BALLS OF BRIGHTNESS — Add color to your winter garden with an arrangement of frozen spheres. While this is a project simple enough for children, adults can get really creative with it. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.
SPRINGVILLE — Even the kids can have fun making this colorful addition to your winter garden. All you need are some balloons, food coloring, water and a lot of patience.
I tried this project when the temperatures were in the teens, and even with the weather that cold, it took an extraordinarily long time for the large spheres to freeze – like three days.
Here are the basic instructions. Take a balloon and squirt some food coloring inside. Add water the same way you would if you were making water balloons, during the summer. As you add water, the food coloring will get mixed in. Knot the balloon.
Put the balloon outside and let it freeze. When the water is frozen solid, snip the balloon, peel it away and you’re left with a colorful frozen sphere.
I used 11-inch balloons. For softball-sized spheres, fill the balloon just part of the way. They will take about a day to freeze.
To make the largest spheres, which are almost the size and weight of a bowling ball, fill the balloon as much as you dare. Remember, if it pops in the house, as you’re filling it, the water that sprays all over will have food coloring in it.
I didn’t try this, but I think it would be helpful to set your balloons on a newspaper, so the balloons don’t stick to your porch, driveway or other surface. Even if the balloon sticks to the paper, you can lift the whole paper, if you want to move the balloon. If you use several sheets of paper, you’ll have something to absorb the water, in case a balloon breaks before the sphere is totally frozen.
When the balloons were partially frozen, the upper shell of the sphere was thick, but the crust on the bottom was thin. As I tried to move one, the balloon stuck to the porch and ripped. Water and slush started leaking out the bottom, so I quickly flipped it over. I added more colored water to replace the water that was lost, and then, because I’m not patient, I stuffed some snow into the hole, to try to speed up the freezing process.
Because the top freezes more quickly than the bottom does, turning the balloon over, during the freeze process, may help the sphere to freeze more quickly. Even if it doesn’t freeze faster, it should make the sphere freeze more evenly, so that even if you peel away the balloon before the sphere is completely frozen, you won’t have a thin, brittle bottom.
There are two things to notice about the shape of the spheres. First, the bottom will be flattened. This is more noticeable in the large spheres than it is in the small ones.
Second, the air bubble in the balloon will leave a dent at the top of the sphere. That dent bothered me a little, so I thought that adding small shapes to cover the dents would be interesting. I froze some colored water in the cups of an egg carton, but you could use rounded ice cube trays or any other mold you like. The little red dots look like maraschino cherries on an ice cream sundae, but I liked the arrangement without them, too.
The smaller spheres are a nice solid color, but the large ones have the color concentrated in the center. I think what must have happened is the large spheres took so much time to freeze that the dye settled out. If you don’t like that look, you may want to gently turn or shake the large spheres once or twice a day, to try to keep the food coloring mixed in.
It’s fun to mix the dyes, to get various shades of color. You could do this project in the colors of any holiday – we have wintry weather through March, so your holidays could include St. Patrick’s Day. You could also choose the colors of your favorite school or sports team.
I decided to arrange my spheres in a large plastic pot. I filled the pot almost to the top with snow and set the largest spheres on the snow. I set smaller spheres on top of those.
One thing to keep in mind is that, where a sphere settles is where it will be most stable – just leave it in that spot. I tried to nudge a sphere slightly to the left, but it slid away and smashed on the floor.
Once you have a sphere in a stable spot, pour water where it touches the other spheres. The water will freeze and act like glue.
I glued the small, red ice dots to the spheres by dipping them in water and holding them in place until they were secure. With weather in the teens, it didn’t take long.
One last tip: Don’t do this project near steps, because it can create an icy mess. Even if your spheres freeze solid and they don’t break, the way so many of mine did, they have to thaw, sometime. If we get a warm spell followed by freezing overnight, the area around your arrangement could get slippery.
Have some fun, be creative and add color to your winter garden, with an arrangement of ice spheres.
Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com
, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.