Fast forward to the beginning...

Nature has been working with terrestrial materials in aquatic habitats for uncounted eons.

And Nature works with just about everything you throw at her.

She'll take that seemingly "unsexy" piece of wood or rock or bunch of dried leaves, and, given the passage of time, the action of gravity and water movement, and the work of bacteria, fungi, and algae- She'll mold, shape, evolve them into unique and compelling pieces, as amazing as anything we could ever hope to do...

If we give her the chance. 

If we allow ourselves to look at her work in context.

If we don't worry when things go "sideways."

If we don't give up.

Always have faith in Nature.

She'll challenge you. She'll tempt you. She'll school you. But She'll also educate you, indoctrinate you into her ways, and take you under her wing...if you let Her.

Let Nature handle some of the details... She pretty much never messes them up! Don't fight Her. Understand her. Don't be afraid to cede some of the work to Her.

Botanical-method aquariums are not not "just a look." Not just an aesthetic. Not just a "trend." Not even just a mindset...

Rather, they're  a way to incorporate natural materials to achieve new and progressive results with the fishes and plants we've come to love so much. And they incorporate many of the same "best practices" that we've come to know and love over the past century of modern aquarium keeping. Our success or failure is completely dependent upon how we apply many of these time tested approaches.

If there is a commonality among successful hobbyists in any aquarium speciality, it's that they follow fundamentals- common core principles of aquairum keeping. It's not additives, or fancy gear- it's patience and consistency. Routine and following a philosophy of aquarium husbandry.

First and foremost is patience.

I feel that we don't celebrate patience quite enough. 

Are you one of those people who loves to have stuff right now? The kind of person who just wants your aquarium "finished"- or do you relish the journey of establishing and evolving your little microcosm? 

I'm just gonna go out on a limb here and postulate that you're part of the latter group.

Have you ever completed an aquascape and stepped back and looked at it in its most "embryonic" phases, and thought to yourself, "This looks good?" The pristine glass, perfect deal wood, sparkling gravel...The scent of a brand new aquarium...

Well, of course you have! It's part of the game.

It's a total sensory experience, isn't it?

To me, however, the real "magic" in an aquarium happens not when it's new and pristine, but after a few weeks or months, when it develops that "patina" of micro algae, fungal growths, and a bit of detritus...the "matte" sheen of biofilm on the substrate...And when your tank develops that earthy, clean, alive smell.

That, to me, is when an aquarium really feels "alive" and evolving.

When it comes to maintenance of aquariums, I'm a big believer in removing algae from the front glass and "excessive" films from the driftwood or other materials...But I don't go crazy about it like I used to. Like many of you, I let some of those natural processes evolve, just like the tank itself...

I think I tend to spend less time and energy removing "offensive" algae growth manually, and spend far more time and energy controlling and eliminating the root causes of its appearance: Excess nutrients, too much light, lax maintenance practices, etc. It's not that I don't think I should be scraping algae- it's just that it seems to make more sense to "nip it in the bud" and attack the underlying causes of it's growth.

Understanding the dynamic in a closed aquarium system is really important.

There is another aspect to appreciating it: Letting a system "evolve" and find its way, with a little bit of guidance (or botanicals, as the case may be) from time to time, is beautiful to me...Watching the "bigger picture" and realizing that all of these "components" are part of a bigger "whole."

When I first approached botanical method tanks a couple of decades ago, this was a definite of mental shift for me, right along with accepting the biofilms, blackwater, and decomposing leaves. Like most of you, I've spent much of my fishy "career" doing "reaction" style aquarium maintenance, breaking out the algae scraper at the first sign of the "dreaded" stuff.

And I've come to realize that taking a more proactive, understanding, and yeah- relaxed approach to  so-called "nuisance algae management" has created a much more enjoyable hobby experience for me. And being a bit more accepting about seeing "some" algae growth and such has created far more aesthetically pleasing, naturally-appearing aquariums.

There is nothing wrong with creating a more "clinically sterile-looking" aquarium. Perfectly manicured, impeccably groomed task are beautiful. It's just that there is something about the way nature tends to do things that seems a bit more satisfying to me. 

And apparently, for many of you, too!

The beauty is that, like so many things in this hobby- there is no "right" or "wrong" way to approach something as mundane as algae growth and tank "grooming." It's about what works for YOU..what makes you feel comfortable, and what keeps your aquarium healthy.

Regardless of what approach we take, natural processes that have evolved over the eons will continue to occur in your aquarium. You can fight them, attempt to stave them off with elaborate "countermeasures" and labor...or you can embrace them and learn how to moderate and live with them via understanding the processes.

And the algae?

It'll always be there. It's just a matter of how "prominent" we allow it to be.

Simple. And, actually- sort of under our control, isn't it?

