How To Easily Make A Walstad Shrimp Jar! (Beginner-Friendly Jarrarium)

Creating a Walstad shrimp jar is a fantastic project for beginner aquarists looking to combine simplicity, low maintenance, and the beauty of a natural ecosystem.

Named after Dianna Walstad, this method involves setting up a small jarrarium with a base layer of topsoil topped with sand or gravel, then densely planting it with various aquatic plants.

This setup allows the plants to naturally filter the water, providing a safe and healthy environment for shrimp.

Introduction To The Walstad Method

My Walstad Shrimp Jar
My Walstad Shrimp Jar

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easy
  • Low Maintenance
  • Natural Ecosystem

Cons

  • Limited Space
  • High Initial Ammonia
  • Low Tech Plants Only
  • Difficult To Reseat Plants

Walstad shrimp jars involve placing an inch of topsoil at the bottom of your jar, followed by a layer of sand or gravel, and then heavily planting it with suitable plants.

Shrimp have a low bioload allowing the plants to naturally filter the water and create a safe environment for the shrimp to thrive.

This approach, known as the Walstad method, gained popularity through Dianna Walstad’s book, The Ecology of the Planted Aquarium.

While filters are optional in Walstad aquariums, jars typically lack the space for effective technological filtration, making fast-growing stem plants and floating plants crucial for maintaining water quality and the success of your jarrarium.

Choosing The Right Jar

Choosing The Right Jar For Your Walstad Shrimp Jar
A Suitable Jar For A Walstad Shrimp Jar

It’s best to use jars with a volume of at least 1.25 US gallons (4.73 liters) to provide adequate space for your plants and shrimp to thrive.

While experienced aquarists might successfully use smaller jars, it can be more challenging. I prefer 2-gallon cookie jars for my Walstad jarrariums, as they are both effective and cheap.

Alternatively, a large pickle jar, typically holding at least 1.5 US gallons (5.67 liters), also makes an excellent option.

Cleaning The Jar
Cleaning The Jar

The first step in making a shrimp jar is to thoroughly clean the jar to ensure it is safe for use.

Warm water is usually sufficient, but older jars may need a thorough wash with boiling water and soap. If you do use soap, ensure that all traces are completely rinsed out before proceeding to the next step.

I recommend drying the jar with paper towels to prevent dirt, sand, or gravel from sticking to wet patches, making the next steps easier.

Adding The Substrate Layers

Top Soil For A Walstad Shrimp Bowl
Top Soil For A Walstad Shrimp Bowl

Using one inch of topsoil capped with one inch of fine gravel is typically the best substrate setup for a Walstad shrimp jar, and I highly recommend it for your projects.

Alternatively, you can use an inch of topsoil capped with three-quarters of an inch of sand if you prefer but some sand can be problematic so I prefer gravel.

A common issue with Walstad shrimp jars is choosing the right soil, as many modern topsoils contain additives.

I use regular topsoil with Pettex Roman Gravel, both of which are budget-friendly and work well together.

Putting The Soil Through A Soil Sieve
Putting The Soil Through A Soil Sieve

Most topsoil products on the market contain pebbles, stones, and wood, so I usually sieve them out as much as possible.

This helps ensure there are no pressure points from pebbles and stones against the glass of your jar and frees up space for plant roots.

I use a cheap soil sieve from Amazon, which gets the job done.

Adding The Soil To The Jar
Adding The Soil To The Jar

Next, I add the topsoil to my jar, flattening it into a single, uniform layer of consistent depth across the bottom.

Some jars, especially those intended for certain foods, may have a curved bottom, making it challenging to maintain an even soil depth.

Fortunately, my jar, like most jars intended for dry food such as cookies or pasta, has a flat base, which prevents this issue.

One Inch Of Top Soil
One Inch Of Top Soil

Next, I ensure that my topsoil is about one inch deep across the base of the jar and make any necessary adjustments.

One inch of topsoil is ideal for Walstad shrimp jars. Adding more than an inch may cause issues with plant root rot due to inadequate oxygen levels. Conversely, using less than an inch might deprive your plants of the essential nutrients they need to thrive.

