Garden in a jar

You’ve probably heard it before: “If you’re going to grow one thing, grow herbs.” You’ll be rewarded with unparalleled freshness and flavor, changing meals into moments, and you can live guilt free, no more mystery bags of wilted, unused bunches of something in the crisper — instead gather what you want when you need it.

So which herbs to grow, where to grow them and what to grow them in? First ask yourself which plants you reach for most, parsley, chives, basil, mint…? This will help guide you as to where and how to plant.

Most herbs can be grown in containers indoors and many of the non-woody, tender varieties such as cilantro, parsley, basil and marjoram can thrive in smaller pots, even in mason jars. Making a garden out of canning jars is perfect for a windowsill, is tidy and looks great. (I’m fully in on the canning jar craze.)

The trouble with canning jars is there is NO drainage. Short of adding holes, which is not advised, there are a few ways to trouble shoot this problem, which I outline below. However, as a full disclaimer, I’m still experimenting with this process and, at the moment, expect many of plants I grow in jars to be shorter lived than those growing in larger containers with adequate drainage and aeration. That said, I’m happy to treat the herbs I grow more like greens, planting little and often for successional crops or cut-and-come-again returns.

Make Your Own Canning Jar Herb Garden

What you’ll need:

    • Canning jar(s), quart size is preferable.
    • Organic potting soil. Potting soil is designed to hold moisture while not being water logged. Look for a mixture that is peat-free.
    • Clean drain rock, pebbles, stones or glass beads.
    • Perlite. Perlite is a common, soil and gardening amendment you can find at your local nursery or hardware store. It’s great for wicking water and it’s what makes this a modified hydroponic system.
    • Seeds or seedlings. Start with just a few and go from there.
    • Activated charcoal, *optional. Charcoal absorbs moisture as well as bacteria and fungi, helping to reduce the growth of mold and other undesirables thanks to a lack of drainage and aeration. Find charcoal at a pet store, nursery or here: Starwest Botanicals Charcoal Powder (Activated), 4 Ounces

What to do:

  1. Place a 1/2 inch to 1 inch layer of stones along the bottom of jars. The rocks will act as an interface between the jar and the perlite and soil layers. When watering, you should be able to see the water line at this layer. When you see water to the top of the rock layer, you know you don’t need to water — the water will wick up through the perlite to the soil. When dry, there is no water left to wick and the only water left for your plant is what is held in the soil. *See below for further watering instructions.
  2. Top the drain rock with a 1/2 inch to 1 inch layer of perlite.
  3. If you’re going to add charcoal, add it now. A thin layer will do.
  4. If planting seedlings, fill part way with potting soil. Add your seedling and then fill in around it, gently pressing the soil at the base of the plant to be sure it’s making good contact with the soil.
  5. If planting seeds, fill your jar nearly to the top with soil. Place 3 to 4 seeds toward the center of the planting area and give each seed about a 1/2 inch planting distance (don’t pile them up). Cover with soil, generally 1/8 to 1/4 inch for most herb seeds but check your seed packet to be sure. Water so soil is damp but not waterlogged. Once your seeds have germinated, thin the weaker, smaller starts by trimming with scissors and leave just one to grow. (Don’t forget to eat your thinnings!)
  6. Place jar(s) in your sunniest window and water only when one or both of the following things happen: If, one, you reach down into the soil and inch with your finger and it’s dry and/or, two, the drain rock is dry, the water having wicked up into the soil. The frequency of watering will depend on the plants you’re growing as well as your home environment: how sunny and hot the growing location, if you heat with forced air or otherwise, if it’s drafty, etc. And remember, some plants like thyme and oregano prefer drier soil while others may require more moisture.

The beauty of growing plants indoors is they’re under constant watch. This is a perfect opportunity to learn the unique qualities of each and how they grow. Some may thrive better than others and, while it’s no fun to have a plant die under your care, this too is good information. The more you grow, the better you get at it.

I’ll report back with changes or modifications as I learn them.

In the mean time, best of luck and enjoy! Emily

Hydroponics: Mason Jar Wick System

This is everything you will need to establish a low maintenance hydroponic wick system. You can read my blog entry about making this system here.

