We hear a lot of discussions about establishing botanical method aquariums, yet a lot fewer ones about running them over extended periods of time. Occasionally, someone will ask me when a botanical method aquarium is considered "mature" or "finished."
Like, how do you know, and how long should you expect it to take to get there? When can you declare, "NOW the tank is "finished!"
We need to know, apparently.
Now, the question pre-supposes two facts:
1) That there is a quantifiable point where an aquarium can be labeled "finished."
2) That there is even a definition for what "mature" or "finished" means in the aquarium context.
Of course, part of the "need to know" is actually based upon that human construct of impatience. We need to have something "finished" and not "evolving" or "under construction." This always amuses me, because, in my opinion, an aquarium is never actually "done." It will continue to change and evolve as long as it's kept going by you, the hobbyist.
And that's a key point: An aquarium keeps evolving as long as we let it...
I believe that part of the need to quantify a tank as "finished" or even "mature" is because we constantly see "professional" aquascapers and content creators setting up tanks, photographing/videoing them, or entering them in a contest, and then breaking them down.
These aquariums definitely have an "expiration date"- and it's due to a single factor:
It has seeped into the popular perception in the hobby because of the frequent changes in aquariums which many content producers (we're guilty of it, too..) we share in our social media accounts. You set up a tank, get it looking really cool, photograph it ...and then you break it down...and move on to the next one.
A sort of creative "churn."
So yeah...It's done! Ready for the next big idea!
I believe that this constant demonstration of "churning" tanks has "poisoned the well" when it comes to developing patient hobbyists.
My personal assertion is that an aquarium is never "finished", just as the natural aquatic ecosystems of the world are never "finished", unless outside intervention occurs.
Why can't a YouTuber or "Influencer" set up an aquarium, and document its journey from day one. Just let it evolve? I mean, you can still set up 35 different trendy tanks in the mean time...just keep documenting the one tank as a "proof of concept" that patience, time, Nature, and leaving the tank alone actually works!
I think that audiences can actually handle it.
There are plenty of daily "new looks" in every botanical method aquarium when you leave it alone, trust me. It's constantly evolving and changing...just like in Nature.
IMHO, there is a certain absurdity about the way we document our tanks, anyways. We fail to realize that what many "content creators" often do is to simply glam up their tanks for a video or contest, and then just let the thing go. At best, even a "contest scape" or a video or social media post of an"influencer's" tank only captures a moment in time. it will literally continue to change and evolve even seconds following the photos are taken or the video images are filmed!
Now, I realize that an "aquascape" in aquarium parlance is a human construct, and can be defined as "finished" when you are satisfied with the configuration you've created and stop "tweaking" it. In other words, the hardscape (wood or rocks) will not change its configuration or structure on its own!
But that's not the entire story, right?
When you throw living, growing elements like aquatic plants, or materials which decompose, such as leaves and botanicals, into the mix, the appearance of the "aquascape" keeps changing, both aesthetically- and more important- ecologically.
This is precisely why I constantly reiterate the fact that a botanical method aquarium is interesting and beautiful at every phase of its existence!
To be perfectly honest, the beauty of a botanical method aquarium is that it's never really finished. Each day, each month- the aquarium will continue to evolve and change physically and ecologically- and will do so indefinitely.
That's why we preach patience so much in our world. Patience to watch your tank go though its developmental changes and evolutions- and the patience to understand and savor each phase of its development. Patience to NOT intervene or interfere with this process.
And an understanding that Nature is "at the controls" for a lot of it...and that it's okay for us to "get out of the way" and let Her do the job, as she has for millennia in the wild aquatic habitats of the world.
Nature manages to work with all sorts of materials, conditions, and constraints, and somehow always finds a way to continue to evolve them in ways that assure its survival over the long term. Our aquariums- although artificial contracts- are still beholden to natural laws and influences, and will contuse to do the same until such time as we decide to break them down.
On the other hand, if you look at an aquarium as you would a garden- an organic, living, evolving, growing entity- then the need to see the thing "finished" becomes much less important. Suddenly, much like a "road trip", the destination becomes less important than the journey. It's about the experiences gleaned along the way.
Enjoyment of the developments, the process.
