A Child’s Terrarium is Magical Too

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A Child’s Terrarium is Magical, Too

Creating terrariums has been an adult project that I have very much enjoyed doing all by myself. My son also loves the terrariums I make. He enjoys staring into the glass vessels and inspecting their miniature habitats. He has managed to mostly control his impulses, and follow the “Eyes only, no hands” rule that accompany my glass worlds. He even manages to do so when we have a couple of ladybugs crawling around inside a jar for one or two days. He likes my terrariums so much, however, that I wanted him to have his own that are accessible and hands-on. I wanted to find a way to replicate the creative experience for him, as well, to create with him a child’s terrarium.


A Child's Terrarium is Magical. Bean Seed Planted Within.
A Child’s Terrarium is Magical


On Pinterest I was reminded of a project I had seen before: starting a seed inside of a clear, plastic container stuffed with a damp piece of paper. I tried this project out a while ago. As with all of us, my son is perfectly aware of how a seedling appears above the surface of the soil. But also, as is the case for so many, what happens beneath the soil was still a complete mystery to him. We followed the conventional instructions to unearth this secret and it was fun. My son thoroughly enjoyed his peas and beans growing on the windowsill next to our kitchen table. I enjoyed his excitement and I like anything that grows. Still, this was not my favorite project. To tell the truth, it was really ugly.


A Bean Germinating in the Garden. What is Happening Beneath the Soil?
A Bean Germinates in the Garden…But What Takes Place Beneath the Soil?


Building terrariums for myself and my family gave me the idea that we could create something better, something beautiful, instead of a straggly plant in plastic.


A child's Terrarium by Mama is Inspired.
A Child’s Indoor Seed Sprouting Project can be Beautiful


First of all, we switched to glass jars. Aesthetically, this already made a world of difference. Another difficulty I found with the basic bean and pea projects we tried the first time around involved how much the plants wanted to grow. They did indeed manage to grow – our pea plant even produced a pod containing one mature pea! However, they looked starved. The plants were pale and stringy and dropped many leaves. I imagined that in our new version a little soil could be added in just the right way, making sure that the seeds were not occluded, but that there would be nourishment for our tender seeds. This way the plants could have longer, much prettier lives. Another challenge was that peas and beans like to climb. With no support system they would grow up as far as they could manage on their own, and then fall over. The plants were a straggly mess. This is what I had to look at each morning when we had breakfast. Not good enough! I knew these lovely little plants could start off my day with far more inspiration and magic. Instead of a child’s science project, I wished for a child’s terrarium.


How my Son and I Built a Child’s Terrarium Together


We rescued two transparent, glass jars from my mother’s recycling bin. My stepfather was an angel and he washed the containers and removed the labels for us.

I poured about a half an inch of light, sterilized potting soil into the bottom of each jar. Sterilization is a hassle but absolutely necessary. From personal experience, I can share that you don’t want to contaminate all your indoor plants with pests that come into the house in commercial potting soils. Potting soils sold outdoors at big box retailers are the worst culprits of all.


The Child's Terrariums are Filled with Soil
The Child’s Terrariums are Filled with Soil. Paper Napkins and Seeds are Ready to Add.


My child crumpled up unused napkins that we brought home with us from our last flight to Montreal. I can never bring myself to toss out unused napkins. I know that at some point they will come in handy.


Place the Crumpled Ball of Paper into the Glass Jar that is the child's terrarium.
Place the Crumpled Ball of Paper Napkin into the Glass Jar


Then my son, two years old, placed two or three of his crumpled balls on top of the layer of potting soil in each jar. He was so delighted to take the responsibility for preparing and placing the paper into the jars all on his own.

I reached into each jar and fiddled a small bit with the crumpled paper to make a natural shelf in each. Each shelf was meant to hold a seed where it could be easily viewed from outside the jar.

Next, my little boy placed a pea seed onto one shelf, and a runner bean seed onto the other.


Plant Bean and Pea Seeds in the Terrarium
Seeds are Placed on Paper Shelves in the Terrariums


Together, we gently poured some water into each jar: just enough for the paper to wick the water up to the seed. Pea seeds easily get too damp and rot, so a lighter touch is better for pea seeds. If you need to add more water on a later day, you can do so.


Proud of his Work in his terrarium
Satisfied with the Responsibility of Preparing his Terrarium all on his Own


Place the lids on the jars, and set your child’s terrariums in a bright place. Our kitchen windowsill is bright and does not receive direct sunlight.


