THE TERRARIUM EXPERIMENT – PART 2

Hello everyone,

As a continuation of last week’s topic, I am now going to talk a bit about plants in a closed environment. Last week, I have showed you, how I made a terrarium from a starter kit, and this week I would like to talk about the principle behind it.

So why is it an interesting experiment? First of all, it demonstrates in a micro environment how different organism work together to create an ecosystem. An ecosystem (as you can guess from its name) must something to do with interactions. To speak scientifically ecosystem is: An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. (Wikipedia). This is simple and complex at the same time. Simple in sense to understand how it work, it is a circle of life/activities, and complex in terms of chemical and biological procedure – luckily nature invented it and it works perfectly. In this process are key non-living components like Water(H20), N2(Nitrogen), Oxygen(O2), Carbon Dioxide(CO2) and living components like plants, fungi, bugs and animals.

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The nutrient cycle

In fact, you don’t need to make this experiment, you are already part of this experiment – by living on the planet. Nevertheless it is fun to see how a micro environment evolves.

So from now on, we will talk about the process in a terrarium. And let’s start from the bottom upwards…
There are 4 key elements to understand:
1. Drainage, it is key to avoid the rotting of the roots and keep the water sitting in the soil.
2. Charcoal layer, it cleans the water and soil fresh and removes toxins (unfortunately in my kit there was no such)
3. Soil, obviously one of the most important since plants need a growing medium. It needs to be clean, high in minerals and non-chemically treated.
4. Plants, to enable the ecosystem to cycle.

Afterwards, the only component you need to add, is water and ready to experience how our ecosystem works.

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An overview

In action you can see, how it looks like:

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Our planet works on the same principle and just like in the your glass jar, the earth consists of different layers – of course a little bit more complex

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To simply explain I will use the explanation from BottledPlants.com:

They divided it into 2 categories. 1. Water cycle and 2. Gaseous Exchange

1. Water Cycle:
Terrarium-Ecosystem-–-Water-cycle.png

Starting from the plant itself:

  1. Plant Transpires – This means the exchange of gas between the environment. This also means gas in the form of water vapour, as technically, water behaves like gas in this stage of the water cycle.
  2. Water Condenses – Water vapour given out by the plant condenses into water droplets. These water droplets may form on the wall of the enclosure or in the air itself as mist. Usually mist will form during cooler temperature. However, if the terrarium is overly watered, water droplets on the water will be visible throughout the day. This is when you need to ‘air’ the plant.
  3. Soil Wets – Mist in the air and water droplets on the wall sips into the soil. This of course includes you watering the soil. Always use a sprinkler so as to maintain top soil layer’s landscape.
  4. Water Absorption – Water is taken into the roots following a few methods.
    • Osmosis – This happens when there is a lower concentration of salt in the soil than in the plant at the root. Water basically flows into the roots along the concentration gradient, from a lower salt concentration to a higher salt concentration. This process does not take up energy.
    • Reverse Osmosis (RO) – This takes place when there is a higher concentration of salt in the soil than in the plant at the root. Not to be mistaken by dryness of soil, a relatively dry soil can still be low in salt concentration. This process requires the use of energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is manufactured in the leaves during photosynthesis.
    •  Capillary Action – This action takes place simultaneously during Osmosis or RO. Basically it makes use of surface tension and suction effect to draw water. The molecular forces in the Plant’s stem attracts water molecules on it’s inner surface and draws water up against gravity. Transpiration of the plant also creates a suction effect (think sucking water through a straw) which suck up water on the surface of tubes in the stem

This lesson on the water cycle happening in a terrarium ecosystem does not take into account how the plant makes use of the water. However, it gives you a basic idea of the water cycle.

2. Gaseous Exchange:

Terrarium-Ecology-Gaseous-Exchange.png

As mentioned at the beginning there are numerous important gases which are required to ensure a healthy ecosystem. CO2 and O2 you know they are important, but there is also another very important component, N2 – Nitrogen. It important to have in the the air of the terrarium, but too much will kill the life inside. As a solution, you can use lichen (as it was included in my starter kit).

All in all, having a sealed terrarium is easy to maintain – in theory – but in practice you see that the chemical and biological processes are very complex and too much or too little from one component can destroy the whole life.