While some specialized dirted jar setups use deeper substrate beds, for a standard Walstad jar, one inch of soil is the recommended depth.

Adding Fine Gravel To The Jar
Adding Fine Gravel To The Jar

Next, I add a layer of fine gravel over the topsoil to create a protective cap between the nutrient-rich soil and the water column in the jar.

This step is crucial and cannot be skipped!

The fine gravel helps to lock the nitrogen compounds in the soil, which your plants need, preventing them from becoming free-floating in the water and causing issues for your shrimp.

While this might seem intimidating if you’re new to Walstad setups, it’s actually quite straightforward.

One Inch Of Fine Gravel In The Jar
One Inch Of Fine Gravel In The Jar

As mentioned earlier, I prefer to use a one-inch cap of cheap Pettex Roman Gravel in my setups, and it works perfectly.

At this stage, I check the depth of the gravel cap and make any necessary adjustments.

If you prefer, you can use a sand cap instead of gravel, but it should be three-quarters of an inch thick rather than a full inch.

This is because smaller sand particles compact more easily than gravel, which can cause problems for plant roots. Therefore, a slightly thinner sand cap is usually best.

Optional – Some people like to soak their soil and sand in water at this stage and leave it overnight to remove any gas pockets, but this step can be skipped with minimal issue.

Choosing The Correct Plants

Plants Suitable For The Walstad Method
Plants Suitable For The Walstad Method

I like to plant at least one-third of the available space in a Walstad shrimp jar with fast-growing stem plants to help ensure the water parameters in the jar are safe for my shrimp.

The rapid growth of stem plants not only helps maintain safe and stable water parameters but also provides ample grazing space for your shrimp.

You can add more stem plants if desired, but I will also be including some midground and foreground plants in this particular shrimp jar.

There are many excellent stem plants that work well in a Walstad setup, and here are some of my favorites:

  • Limnophila Sessiliflora
  • Hygrophila Polysperma
  • Rotala Rotundifolia
  • Hygrophila Rosanervig
  • Pearlweed
  • Water Sprite
  • Hornwort

These plants are well-suited for low-tech jars with minimal lighting and no CO2 injection, making them ideal for shrimp jars. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but all can thrive in this environment.

Floating plants are technically optional in a shrimp jar, but I highly recommend them, especially when using the Walstad method.

Here are my three favorite floating plants for this type of shrimp jar:

  • Salvinia
  • Red Root Floater
  • Duckweed

Amazon Frogbit is an excellent floating plant in larger setups but its rapid root growth can quickly penetrate the soil in a jar making it difficult to manage.

Adding The Plants To The Jar

Plants For My Walstad Shrimp Bowl
Plants For My Walstad Shrimp Bowl

For this Walstad shrimp jar, I have selected the following plants:

  • Rotala Rotundifolia
  • Hygrophila Polysperma
  • Java Fern (On A Coconut)
  • Cryptocoryne Wendtii Green
  • Eleocharis Acicularis
  • Salvinia

Each plant has been chosen for a specific purpose, which I will explain as I proceed with the planting process.

First, I will include a centerpiece feature: a Java Fern attached to a coconut shell, which will serve as a hiding spot for the shrimp.

This dark area will help reduce stress for the shrimp, providing them with much-needed cover that is often lacking in most shrimp jars.

Coconut Shell With Java Fern Growing On It
Coconut Shell With Java Fern Growing On It

You can easily find these basic Java Fern coconuts online at an affordable price, or you can make your own by attaching a Java Fern to a coconut shell with glue or thread.

Keep in mind that Java Ferns are epiphyte plants, meaning they need to be attached to hardscape rather than planted in the substrate.

One potential downside of this approach in a small container is that it occupies a significant amount of space while providing minimal filtration.

Although Dianna Walstad generally advises against using hardscape in Walstad setups, I have a plan to make this coconut a nitrate-eating powerhouse.

Adding Java Moss To The Coconut
Adding Java Moss To The Coconut

The plan is to cover the coconut shell with clumps of Java Moss, securing them with specialist aquascaping glue, and allowing it to grow over the coming months.

