Bending the rules?

If there is one thing that I find endearing about the botanical-style aquarium, it's that the practices and procedures which we employ are still very much evolving. There are no "absolute rules" that have been imposed upon those of us who play with leaves and botanicals. We haven't gotten that stubborn.

Well, I guess I should be a bit more precise...

There are no "rules" which we as practitioners of this style of aquarium have created. Nature does that for us; provides us the "guardrails" which keep us in line and prevent us from doing stupid things and getting away with them. Rather, we have developed procedures and "best practices" based on Nature's rules.

And procedures are always subject to individual "customization", aren't they?

Sure, Nature will dictate how stuff works, yet we have an ability to adapt and "iterate" practices within Her guidelines. It's part of what makes us unique as hobbyists (and people) is the way each and every one of us seems to approach stuff in the aquarium hobby in our own slightly personalized way.

Over time, and with enough personal experience, we often develop our own  "rules" for how to do things in the hobby.

Much like rules or "best practices" that we've created for ourselves in our everyday lives ("..always log out of your PayPal account when using your iPad, never get your sushi from a supermarket", etc.), the way we approach our aquarium practice is as individual as we are.

I know that I have a few "hard-and-fast" hobby "rules"/practices that I have personally developed over the years...And when I reflect upon them, I realize that many of them were simply as a result of my "socialization" within the hobby when I was younger and more impressionable, or something like that, lol! 

Like, I have this thing about never feeding dry/prepared foods to my fishes... I just don't. I mean, like, EVER. I'd literally sooner swat houseflies or collect ants from the backyard by hand before I'd throw in some flakes...It's that ingrained in me.

I know, it's a bit ridiculous. It is.

I think I have an idea why/how this sort of weird practice evolved, too:

"Back in the day" (like, during my pre-teenage years) I was obsessed with killifishes. The prevailing hobby wisdom at the time was that you should feed them "exclusively with live and (maybe) frozen foods." It was almost like there was a "taboo" about dry food- especially if you were serious about keeping and breeding them.

And there were plenty of "experts" who said that killies wouldn't even eat prepared foods! As if the fishes felt that these foods were somehow harmful or detrimental to them!

And this thinking, of course, was not limited to killies.

I've seen evidence that this same sort of dogma has been floating around the hobby since before I was born! The guppy-breeding reference books from the 1950's and 1960's which my dad accumulated in his hobby library (and which formed the much of the basis of my aquarium hobby "indoctrination") eschewed dried foods insisted upon feeding your breeders "newly-hatched baby brine shrimp" and "frozen adult brine shrimp" almost exclusively.

Dried food was not even considered! Yet oddly, weird food like "finely-scraped frozen beef heart" (WTF) was considered good stuff... Yuck.

I think that there was an interesting dichotomy going on in the hobby during the so-called "Golden Era." Even though technology was starting to impact the practices and procedures that were prevalent during the day, there seemed to be a distrust among hobbyists about abandoning, or even evolving practices long held dear. Like feeding dried foods in place of- or even in addition to- live and frozen foods.

Umm, I call B.S. on that...

Now, in all fairness, this was at the "dawn" of the high-tech influence on the hobby, with all of the insanely scientifically-derived dried foods we take for granted now just starting to really appear, so hobbyists from my generation were still strongly influenced by the "old-school" hobbyists who collected/grew their own Daphnia, Brine Shrimp, White Worms, Glass Worms, etc., and were perhaps a bit spooked about the idea that you could provide your fishes with "high quality nutrition in a can."  

I suppose it makes a lot of sense, given typical norms of human behavior- not to mention, the way hobbyists think!

And being a really young guy in a very hardcore hobbyist group like the AKA at the time (the 1980's), where I'd hazard a guess that the average age was like 55, I couldn't help but be influenced by this crowd. Some of these people were even serious hobbyists in the pre WWII era, and pretty much "invented" many of the practices that formed the basis of our hobby for a generation! 

It was pretty rad, actually.

