nutrients, along with grow lights and sensors. This marks an important step toward subsistence gardening aboard longer space missions or even at a mars colony.
"Each of the six planting “pillows” had a growth medium that includes a type of clay used on baseball fields and controlled-release fertilizer. Red, blue and green LED lights and water injections activated the seeds and allowed them to flourish after 33 days of growth."
The next challenge? Growing plants that use more water and require pollination in space. Read more at wired.com.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Q and A: Can I Collect Moss in the Summer?

Whew, the heat is on here in Texas.  It is this type of heat that makes me want to dream of moss blanketing a cool forest floor. My question for today comes from reader Isabella:

Question: Can I collect the mosses in summer time from the forest?

Answer: I respond with a question again, does the moss you want to harvest look to be in peak health? If the moss in your area looks dry or dormant in the summer, you may want to skip collection until cooler months. You'll want to collect moss that is healthy, green, and thriving. In my experience, it can be challenging enough to transplant healthy moss harvested from the wild into a terrarium environment.  The moss receives a transplant shock from getting uprooted, it might dry out before you plant it, and it might be full of bugs or mold that might infest your terrarium (wash your moss!).  You may set yourself up for failure if you collect dry or dormant moss in summer months.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Scavenged Terrarium Makes Cover of International Art Magazine

Image courtesy of Pipeline

A terrarium by artist Wawi Navarroza graced the cover of international art magazine Pipeline this month.  The terrarium is part of a larger collaborative art project, wherein Wawi invited people to collect terrarium materials from in and around Manila.  Wawi compiled the disparate results into elegant yet ephemeral terrarium arrangements that highlight the transitory nature of the scavenged plants and materials.  Randz Manucom of Preen reports:
Hunt & Gather, Terraria is a collaboration where Metro Manila urban dwellers were invited by Wawi to search for soil, plants, and ephemera from meaningful locations in the city. These are then arranged inside glass terrariums by Wawi herself and photographed as still-lifes.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How to Make a Terrarium Last

I want to be honest with you about how long you can expect your terrarium to last and thrive.  Many blogs show fast and easy terrarium crafts in tiny glass vessels and bubbles, but they rarely show you what a tiny terrarium will look like after three months.  Probably dried out or moldy.  Tiny terrariums are cute if you think of them as a cut flower arrangement.  But part of the thrill of building terrariums is chasing the lasting terrarium, which sometimes means restarting, trying new combinations of plants, soil, and containers - until the ecosystem clicks and then plants thrive.  My longest-lasting terrarium was built in a wine jug and lasted about three years.  It looked a lot like the photo above from thedebrief.uk. Note the deep moss roots, and appearance of algae type stuff in the bottom layers of the soil. This is what a slice of the outdoors looks like under glass!

Secrets to a Long-Lasting Terrarium

  1. Use a large enough glass container. A general equation seems to be, the larger the container, the better the chance the terrarium has to thrive.
  2. Use an adequate amount of soil. If plants are to grow, they will need some space.
  3. Use healthy plants and moss that have been inspected for insects and washed if needed. Select plants that have similar light and water requirements (e.g. woodsy ferns with moss, succulents with cacti.) See 19 of the most popular terrarium plants.
  4. Keep up with terrarium maintenance! This includes managing water and temperature levels (e.g. water occasionally and don't leave it in full sun all day).  You might need to put a lid on your terrarium occasionally to help keep water in the system.  You might need to remove dead leaves or scrub the sides of the container of algae fuzz.
  5. If all else fails, try again. Don't be afraid to restart your terrarium if mold takes over, plants die, or insects infest.  Shake it all out, scrub out the container with water and a bit of bleach, and try again when it is dry.  Fresh plants and soil!
How long has your healthiest terrarium lasted? 53 years?

53 year old terrarium

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is Moss Magic?

Goblins' Gold (Photograph: Matt Goff)
Oh the attraction of simple moss.  A vibrant green patch, a soft carpet on the forest floor or alongside a creek.  Many terrarium builders seek moss for their projects as its diminutive scale suits terrarium life quite well.  But the world's fascination with moss runs much deeper than just crafting.  Moss has associations with magic, with fairies gardens, with damp and shady glens.  Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the abstract side of moss in her book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.  Her affection for common moss is apparent, but her scientific knowledge of bryology allows her to share stories of some of the world's most spectacular and unusual moss.  Kimmerer describes Schistostega pennata, known as Goblins’ Gold, a unique moss that subsists in a rare habitat where the undersides of rocks along a lake receive reflected light. 
"The shimmering presence of Schistostega is created entirely by the weft of nearly invisible threads crisscrossing the surface of the moist soil. It glows in the dark, or rather it glitters in the half light of places which scarcely feel the sun.... Rain on the outside, fire on the inside. I feel a kinship with this being whose cold light is so different from my own. It asks very little from the world and yet glitters in response."
Read more about this singular book at Brain Pickings.