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The amaryllis bulb experiments having come to a successful conclusion at the office, a colleague gifted me a trio of hyacinth bulbs — which are currently sprouting in water, suspended on glass chips. I know this sounds pessimistic, but I’ve grown hyacinth before and never succeeded in raising anything but deformed or stunted flower heads* — all without the benefit of alcohol, not for the plants anyway.

With such low expectations of them blooming well I’ve prepared another experiment to see me through to the summer — freshwater biospheres in old preserving jars.

bioshpere 1 bioshpere 2

The biosphere picture above (one of two I started out with) is four months old at the time of this edit. The project was started in February 2008 and remains sealed. In June 2008 the snails have prevailed, even multiplied, but the ghost shrimp died off within the first two months.

The biosphere idea came from a recent Make magazine article. I’ve made several air bioshperes in the past using an african violet in one and a maidenhead fern in another and finally a selection of succulents — each, respectively, requiring less and less maintenance. All worked out fairly well and lasted many months, pretty much until I tired off them. The first two required some maintenance to remove the dead leaves and to keep the leaves off the inside of the glass, else they remained sealed for many weeks at a stretch. Perhaps I should have included earthworms in my air biosphere to take care of the plant waste.

I have not tried a freshwater bioshpere before. Now looks like a good time. I’m creating two jars, a 1.5l jar for home and a 0.6l jar intended to take to the office when it’s stabilised. Respectively they’ll be Fresh Water Biospheres #1 and #2.

My biospheres included more plant and animal life than suggested in Make’s article (see references appended). Each also contained some algae covered pond stones and some sand dredged from our local Hecksher Park lake spread over a base of crushed sea shells. Initially we could see some of the larger microscopic animals scurry around as dark dots and rods. A few specimens were a millimeter or two long. I see very little of that original microscopic life four months into the experiment. From a pair of snails we now have many in the one jar. The proliferation of snails in a second killed off the plant life.

I have since moved onto creating moss terrariums which have encapsulated a whole new set of life forms in bottles. You’ll be seeing more of these in later posts.

Some of the inspiration for bioshperes comes from …
Make magazine’s Biosphere instructions
MAKE: Noise — Discuss this article
Bre Pettis’ “Make a Tabletop Biosphere” YouTube video

*I did it again: Actually I’ve exceeded my previous abilities to dwarf hyacinth, these were really tiny. Readers might assume, based on the amaryllis experiments, that I fed these on alcohol too. That would be wrong. Perhaps I should have.

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