Animals, Charlotte O, Container Gardening, Gardening, How To, Planters, Plants

If you don’t have your own small animal audience, store-bought is fine.

Exciting news folks! Primrose has recently got in a whole new selection of terrarium making tools, the first on the site made specifically for closed-system terrariums! Well since they’re so new, and terrariums are finally making the come back they deserve, I went and wrote up the journey through creating my own closed-system terrarium.

You will need

All of this and a good dash of patience.

The sets we have online also include a very handy shovel and rake set that extends to reach the bottom of your jar, these are indispensable if you have a very deep terrarium! (Although you could always wrap some wire around a fork and a spoon, no judgement here.)

If possible, it’s recommended to find a piece of plastic mesh to help keep the stone and soil layer separate, but don’t worry if you can’t get hold of any, I didn’t use it in my terrarium.

Also handy:

  • A lot of newspaper to work on (it gets messy!)
  • A funnel (I made one out of a cereal packet)
  • Scissors (for pruning if needed)
  • Small hand trowel (for removing soil from roots)

And last but not least, the plants and accessories you want in the terrarium.

These are the two species I used, Tradescantia Purple Passion at the front and a Chlorophytum Comosum behind.

The process

The idea of a closed terrarium is to create an ecosystem that will sustain itself. Both the plants and soil release moisture that becomes water vapour, and condenses against the walls of the terrarium during the warm daylight, falling back to the soil in the cooler evenings. This creation of an enclosed watering system is what will keep your terrarium growing, but just throwing dirt and plants at it isn’t going to work, an irrigation system is needed to stop the soil from rotting under too much water.

At this point you’ll want to grab the funnel, or if you’re on a budget, make one out of cardboard or paper to make for easier application of the materials.

First pour in a layer of small stones, pebbles, or gravel. There’s no hard and fast measurement as it depends on what size receptacle you’re using, a good rule to stick to is one-quarter stones to three-quarters soil. Remember this layer has to be deep enough to stop any pooling water from sitting in the soil.

I’d highly recommend checking out this video on youtube for a visual representation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lg4tzkHgVo

Check your terrarium from all angles, sometimes it’s hard to judge the level of coverage with curved glass.

Next is activated charcoal. This is an integral ingredient in the tasty soup that is your closed terrarium. It absorbs chemicals in the soil, water, and air that could otherwise build up over time and damage the plants. Charcoal also cleans up unpleasant odours that are released from the decomposing soil and helps stop mildew forming.

You don’t need a whole layer of the stuff, but make sure there’s a good handful being placed in, it’s going to do a lot of work after all!

If you’ve been able to source some plastic mesh, now is the time to cut it to shape, fold it up and pop it in. You’ll need some long tools to push and pull it into place, and then you can add the substrate. (Note that the charcoal seems fine both above and below the mesh layer.) Again, if you don’t have a mesh layer don’t worry! You can still power on!

Okay, let’s layer up some soil! You’ll need a decent amount, remember we’re working to approx one-quarter stones to three-quarters substrate. Don’t worry if your measurements aren’t perfect, it’s all a learning process!

Make some small divots for the plants to sit in, and let’s move on to prepping some plants!

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

Plant choices

A closed terrarium is a specific type of environment. There’s a lot of damp warmth in there, and if left in direct sunlight, the refraction of the glass will cook everything inside. So we need moisture-loving, low light-thriving, quite small plants. Which admittedly cuts down our options somewhat, but here are some plants that I’ve discovered-

Small ferns will help fill out any space, and they’re relatively easy to come by. Try and find a miniature variety if you can, as some ferns can grow pretty big.

Some that come recommended:

Peperomia, Maidenhair fern, Pteris, and Adiantum. I chose a variegated fern to place in mine, the pot I purchased had three separate plants in it so I picked out the smallest to place in my also quite small terrarium.

Soleirolia variants are perfect as well, and have a variety of amusing names such as, mind-your-own-business, baby’s tears, angel’s tears, friendship plant and Irish moss. (It is in fact, not a moss, but a plant from the nettle family.)

Tradescantia- also known as Spiderwort, is another plant that does well in humid climates. There are a lot of variants though, and I’d recommend staying away from any that are flowering as they will wilt and die quickly in the terrarium. I chose a Tradescantia Purple Passion to place in mine.

Other tropical foliage such as Dizygotheca and Neoregelia ‘fireball’ enjoy a humid environment, making them other possibilities for your display.

