A few days ago I created this small wabi kusa scape for my desk. Inside are a few pieces of volcanic rock and Christmas moss. Within a few weeks the moss will cover the rock.
What is a Jarrarium?
A Jarrarium is a nano-sized aquarium that’s made with a glass jar or vase. Often, Jarrariums are freshwater, containing plants, snails, and even shrimp. Due to their small size, you should never put fish in a jarrarium (not even Betta fish), because they’re too small to fit fish comfortably. I’ve even seen some small saltwater jarrariums that house tiny coral, but they’re more rare and difficult to maintain.
It’s important to note that the smaller the container in which you build your nano planted aquarium, the more difficult it will be to maintain balanced water parameters. I highly recommend learning the basics of freshwater planted tanks and building a larger tank (such as a 10 US gallon) to practice before building jarrariums, otherwise you may get frustrated with how quickly they can crash.
In this jarrarium tutorial, I’ll walk you through a recent Jarrarium I made using a cheap glass vase, sand, rock, substrate, plants, and snails.
Container + Stand for Jarrariums
For this particular nano tank build I used a decorative vase I found on clearance for $10. It’s 10 inches tall and has a diameter of 6 inches. Check your local craft or department stores for the best prices. Don’t forget to find some coupons online!
The stand for this is actually a cutting board. Finished bamboo cutting boards are great for nano tank stands. In the gallery below you’ll see that I use them for several tiny planted jarrariums on my bookshelf.
For a tank this size, I generally don’t go too crazy with lighting otherwise algae can overwhelm your tank quickly. For this vase, I used an older desk lamp with a really funky 4-Pin Quad Tube CFL Light Bulb 6500k. You can also find special nano tank lights at your local fish store if you have a few extra dollars to spend.
The most important thing to pay attention to if you’re buying regular old lightbulbs from a department store is the color rating and lumens. If you can find household LED bulbs rated at 6500k color temp (“full spectrum” daylight) and 1500 lumens, you’re in business.
Substrate & Stone for Jarrariums
In this jarrarium I got fancy with two different types of substrate:
- Decorative fine white gravel – not good for plants unless you’re liquid dosing fertilizer (not recommended in super tiny tanks)
- Eco-complete substrate specifically made for planted tanks
You can see in the photo above that I hid the dark eco-complete substrate for the plants behind the volcanic rock and used the white fine gravel in the front for better contrast. I also took my time with placement of the rock. I spent a good 45 minutes playing with the rock shapes before I found the composition I was happy with. Composition is everything.
I first bought a larger chunk of rock from my local fish store, and then broke it down with a hammer and a chisel.
Important: When putting rocks in small containers, be cognizant of weight. This volcanic rock is super lightweight since it’s filled with millions of air pockets. Stone from your local riverbed or lake will probably be MUCH heavier. If too much is placed in a small glass container, it could break. Check your local fish store for different types of decorative aquarium rock that’s suited for aquarium use.
Plants make the aquascape. In aquascaping, plants are actually the focus point, as opposed to the animal life. In this jarrarium, I chose taller plants that are typically used as background plants in larger freshwater planted aquariums, because of the shape of the vase.
I also tend to purchase “tissue cultured” plants that are grown in a lab. They’re always pest and parasite free. Unfortunately, when you buy plants at fish stores there are often times hitchhikers that can cause problems if you don’t sterilize the plants properly. Look up “aquarium hydras” on youtube and you’ll see what I mean.
Filtration, Aeration, and Co2
Here’s where things can get tricky based on experience level with nano planted aquariums. If you have a lot of plants stocked in your tiny tank and minimal animal life, you generally don’t need a bio/mechanical filter. but if you’re just starting out and aren’t familiar with how nitrates, nitrite, amonia, etc. all cycle in aquariums, I’d recommend buying the smallest filter you can (filters made for Betta Fish are generally the way to go).
I started this jarrarium build with a super small filter made for nano tanks, but it ended up occupying too much space. So, I made my own rudimentary filter. I took some filter mess and jammed an air stone in it. The mesh provides a place for the bacteria necessary for tank cycling to live. The movement of the air bubbles rising through the mess drives water flow through the mesh so a little bit of proper filtration can occur.
Although the aeration isn’t completely necessary because I have a lot of plants, I’m using it for water movement in this tank. The bubbles keep the water from becoming stagnant or bio film from covering the surface of the jarrarium.
During photosynthesis, plants intake carbon dioxide which helps them grow. Some folks inject co2 through a diffused to keep their plants lush. In tiny aquariums like this it’s often difficult to supplement co2 properly with that method, but you can use other methods like liquid carbon dosoing. The blue liquid in the tiny glass device you see in the video above is a co2 indicator. When it’s blue it means the co2 is low. When green it’s just right, and when it’s yellow you have too much, which can harm animals in your tank. Once this tank cycles a bit more, with some small liquid dosing, this indicator will turn green!
Creatures (Fauna) for Jarrariums
Now, you should never put fish in a jarrarium (not even Betta fish), because they’re too small to fit fish comfortably. Fish will quickly become stressed and die. Also, keep in mind that the smaller the container in which the aquarium lives in, the easier it is for chemicals to become imbalanced. If you had a jarrarium with 3 neon tetras, and one died while you were sleeping, the ammonia spike would most certainly kill the other two as well.
At the time of this post / video I have about 6 snails. 3 Blue Leopard Ramshorn snails, and some pond snails. A lot of people think snails are pests, but I keep them in every tank I have – terrariums (different type of snails), paludariums, and aquariums. Aquatic snails such as ramshorn, mystery snails, and pond snails keep algae away. Pond snails have even been known to eat Hydra, which are pests that sometimes eat baby fish and shrimp.
In the future, I’ll most likely introduce some cherry shrimp, because they’re amazing little creatures and also keep algae at bay!
Before you add the water to your Jarrarium
Take your time to place everything. The substrate, rocks, and plants all work together to form the composition of an Aquascape. In the photo above, I’ve planted everything in the vase before adding any water. Make sure you spray your plants as you’re working though, if the leaves dry out they’ll die.
Finished jarrarium aquascape
What I love most about nano planted aquariums in jars and vases, it’s that you can build so many of them with limited space! In my office I already have 3 jarrariums and a nano shrimp tank. They’re fairly cheap build and they’re great conversation pieces.
Let me know what you think in the comments and be sure to subscribe for more!
Plant & Fauna list
- Riccia Fluitans (floating) ($5)
- Green Ozelot Sword ($5-10)
- Crested Java Fern ($5-10)
- Java Fern ($5-10)
- Blue Leopard Ramshorn Snails ($2 each.)
- Neo Cardinia shrimp such as blue velvet or cherry work well for larger Jarrariums (not added yet). ($5 each)
- Vase or Jar (<$10). This one was from Target
- Substrate (Up to $30)
- Lighting ($10)
- Tiny filter or simple air stone (<$10)
- Plants, snails, or shrimp
- Stone ($10-15 for this much). Check out your local fish store
- Patience – in order to construct a proper jarrarium that’s going to last, take your time with research and material collection. Once I had all the necessary materials for this nano planted aquarium, I spent about 3 hours constructing it.