As we get deeper and deeper into this game...learning more about botanical-style aquariums as a community, and trying more advanced and interesting ideas, it's more important than ever to remember a few of the most basic "tenants" of our craft.
What better time than now- at this cusp of explosive growth in our hobby sector- to review these things yet again! For those of you who already "know" this stuff, at best it's a reminder...For those who are still new to the game- seeing a little summary of this stuff could be the "unlock" you need to achieve your goals!
None of this is revolutionary stuff; however, based on the many questions we receive that seem to revolve around some of these ideas, I've summarized a few of the key items we need to get into our minds...In no particular order, of course!
Prep is PRIMARY: Yes, we say it over and over again- it's really important to utilize some form of preparation for any botanical materials you add into your tank. Preparation, in most cases, consists of rinsing, boiling/steeping, and soaking in freshwater before adding them. Now, materials like leaves and such require varying degrees of this (I used to be hardcore about boiling the crap out of everything, when the reality is that. steep in boiling water will do. Why boil or steep? Two reasons: First is that boiling helps "sterilize" to some extent the external tissues of the botanicals, and serves to release any surface contaminants (ie; dirt and dust) present. Second is that the water will soften the external layers of the botanicals' structure, allowing them to admit more water and saturate and sink more quickly.
Now, there are a lot of hobbyists who use botanicals who do next to no prep on anything, and never have a problem. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me, "You know, in the Amazon, seed pods don't get cleaned before they fall into the water..." I wouldn't be selling "twigs and nuts" for a living! My simple response? "Your aquarium is not the goddam Amazon." Just adding botanicals in a "clean" state adds to the bio load that your aquarium's bacterial population (and fishes!) need to contend with, so why make it more stressful by adding "dirty" stuff to save 30 minutes or so of prep time? A closed system has only so much ability to adjust to and absorb an increasing bioload.
Please make use of our ever-evolving, yet pretty comprehensive "Aquatic Botanical Preparation" section on our website! It has comments on prep for every item we offer, and I do go back in and edit it regularly to reflect our evolving "best practices!"
Go S-L-O-W-L-Y: If there is one "rule" that you need to follow, and should never break- the "go slow" run is it. As alluded to above- you are adding materials which add organics- bioload- into your aquarium. It is entirely possible to "nuke" your tank and stress or kill your fishes if you dump the entire contents of your "Vibrante Morichal" or "Geo Pack" or whatever, into your established aquarium at one time. The CO2 levels can increase, you could see an ammonia spike, or any number of bad things can happen if you do this- none of them good. I mean, it's common sense- adding a lot of ANYTHING into an aquarium quickly can have an adverse effect on the resident life forms.
What is the rush? We talk about the joy of watching our aquariums "evolve" to some extent...It's a slow process that nature dictates as it hs for eons. There are no shortcuts in this game. No real "hacks" or magic formula that you can use to cut to the "head of the line" and have a "finished" tank in a week...or even a month- or 6 months, for that matter. Enjoy every step of the process as much as you enjoy what you think will be the "end goal", and this type of aquarium will captivate you like few others can...
Bring on the gooey stuff: Yes, it's almost inevitable that, when you add these materials to your aquarium, you'll see some fungal growth and biofilms. Now, we've written extensively about biofilms in this blog, and the good and bad and simple realities of them. Bottom line is that they may look nasty, but they are some of nature's most elegant organisms. Their presence in your aquarium is completely natural and normal. Many fishes and invertebrates can utilize them for a supplemental food source.
Sure, these are not exactly what we've envisioned when we think of an awesome-looking aquarium- in fact, I'd argue that the (IMHO) oddly-named "Nature Aquarium" idea which is so popular, just eschews things like decomposition. biofilms, etc. altogether in favor of a more "contrived" look that, although stunningly gorgeous and remarkable, has more in common with a garden than a wild habitat.
We have to look at underwater videos and pics of natural habitats, such as the Amazon region and elsewhere- for inspiration. Natural habitats are just filled with biofilms, fungal growth, decomposing leaves and such- anything but the highly conceptual "nature aquarium" that we've come to accept as the ultimate in aquascaping.
Free your mind. Enjoy the beauty of nature as it really is. Enjoy the processes which occur and celebrate your tank at every phase. And yeah, the larger bursts of biofilms and fungus and such are a "stage" your aquarium will go through. Typically, the major growths of this stuff subsides over time...Sure, you could remove it if it just becomes too disturbing..or you could admire it for what it is. "Mental shift."
No such thing as "set and forget": Like almost any aquarium, botanical-style blackwater/brackish aquariums require attention, management, and maintenance. Water exchanges are important, like they are in any aquarium, providing the same benefits. Water testing is important, particularly in situations where you're starting out with soft, acidic water, as the impact of botanicals is far more significant in this environment.
Besides, actively-managing any aquarium gives you the opportunity to observe and intervene if necessary. Partnering with nature, as opposed to fighting against it, is a real key to a successful botanical-style aquarium. The opportunities to study the dynamic natural processes which occur in these types of environment are limitless, and the chance for lasting, important hobby discoveries and breakthroughs is huge!
It's an evolution- NOT a revolution: The blackwater, botanical-style aquarium is an amazing sector of the hobby, in which we're learning new stuff each and every day. By incorporating nature's beautiful botanical materials, letting her "do her thing" in our tanks, while employing the century-old concepts of aquarium management, we're embracing this... This is a natural extension- a development- of many years of aquatic practice.
Yeah, an evolution.
Make the mental shifts. Manage expectations. Learn the concepts. Contribute to the body of knowledge. Share.
Stay humble. Stay engaged. Stay curious. Stay on course...
And Stay Wet.