Published July 22, 2020

Canal Nights: Field to Fork

Due to inclement weather, the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites is canceling tonight’s Canal Nights. But don’t fret! Here is a simple activity that you can do at home, inspired by tonight’s Field to Fork theme.

This week, we’re learning how to create your very own self-watering planter!

This planter uses capillary action to water your plants. Capillary action is the ability of liquids (like water) to flow against gravity! Remember, gravity is the force that keeps our feet on the ground and makes leaves fall from trees instead of flying into the air.


For this activity, you’ll need some recycled materials and a little help from a grown-up.

  • A clean 2- or 3-liter soda bottle with the cap
  • A piece of newspaper
  • Scissors, or a utility knife
  • Cotton string
  • A drill (or something to make holes in the bottle cap)


1. Have a grown-up drill holes in the bottle cap. This will allow water to travel up the cotton string towards the roots of the plant. We decided to drill one large hole in the center and smaller holes around it.

2. Make your string wick. Cut three equal lengths of cotton string and tie them together with a knot about 3 inches from the bottom. We cut ours about 15 inches long.

3. Feed the shorter ends of the string through the big hole in the middle of the cap. The short ends will dangle in the water, and the long ends will go into the soil to help water the roots.

4. Have a grown-up cut the soda bottle in half to create a cup and reservoir to hold water. When the cup is placed upside down into the reservoir, there should be about two inches of space.

5. Using newspaper, line the cup. This will help hold the soil in place and keep sunlight away from the roots of your plant. Poke a hole in the bottom of the newspaper for your string.

6. Feed the string through the hole in the newspaper, and screw the cap on. You are now ready for soil!

7. Hold the string up into the middle of the cup as you fill it with soil. Spread out the three pieces of string as you layer the soil so that water will be evenly distributed to your plant roots.

8. Now, you are ready to plant your seeds. For best results, thoroughly soak the soil, and let it drain for an hour or two before planting seeds. Then, just make sure to keep the reservoir filled with a few inches of water, and your plants will be growing in no time!


During and after the activity, ask your child:

  • What other recycled materials could be used to make planters?
  • Where does the food we eat come from? Does your family grow any food? Do you visit local farms or farmer’s markets?