Oh, always those questions...You've got 'em...we've got some answers!
1) How do you get those shells on the wood in your brackish water aquarium? What kind of wood is it, anyways?
-We use oyster shells, and they're glued on with none other than our favorite glue, EcoTech Marine Coral Glue. This stuff is a very "sticky" formulation, which really holds them on tight. You can, of course, use any cyanoacrylate glue (ie; "Super Glue") and get good results. However, we've found over the years that thicker glues like the Eco Tech stuff "grip" better in aquatic situations.
The wood is our Red Mangrove branches and roots. The branches are really amazing, because they essentially look like the roots of the Mangrove tree when you invert them! They take a bit of time to get saturated, and will leach tannins into the water once submerged (like THAT has ever been a problem with us?), and we feel that they form the most realitic mangrove biotope simulation you can do- especially if you incorporate some live mangrove propagules into the mix, which will put down roots of their own!
2) How come you sometimes will substitute leaves or pods in a botanical pack?
-Good question! We really dislike- okay, HATE- substituting things in your packs, but the reality is that we're utilizing natural materials from suppliers all over the world, and there are many disruptions, such as weather, import regulations, and timing of shipments, which come into play, and will occasionally necessitate substitutions. We will always endeavor to include items of equal or greater value when we substitute.
And of course, if we don't have an "a la carte" item you ordered, we will never substitute without your permission...Typically, we'll contact you with a range of options, ranging from a refund to a substitution of your choice. Thanks for your patience and understanding with this "charming" part of our business!
3) What is your recommendation for a durable leaf that isn't too big, but gives a nice "tint" to the water?
-Ahh, another good one! Now, almost any leaf will give off some tannins which can impart color into the water. However, when it comes to the combination of "durability" and "tint production" for our blackwater/brackish, botanical-style aquariums, I'd be remiss if I didn't recommend Yellow Mangrove leaves and Texas Live Oak leaves! They are the perfect combination of size, aesthetics, and durability.
And yes, the mangrove leaves may be used in freshwater tanks just fine. There is no detectible salt released into the water from these leaves, and properly preparing them will completely eliminate any concerns you might have. The Live Oak leaves look undeniably "exotic" in a "litter bed" in your tank, and will impart a beautiful tint to the water. Both are long-lasting leaves, typically on the smaller side, which makes them the perfect "scale" for many smaller tanks- and larger ones, too!
4) I've read that you use chemical filtration media in your blackwater aquariums. Doesn't this remove the "tint" you like so much?
-You're 100% right! I always use granular activated carbon and/or PolyFilter pads, which excel at organic removal. The process of "adsorption" (yeah, NOT "absorption") is the process by which a substance is attracted to the surface of the carbon (using a weak electrostatic force called Van Der Waals force) present in devolved organic compounds. The very porous structure of activated carbon provides a huge surface area to attract dissolved organics and there compounds.
Now, there will be some removal of tannins and humic substances; however, in my experience, the amount of color you will remove as a result of using carbon is insignificant-negligible, really- when you're continuously using botanicals and other "tint-producing" materials (like wood, for example) on a continuous basis in your aquarium. The removal of dissolved organic compounds, which can degrade water quality over time, is well worth any possible impact on aesthetics.
Of course, if you have seen any of my personal aquariums (all of which employ activated carbon), I'm pretty certain you'll agree that they are hardly lacking in the "tint department!"
5) Do you use any mechanical filter media in your tanks?
-As a matter of fact, I do use micron filter socks or filter pads (depending upon the type of aquarium/filter I employ in a given aquarium.). I clean/replace them regularly, as they tend to clog up easily. And in a botanical-laden aquarium, there is a fair amount of small materials (bits of leaves, botanicals, biofilms) that find their way into the water column, adding ga bit of "thickness" to the water. Now, there is nothing wrong with that sort of "haz"- it's natural and kind of cool, IMHO.
However, the reefer in me also tends to prefer a crystal-clear, but nicely tinted look! It's really your call, but I am a big fan of these media, provided that you diligently maintain them on a regular basis.
Okay, that's it for this round...We'll keep answering your questions about all sorts of interesting topics in this really cool hobby sector! In the mean time, feel free to ask about or discuss topics of interest to you and our community. The sharing of ideas and information is what this is all about!
Stay curious. Stay diligent. Stay creative. Stay communicative...
And Stay Wet.