To finish it off I would recommend some moss. I took a trowel and dug some out of my garden. Moss is a great way to fill out your terrarium, it helps to cover bare soil and brings more diversity into the jar.

Trixie spent the whole time trying to eat my plants and the moss. Thanks Trix.

Preparing plants

This section entirely depends on what container you’re using for your terrarium, but for brevity’s sake I’m going to assume you’re using the same line of terrariums that I am, and in that case you’ve got some trimming to do. The opening of the bottle is a lot smaller than you first think, so you’ll need to carefully extract the plants from their pots, and gently scrape or shake off most of the soil around the roots so you can fit it through the top. This is where having another container or a lot of newspaper down comes in handy to catch all the soil!

Move the plant around after it’s fallen inside, and make sure you push soil back around the roots when you’ve confirmed the placement.

Now is a good time to consider the layout of your terrarium. Instagram and Pinterest are great sources of inspiration, just make sure whatever you use is small enough to fit!

In my terrarium I used some old chunky sticks to create a divide in the middle, putting the fern one side and the tradescantia on the other, with moss liberally applied all around. To finish it off, I added some more height with a mossy stick reaching up through the bottle, remember to consider your layers to make for a more visually interesting display!

Here’s my finished terrarium! I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and it didn’t take more than about half an hour to put together!

Finishing off

Before adding the cork, make sure you give your terrarium a good spritz with a spray bottle, or pour a little water down the side. You don’t need to add the cork straight away – allow the bottle to stand for a day to let the plants settle, and for the first week or so, take the cork off for a few hours every day. This allows you to adjust the water, and allows the plants to breathe and accumulate to their new closed-system environment a little easier.

Keep your terrarium out of direct sunlight, and rotate it every day or so to allow all sides to soak up some heat.

And here’s my beauty after 2 weeks! The tiny wild clover in the moss are loving it!

Troubleshooting and the future

There’s always the fear that your terrarium won’t last the weekend. Fear not! If you’ve used the right plants and followed the guide you should be safe. One thing to bear in mind is the water cycle, moisture should build up over the day, then drip back down to the soil overnight. If there is too much condensation then plants might start to rot, so remove the cork and allow it to dry out a little. If there’s no moisture on the sides by late afternoon, it may need a spritz of water to keep the cycle going.

If it does unfortunately go wrong, there’s no shame in calling it a day, dumping it all out and starting again. We all have to start somewhere, and I’m sure your next terrarium will look amazing!

If you do make up one of our terrariums, be sure to snap a photo and send it in!

Bonus points for getting your pets involved!

 

Charlotte at PrimroseCharlotte is a Copy Writer at Primrose, writing product descriptions and about anything else that comes her way. She owns 2 rabbits and 5 chickens that she loves very much. (Her garden is most certainly not tidy).

When not at her desk you can find her attempting to find her way back to Japan again, or drawing.

See all of Charlotte’s posts.

Animals, Birds, Charlotte O, How To

Folks, meet my family’s chickens.

They have been living in our garden for almost a year now, and have slowly destroyed everything in it. But they have supplied some delicious eggs and some rather hilarious entertainment over the last 9 months. So allow me to welcome you into:

A Very Brief Guide to Keeping Chickens in Your Garden

This chicken-y garden will not be the blog entry of your Instagram or pinterest dreams, this is about getting down and messy and back to the earth with your feathery pals. And feathery pals are what they’ll be! As soon as they learn to associate you with food, you’ll be their favourite human.

Procuring your Feathery Friends

It’s always recommended to keep chickens in at least pairs, chickens are social creatures and used to living in a flock. 2-3 chickens is a good number to start at, but if you have a large amount of space and are craving that eggy goodness then 4-5 is certainly acceptable.

So you’ve decided the number, but where can you get these chickens? The local pet shop sure doesn’t sell them, so let’s review our options:

  • Local farmers may be selling fertilised eggs, fancy growing your brood from scratch?
  • Time to google, local selling sites may be advertising hens who are already laying
  • The highly recommended: Adopt hens that are due to be slaughtered

All of these are viable methods, and in my house it was a close toss-up between raising our own chickens, or sourcing hens that were already laying. Luckily we found a farmer who was part of a hen-rescue team who was expecting a shipment of chickens, and so we travelled to an eccentric farm and I bashed my head on a beam trying to grab the chicken my Mum specifically wanted. (It was Ginger, she’s been wary of me ever since.) 5 chickens for £20 was a pretty good deal, and I got to fuss the farm dogs and grumpy horse while I was there.

