How to Make a Mason Jar Terrarium

Earth - The biosphere that we live in

Earth – The biosphere that we live in


A great way to learn about and study ecosystems is to make your own! All you need are the following items:

  • An airtight glass container (like a mason jar)
  • Clean sand or gravel
  • Activated charcoal (you can get this from a pet store)
  • Soil
  • Plants
  • Decorative items (like rocks, moss, etc.)
  • Water

In this post I will provide a step-by-step how to make your own self-contained biosphere.



Biosphere 2 located near Tucson Arizona

A biosphere is any closed, self-regulating system of ecosystems (or ecosystem). We actually live in a very large biosphere… The Earth! There have been huge artificial biospheres such as Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 is the largest artificial closed, self-regulating biosphere. It was constructed between 1987 and 1991 and is a 3.14 acre glass encloser (kind of like a giant green house). Biosphere 2 consisted of a rain forest,  an ocean with a coral reef, a mangrove wetland, a Savannah grassland, a fog dessert and farmlands. In 1991, 8 researchers entered the biosphere and spent 2 years in this completely closed system. The goal of these researchers was to demonstrate that humans could support themselves in a completely closed, self-regulating biosphere. This research will prove very useful in the development of colonies on the moon or other planets. The experiment of Biosphere 2 included some challenges such as the wildly fluctuating carbon dioxide levels. Ultimately however, much was learned from the experiment.


Here’s how to make your own biosphere!

Step 1 – Thoroughly clean a airtight glass container (such as a mason jar).

The jar needs to be very clean to avoid any mold growth.



Step 2 – Add a layer of about 2 – 5 cm (1 – 2 inches) of clean sand or clean gravel to the bottom of the jar.

Aquarium sand works very well. This will create a drainage layer and water basin for the excess water in your biosphere.

Pouring Sand

Sand Layer


Step 3 – Add a thin layer of about 1 – 2 cm (0.5 inches) of activated charcoal on top of the sand.

You can get activated charcoal from any pet supply store. This layer will act as a filter to keep your biosphere nice and clean.

Pouring Charcoal

Charcoal Layer


Step 4 – Add a layer of about 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches) of good draining soil.

Cactus soil works really well.

Pouring Soil

Soil Layer


Step 5 – Add some decorative items like a rock or piece of wood.

Placing Rock


Step 6 – Add some plants and moss.

I recommend that you add very small slow growing plants that can tolerate warm, humid, environments. Sheet moss is also a nice decorate touch. You could also add a bug or two, like a cricket or beetle or worm. These bugs will provide CO2 for your plants.

Planted ugly plants


Step 7 – Water your biosphere.

Give your biosphere enough water so that the sand layer is fairly saturated. You actually won’t need very much water to achieve this so be careful when adding the water.


Step 8 – Cap your biosphere.

Once you have watered your biosphere, it is ready to self-regulate.

Complete jar no condensation

Complete jar side view


Step 9 – Place your biosphere near a window but make sure it is not in direct sunlight.

If you place your biosphere in direct sunlight the inside will get too hot and you will end up cooking your plants. You may also notice a lot of condensation building up inside your biosphere at first and this means that you may have watered it too much. Just open the lid for a day and let some of the water evaporate.

Complete jar condensation



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