Friday, July 5, 2013

What to Do with Your Straight Needles

I have a pretty big collection of straight metal knitting needles. I sometimes use them, but generally find that they can make my knitting a little uneven, so they have been hanging out upstairs, collecting dust. I put a couple of them to good use last week...making a jar terrarium!

There are a million tutorials out there and they all say the same thing, so I'm just adding to the plethora, but I wanted to share because, though I am a crafty lady, I seldom have time to do them and share.

It all started with this bottle. We bought some Martinelli's Apple Juice a while ago (so good!) mostly for the bottle. John asked me what I was going to do with the bottle, so I hit the interwebs and found a solution! The first thing I did was remove the label by soaking the bottle in soapy water for just a couple minutes.

I then assembled the necessary ingredients and set to work! You'll need some rocks/pebbles, activated charcoal, sphagnum moss, woodland moss (or any kind of living moss), potting soil or orchid mix (I have the later), a trowel, and small plants. I forgot to photograph the knitting needles, but you'll need those too. I used a US 8 and a US 13, but it doesn't matter as long as you have at least one biggish sized one. :)

First, a layer of rocks for drainage. The sound of the rocks hitting the bottom of the jar made me fear for the jar's safety, so I tipped the jar on its side and gently poured the rocks in with the trowel. I poked the rocks around with a knitting needle until they were pretty flat and I couldn't see the bottom of the jar through the layer.

Then, a layer of activated charcoal. It will filter the air, so it doesn't get stinky and moldy in there. I think I probably should have put it down over the next layer instead of under it. Will it matter? Probably not. I couldn't get it spread very evenly, but it should just cover the rock layer.

Next, a sphagnum moss layer, again leveled with a few pushes of the head-end of the knitting needle (as opposed to the pointed end). You could do a layer of the orchid mix (a bark mixture) here instead if you have potting soil for the top layer. They both wick moisture and hold it, keeping the jar humid. John repotted his birthday ficus and used all the potting soil for that, so I only had the orchid mix for the top layer.

Here is the fun part, which I, regrettably, tackled so excitedly that I forgot to photograph it! :P In any case, I took the first plant from it's little plastic pot and removed enough soil from the bottom and sides of the root ball that it would sit low in the jar (not a lot of headroom in mine, but yours might be taller) and be narrow enough to fit through the mouth. If there are any dead leaves on the plant, pluck those off before you put it in the jar. They could get moldy. Once in, I positioned the plant where I wanted it by nudging it around with the knitting needle. Then, I used the trowel to pour in the soil I removed from the root ball and pushed it around the roots and tamped it down guessed it: the knitting needle! A larger sized knitting needle is helpful here because they tend to have a larger flat end, which tamps soil much easier than a smaller one.

I ended up having enough soil from the plants themselves that I didn't need to use the orchid mix at all, but you could use it instead of soil, as I had initially planned.

The final step is the woodland moss! Pour it in and move it around with the knitting needle. You can decently aim where you want things to land by tipping the jar and pouring with the trowel. The knitting needle is good for shaking things off the plants, too. I found a smaller needle works slightly better for that purpose. :)

This gets the sides dirty, though, so clean the inside when you are done pouring dirt and moss in. I speared a paper towel onto the smaller knitting needle and swished it along the worst spots. I would advise taping the paper towel into a ball on the end after you spear it so it doesn't slide up and down. That wasn't very helpful.

Add a drop or two of water (the soil and plants are likely moist enough to sustain the jar), add a couple of decorative elements, and you've got a cute little landscape in a pretty jar! I only added a pile of rocks, but I found an Etsy shop full of handmade terrarium decorations. She actually sells terrariums made with the single-serving bottles of this same apple juice, if you don't want to go to the trouble of making one yourself!

TIPS: You might want to start with a jar that has an opening big enough for your fingers like a mason jar or lidded glass vase. This was manageable, but might be too fiddly for some, especially if you want to put tiny decorations in just the right spot. Keep it out of direct sunlight so you don't cook the plants. Use tropical plants in bottles or jars with narrow necks and keep the lid on so they will create and live on their own humidity. If you get any signs of mold (it is normal in small quantities), take the lid off and let it dry out a bit. It needs very little added moisture to survive. You can make a terrarium with cacti and succulents, but they need an open, ventilated container to keep dry. Take the container with you when you buy plants. My nursery had a terrarium plant section. We just had to hold the plant up to the jar to see if it was too tall for the jug or test the leaves to see if they would bunch up enough to get through the neck. Go for variety in genus, height, color, and texture to make it really dynamic. Don't think too hard about it. Dirt and plants don't demand perfection. :)

My favorite part of this project was that I only had to buy the plants and the woodland moss! I have a couple orchids, so I have sphagnum moss and orchid mix for them. The stones are from last year's failed flower potting event and John uses the charcoal in his fish filters (go to a pet store or landscaper for small quantities of it!). If you are a gardener or plant-owner, you doubtless are equally or better equipped than I to do this on the cheap.

Sorry for the super long and photo-laden post! If you try one yourself, I want to see it, so let me know!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I like to just stare at it and be proud. :)

  2. Very cute! I like that jar, too. I made mini ones in pickle jars one year, but they didnt last too long. I'd love to try a larger one one of these days.

    1. Pickle jars! That would be perfect! They really are fun to make, even if short-lived.

  3. I need something that you never have to water. I suck at keeping plants alive! Love yours, it is just so sweet.

    1. I'm not so great at keeping plants alive either. I have no idea how my orchid is still not only living, but thriving. Maybe because it only needs water once a month? In any case, these are pretty fool-proof, I think. I mean, mine is still alive after two weeks! :)

  4. so cool! it's weird that you used a martinelli jar, as i have one kicking around, too! it's just too cool a shape to discard!

    1. How did I know you would? :) When I decided to keep the jar, I thought to myself, "It would look great in Eliza's kitchen. i bet she has one!"


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