Terra Aqua Columns Archives - Eva Varga

February 12, 20111

A few weeks ago, our Roots & Shoots club gathered to learn a little more about ecology.  I first gathered everyone together for a mini-lesson on a few key terms:

  • Ecology
  • Habitat
  • Niche
  • Food Chains
  • Food Web

I then read aloud a favorite book,  In the Snow, Whose Been Here?  by Lindsay Barrett George.  The kids enjoyed trying to guess which animal had been there based on the clues in the illustrations.  Though my own kiddos have previously read this book, as well as George’s others (In the Woods…, In the Garden…, and Around the Pond…) it is always a treat to revisit.  Remarkably, not all their guesses were accurate.

We then gathered around the table to construct a habitat of choice using recycled 2-liter bottles.  I was a little surprised that everyone chose the same … Terra Aqua Columns, but then I think I would have as well.

They were easy to construct and the kids were so intrigued that many went home and constructed a variety of the others in the book.  One little guy, even requested to make Terra Aqua Columns as a part of his birthday party the following week.  How cool is that?!

Construction in Progress

Water, as it cycles between land, ocean and atmosphere, forms the major link between the terrestrial world and the aquatic world. Water drips off rooftops, flows over roads, and flows down the drain of our kitchen sink. It percolates through the soils of fields and forests and eventually finds its way into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

During its journey, water will pick up leaf litter, soil, nutrients, agricultural chemicals, road salts and gasoline from cars, all of which have profound impacts on life in aquatic systems. Water can also be filtered or purified as it percolates through soil.

Construct Your Own Terra Aqua Column

A Terra Aqua Column provides students with a model to explore the link between land and water. The model has three basic components: soil, water and plants.


  • One 2-liter soda bottle
  • One bottle cap
  • Wicking material-fabric interfacing or cotton string
  • Utility knife (adults use recommended)
  • Awl or electric drill
  • Water, soil and plants


Step 1 – Remove label from the 2-liter bottle. Cut bottle 1 cm below shoulder. 

Step 2 – Poke a 1cm hole in the bottle cap with the awl. Alternatively, you can drill a hole with an electric drill.

Step 3 – Thread a thoroughly wet wick strip through bottle top, invert top, and set into base. Wick should reach bottom ofreservoir and thread loosely through cap. 

Step 4 – Fill reservoir or bottom chamber with water. Add soil and plants to the top chamber. To be effective, the wick should run up into soil, not be laying along a side of the bottle. For better drainage, place a layer of gravel or sand in the bottom of the top chamber.

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The idea for this activity came from a book titled, Bottle Biology.   Within it’s pages, students learn how to explore science and the environment using soda bottles and other recyclable materials. Model a rain forest and grow different plants, create a spider habitat, observe the lifecycle of a slime mold, explore an ecosystem or make Korean kimchee.

You can pursue these and other scientific investigations with over 20 bottle constructions, including the Ecocolumn, the Predator-Prey Column, the Niche Kit and the Terra Aqua Column. Each chapter contains background information, activities and teaching tips.

Here you can see our completed Terra Aqua Columns as well as a Decomposition Column (the tall green one) in the background.  The kiddos have had a great time exploring these mini habitats. They are looking forward to creating a Predator-Prey Column and have ordered a preying mantis egg case specifically for the cause.