Moderating the "need for speed..."

I've touched on versions of this subject before, but I keep coming back to it.

I am frequently approached by hobbyists who, in their zeal to get a cool blackwater, botanical-style tank up and running, are always looking for some shortcut that will help them get a more "finished look" and tint more quickly. This always makes me cringe just a bit, because I think it's a direct by-product of our 24/7/365 social media cycle of sharing all of the cool stuff we're doing. We see the finished products.

We see those shots of natural habitats, and we want so badly to replicate them in our own tanks.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to go "all-in" and to see the fruits of your labors as soon as feasible, but it's quite another to try to "hack" the process to speed things along.

Don't get me wrong. You can utilize botanical materials (specifically, certain leaves, like Magnolia and Catappa, and botanicals like Coco Curls, Rio Fruta, and Ceu Fruta) which release a large amount of color-producing tannins quickly. However, to achieve a stable, long-lasting display, you need to give the botanicals time to break down, soften, and decompose. All botanical items do this at a pace that is unique to them and their composition and structure, and sure, we can hasten the process a bit by boiling, but the real "magic" is done by nature over time.

You can't really push this too hard too fast, by throwing in larger and larger quantities of materials, because the impact on your tank, biologically and chemically, may be problematic- especially if you already have fishes living there. All of that dissolved organic material needs to be acted upon by life forms such as bacteria, etc. And those populations do not reach sufficient levels to make a meaningful "headway" in this process overnight. It takes a while. 

If you have a tankful of fishes, pushing too hard too fast can lead to pH swings, oxygen depletion/CO2 buildup, and the potential for other nasty things which would place fishes in jeopardy. 

Go slowly. Establish a regular pace, adding materials gradually, assessing along the way the impact of your additions. Sure, you might see the water tint after the first 24 hours...or not. This is only one indicator that things are "happening." And you should really evaluate and assess on say, a weekly basis, to see how you system is doing. Check basic water parameters and note deviations of changes. "Trend spotting", in this instance, is potentially life saving.

Most important, don't lock yourself into some sort of timetable for achieving a certain look or environmental conditions. I get it, you might be gunning for a contest deadline, a club event, etc., but as we've said so many times before, nature dictates the pace. Rather than be frustrated that your tank is not at some arbitrary "benchmark" by a specific date, enjoy it for where it's at. Savor the changes, the aesthetics, the function. Enjoy the process.

The "need for speed" is something that we shouldn't let influence our tank management decisions, especially when dealing with systems which involve natural processes. Let's celebrate the slowness- the patience it takes to achieve a lasting successful system.

I'd like to see more shots from our community of tanks just getting under way, of tanks in the "midst" of their "evolution"- documenting the changes, challenges, struggles, and victories along the way. Those "blank canvas" shots are just as inspiring as the "finished product" shots we share so much, because we can all relate to them so much. We need to celebrate that journey more. It's a huge part of the appeal of the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium, in my opinion.

Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Stay focused. Stay attentive. Stay engaged. Stay patient.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics  



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment