11 November, 2020

How I created a Jarrarium

Following on from my recent adventure of setting up an aquarium, I decided that one wasn't enough. I can't believe it, I'm already addicted to this hobby. I might as well say goodbye to my savings now, because this aquarium addiction isn't cheap. Tanks, substrates, test kits, heaters, pumps, lighting, and all that stuff can carry a hefty price when it's all added up. It's an expensive hobby. But the good news is, that it doesn't have to be. As long as you're willing to compromise, and scale back on your dreams of having a vast aquascape with lots of large fish, then there are much cheaper alternatives that will still net you a small aquatic wonderland. One such alternative is the jarrarium.

A jarrarium is quite simply an aquarium in a jar. A small, convenient and affordable way of taking part in a segment of this hobby. Now, I know what you're thinking, "What on earth can you keep in a jar?" Well, admittedly, it ain't much. Even if you use a fairly large jar, you'll still be hard pressed to find many species that will happily live in a jar. But remember, we're talking about compromises here. Better something than nothing. So here's how I created mine.

  • Jar with a lid (bigger the better)
  • Potting mix (no water crystals or extra stuff)
  • Aquarium gravel (leftover from making the last aquarium)
  • Tap water
  • Water conditioner (Seachem Prime)
  • Suitable plants (Java Moss, Duckweed)
  • Decorations (rocks, wood, and a shell)
  • Tools (jug, old colander)

  1. Clean the jar and lid, and rinse thoroughly.
  2. Using an old colander, sieve the potting mix. This is to remove the coarse bark and woodchip material, leaving the finer particles of potting mix for use in the jarrarium. If the coarse stuff is left in, it will often float to the surface and cause a mess.
  3. Put the fine potting mix into the jar, creating a layer about 2.5 cm thick.
  4. Treat some tap water to make it suitable for aquarium use. The main aim of using the water conditioner is to neutralise any chlorine in the water. Too much chlorine can be bad for both the plants and any animals that might later go in the jarrarium.
  5. Pour some of the treated water into the jar. Just enough to reach the top of the soil. It helps if you can break the fall of the water when pouring it in, to avoid displacing the substrate. I poured it over my other hand which was in the jar. Then poke the wet soil to ensure that there are no bubbles trapped underneath.
  6. Add a layer of aquarium gravel, about 2.5 cm - 3 cm thick. Try to avoid mixing it with the underlying soil as much as possible. The aim is to have a gravel cap over the soil, not one big mixed up mess.
  7. If needed, add a little more of the treated water, to raise the water level to just above the gravel. Then give the gravel a gentle poke, to release any trapped air.
  8. Add the decorations. Keep it simple in such a small container. Don't put too much in there.
  9. Gently fill the jar with treated water.
  10. Let it settle for a few hours.
  11. If the water looks like a murky soup, then remove most of the water, while leaving your soil and gravel intact. Then gently fill the jar with more treated water, and again, allow it to settle for a while.
  12. Add the plants. Choose ones that suit the size of the jar. I used Java Moss for the carpet, and something that looks like Duckweed for a floating surface layer. But feel free to explore other options.
  13. Put the lid on.

And there you have it. All set up and ready to go. Now it's up to you if you want to look after it or neglect it. Maybe it will become a self sustaining ecosphere. Then again, maybe it won't. I have been tending to mine so far. I keep it near a window, so it gets indirect natural light during the day. I sometimes use artificial lighting. Also, I have started a cycling process, by adding a small amount of fish food to the water to kickstart the nitrogen cycle. And I have been measuring key water parameters, to gauge its progress. It's early days with my jarrarium. I'm not sure if I'll add some small animals, once the water has cycled. In either case, I look forward to seeing how it turns out. I'm sure I'll write some more aquarium posts in the future, so feel free to follow along.