List of Items you will need:

Reservoir: Mason Jar (Regular Mouth) – Mason jars are food safe, removing the research you would need to do to ensure that your container is food safe. Remember that plants will pick up whatever contaminants are introduced to your nutrient solution. A Quart size is better than the pint size as there will be more room for the solution and for the roots to grow.

Grow Basket: 2″ Diameter – (Make sure you buy the 2″ grow basket. This one has an extra wide lip which is what you need as it extends to 2.35″, just enough to catch and hang on the lip of the mason jar. The main purpose is just to hold the plant above the water, so the upper roots can take in oxygen.

Seed Starter: Jiffy-7 36mm Peat Pellet – Studies have been done to show that peat is the most effective for retaining moisture and nutrients in a wick system, and this size fits neatly in the grow baskets.

Wick: 750 Nylon Paracord or 550 Paracord – Good nylon rope, will resist mold and mildew, but also wicks water well. Paracord is very easy and inexpensive to source.

Paint: FolkArt Acrylic Paint for Glass – The main drawback of a mason jar is that it is clear, allowing algae to grow. Paint the mason jars to block the light, but at the same time establish a nice aesthetic look. Darker colors should block more light, as well as numerous coats. I started with five and there is still some light that make it through.

Protective Overcoat: Clear Acrylic Sealer Spray Paint This is to protect the paint and make it easier to wipe down. We chose a matte finish for our set.

Herb Seeds: Non-GMO Herb Seed Collection – Pick your favorite herb seeds or micro greens. Make sure the plants you choose are well suited to a mason jar environment…meaning small compact plants are best. We are growing both annual and perennial herbs.

Nutrient Solution: General Hydroponics MaxiGro – For simplicity I am going to use this, since I am growing Herbs, I am not going to worry about the nutrient solution that supports flowering: MaxiBloom

pH Adjusters: You can buy pH Adjusters, or you can use vinegar (acid) and baking soda (base) to adjust the pH of your solution. Both are safe to use, just make sure you test to keep your pH between 5.5 and 6.5.

Decorative Stones: 0.5″ to 1″ Decorative Stones I mulch everything, ever since learning about no-till farming through the documentary “Back to Eden”, I’ve been obsessing over the mulch on my suburban farm. Mulch is anything that is going to slow down the evaporation of water from the soil, and in this case the peat pellet. Too much evaporation will increase the concentration of the nutrients (salts) left in the solution and can harm the plant. So get something to cover the top of the peat pellet like the decorative stones we chose or glass beads. Aeroponic cloning systems will use neoprene or silicon collars around the opening of the basket. Any of these will also help block the light and prevent algae growth.

Putting it all together:

Paint your mason jars, we used a brush to give it an unfinished look. We stopped at five coats of paint, and two coats of sealer. Drop in your peat pellets and dip them in water until they expand fully. Cut your paracord wicks to about 18 inches and thread through the baskets, leaving the center open for the seed. Mix and fill your mason jars with nutrient solution, 1 tsp MaxiBloom per Gallon of water. Fill mason jar to about 750ml. You will need 1 gallon per 5 mason jars. Add the seeds and or cuttings to the center of the peat pellet. My wife had the clever idea to wet the tip of a toothpick, which helps to pick up the tiny herb seeds. The featured image is that of a mint cutting we took from the neighbors yard. If you are trying to propagate a cutting, trim off the lower leaves and make the final cut just below one of the leaf nodes. I covered this mason jar and put a wet paper towel around the bottom to prevent the cutting from drying out while it develops it’s roots. Lastly cover the exposed peat pellet, but not the seeds, and put them in a bright warm location and wait. Within a week or two you should start to see the seeds sprouting. If you are using a cutting instead of seeds, cover the mason jar to increase the humidity and place the jar in a bright location, but out of direct sunlight.

Testing the wick system:

Wicking occurred almost instantly ~15sec. This is after about 15 minutes.

You can see how well the paracord wicked the colored water, I should have used a longer wick, as the water reached about 9 inches above the surface in about 15 minutes.