We Placed our Child's Terrariums on a Bright Windowsill.
We Placed our Terrariums on a Bright Windowsill


Every morning we inspect the growth. These sorts of seeds sprout so quickly! It is so much fun to watch the young growth. Once the plants were high enough that they were growing back downward again, we removed the lids and the vines popped out! My little boy found this step to be hilarious. The popping plant stem inspired a gleeful, toddler squeal.


Germinating and growing Quickly, we Prepared Trellises for our Child's Terrariums
We Prepared Trellises for our Terrariums


To support the upward growth, we made trellises for our plants. We collected sticks from a local park and we cut lengths of wool yarn at home. I built an organic looking trellis by wrapping yarn around the joints where the sticks met. My son thickly wrapped his lengths of yarn around his sticks. He laid them out on the table for a while. Then he surrounded the jars on the windowsill with his yarn strewn branches for a day. Then one day I noticed his sticks stuffed into and poking out of his pea terrarium! This works, too! It is not necessary that the trellises be traditional in design. Trellises merely need to support the growth of the young plants.


My Son's Sweet Version of a Trellis for his Child's Terrarium.
My Son’s Adorable Version of a Trellis


Once the lids are removed, you have to keep on top of watering. In the summer months, the paper tends to dry out quickly. After several weeks of growth, we added more soil to the jars.  My son poured in more soil just up to the level of the seed, so that we would not have to water as often, and also to provide more sustenance for the small plants. Having my son complete this step was a bit messy, of course but again he was delighted to do so on his own.


A Homemade Trellis Supports a Bean Plant Growing in a Child's Terrarium.
A Homemade Trellis Supports a Bean Plant


Our glass jar planters are beautiful! My son knows the secrets of the life of a seed beneath the soil and we both get to start each morning off right, with the inspiration and grace that a child’s terrarium offers.


My Son's Trellis for a Child's TErrarium is just as Lovely as Mine.
My Son’s Trellis is Just as Beautiful


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Starting Basil from Cuttings…Seeds Take too Long!

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Starting Basil from Cuttings…Seeds Take too Long!

There is no culinary herb that I enjoy more than basil. Dried basil is the secret ingredient that keeps the compliments coming for my baked potato fries, and it is a great addition to my homemade cracker dough. I love stuffing whole, fresh basil leaves into sandwiches at lunchtime, and I would never want to imagine a future for myself that does not include pesto. I think that basil is perhaps the one seasoning I could eat every day and never tire. In the garden, few moments provide as much aromatic delight as the accidental brush up against this deliciously fragrant plant. I feel so fortunate to have a sunny outdoor space for growing basil. Fortunately, basil fares just as well in containers as it does in the earth, so anyone who has a sunny patio, or even a fire escape, has the right conditions to grow this favored herb.


Growing basil from cuttings
Basil in my May Garden


Last autumn when I started to plant up my backyard garden, my husband went shopping on his own one evening, and returned with a present of plants. My husband cooks almost all our dinners, so it was not surprising that he came home with herbs he would want for use in the kitchen. Although I have started all my vegetables from seeds, I find that it is usually not worth the time to begin growing herbs this way, and so I was thrilled with his gift for my kitchen garden. Among the plants my husband brought me were two varieties of basil. The sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, would have been expected, but he also took a chance on a variety that neither of us had previously heard of Ocimum basilicum ‘African Blue’. What a great choice this was! While the common sweet basil succumbed to cold in early December, the African Blue made it right through our coastal Southern California winter. I suspect that if covered on extremely cold nights, it might overwinter all the way up the coast, right into the Pacific Northwest.

African Blue is a bit more pungent than sweet basil, and is also wonderfully spicy with a slight undertone of licorice (this basil does not remind me in the least of Thai basil, which has quite a strong licorice flavor). The leaves are considerably smaller and slightly thicker than regular basil leaves. They are smooth and shiny and have a wonderful texture both raw and cooked. My husband and I adore this variety of basil…and so does are our son. A disproportionate amount of the greens in my son’s diet are a result of his daily foraging in our herb garden. It is wonderful that this basil plant is so vigorous that I do not need to worry about damage caused by inexperienced hands picking and pulling at leaves. I am all for one less rule for my little boy to follow in the garden!


