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2 Gallon Pico Reef Jar - Snail Kingdom ūüźĆ

Christopher Marks

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Christopher Marks

I have to¬†make a confession: I have not had an aquarium since early 2004 ūüė≥ūüėĪūüėÖ.¬†In the formative years of the Nano-Reef Community, I kept¬†a 7.5 gallon nano reef that I hand built, and soon built¬†a¬†15 gallon nano reef, along with a 46 bow-front¬†and¬†90 gallon reef tank, all in my childhood bedroom. I took them all down a few months before leaving home that summer, when I moved to Arizona to go to college. Aquarium keeping¬†had¬†been a passion of mine since age 9 or so, and for the first time life got in the way of having one. Out in the world on my own, I was always too¬†college broke, moving apartments too often, or traveling too much to convince myself to get back in, over time¬†it got easier and easier to put it off and make excuses. Some dear friends of the community even banded together some years ago to send me a nice Picotope system to set up, but I still wasn't ready. Had I just lost the bug?


Flash forward to MACNA 2018, my wife Courtney @Food Court and I are walking the expo floor, browsing the beautiful display tanks and a sea of vibrant frags, and something clicks, she gets bitten by the aquarium bug! What better place to learn and see it all first hand than at MACNA?! We spent a lot of our time discussing the fundamentals of reef keeping, the nitrogen cycle, how live rock and sand work, types of lighting, filtration, pumps, etc. We'd get drawn into the eye candy frag displays and try to ID all the corals, name the fish on display, and scoped out all the nano tanks to compare. By the end of the show I had the bug too, and we drove home daydreaming about how we might be able to fit a nano reef into our lives.


Pico Jar IMG_1862.jpg


Tank Specifications

  • Tank: 2gal¬†Anchor Hocking Heritage¬†glass jar.
  • Lighting: 24w PicoPro LED light & lid (pre-production).
  • Circulation:¬†24gph Air pump with stone bubbler.
  • Rock: Real Reef Rock cultured live rock.
  • Sand: Caribsea Arag-alive Fiji Pink live sand.
  • Established: December 11, 2018


Pico Jar APC_0115.jpg


Our Creative Container Pico Contest was a really eye opening and inspirational project for me, it demonstrated what was possible with nano reefs of this scale, proving that a simple maintenance routine of 100% water changes is all that's needed for lasting success and growth. Many participants decided to use this same glass jar for their pico reefs as well, showing it was a suitable container for the long haul. I was also pleased to hear that most contest participants found the simple maintenance routine to be easier than caring for their regular reef tanks, it was truly back to the basics.


The appeal of a pico jar was real, but how would I light mine? While the contest tried to level the playing field with limited lighting options (PAR or CFL bulbs only), it also showed some of the pitfalls and challenges of finding a good bulb and positioning it right. Keeping a lid on a reef jar was also proven to be another key tenet of success, to nearly stop evaporation and salinity swings, but this glass jar lid seemed to distort and bend light from overhead bulbs.


Undecided on a reef jar, I¬†started kicking¬†around the idea of a 10 or 20 gallon AIO tank, and even picked out a potential¬†place in the house. But with even broader options at that scale, information overload hit an indecision road block. Yet again, life got in the way, excuses crept in.¬†That is, until last month when @ReefSmart reached out to sponsor the community¬†and introduced me to their newly developed PicoPro reef jar light. ūüė≤


The PicoPro Reef Jar


This is a pre-production version of the PicoPro light by ReefSmart. It uses 24 watts of power, has a 2 channel dimmer, 600 PAR max output, with diode spectrums of 420nm, 430nm, 450nm, cool white, warm white, and red. The light housing is painted metal, with a single power cord that leads to the two channel in-line dimmer, one for the blue channel and one for the white and red. The underside features an almost edge to edge plastic diffusing lens that blends the LED light beautifully and keeps it sealed from moisture. It is designed to fit specifically on 2 gallon Anchor Hocking Heritage glass jars, commonly available at Target and Walmart for around $15.




Placed on the jar, it nearly sits flush with the rim, with the exception of the single power cord and airline tubing coming through at the edge. Since it's a full lid, it will contain the majority of condensation and reduce evaporation. I'm hoping to avoid needing an ATO, but in the dry desert air it may be unavoidable. It's so simple and sleek, the jar emits a mesmerizing glow that draws people in!


The Beginning


While I waited for the PicoPro light to arrive, I set out to find a suitable glass jar for the pico reef! As other community members had discovered earlier, these jars are all hand blown glass put into a mold, so the optical clarity varies quite a bit from jar to jar. After inspecting the only three jars in stock at a nearby Target store, only to find bubbles, scratches, and too many distortions, I had better luck at Walmart, picking the better of the two that were in stock. My jar is not perfect, but one side was pretty clear with only a few dimples here and there. The distortion is unavoidable when it's full of water, but it's also part of the appeal, even though it makes photographing it so difficult!