Live food was just considered "what you do" when you bred killies. If you weren't into "growing your own", frozen was THE ONLY option to fall back on. And of course, even the use of frozen foods would cause a few murmurs and hushed comments about your "skill and devotion" (or lack thereof) to the hobby. I mean, how lazy ARE you if you use frozen food?  

Yeah, it was a tough crowd! :)

And using dried food was almost seen as a "shortcut" that "not-so-serious" hobbyists would take. Shame.

I mean, if you couldn't even be "bothered" even to thaw out some frozen food, let alone culture your own fruit flies or whatever, your skill set and dedication were highly questioned. And of course, there was the widely-accepted opinion that dried/prepared foods were not as "nutritionally sound" as the live foods we grew and collected (which, at the time, probably wasn't that far from the truth!).

Obviously, that's completely outmoded thinking these days. The technology behind the development and manufacturing of dried (and frozen!) foods has evolved so much, that even the cheapest, most "generic" mass-market can of flake food is probably better than 90% of the most "premium" prepared foods available in the 1960's.

Stuff has, thankfully, evolved.

In fact, nowadays, I suppose some hobbyists might even question why you'd even go to the effort to collect your own or culture food yourself...Your exotic wild-caught fishes can be fed near-natural-quality foods from a can, a premix, or the freezer daily.

So yeah, this sort of "tribal influence" from the hobby elders really set me into my habit, which to this day I almost never deviate from. I feed virtually 100% frozen and live for all my fishes, as a matter of practice. In fact, other than those occasional samples you receive at hobby conferences and as raffle prizes, you'll pretty much never see dried or freeze dried food in my house.

I know. Crazy. Stupid. Stubborn...and entirely outmoded thinking, because todays's prepared foods are probably 10X better than the frozen foods of 30 years ago! 

But hell, I'm stubborn.

Yet, it's rather ironic that bending the rules I've subscribed to have generally worked out just fine for me!  And you know Im rather fond of bending hobby rules, right? So, yeah..It's a bit "interesting."

And it's actually kind of funny- absurd, even..Because there are some insanely good foods out there. Like some that you'd be just stupid (my thinking) NOT to try! (hint, hint...)

Yet, in my own weird way, over the years, I'd convinced myself that live (and by extension, my "lazy" use of frozen) foods was just "how I do it..." I have all of the stubbornness of my predecessors (without the judgmental part, however)!


Yet I"m not completely stubborn and unyielding in my thinking, however. 

Now, I admit I have tried one of the new, insect-based dried foods, which I was REALLY excited to use...and was profoundly disappointed by the results. My fishes showed like ZERO interest in them...which was weird, because- well, flies! I mean, HELLO! It's their natural food...yet...

Can fishes be stubborn? Maybe? Well, maybe MY fishes can be stubborn? Yeah, probably.

However, I'll keep trying. I promise. 

Yes, "fish food" is one of those things that we take for granted...stuff that becomes a habit, and then a sort of "rule" in our hobby practices. Now, unlike my predecessors, I wouldn't look down on anyone who keeps a pack of flakes in her home and swears by high-tech, scientifically-formulated pellet foods...Our lifestyle as humans has changed so much over the decades, and these foods offer not just convenience- they offer overall practicality and cost effectiveness. 

And, let's just be honest: Convincing your significant other that it's "just fine" to keep a container of wriggly worms in the refrigerator, right next to the leftover lasagne from last night is increasingly difficult!

The good news is that ideas, practices, and "rules" once considered beyond question are open for conversation, analysis...and evolution! The speed with which information spreads in the hobby enables rapid evolution of ideas, practices, and procedures.

Look at how our little hobby niche has evolved and spread...

Yet, even with the rapid dissemination of ideas and information, human stubbornness and laziness still win out more often than you'd think!

I mean, yeah, we're in a world where tweets and hashtags have replaced long-form conversations and such, and where many hobbyists won't read the massive amount of information that's readily available to them with a simple click. Even though many hobbyists are interested in what we discuss in "The Tint" blog, a higher percentage would rather listen to the podcast. And that's cool, as long as they absorb the information!

Time is apparently more precious than ever. So we try to get information out in a means that's easy to digest, and in a variety of formats to keep us informed during our busy days.