Our sweet chickies were due to be slaughtered because they stop laying at optimal numbers after 18 months of life, and it’s more cost effective for farmers to get rid of them and bring younger ones in. But ex-battery/barn hens will still produce 1 egg every day-and-a-half-ish. They may be fragile to begin with, as most of them won’t have seen the sun before, but time is a healer, and those feathers will grow back.

If you’re interested in adopting, I’d recommend checking out the British Hen Welfare Trust, which operates around the UK.

Coops and Runs

Our chickens are living in the proverbial lap of luxury when it comes to housing, they have a converted shed and 2 large runs that used to house rabbits. But you don’t need a custom built enclosure for your chooks to be happy. A quick google will show you the vast sea of options for keeping your chickens housed. Although one thing to remember is the number they give for the upper limit of hens is probably going to be too tight, so if they advertise that a coop will fit up to 5 hens, don’t shove more than 4 in there. Make sure the coop is well ventilated, has perches that are comfortable for your hens to rest on, and has an adequate nesting area. Check out this page for more information.

We use plastic containers as nesting boxes, make sure there’s a good layer of hay in them!

If you’re handy with hammer and nail you can look into building your own run for your chooks. It will certainly take time, but you’ll save money in the process. Our structures have been holding for years now, lovingly crafted from left over timber and a whole lot of chicken wire.

(No judgements, please. This is the chicken’s domain now, it is mostly mud.)

Make sure your chickens have enough space to run around during the day, and that that space is protected from predators if you’re leaving them out when no one is around to keep an eye on them.

Diet

Your hens should also be fed pellets or meal to keep them in tippy-top condition, and it should always be available to them to snack on. You can also supplement it with grain or corn, but it’s recommended not to mix this with the pellets, as they’ll just pick it out and fill themselves up on it. Basically they’re like feathery toddlers, picking the little chocolate chunks out of their favourite cereal then complaining they’re hungry an hour later.

Chickens gain about a quarter of the protein they need in a day by foraging for grass and insects, you can also feed them kitchen scraps to add variety to their diet. No meat, but leftover cooked rice and pasta as well as vegetables and fruit can be given as treats. But be warned that family members might start to claim leftovers for the chickens without telling you. (I’m looking at you, Mum, who fed the chickens that leftover rice I had eyed up for lunch.)

Water is very important for the production of your hens eggs, those delicious ovals are made up of 65% water! So remember to top up water daily, and keep an eye out for how dirty the water gets. Chickens care not for where they foul or where they tread, and as soon as the water gets dirty, they won’t drink it. This can be remedied by elevating the waterer off the ground, hang it up or put a sturdy plant pot underneath to get it off the floor. During the coldest months make sure to break any ice on top that might stop your hens from having a drink.

Our chickens also get a bowl of porridge on cold winter mornings because every animal in our house is spoilt beyond compare. You certainly don’t need to do this, but seeing them throw porridge around is a hilarious way to start your morning.

If you want to read more on proper diet for your hens, check out this link.

Routine and Care

Your tiny raptor buddies shouldn’t take up much of your time if your care routine is sensible. At the very least they need letting out of their coop in the morning into the run, with any eggs collected, and then putting away in the evening. Although after settling in they should put themselves away when it gets dark. Obviously, with any animal, the longer you spend in their company and get to know them, the more relaxed they will become around you. Food helps accelerate this, and certainly helped our flock to become comfortable around us at the beginning.

They will also need cleaning out, of course. It’s recommended to clean under the perches every few days, as they do a whole lot of pooping overnight, and then clean their coop every week.

Or, here’s a fun new method that requires a whole lot less cleaning, it’s called the Deep Litter Method, and works like treating the floor of your chicken coop as a big ol’ composter. You lay down a good layer of pine shavings, and then cover over with straw or hay. A couple of times a week turn it all over to check the condition of the composting, and adjust accordingly, adding more hay or straw as you go to build up layers. Your chicks will help if you throw some food down, encouraging them to scratch and turn over the compost. Read up more on this method here.

And that’s a very brief guide on keeping chickens! If it piqued your interest, I highly recommend following through on the links littered throughout. They go into much more detail on each area. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more chicken related posts, even if it’s just to show off my feathery ladies.

Charlotte at PrimroseCharlotte is a Copy Writer at Primrose, writing product descriptions and about anything else that comes her way. She owns 2 rabbits and 5 chickens that she loves very much. (Her garden is most certainly not tidy).

When not at her desk you can find her attempting to find her way back to Japan again, or drawing.

See all of Charlotte’s posts.