African Blue Basil
Smaller and Thicker than Sweet Basil, African Blue Leaves are also Smooth and Shiny


My husband and I plan to pick up a common sweet basil plant soon, but if somehow we fail to do so, it will be okay and I won’t really miss it. I love the African blue as much as the common variety and since I have started several new plants from the original we purchased last autumn, we will not be short on basil. Growing basil from seeds is a slow process that takes too long and is not particularly worth the time or energy. Starting basil from cuttings, however, is so simple and so quick. Especially during the growing season when basil is ready to take off. Anyone can pull this off!

Starting Basil from Cuttings

Cut a basil stem from your existing plant that is around 5 or 6 inches long.


Growing Basil from Cuttings
Cut a Stem of Basil 5 or 6 inches Long


Remove all of the leaves except for the top two sets. If the top leaves are quite small and immature, then leave three sets of leaves.


Image of Basil Stem for Cutting
Basil Stem


Preparing basil stem to start cutting
Remove all but the Top Two or Three Sets of Leaves


Place your stem in a narrow-mouthed jar of water and place in a bright windowsill. Keep an eye on the jar and continue to top up the water until the basil stem has grown many roots and is ready to transplant into soil.


Place basil cutting in jar of water
Place Basil Cutting into a Narrow-Mouth Jar Filled with Water


When a good root system has developed, transplant your basil into a 4-inch nursery pot (with holes in the bottom) filled with potting soil. Do not use garden soil or landscape soil because they are too heavy and the basil will become waterlogged. Water immediately after planting and move outside if you plan to grow your basil out of doors. Initially, place the pot in the shade. Over three or four days, gradually allow your basil plant to receive more and more sunshine until on the fifth day it is in a very sunny spot. At this time the basil should receive at least 6 hours of sun a day, most of it afternoon sunshine.


Root system of basil started from cuttings
This Basil has Developed a Strong Root System and is Ready to Transplant into Soil


Water your basil plant when the pot begins to feel light when you lift it. You do not want to let the basil dry out but you also do not want your plant to die because you have been over watering. Many years ago I had two co-workers who strongly disagreed about whether it was better to kill a plant from under or over watering. This was a very serious disagreement and, on this point only, they would often grumble about each other behind their backs. Personally, I would rather let my plant dry out. (Of course I would prefer not to kill a plant at all!)

Once your basil plant fills out its 4-inch pot, transplant it into its permanent home in the garden or larger container in full sun. Again, if you will be growing your basil in a pot, make sure to use potting soil and a container with drainage holes.


Basil started from cutting is ready to transplant
Basil is Ready to Transplant into its Permanent Home

It is that simple! Enjoy your harvest of fresh basil!

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Growing Shelling Peas for my Son

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Growing Shelling Peas For My Son


Flowering Peas


For a short time in my childhood, my family lived in the forest, on the edge of a very large river in northern-ish Ontario. Our home was literally a dream house built by the previous owners. It was a large log house with huge, plate glass windows wrapping their way around the entire home. I was the luckiest of all since my corner bedroom included breathtaking views of both the woods and the river. Enchanting really is the best word to describe how I felt about our home. Even at such a young age I was certain I would never live in such an incredible house again.


French River, Ontario View


The large property of our log home included a three car garage, a guest house, and a boat house. I don’t remember our one car ever being parked in the garage. My parents probably figured that with small children it was too long of a hike to get to the car, especially during the cold, snowy winters. No guest ever stayed in the guest house in our time, but my sister loved to set her Nancy Drew mysteries in the pretty little building filled with strange junk left by the last owners. Only the boat house, which came ready-filled with a couple canoes and was conveniently placed at the land’s end of the dock, was well-used by my father who was, and still is, an avid fisherman. The beach followed along the water’s edge of our property and my father actually raked it every year when the seaweed began to grow. Sandy and smooth, our beach was pleasing for wading in and splashing around.

Our home was located in the middle of nowhere and I suspect my parents got the house for a basement price. Looking back I realize those were lean times for my parents but for the type of small child I was, that only made it more magical. Since finances were tight, the sacrifice made to live in a breath-taking, isolated location, we lived mostly off fish and unimaginable amounts of wild blueberries that our family would pick during each year’s berry season that lasts up to three months. Blueberry pancakes, blueberry pies, blueberry jam, blueberry muffins, blueberry cobbler-I’m pretty sure I’m missing a few variations! We barely ate any other fruit. It’s hard for me to imagine it now but I didn’t actually like blueberries all that much. I very much enjoyed the picking escapades, however, many of which involved riding off in the boat, and I always loved the idea of eating what we gathered ourselves.