And yet, there is still a shockingly large number of hobbyists who just won't absorb all but the most superficial information. Even if it's right in front of them. Don't believe me? I get at least 2-3 emails every week from customers who order botanicals from me and ask, "Okay, I received my botanicals. Do I prepare them for use, or can I just add them to my tank?"

I mean, I literally want to slap myself sometimes...

I've spent hours and hours developing and sharing "best practices" right here, creating instructions on how to prepare botanicals, the justification for why we do it, and the benefits of engaging in a preparation "protocol." It's formed the foundation of what we do. Not a set of "rules", but definitely a recommended set of "best practices" that we want to make as obvious to as many hobbyists as humanly possible.

We even went as far as to develop an easy-to-digest "infographic" that summarizes this important process ( with a minimum of verbiage) that we include with every first and second-time order. It's important to impart as much information to hobbyists as humanly possible about basic practices of our speciality. 

The apparent lack of desire to read or research stuff that one would think should be fun- ('cause it's a beloved hobby... you should WANT to find stuff out) might just be a "thing" with culture...A shift of sorts...

I suppose it makes sense.

Time and convenience tend to relegate stuff like culturing live foods (and even reading INSTRUCTIONS!) to the hardcore DIY-type hobbyist crowd. Hatching brine shrimp eggs for our baby fishes SHOULD be "Aquarium Keeping 101", yet the reality is that it might just become one of these interesting, charming, yet essentially largely extinct skills.

You know, like horseshoe-making, subsistence farming, grinding our own coffee beans, and changing the oil in our cars ourselves. Stuff which simply become "unnecessary" or "incbecause of the developments in our world.

Cool stuff to know- a novelty, even- but not "necessary."

I suppose that I can't fault this shift. I mean, our culture has evolved.

We stream movies to our iPads, use websites to deliver food from local restaurants, and let total strangers drive our 14-year-old daughters around town in their own vehicles with a simple smart phone app and no concerns whatsoever- something that would have freaked out any parent just a decade ago.

Yeah, cultural changes.

Look at the explosion in so-called "meal kits" targeted at a growing segment of consumers who apparently need a "paint-by-numbers" approach to preparing meals for their families. Order online and it's delivered to your door, complete with instructions! It's easier than planning out a meal, shopping for the readily-available ingredients, and preparing it from scratch- right? Maybe?

I can't entirely diss the idea. It goes with this cultural shift. Most people will tell you that they have less free time than ever, and that the demands on their leisure time are many. Time is more valuable than ever to us.

We value different stuff now than we did even 10 years ago, let alone, several decades ago...

Times change. It's cool. 

And it's probably for the better, right?

I mean, I know that my mom would not have been all that disappointed if I fed lots of freeze-dried Tubifex worms, instead of laying out cantaloupe rinds in containers of water in the backyard to bait mosquitoes into laying their eggs so I could collect larvae! 

Sure, we could romanticize stuff like collecting and growing Daphnia and Tubifex worms..

We could lament and think it's sad that,"Most  people don't do it that way any more..." Yet, it's kind of silly to do that. Culture, people, and the hobby- evolve and change over time, and that's a great thing.Yet, there are all sorts of interesting signs that things are changing yet again! "Growing your own" is enjoying a sort of rebirth of sorts, with culturing live foods becoming more and more prevalent among even less than totally hardcore hobbyists!

Live food culture is almost becoming a "sub-hobby" of sorts! It's starting to come full circle, I suppose. Much like home brewing of beer or whatever. You don't have to- but it's sort of fun! A great skill to acquire, and an homage to the "craft" of our hobby.

Yeah, times do change.

Sort of. 

And there is nothing wrong with bending our own rules from time to time.

Gotta run...thawning out some frozen bloodworms for my fishes. No time for netting Daphnia today...You know what, maybe I'll just try that can of new pelletized Soldier Flies. I've heard good stuff about it...

Stay unique. Stay stubborn- sort of. Stay progressive. Stay open-minded. Stay skilled. Stay relentless in your pursuit of hobby knowledge...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 








Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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