Jarrarium - day 0

06 November, 2020

My first aquarium

It's amazing which videos YouTube suggests that I watch. Some of them make sense, like the ones on a topic that I've been watching recently. But it's the odd ones that I'm talking about here. You know the ones I mean? Those wonderful little videos from leftfield that seem to have nothing to do with my search history, but they fascinate me all the same. They turn out to be a pleasant surprise. Take the following video for example. It comes from the channel Foo the Flowerhorn

Here's someone who has setup a small low-tech aquarium. In it is a variety of plant and animal life. The video starts with a clean-up, and then goes on to a feeding. They place a slice of boiled carrot into the aquarium, and we get to see the shrimp feasting upon it. 

If anyone had tried to convince me to watch a video like this, by describing what was going on in it, the chances of me actually watching it would have been pretty slim. But I watched this one all the way through. And then I started watching more videos from their playlist. I was hooked. Proper hooked. As in, I'll watch three or four episodes of Ozark in a row kind of hooked. That's a pretty good show by the way. I highly recommend it. But I digress. Foo the Flowerhorn's videos not only captured my attention, but they also motivated me to get my own aquarium.

So begins an obsession with aquariums. I started Googling every thought, question and idea that I had about the life aquatic. Not the Bill Murray film, mind you. I poured over pages of information about setting up aquariums. I started daydreaming about how I want to create my own aquatic wonderland, and what would populate it. Ideas evolved and changed until I decided on what I want. Then with a shopping list in hand, I went to my local pet store, and got it all together. And despite going in prepared, I have already started to see how much I don't know what I'm doing. But it's a learning experience and a part of the fun.

I decided to setup a 30 litre low-tech experiment. I say experiment because I have learned just enough to get me into trouble, and I'm sure that I am about to face a steep learning curve. Things could go either way, success or failure. My hopes and dreams for my aquarium are already being challenged by my doubts. I think that I've put too much gravel in the tank. I don't quite like where I've put the plants. I should have bought more plants. Maybe my light is too bright. My test kit doesn't measure ammonia levels. And on it goes. It's only been a day since I put the plants in, and I'm already concerned for the well-being of my aquarium and its future residents. It's interesting to see how I'm already caring about it.

There aren't any animals in it yet. I am trying to get the environment balanced and favourable for whatever gets invited. I have been thinking about some Red Cherry Shrimp, along with a few tiny fish. The jury is still out on the fish species. I'll see how it goes. I think that it might be a month or so before I add any livestock. I'm excited to see how it all goes, sink or swim. 

01 November, 2020

Fascination with storms

 The draining heat and humidity of the afternoon had quickly given way to a worrying coolness. I turned to the west and looked to the sky. The approaching storm clouds had taken a greenish hue. The gathering wind carried in the first drops of rain. "Just great."

I hopped into the car, moved it under cover and turned it off. Getting out of the car, I was greeted by the sudden roar of the rain. From the open roller door of the workshop, the view across the lot was sheets of rain punctuated by flashes of forked lightning. It was coming in quick. Too quick. By the time I made it to the next car, the hail started to fall. "Fantastic. Moving all of the stock around while my car is getting pelted out in the street."

And that's how my Saturday at work was coming to a close. Certainly not the best afternoon. Despite the frantic push to get our stock cars under cover, and trying not to worry about my car, I still enjoyed the vicious beauty of the storm. There's something exciting about stormy weather. I feel a quiet excitement, energized, and focused. It's a heady mix. I'm not alone in how they make me feel. But what is our fascination with storms?

I considered a few theories to tackle the question. Danger, variety, or the promise of life-giving rain. Each had some merit. But they didn't entirely capture what felt magical about storms. So shifted from asking "why," and I started to consider "how." How people react to storms. 

People pay attention to storms and dramatic weather. It seems like a reasonable response. Depending on where they live and the typical weather patterns for their local area, a storm could present something atypical. Something that is atypical in our environment might present a risk. So when familiar patterns are gone, it's natural for people to look up and check out what's going on. What I find particularly interesting is how a situation feels when lots of people nearby start paying attention like this at the same time. Their rhythm and routine becomes broken. They switch off their autopilot behaviour, and their thoughts focus more keenly on the present moment. It's almost like they are sharing a time of collective heightened awareness. There is something unifying in that. And that's nice, so long as we can walk away without consequence.