Finally, I leave you with a thought to think about. Our planet. Our planet was engineered perfectly by nature, but one component – human activity (over exploitation of resources, pollution, over population, etc.) threatens the whole system. We can see how easily everything can collapse and everyone will experience the consequences!

Thank you for reading!

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The Terrarium Experiment – part 1

Hello everyone,

Today I would like to share an easy and interesting experiment, which demonstrates in a micro environment how our planet works. It is a fun for everyone experiment, no matter how old are you, and you can observe some interesting facts about our nature. In part 1, I will talk about the creation of a terrarium, while in the part 2 the scientific explanation how things work and what process is going through inside the glass.

First of all, let’s talk about how to make it and what you will need:
– a glass container
– a lid (preferably corkwood, but others will do too)
– rocks
– soil
– plants

You can either do it yourself or buy kits in shops – either way, it should be easy. In my case I will use a kit and in the future I plan to do my own version. If you are doing your own version, it can be more advanced – later I will tell your more about it.

So let’s start!

What did I get in the kit? I got some Asparagus aethiopicus seeds, a bag of Pozzolan (volcanic) stones, dried and pressed coconut coir soil, couple of stones (decoration), 2 panda figures (decoration), Lichen.

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You may ask, is it good or enough to build a terrarium? Yes, but of course it could be improved slightly.
Before I have started to build my terrarium, I have soaked 2 paper towels in lukewarm water and wrapped it around the asparagus seeds.

Then I have left the seeds in a fairly warm location (it is summer so close to the window) for 24-48 hours to start the germination process. Now comes the waiting…

After 1,5 days, I took the seeds out of the wet paper towels. Now the terrarium was ready to get assembled.
I have put the pozzolan stones on the bottom, to ensure that the access water wont sit in the soil to prevent mold.

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Next step was the soil. I received dried coconut coir soil, which means I needed water to make “useable” soil. I have added double amount of water than the volume of the coir, and let the soil sit in the water for couple of minutes.

At this point, I recommend you to use gardening gloves or latex gloves to avoid messy situations – especially if you are indoors like me! 🙂 Next with a spoon or small shovel (or with hands like I did), you can add the coconut coir on the top of the rocks and spread it on the surface equally. Do not mix it with the stones, the purpose is to let the access water drip down through the stones.
Next step are seeds. First, I have dropped them on the top of the coir and then carefully to push them in the soil, about 1 cm deep.

If you have a small wooden stick, it can help a lot to arrange the seeds nicely.
Finally all I had to do is place the lichen on the top. Before doing so, I have placed it in water for couple of minutes to ensure it soaks some water up and get it a little bit more clean. The reason why the lichen is there is not because of decoration, but because of a very important task. It will stabilize the environment.

As a final touch I have added couple of drop (distilled) water, and my terrarium is read to get sealed tightly. I didn’t add the decoration elements to give more space for the plants to grow, but if you want, you can do so.

I leave it on my table in the living room, close to the window where it gets enough light and warmth. During summer, especially if you have hot a strong sun, it is advised to move it to a more shady location, while during winter closer to the window. Also don’t be surprised if during winter it dries out, it can happen if you keep it too close to heater. In this case, just remove the lid and add couple of drops of water.
At this point you can also ask, how do I know I had added enough water and not too much/little? It isn’t a problem if you can’t get the right amount right. First of all, after you have sealed the lid, you can see some drops on the side of the glass.

It is normal and if you see this, you did right. The problem starts (example on picture) if you see the walls are foggy and not dripping water. That means you should open the lid and wait couple of hours/ half a day, so access water will evaporate from the glass, and then again seal it tightly. It is a bit challenging to find the right balance, but not impossible. So don’t forget, if you see water dripping of the wall is good, if you see that the walls are foggy (like mine), just open it and let the access water evaporate!

In case you wish to “upgrade” or make your own terrarium, I highly recommend to watch the following YouTube videos by SerpaDesign:

He mentions various rocks, soils, plants and even life within the terrarium. He also highlights the importance of springtails in the closed environment and why their presence is beneficial. I highly recommend to check it out!

I hope my experience made you curious to start your own terrarium! In couple of days, I will publish my follow up post on “how does a terrarium work?”

Thank you for reading!