My parents also grew a large vegetable garden. Although I vividly remember the location of the site of the garden, I have only two conscious memories of its existence. One memory is the discovery of a carrot that had mistakenly been left in the ground over winter. Wow! This was the sweetest carrot I have ever tasted. It blew my little mind. My other recollection, even fonder, is of the row of shelling peas planted along the outside edge of the garden. I have memories of searching and then searching again, always trying to find just one more ripe pod. I know that my love for shelling peas, a love that belies how good they actually taste, originates with that early thrill of picking peas right off the plant: pulling the string back on a pod, running a fingernail down the center, anticipating how good the haul might be and how sweet the peas inside would taste, and then slowly picking out each pea, one by one, and placing them into my mouth, to be eaten slowly. There was absolutely no other culinary or garden experience in my early years that ever came close.


Sabre Shelling Peas


When I began my own garden last autumn, I planted Mammoth Melting and Alderman Tall Telephone, six to eight foot varieties, along our yard fence. I was attempting to maximize both space and the winter sun. Since this area would receive less sunshine than any other part of the garden over the winter season, I figured that tall plants would have a much greater chance of success than short vines that wouldn’t have the ability to make the stretch up to sunnier heights. And then, thinking back on my own childhood love affair with shelling peas, I decided I should plant a shorter 3 foot variety at the edge of our garden where my son could easily pull off his own peas. I planted the seeds and told him these peas were his. He wasn’t yet two and I don’t think he actually knew what peas were. He showed interest but not more than in the other plants in the garden. Still, I kept on stressing that these were his peas each time we watered the garden together and as time went by he became slightly more involved in the watering of this little area. As the vines grew taller a switch went off and my son grew attached to his patch. Or, maybe it was just the trellis he was fascinated with. Truthfully, I suspect it was just the trellis that drew him in. But that’s okay. I really wanted him to become more engaged with the garden and it had worked. I can’t recall how many times I got after him to stop pulling on the trellis. I even had to take away his daily watering privileges a couple times in an attempt to stop him from tearing out both trellis and roots of the peas (this worked for the most part but was not a fool proof solution). Perhaps this wasn’t the engagement I had been wishing for!


Watering the Garden


Then the peas began to form flowers and my little boy loved to bend down and sniff them in that exaggerated, animated toddler way of loudly inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Soon after the first flowers bloomed, pods began to form. Not long after, the day arrived that I removed the first fully ripe (well, almost ripe…I couldn’t wait any longer!) pod and placed it in his little, plump hand. I showed him how to open the pod, I removed the first pea for him and fed it into his mouth. Instantly my son was smitten. He was delighted. He was mesmerized. The knowledge that these peas were his took on meaning. And now that I think of it, he never pulled on the trellis again-he was no longer interested in placing his peas at risk.  “Peas” he walks around the house saying, countless times each day. “Peas” he asks first thing in the morning. “Peas” he asks when he sits down to dinner.  “Peas” he says after his nap. He picks and over-picks his peas while we’re out in the yard. I encourage him to leave the unripe peas on the vines for a day or two more, but they are his peas so he is free to pull them off if he likes. On my lucky days, he has even shared a pod or two with me. These peas, Sabre, are for sure my favorite among the varieties we planted. They are flavorful, the pods are fully packed and the plants, which I did inoculate, continue to be densely covered in flowers. The Tall Telephone are also a shelling pea which means I’ve only tried a handful of them: my son wants to eat as many shelling peas as our garden can give him. My husband and I have been reduced to eating only the overly adult-like seeming edible-pod Mammoth Melting. They are great steamed, sautéed, and in salads. However, as tasty and pretty as they are, I always feel a tad disappointed while harvesting. They don’t possess any of the great magic of a shelling pea. When I pick a shelling pea pod, I can barely understand how it is that the delight I receive, even though I am not the one destined to eat it, has not diminished since I was a child. There are so few adult moments in life that turn out to be as exhilarating as the memories recalled from childhood. I am grateful that I have the space in my garden for these little wonders. I am happier still to see my son gain his own similar delight from his simple little peas.


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