The 11 Best Plants To Grow In Your Terrarium

Terrarium is a fancy word for a little indoor garden in a glass jar, and they happen to be all the rage. All you need is a can-do attitude to follow some simple step by step instructions to turn any glass container and some potting soil into a beautiful miniature garden.

So what are the best plants for a terrarium? First, it is important to know the plants you choose all have the same watering needs.

In general, terrarium plants should be petite. You don’t want them to touch the sides of your container. They also need to tolerate humidity and low, indirect light. Here are some plants to consider when planting your own terrarium.

1. Friendship Plant

The friendship plant grows to 12 inches tall and has distinct leaves with deep craters. A good choice for terrariums because friendship plants prefer moist soil and full shade to partial sun.

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2. East Indian Holly Fern

These ferns enjoy the moist potting mix and high humidity found inside a terrarium. Its glossy leaves shine behind the glass, creating texture and visual interest.

Plant Delights Nursery

3. Watermelon Peperomia

Watermelon peperomia features green and silver variegated leaves, resembling watermelon skin. This plant enjoys moist conditions and grows up to 8 inches tall, making it ideal for terrarium life.

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4. Starfish Flower Cactus

The star-shape starfish cactus prefers humidity (despite being called a cactus) and has stunning strap-like leaves that change color depending on the light. Its slow-growing nature also makes it well-suited for a terrarium.

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5. Nerve Plant

The nerve plant is a tropical plant with beautifully patterned leaves in white, burgundy and green. It thrives under the moist, warm air of a terrarium and will only reach 12 inches when fully mature.

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6. Baby Tears Plant

This plant has delicate rounded leaves and loves high humidity and low light. Use its low-growing, carpeting nature as a good base for other plants in your terrarium. A baby tears plant will stay small — only 12 inches tall — making it easy to tuck into any terrarium.

Etsy

7. Golden Clubmoss

Even though golden clubmoss reaches only 6 inches in height — it likes to spread, so it’s important to keep it trimmed inside a terrarium. The light green foliage provides a bright pop of color amidst darker-color plants.

Amazon

8. Spiderwort

Spiderwort has long stems with spade-like leaves. Once upon a time, a spiderwort lasted 53 years in the same jar. Given this, I’d say the evidence that spiderwort performs well in bottle terrariums is strong to quite strong.

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9. Air Plant

Interested in an air plant terrarium? These amazing plants don’t even require soil, they get all of the water and nutrients they need through their specialized leaves. Stunning, funnel-like flowers top slender, pale green leaves, making the plant a different, yet great terrarium choice.

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10. African Violet

The delicate African violet produces blooms in blue, pink, purple and white. Ideal for terrarium life because it grows from a mere inch to 6 inches tall and likes moist soil.

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11. Strawberry Begonia

Red vertical stalks and flowers lend this plant the nickname strawberry begonia. Reaching a max height of 8 inches, this sweet plant offers a pop of color even when the flowers are not in bloom.

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Hydroponic Mason Jar Garden – Growing Hydroponic Plants In A Jar

You’ve tried growing herbs or maybe some lettuce plants in the kitchen, but all you end up with are bugs and bits of dirt on the floor. An alternative method for indoor gardening is growing hydroponic plants in a jar. Hydroponics doesn’t use soil, so there is no mess!

There are hydroponic growing systems on the market in various price ranges, but using inexpensive canning jars is a budget-friendly option. With a little creativity, your hydroponic mason jar garden can be a quintessential part of your kitchen décor.

Making a Hydroponic Garden in Glass Jars

In addition to mason jars, you will need some specific supplies to grow hydroponic plants in a jar. These supplies are fairly inexpensive and can be purchased online or from hydroponic supply stores. Your local garden supply center may also carry the supplies you’ll need for mason jar hydroponics.

  • One or more quart-sized wide-mouth canning jars with bands (or any glass jar)
  • 3-inch (7.6 cm.) net pots – one for each mason jar
  • Rockwool growing cubes for starting the plants
  • Hydroton clay pebbles
  • Hydroponic nutrients
  • Herb or lettuce seeds (or other desired plant)

You’ll also need a way to block light from entering the mason jar in order to prevent algae growth. You can coat the jars with black spray paint, cover them with duct or washi tape or use a light-blocking fabric sleeve. The latter allows you to easily view the root systems of your hydroponic mason jar garden and determine when to add more water.