I am following in the footsteps of the PicoPro creator when it comes to the remaining equipment choices. He has had his prototype pico reef jar running for over two years now, which you can see on the ReefSmart website, and it's packed with coral! Zoanthids, acans, SPS and other high light coral, he's frequently fragging it. Circulation is provided by a cheap 24 gallon per hour air pump, the same model he has found success with. The heat of the light itself should be sufficient for running the reef jar simply at room temperature, the temp swings have not caused any issues in his jar. Since I live in Phoenix where we spend summer months in triple digit heat every day, I am a little concerned about keeping the jar cool enough, come summertime. A temp controller with a desktop fan near by may be my plan of attack, should the need arise. Let's cross that bridge when we get there, right? I have a few creative ideas.




The foundation of our pico reef is two pounds of Real Reef Rock man made cultured live rock, along with Caribsea Arag-alive Fiji Pink live sand. My past reef aquariums were all built on imported cured live rock from Fiji, which was readily available back then in 2001, starting with cultured artificial rock is new for me. While I will miss discovering the endlessly fascinating community of hitchhikers from ocean collected rock, I am optimistic that I will be avoiding a lot of potential pests by going this route. @Food Court and I brought the jar to a nice LFS and hand picked the rocks from their holding tank to design our aquascape, right there in the store! Two large and two small pieces later, it came out to 2 pounds at $4.99 a pound, not bad! I am impressed with the Real Reef Rocks after sorting through a bunch in their tank, they're quite porous and really mimic the look of pacific reef rock quite well!








We brought everything home and put the reef jar together with ease yesterday afternoon! Courtney had made sure to take lots of photos of the aquascape design so we could arrange it the just same way at home. We had a 5 gallon jug of pre-mixed saltwater from the LFS and used it to fill the tank, and just like that it was done! I plan to utilize pre-mixed water for water changes, at least initially. The cabinet beneath the tank houses a power strip, LED controller, and the air pump, providing a clean look. There's room to spare, so a temp controller or ATO should be easy to add and hide away, even the 5gal water jug fits down there.


Our Pico Plans


We're going to take it slow with our pico jar and give it some time to cycle. Our plan is to focus on a coral collection and find an invertebrate of some kind to feature, most likely a shrimp. Zoanthids have always been a love of mine, all the way back to my first reef, so I suspect they will be a focus. Courtney is really into LPS corals as well, it won't take long to fill up the jar with frags, so we'll have to try our best to be selective!




As the water clears and the cycle progresses we'll be sharing more photos. It's nice to have an aquarium in my life again, I'm excited to get my hands wet again and continue learning!¬†Many thanks to all those who have pioneered this path ahead of us, journaling your experiences over the great many years has provided so much wisdom and¬†insight. ‚̧ԳŹ¬†



Archer inspects his new roommate

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  • Christopher Marks changed the title to 2 Gallon Pico Jar aka C+C Coral Factory ūüíß

Awesome! I'm glad that you're able to personally enjoy the hobby again - and kind of impressed you were able to procrastinate "addiction" so well. Your guys' setup looks efficient and very slick - and that light is boasting some killer potential - looking forward to the updates.

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Christopher Marks
7 hours ago, seabass said:

That light is intriguing.  Makes me want to resurrect my jar, and get it out of our basement.  Hmmm.

You should bring it back! Your journal was a big help in making plans for my reef jar!

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Congrats CM! I can't wait to watch this jar come together. I'm excited you went with the PicoPro light, it's really slick and can grow serious corals! Awesome!

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Christopher Marks

I really appreciate all your help and guidance @ReefSmart, I’m really pleased with how the whole setup turned out!


I actually never intended to place it by our TV, but it was an easy spot to for me to test it out with freshwater, and there was a free outlet near by. We ended up liking the location, it’s really visible from most of the house. Hopefully it’s a safe spot long term, at least it can be easily moved in the future!


Thanks everyone for your support!

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Christopher Marks
4 hours ago, Cannedfish said:

Congrats CM! I can't wait to watch this jar come together. I'm excited you went with the PicoPro light, it's really slick and can grow serious corals! Awesome!

Thank you for the¬†testimonial you shared a few weeks back,¬†I‚Äôm jealous you got to see @ReefSmart‚Äės original PicoPro in person!

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Christopher Marks

Just over one week in, the pico jar is showing the first noticeable signs of evaporation, the water level on the jar has dropped 1/16in. or so. If I stick with 100% water changes every week, managing top-off probably won't been necessary. I'm hoping to go two weeks though, on average, so some kind of weekly top-off will be needed. I measured the salinity at 1.026 with my old refractometer here on day 9, but I haven't calibrated it in 15 years. I'll verify measures soon, hopefully the LFS will borrow me some calibration fluid drops.