And when new think of expanded time frames under which our tanks evolve and operate, what's the big rush to "eradicate" things?

I'm not sure exactly what it is, but when it comes to the aquarium hobby...I find myself playing what is called in many endeavors (like business, sports, etc.) a "long game."

I'm not looking for instant gratification.

I know-we all know- that good stuff often takes time to happen. I'm certainly not afraid to wait for results. Well, I'm not just sitting around in the "lotus position", either- waiting, anyways. However, I'm not expecting immediate results from stuff. Rather, I am okay with doing the necessary groundwork, nurturing the project along, and seeing the results happen over time.

Yeah, that's a "long game."

If you're into tropical fish keeping, it's almost a necessity to have this sort of patience, isn't it? I mean, sure, some of us are anxious to get that aquascape done, get the fishes in there, fire up the plumbing in the fish room, etc. However, we all seem to understand that to get good results- truly satisfying, legitimate results- things just take time. Yeah, I'd love it if some "annual" killifish eggs hatched in one month instead of 7-9 months, for example, but...

I wouldn't complain, but I do understand that there is the world the way it is; and the world the way we'd like it to be.

I'll just say it: Your aquarium likely won't look anything like what you've envisioned for at least 3 months.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What's the rush? From day one, your botanical method aquarium will simply look different than any other tank that you've ever kept. It will by virtue of the fact that it's set up differently than any other tank you've ever kept! 

So, why not simply enjoy THAT?

I also think that we as a hobby tend to glorify the "finished product", with very little discussed- or shared on social media- about the journey itself. I believe that, if presented with the same gusto as finished tanks by hobbyists active on social media, stories about the journey of a botanical method aquarium can be incredibly compelling- even as compelling as the "finished" product.

I think that, by sharing such journeys, we can create an atmosphere of excitement around process- a huge thing for our hobby.

What it takes to get there is consistency and patience...

I have to implore you to deploy absurd amounts of patience and to employ "radical cal consistency" in your maintenance efforts. "Radical" in the sense that you simply have to become fanatical. Consistency meaning you do it regularly. Not sometimes, or when it feels right- but regularlary. Always.

Consistent habits create consistent environmental parameters, without a doubt. 

As you've heard me mention ad nauseum here, natural rivers, lakes, and streams, although subject to seasonal variations and such, are typically remarkably stable physical environments, and fishes and plants, although capable of adapting to surprisingly rapid environmental changes, have really evolved over eons to grow in consistent, stable conditions.



In the botanical-influenced, low alkalinity/low pH blackwater environment, consistency is really important. Although these tanks are surprisingly easy to manage and run over the long haul, consistency is a huge part of what keeps these speciality systems running healthily and happily for extended periods of time. It wouldn't take too much beginning neglect or even a little sloppiness in husbandry to start a march towards increasing nitrate,  phosphate, and their associated problems, like nuisance algae growth, etc. 

Consistency. Regular maintenance. Scheduled water changes. The usual stuff. Nothing magic here. Nothing that a sexy $24.00 bottle of bacterial culture is going to replace.

Nothing that you, as an experienced hobby don't already know. Right?

Just looking at your tank and its inhabitants will be enough to tell you if something is amiss. More than one advanced aquarist has only half-jokingly told me that he or she can tell if something is amiss with his/her tank simply by the "smelI!" get it- excesses of biological activities do often create conditions that are detectible by scent! 

It's as much about consistency-consistency in practices and procedures- as it is about hitting those "target numbers" of pH, nitrate, etc. If you ask a lot of successful aquarists how they accomplish this-or-that, they'll usually point towards a few things, like regular water changes, good food, and adhering to the same practices over and over again.

Consistency = Stability.

Sure, there might be times you deliberately manipulate the environment fairly rapidly, like a temperature change to stimulate spawning, etc., but for the most part, the successful aquarist plays a consistent game. Most fishes come from environments that vary only slightly during he course of a day, and many only seasonally, so stability is at the heart of  "best practice" for aquarists.

So, without further beating the shit out of this, I think we can successfully make the argument that consistency in all manner of aquarium-keeping endeavors can only help your animals. Keeping a stable environment is not only humane- it's playing into the very strength of our animals, by minimizing the stress of constantly having to adapt to a fluctuating environment. As one of our local reef hobbyists likes to say, "Stability promotes success."

Who could argue with that?

I'm sure that you can think of tons of ways that consistency in our fish-keeping habits can help promote more healthy, stable aquariums.  Don't obsess over this stuff, but do give some thought to the discussion here; think about consistency, and how it applies to your animals, and what you do each day to keep a consistent environment in your systems.

And don't be fucking lazy.

Don't look for magic potions, shortcuts, or hacks.

Good stuff takes time to achieve.

Stay observant. Stay methodical. Stay diligent. Stay grounded. Stay consistent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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