How To Make a Jarrarium

Self-Sustaining Ecosystem Jarrarium Setup

What Is A Jarrarium?

A Jarrarium is a self-sustaining ecosystem that doesn’t rely on any filters, CO2 or ferts. And if we’re not using any of those, is it even possible to sustain any aquatic life, much less an ecosystem in a container? Well, if you know anything about ecosystems, you know we already have plenty of examples of self-sustaining ecosystems in real life! From oceans, to rivers, to even your neighborhood lake, these aquatic ecosystems are constantly balancing themselves to support life. And as Jarrariumists, we’re simply utilizing these principals to create a miniature version of these ecosystems!


The Setup

1. The Jar/Container

First and foremost, we’ll need a jar. Or well, a container! The word “Jarrarium” usually implies that we’re creating a self-sustaining ecosystem in a jar, but really, any container will do! (I’m not nit-picky with the wording here, and you shouldn’t be either!)

For inspiration, check out my tall, square, or long Jarrariums!

2. Substrate

To help with the biological cycle (we’ll talk more about it in the next section) we’ll want about an inch of substrate in our Jarrariums, and optionally a one-inch layer of gravel on top of the soil. Also, try to avoid any soil that has any chemical fertilizers in it, we don’t want to disturb the balance in our Jarrariums!

I recommend this substrate from Amazon: Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

3. Plants

Plants are the cornerstone to any self-sustaining ecosystem, their ability to detoxify ammonia and nitrite from the water, while also adding oxygen to your Jarrariums is too critical to ignore. Fortunately, we have a variety of plants to choose from:

Floating plants: Frogbits , Duckweed

Carpet plants: Glosso, Montecarlo
Aquatic plants: Hornwort , Anubias , Anacharis

In my experience, plants like frogbit and duckweed are incredibly fast growing, which in the event of a chemical imbalance, you’ll start seeing erratic growth.

Note: If you opt in for carpet plants, I highly, highly, recommend doing the dry start method! If you’re not too sure what that is, please check out my post about it here:

4. Water

If you ask any aquarium hobbyist what water they use in their tanks, almost immediately they’ll say, “dechlorinated water” And the same applies here in your Jarrariums! We don’t want to neutralize any bacteria growth or harm any life in our Jarrariums, so making sure our water is dechlorinated is a must.

I recommend this dechlorinator from Amazon: API TAP Water Conditioner 16-Ounce Bottle

5. Light

One of the most common factors in growing nearly anything, demands for some kind of light source, and Jarrariums are certainly not the exception to this. In order for plants to provide oxygen and detoxify the water, as well as allowing algae to grow, we’ll need a consistent light source. And depending on your plants and their lighting needs, I recommend have a light source on for about at least 10 hours a day. Any form of consistent lighting will do, I personally found success in using an ordinary lamp! While some aquarium hobbyists have found success with their Jarrariums using indirect natural lighting, results may vary using that method.

Up to this point, if you’ve followed these steps, I recommend leaving the light on over your Jarrarium for 10 hours a day and waiting 1-4 weeks (depending on how patient you are, the longer the better). Because now that we have our jar, substrate, plant, water, and light, setup we now need our tank to cycle and have beneficial bacteria to form. Without the beneficial bacteria, our Jarrarium will have trouble dealing with the waste produced by our algae eaters.

6. Algae Eaters

After at least 10 hours of light a day and waiting a couple of weeks, algae will without a doubt grow in your Jarrariums. And if left unchecked, can overrun your Jarrarium and slowly kill any form of life in there. However, as unsightly as it is, algae just so happens to be a critical food source in our self-sustaining ecosystems. If our tank becomes overrun with algae, then we’ll just have an algae eater take care of that for us. This gives us options.

Snails: Mystery Snails, Pond Snails

Shrimp: Red Cherry Shrimp, Amano Shrimp

Fish: Guppies

Warning: Some of these guys are serious algae eaters, and once the algae runs out, they’ll be eyeing your plants. (I’m talking about you mystery and pond snail). If you care about maintaining any recognizable structure within your carpet plants, I highly recommend not putting any snails in. They’re notorious plant uprooters.


How It Works

Now that you have your cycled Jarrarium setup, let’s go over how this self-sustaining ecosystem works.

The Cycle

  • The light causes algae to grow, and plants to photosynthesize.
  • Plants absorb nutrients from the soil and chemical waste during photosynthesis.
  • Plants then release oxygen and provide shelter for algae eaters.
  • Algae eaters then eat the growing algae, producing waste.
  • The ammonia and nitrite produced by this waste acts as nutrients.
  • The nutrients from the waste is absorbed by the soil, plants, and algae.
  • The physical waste is then broken down by the beneficial bacteria.
  • The broken down waste is absorbed into the soil, also removing nitrates.
  • The light causes algae to grow, and plants to photosynthesize…

With the amount of light provided in a Jarrarium, algae will indefinitely grow. However, because we added soil and plants, the plants are able to out compete the growth of algae. Our plants are then able to enact photosynthesis from the provided light source, and absorb the soil’s nutrients as well as the ammonia and nitrite produced from the waste. These plants then release oxygen and shelter for our algae eaters. Our algae eaters then eat the growing algae, and produce waste. The ammonia and nitrite produced by this waste acts as nutrients for our soil, plants, and algae. While the physical waste is then broken down by the beneficial bacteria that was cultivated (from those weeks of waiting!) and absorbed into the soil, while also removing the nitrates The cycle then starts over with algae growing again.

Balancing Your Jarrarium

Creating a Jarrarium can be a rewarding, yet daunting task for any new or experienced aquarist. And owning a Jarrarium is all about balance, and once you achieve that balance, the process actually gets easier. Some issues you may need to balance:

  1. Too much algae in your tank? Add more plants to slow down that growth and let your algae eaters work their magic.
  2. Have a chemical imbalance? Allow current plants time to balance setup. Potentially add more plants to absorb the excess nutrients! And/or do a water change.
  3. Algae eaters dying? Carefully examine water parameters (refer to #2) and activity in tank, move/quarantine as necessary.
  4. Algae eaters overpopulating? If your setup is sufficiently stocked with plants and algae, your setup will naturally sustain or cull itself (refer to #3).

Hopefully after following all these steps, you’ll have a flourishing self-sustaining ecosystem in no time! Good luck, and don’t forget to cycle!

If you’re interested in any of the things I’ve used personally for my setups, go ahead and check out my Jarrarium Material’s List. It features almost everything I used to make my setups and where to get them!

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