Assembling Your Hydroponic Garden in Glass Jars

Follow these simple steps to make your hydroponic mason jar garden:

  • Plant the seeds in the rockwool growing cubes. While they are germinating, you can prepare the mason jars. Once the seedlings have roots extending out of the bottom of the cube, it’s time to plant your hydroponic garden in glass jars.
  • Wash the mason jars and rinse the hydroton pebbles.
  • Prepare the mason jar by spray painting it black, coating it with tape or enclosing it in a fabric sleeve.
  • Place the net pot in the jar. Screw the band onto the jar to hold the net pot in place.
  • Fill the jar with water, stopping when the water level is about ¼ inch (6 mm.) above the bottom of the net pot. Filtered or reverse osmosis water is best. Be sure to add hydroponic nutrients at this time.
  • Place a thin layer of hydroton pellets in the bottom of the net pot. Next, put the rockwool growing cube containing the sprouted seedling onto the hydroton pellets.
  • Continue carefully placing hydroton pellets around and on top of the rockwool cube.
  • Place your hydroponic mason jar garden in a sunny location or provide adequate artificial light.

Note: It is also possible to simply root and grow various plants in a jar of water, changing it out as needed.

Maintaining your hydroponic plants in a jar is as simple as giving them plenty of light and adding water as needed!

hydroponic gardening in mason jars: the kratkey method

Hydroponic Gardening in Mason Jars

Here in the tundra, anything green gets shipped in from California during the winter months (e.g. half the year) on diesel trucks in non-recyclable plastic bags and is like death to the zero waste soul. I enjoy a good salad and have been working on a system that supports a salad eating habit without the associated grocery store waste.

Above is my salad photo shoot being hijacked by my toddler.

A core issue of zero waste is that a huge percentage of the waste we produce is related to eating – whether it’s the tractors harvesting or the trucks bringing us food, or the packaging we’re throwing away, or the cars we’re using to drive to the grocery store. You can’t get much closer to zero waste than growing food yourself.

In our daily lives some foods are worse than others – for example salad and berries, which come in a lot of packaging and spoil quickly. So greens were my first priority since they are easy to grow in a small space and have minimal requirements for life.

Click and Grow

While I was reading about cold frame gardening and regular outdoor gardening, I was asked to review this product:

is a really interesting but expensive concept. It’s completely self contained so that you have to do nothing except add water every few weeks. The seeds are pre-planted in a proprietary spongelike substance that wicks moisture up perfectly and the grow light has a built in 16 hour timer, so you just plug it in, fill it with water and let it grow.

The problem with it is that it’s really not big enough. Basil is a large plant and these plants hit the light and started getting tip burn. Because I don’t know anything, I put them outside. I had no idea that you had to harden off seedlings and so they died.

Of course you can buy capsule refills but I’m not sure I agree with that amount of plastic on a moral level so I tried it with regular soil, expecting it not to work. It didn’t. My guess is that the soil absorbed too much water and drowned the plants’ root system.

Growing food in soil indoors doesn’t work

Hooked on the concept, I started researching indoor growing methods. I learned that growing food in soil inside is a bad plan because soil is alive and the bad bacteria overpowers the good bacteria and the plant dies a sad and pathetic death (also known as damping off). I should also note here that growing plants for decoration and growing plants for food are different. Keeping something alive is easier, getting something to grow quickly so you can eat it is something different entirely.

Enter hydroponics. The standard version is circulating hydroponics which is supposed to have a ridiculous number of benefits including plants growing at twice their normal rate because they don’t have to work as hard to extract nutrients and water from the soil. This was intriguing to me, and also to marijuna growers everywhere.

There are a number of different methods for circulation. Juice Plus even has an elegant hydroponic tower, which costs around $600. If you want one let me know and I can put you in touch with a Juice Plus person. For the purposes of this blog I assumed a good number of people would not be looking to shell out that much money. I also was concerned about having this system in our house because of our ongoing slew of toddlers.

So I read some do it yourself posts and had all kinds of components in my Amazon cart ready to buy when I read a comment on a blog that said something to the effect of “why bother unless you want a higher electricity bill” and mentioned the Kratkey method.