When it comes to leaves and seed pods, some will simply last longer than others. All will contribute to the richness and diversity in their own way. Some replace others over time as the more "dominant" component of your natural "hardscape", wether fostered intentionally by you replacing stuff, or by natural decomposition changing a botanical into a different form, which newly added ones take over. All form a part of the whole, rich, ever-evolving picture.
This is why I never get freaked out about cloudy water, tons of fungal growth on my wood or leaves, or other processes which impact the aesthetics of my tanks early on in their life. Just wait a while, it'll change. And rather than be reviled by all of those stringy fungal growths, think about why they appear, what they're doing, and how you see the same exact thing in the wild aquatic habitats we love so much.
An appreciation of where you are sort of blunts the need to have a "finish line", in my opinion.
It makes sense when you consider it in that context. Sure.
Yet, people new to our little hobby sector still often ask me, "When will my tank start looking more "broken in'?", or, "When can I add more fishes?", or, "When will the tank look more established?"
My answer to these kinds of questions is always the same: It takes a while.
Botanical-method aquariums, like any other, require biological processes to establish and "mature" the system. This takes more than a week, or two weeks- or even a month. Honestly, if you asked me, you're talking three to four months before any aquarium- especially a botanical-method one- hits that "stride" of stability and the "look" that comes from a more mature, established system.
Three to four months.
Like, one full season.
Can you handle that?
I mean, it's really not that long, right? Especially when you take into account that you can maintain a botanical-method aquarium continuously for years.
And we're not in this just to create a "look." The reality is that many botanical method aquariums, which embrace stuff like sediments and decaying leaves and such, look "mature" very early on.
But that's not the whole game here, right? It's one thing to look mature, another for an aquarium to be ecologically stable and diverse.
You can get there easily, really.
It just requires patience, a long-term vision, and a focus on the goal of establishing a healthy, naturally-functioning system over the long term. You can't rush stuff. You simply can't. And you really don't want to, anyways. Let it evolve naturally.
Stay the course.
One day, you'll look at your tank, and think to yourself, "THIS is what I envisioned!" And you might casually glance at the calendar and note that, sure enough- it's been about 3-4 months since you established your tank.
Not all that long, right?
It was a pretty enjoyable ride along the way, wasn't it? Yeah, when you liberate yourself from some artificially self-imposed timetable about "when" things will look/feel good, it's a lot easier.
Yeah, we're talking about the appearance- but it's also about the function, right?
And it all comes back to understanding and embracing the fundamentals.
I firmly believe that understanding and appreciating the fundamentals of the hobby- and the natural world- can yield the same results- or better- than tons of expensive gear and "stuff" when simply "thrown" at the situation without thought as to why..
It requires us to shift our minds to places that might be less comfortable for us...
It just is a lot less sexy than "gearing up" or blindly following someone else's "rules"- it requires us to open our minds up...It requires patience, process and personal observation. It requires eschewing more "instant" result for long-term function, stability, and benefits.
That mental shift is something, isn't it?
Although the "I want the tank to be 'done' NOW!" mindset- although still highly visible and perpetuated by numerous vapid, moronic posts on social media is still top of mind to many, there are signs that the greater hobby is waking up to the fact that you can't have an "instant awesome" established, ecologically rich aquarium in a matter of days.
I think the pendulum in the hobby is swinging back a bit.
Not "digressing", mind you. Evolving; with hobbyists starting to grasp that anyone can create an amazing aquarium- it's just that it takes some understanding and process..and time. And realization that every stage of an aquariums evolution can be compelling.
And I can feel that many hobbyists are switching back to a more "accepting" approach; taking our hands off...just a bit, and letting Nature do what She does so well without our "editing." Once again realizing that Nature knows best. Understanding that we can use technology and technique to work with Nature.
We are learning that the journey- the evolution- of an aquarium is the whole game here. And that the "finish line" is really an artificial construct...a figment of our imaginations.
So, IS there even a "finish line" to an aquarium? Is an aquarium ever "finished?"
Only if we make it that way.
Nature won't stop.
You shouldn't, either.
Stay patient. Stay thoughtful. Stay bold. Stay diligent...
And Stay Wet.