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How To Grow a Charcoal Crystal Garden

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Grow a chemical crystal garden using laundry bluing, salt and ammonia.

Grow a chemical crystal garden using laundry bluing, salt and ammonia.

Anne Helmenstine

Make delicate, colorful crystals! This is a great classic crystal-growing project. You use charcoal briquettes (or other porous materials), ammonia, salt, bluing, and food coloring to grow a sort of crystal garden. The components of the garden are toxic, so adult supervision is recommended. Be sure to keep your growing garden away from young children and pets!

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 2 days to 2 weeks

Here's How:

  1. Place chunks of your substrate (i.e., charcoal briquette, sponge, cork, brick, porous rock) in an even layer in the non-metal pan. You want pieces that are roughly 1-inch in diameter, so you may need to (carefully) use a hammer to break the material up.
  2. Sprinkle water, preferably distilled, onto the substrate until is has been thoroughly dampened. Pour off any excess water.
  3. In an empty jar, mix 3 tablespoons (45 ml) uniodized salt, 3 tablespoons (45 ml) ammonia, and 6 tablespoons (90 ml) bluing. Stir until the salt is dissolved.
  4. Pour the mixture over the prepared substrate.
  5. Add and swirl a bit of water around in the empty jar to pick up the remaining chemicals and pour this liquid onto the substrate, too.
  6. Add a drop of food coloring here and there across the surface of the 'garden'. Areas with no food coloring will be white.
  7. Sprinkle more salt (about 2 T or about 30 ml) across the surface of the 'garden'.
  8. Set the 'garden' in an area where it will not be disturbed.
  9. On days 2 and 3, pour a mixture of ammonia, water, and bluing (2 tablespoons or 30 ml each) in the bottom of the pan, being careful not to disturb the delicate growing crystals.
  10. Keep the pan in an undisturbed place, but check on it periodically to watch your very cool garden grow!

Tips:

  1. If you can't find bluing at a store near you, it is available online: http://www.mrsstewart.com/ (Mrs. Stewart's Bluing).
  2. Crystals form on the porous materials and grow by drawing up the solution using capillary action. Water evaporates on the surface, depositing solids/forming crystals, and pulling more solution up from the base of the pie plate.

What You Need:

  • Charcoal Briquettes (or pieces of sponge or brick or porous rock)
  • Distilled Water
  • Uniodized Salt
  • Ammonia
  • Bluing (shop online)
  • Food Coloring
  • Non-Metal Pie Plate (glass is great)
  • Measuring Spoons
  • Empty Jar

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