Hydroponics has grown from being just a commercial endeavor to something that budding growers and urban farmers have come to acknowledge as one of the more effective ways to grow plants in a soil-less setup, even indoors.
Hydroponics systems come in many forms and sizes, from massive ebb and flow systems spanning several acres to miniature setups like the mini mason jar aquaponics system.
Let it be said here (for the sake of simplicity) that aquaponics is a type of a hydroponics system, with an essential difference: instead of relying on a reservoir filled with a nutrient solution, a live animal will be providing the nutrients to the plants.
The plants on the other hand will be cleaning up the water to ensure that the fish are not poisoned by their own waste. The plants and fish develop a mutually beneficial relationship with each other, and a balanced system emerges, which then benefits the grower.
A mini mason jar aquaponics system is an awesome way to get started on aquaponics, and these small setups can also be ornamentalized so that they may be used as room decorations.
Taking care of a couple of mini jar aquaponics systems is easy and can even be taught to children. Kids like taking care of fish, and grow-ups tend to gravitate toward plants. Aquaponics answers the need for both. Here’s how you can get started on your very own mini mason jar aquaponics system.
For this project, you will need the following items:
– A mason jar, complete with lid
– A net pot that fits over the rim of the mason jar. Its fine if the net pot is slightly larger than the rim, as long as the bottom sinks in enough to reach the surface of the water.
– Grow medium of your choice
– Conditioning agent
– Your choice of cutting or seed
– Additional decorative items for the bottom of the jar, like pebbles
As we have discussed earlier, an aquaponics system takes the basic design of a hydroponics system and creates harmony between two major components: the plants and the fish. The plants are responsible for filtering out impurities in the water and eliminating the nitrogen waste from the fish waste.
The fish on the other hand, digests food and excretes waste nutrients in the form of feces. The feces provides an almost complete source of nutrients to the plants, which results in robust and flavorful crops.
While it’s true that a mini mason jar system will not give you a lot of produce, you can use this opportunity to study how hydroponics actually works, and how you can raise healthy plants indoors or outdoors without the need for soil.
If you’re ready to assemble the aquaponics system, it’s time to head over to step one. Get your mason jar and carefully line up your decorative rocks on the bottom of the mason jar.
There’s no need to overfill the bottom of the mason jar as too much can break the jar or reduce the amount of water available to the fish. Add just enough to make the mason jar prettier, the proceed to the science part of the assembly.
The second phase is where things slow down a little. Add the water to mason jar and apply the appropriate amount of aquarium conditioning agent.
Aquarium conditioning agents removes heavy metals, disinfects the water and adjusts the pH level. It’s imperative that you allow the water to be conditioned for the appropriate amount of time before adding the fish to the water. Check the manufacturer’s instructions at the back of the bottle or box to make sure that you know exactly how long you should be treating the water. After the treatment period, you can add the fish.
A few notes on selecting and purchasing fish:
1. Pick the fish that looks most active. Check the eyes, gills, color of the scales, and the condition of the fins, too.
2. It’s best to purchase fish from pet stores that have knowledgeable staff, as they will be able to advise you on the proper care of the fish and you can ask them where they source their fish in the first place.
3. One mason jar will be sufficient for only one small fish. Anything larger than a betta may require a much larger jar. If you want to take care of more than one fish, consider applying the principles of aquaponics to a larger setup, like an aquarium or tub.
Add the fish along with the bit of water that comes from its original tank. The old water from the fish’s original tank will have beneficial bacteria that will allow the fish’s new habitat to stabilize.
Leave the fish in the jar for at least one week before starting with the next phase of the assembly, which is the plant. A week will give the new environment enough time to stabilize and create sufficient nitrogen build-up that will then be used by the plant.
If you are starting from seed instead of a transplanted mature plant, then you have plenty of time to buld up the nitrogen waste in the water. The nitrogen waste is plant food, which is why there has to be enough of it to sustain the system.
It’s imperative that you prepare the water first before adding the plant, because plants can wilt pretty quickly without sufficient nutrients. When preparing the net pot, be sure to spread the grow media evenly throughout the pot for maximum absorption of nutrients and moisture.
There are a variety of media to choose from: coconut coir, vermiculite, perlite, rockwool cubes, expanded clay pellets, etc. Generally speaking all of these types of media are good, but it’s best to combine the heavier ones with a little of the lighter ones like perlite, as the latter are capable of providing higher amounts of oxygen to the roots of plants. When you’re done with outfitting the net pot with the grow media and the plant (making sure that you spread the roots of the plant evenly throughout the media),it’s time to place the net pot in the jar.
The mason jar should then be placed where there is plenty of natural sunlight throughout the day. If this isn’t possible or if there simply isn’t enough sunlight, consider purchasing a small LED grow light to aid in growing your plants.
Congratulations on setting up your first aquaponics system! Now it’s time for maintenance, because we’re not just after a beautiful mason jar, we’re after a functioning system that is going to last for a long, long time. Here are some fast tips to get you started:
1. Feeding Schedule – Overfeeding your fish will be unhealthy for both fish and plants. If there is too much waste in the water, the plant may not be enough to clean the water sufficiently.
The presence of too many nutrients in the water may also cause nutrient lock, a condition characterized by the inability of plants to absorb nutrients in the water. Ideally you should only feed your fish twice per day – once in the morning, and once in the evening. Feed only a small amount as bettas are tiny fish and do not require a lot of food to survive, even in the wild.
2. Algal Growth – In the event that you see some algae growing inside the jar, perform a water replacement and scrape off the algae physically. Warm water can be used to carefully flush the remaining algae. Return the fish in its tank and continue feeding as usual. Do not apply chemical cleaning agents to the water while the fish is in the water.