I will be using aquascaping glue for this project, but Gorilla Glue gel has also worked well in my other projects.

The Java Moss should help the coconut blend into the overall scape, assist in managing water parameters, and provide ample grazing space for the shrimp.

Java Moss Glued Onto The Coconut
Java Moss Glued Onto The Coconut

As shown in the photo, I’ve attached clumps of Java Moss to the coconut shell using glue.

It may look a bit rough now, but in the next two months, the Java Moss will grow and fill out, covering the glue marks and giving the coconut a nice, bushy appearance.

Adding A Cryptocoryne To The Jar
Adding A Cryptocoryne To The Jar

Next, I’ll be adding Cryptocoryne Wendtii Green, one of my favorite crypts for its lush green appearance when fully grown.

However, crypt melt is a common issue, especially in a small water volume, as the old emersed leaves can decompose and disrupt water parameters.

Cutting Cryptocoryne Leaves

To avoid this, I recommend a simple workaround: cut off all the emersed-grown leaves before planting.

While there are methods to reduce the risk of crypt melt, I find it’s not worth the risk in a jar setup.

Even though we won’t be adding shrimp immediately, decomposing leaves can lead to high ammonia levels, which can negatively impact other plants and potentially cause the jar to fail.

Cryptocoryne In The Jar
Cryptocoryne In The Jar

That’s why I cut off all the existing leaves from my Cryptocoryne Wendtii Green and only plant the roots in the jar.

A saying I firmly believe in when it comes to Cryptocoryne is, “You don’t pay for the leaves, you pay for the roots.”

Over the next few weeks, new submerged leaves will sprout, and the plant will begin to thrive in the jar.

Adding Stem Plants To The Jar
Adding Stem Plants To The Jar

Next, I add the Rotala Rotundifolia and Hygrophila Polysperma to the jar, placing most of them behind the coconut and java fern.

I use cheap planting tweezers for the stem plants as I find them easier to use but some people prefer using their fingers.

I planted five Hygrophila Polysperma stems and six Rotala Rotundifolia stems at this stage.

As these stem plants grow over the coming weeks, I’ll trim them by clipping a couple of inches off the top. These clippings can then be replanted in the substrate to enhance natural filtration in the Walstad shrimp jar.

This method is a quick, easy, and cost-effective way to maintain your jarrarium, allowing you to replant clippings repeatedly.

Adding Hair Grass To The Jar
Adding Hair Grass To The Jar

Finally, I planted a couple of plugs of Eleocharis Acicularis in the foreground to serve as aquatic grass.

As with the stem plants, I used cheap planting tweezers for this, though using fingers is also an option.

I’m uncertain if the lighting unit for this jar will be sufficient for the Eleocharis Acicularis to carpet properly.

However, in optimal lighting, it can absorb a surprising amount of nitrogen compounds from the water column as it grows.

Filling The Jar With Water

Adding Water To The Jar

Be sure to fill the jar slowly with water to avoid disturbing the capping layer, which could cause nutrients to leach into the water column.

In the video above (sped up to save time), it took me a few minutes to fill the jar using a standard siphon with a diffuser end to minimize water pressure.

Beginners often overlook the various factors affecting their water when filling a shrimp jar. I’ve mentioned nitrogen compounds several times in this article, which is an umbrella term for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. I’ll cover these more in the cycling section later.

You also need to consider the water’s temperature, pH level, hardness, and chlorine/chloramine levels.

The table below outlines the recommended water parameters for cherry shrimp, which I usually suggest for people new to keeping shrimp jars.

Water Temperature65-80°F (18.5-27°C)
Water FlowStill-Low
pH6.7-8
GH6-10 dGH
KH3-10 dKH
Ammonia0 ppm
Nitrite0 ppm
Nitrate<20ppm
Red Cherry Shrimp Water Parameters

A quick and easy solution is to use a cheap tap water conditioner, which I consider essential when keeping shrimp.