Essentially the idea is that you start a plant in a closed container (like a mason jar) and as the water level lowers the upper roots are in a humid environment and able to take in oxygen from the air, while the lower roots are in the water and able to continue to use water in the jar. It is essentially a no maintenance approach, but supposedly takes about two weeks longer to grow than circulating methods.

(Curious what the catch is? This post talks about common problems with hydroponic methods.)

Plant requirements for non-circulating hydroponics

What I like about this approach is that anyone can do it. It’s relatively easy to set up and you can do it at on a small scale. The requirements are as follows:

    1. A light that can be adjusted to be 4 to 6″ above the plant in the “just right” zone (e.g. a gooseneck lamp)
    2. A full spectrum light bulb. The system I used included a grow bulb but full spectrum light bulbs can be purchased separately and put in a regular lamp.
    3. Nutrient solution: FloraGrow is the standard – I realized later that FloraMicro is high in nitrogen, which you want for green leafy growth so it’s good to add both)
    4. Net baskets, or a way to suspend the plants so they don’t drown.
    5. Seeds: Johnny’s Selected Seeds was recommended to me and I’ve been really happy with them.
    6. Some kind of growing medium for the seeds, such as Coconut Coir Grow Discs (more on this below)
    7. 1 quart regular width mason jars(if you use this link, be sure to change the mouth type to regular instead of wide.

1. The light must be 4 to 6″ from the plant. The intensity of light falls off very quickly and if the light is too far away it’s not only exponentially dimmer, but makes the plants become leggy (which makes them fall over when they get biggger) as they grow toward it. So you need to be able to raise the light as the plants grow and lower it for new seedlings. You can use a gooseneck lamp with a grow lightbulb, or something like this:

I really like this light, but I think it looks a little too institutional in my kitchen.

It went well enough that we decided to get a proper light fixture. I discovered this and splurged a little.

I can raise and lower the lights and I have them on a timer so I don’t have to do much of anything other than pick and eat. To me it still looks a little cluttered but I haven’t had time to deal with it. Also, each light bulb can grow about 9 plants, giving me a total of 27 jars. I’d hoped for more since we can harvest 1-2 servings of salad every three to four days. If you had a space where you could get really practical then I’d imagine you could get some higher powered lights and grow a lot more plants.

2. The lightbulb must deliver a full spectrum of light (e.g. a grow light instead of a regular light bulb). It turns out that the sun is better than you thought providing all kinds of wavelengths and such for food to grow. For that reason, you need a full spectrum bulb or your food won’t grow.

3. The plant needs nutrients in the water. We used 1 teaspoon per mason jar of both FloraGrow and FloraMicro. We started with just FloraGrow, but then I realized that lettuce is a high nitrogen consumer and FloraMicro is high in nitrogen.

I also bought a PH test kit but the water is neutral and I really haven’t had an issue with it. I suspect this would be more of an issue in a circulating system.

4. The plants need to be suspended so they don’t drown. Plant roots need oxygen.

It turns out that these plant baskets are the perfect size for a narrow mouth mason jar with the screw thing screwed on. You could also use yogurt cups, but I’m a visual type of person and that wouldn’t do it for me.

5. You need seeds – not much more to add here!

6. Seed starting pellets. I actually had a really hard time finding a growing medium I was happy with, so be sure to bookmark this one. Initially I used peat pellets and did a little research and learned that peat takes thousands of years to form and therefore is not ecologically sound. Some people argue this point, but it’s really not necessary so I can skip it. I then came across Jiffy pellets but apparently they use polymers (plastic, which does not decompose). After that I looked into rock wool, and there are problems associated with that as well. So overall it seemed like the best option was Coco Coir Grow Discs which are made from coconut coir which is a byproduct of coconut production that would otherwise be discarded. But when I ordered them they literally disintegrated. So if you have any recommendations, I’m open to them! For now, I’m using the jiffy pellets but would love to switch.

This may seem obvious but is worth mentioning – you can’t use soil because it falls apart in the water and the seeds do need something to hang onto when they are very small.

7. And you need jars, which can pretty much be purchased anywhere.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

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