Last night I cleaned the sides of the jar with a little piece of poly filter, revealing what looks like the very beginnings of a¬†diatom bloom, just a little brown on the pad. This puts the cycle right on track so far, and the tank really sparkles now.¬†I haven't tested any other water parameters during the cycle¬†yet, I plan to do a large water change on week 2¬†and I'll test everything then to see where it stands. I went with new API test kits, seeing how my old Aquarium Systems test kits expired in 2004 ūüėĄ. I'm ok with taking things slow, I at least want to get through the diatom bloom before adding coral.




It is interesting (and a little scary) to embrace the inevitable parameter swings that are inherent in small jars like these, I have to remind myself that a pico reef jar is known to break some common¬†reef keeping rules. This week I've been monitoring the tank's temperature swing to see if it's going to be feasible to run it at room temperature. ReefSmart runs his pico jar with only the light as a heat source, which means the tank cools off at night, but he has seen daily swings from about 72-79¬įF in the winter with no ill effect on his coral. Mine has been dipping to around 70-71 at night though, with our house thermostat set that low, and warming to about 79 by night. I have to decide if I want to embrace the temp swings and just avoid keeping sensitive invertebrates, or if I should invest in a small heater and Inkbird temp controller. A lot of coral could tolerate that, but I have kind of had my heart set on keeping a cleaner shrimp, which would probably be too sensitive to those temperatures.




I still need to pick up a little magnetic glass cleaner for the jar, I don't have a good solution yet. I am really impressed with the design of the Vertex Simplex magnetic algae cleaner, I think that's the one I'll order. Cleaning the glass by hand proved that I really need to glue or epoxy putty my live rock together soon, it's too easy to bump into the aquascape when doing simple tasks, having everything glued down is probably for the best. In such a small space there's not going to be much room for frag plugs either, I'm going to need a crash course in coral gluing if I'm going to get the look I want.


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  • Christopher Marks changed the title to 2 Gallon Pico Jar aka C+C Frag Factory ūüíß

Looking promising! Even though this looks really sharp with minimal cordage, I vote for the cleaner shrimp; IMO, they just have a tendency to make marine tanks look complete - like the cherry on top; and especially so when it's a tiny sundae.

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Christopher Marks

The tank is crystal clear after that glass scrubbing, it's really looking great today! I'm using an airline tubing suction cup to hold the line and stone in position near the sand at the bottom of the jar, it makes for a clean look and I can clearly see that it has improved circulation throughout the jar, I feel confident in the 24 gph rate for the air pump. One variable I still haven't settled is where to keep the water line in the jar. It looks great filled nearly to the top, no light spills out, but the bubbler creates a fair amount of salt creep condensation on the light lens. I suspect it's also contributing to the daily temperature gains, I think at the next water change I'll try it lower to give more of an air gap between the waterline and the light. The cycle period is a good time to sort out all the details like this.


If I glue my aquascape together, I may start hunting for a better glass jar, if an example exists. The jar I picked out has surprisingly great clarity throughout most of it, but I've come to notice it begins to blur a little as you get closer to the top. I guess I won't try too hard to find one, but if I pass by a store and have time to check, why not? I only tried two stores originally, but it seemed clear there's a big variation jar to jar. Other than disturbing the sand bed, it shouldn't be much trouble. Maybe some day.


Photographing the reef jar is an interesting challenge, I look forward to improving. The way the glass magnifies everything as you move around it is really incredible in person, but difficult to capture in a photo. The optical effect can be used to our advantage when placing the airline, temperature probe, heater, and even the cords as they exit the jar: if I keep everything positioned on the right side near the edge of the TV, the glass distortion makes them all disappear when looking at the jar straight on, it's pretty neat!


I'm looking at @inkbird temperature controllers, I think this is the one I'm going to use for my pico reef: ITC-308S + 1.97'' Short Probe. I like this version because the temperature probe can be replaced in the future, or use a different design. Does anyone have any opinions on these controllers for their heaters? How have they been working out? I'd pair it with a really low wattage heater, something like this or this one perhaps. I'll have to search the pico container contest journals again and see what other heaters were used.

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As much as I wanted to keep cords out of my jar, I had to add a heater too. Out of those two I would say the cobalt one. Another one to check out that a lot of jars use and I was recommended is the Archaea 25W slim heater, which has an adjustable controller on it as well. 


I always thought the original glass lid for these jars was an eyesore. Good looksūüĎćūüŹľ

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For a heater, 7W is plenty.  I used something like this.  It is surprisingly small and seemed to work well with a controller.


I'm confident that an air line will give you good flow (and aeration).  However, like you noticed, lots of salt spray too.  I was contemplating a small pico pump, but knew that would sacrifice gas exchange. :unsure:

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  • Christopher Marks changed the title to 2 Gallon Pico Reef Jar - Snail Kingdom ūüźĆ

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