This will quickly and easily remove chlorine, chloramines, and various heavy metals from your tap water, making it safe for your shrimp and plants.

Often, the water temperature in your shrimp jar can be maintained at the ambient room temperature of most modern homes, eliminating the need for an additional heater.

Adding Floating Plants
Adding Floating Plants

After filling my shrimp jar with water, I add my floating plant of choice, salvinia.

You can cover the entire surface of your jar with floating plants if you prefer, which I often do with my aquariums.

This not only helps to maintain stable water parameters but also provides ample grazing space for your shrimp. I frequently observe my shrimp feeding upside down on the floating plants in my tank.

Lighting And Heating For A Shrimp Jar

Adding A Light To The Jar
Adding A Light To The Jar

There’s considerable debate about the ideal lighting for jarrariums, and I believe there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Factors such as the height and volume of your jar, the type and number of plants, all play a role. I typically test and adjust my lighting as the plants grow.

For this jar, I’ll start with a cheap USB clip-on light that I use on some of my other jars, along with a grow light for house plants.

While the general rule of 2W of power per gallon of water is popular, it’s not always necessary for jars. This rule is usually applied to aquariums, which are deeper and need more light to reach the bottom plants.

I prefer using cheaper USB lights, as I keep achieving great results with the low-tech plants mentioned earlier. However, if you’re growing more demanding plants requiring higher light levels, you might need a more powerful light.

Heating your Walstad shrimp jar may not be necessary depending on your location. The ambient temperature in my fish room is sufficient to maintain my shrimp jars. If you can’t maintain at least 60°F (15°C), you’ll need to find a way to improve heating.

Cycling The Shrimp Jar

Cycling A Walstad Shrimp Jar
Cycling A Walstad Shrimp Jar

Cycling your Walstad shrimp jar typically takes about a month but can sometimes take longer.

Fast-growing stem plants and floating plants are essential as they absorb nitrogen compounds keeping the jar safe.

Unlike traditional aquariums, where beneficial bacteria colonies form on the filter, the heavy lifting in a shrimp jar is done by the plants. These plants need time to grow, establish themselves, and effectively absorb ammonium and nitrate, keeping the water safe and stable.

This is why many recommend waiting at least two months before adding shrimp or snails to your jarrarium.

The soil will release ammonia into the water column, helping beneficial bacteria develop on various surfaces in the jar. However, you don’t need a high level of bacteria for this type of setup since the plants handle most of the nitrogen processing.

During this waiting period, algae and biofilm will also start to grow, providing a food source for your shrimp once they are introduced.

In my experience, its usually safe to add your shrimp after 4-8 weeks but you can wait longer if you are worried.

Obvious signs of plant growth such as your stem plants touching the surface of the water and your floating plants propagating are good indicators that the jar is becoming established.

Stocking The Shrimp Jar

I highly recommend Neocaridina shrimp for beginners with shrimp jars due to their low price, vibrant colors, and hardiness.

From my experience, regular red cherry shrimp and yellow Neocaridina shrimp are the most resilient, making them ideal for shrimp jars.

Amano shrimp are another excellent option for stocking shrimp jars, although their pale appearance might not appeal to everyone.

Cherry shrimp and most other Neocaridina varieties efficiently consume brown diatom algae and soft green algae. However, if you encounter tougher algae, consider adding an Amano shrimp.

For this particular shrimp jar, I will include one Amano shrimp, four cherry shrimp, and one horned nerite snail. The horned nerite snail will help keep the glass clean by eating the biofilm, ensuring a clear view into the jar.

Conclusion

In conclusion, creating a Walstad shrimp jar is an easy and low-maintenance way to engage in aquascaping, especially for beginners.

This method, popularized by Dianna Walstad, involves a base layer of topsoil capped with gravel or sand and densely planted with suitable plants, creating a natural ecosystem that requires minimal technological intervention.

While the process demands attention to detail, especially in choosing the right jar, substrate, and plants, the rewards include a self-sustaining habitat for shrimp.

This method not only appeals to hobbyists for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness but also for the opportunity to create a thriving natural environment in a small space.