Notes from "the idea shelf"

Atheletes have the gym. Artists have their atelier. Musicians have their studio. I have what I call an "idea shelf."

I know, hardly a sexy, stimulating name. What is it? Well, it's literally a shelf in my home where I can place a few small aquariums to do all sorts of interesting little experiments. I've always tried to have one in my home.

Whether it's a literal shelf, a spot on a window sill, or just a few tanks sitting on a cinder block in my bedroom like when I was a kid- the "idea shelf" is more than just a literal place to put aquariums, it's a sort of physical manifestation of a "whiteboard"- a place to try new and amazing things. 

A place where the mundane- and the marvelous- are equally possible.

Some of my favorite ideas coalesced from "What if?" to full-on concept on these "idea shelves." Among them, the "Urban Igapo" - whcihhas become more than just a personal obsession of mine!


Using smaller aquariums by necessity has forced me to test my innovations on a small scale before taking them to "full size" versions.

Much of my work with mangroves in brackish water took place on the "idea shelf" before I executed a full-sized version. The lessons learned and the techniques honed at a small scale provided great basis to be successful for the long term.


Some concepts are simply executed with small tanks. The much loved "Tucano Tangle" ( a small aquairum, densely-packed with Melastoma root, intended to replicate the root tangles of the native habitat of Tucanoichthys tucano) was created on a small shelf in an equally small tank. It was the perfect example of "taking the idea to market" (ie; just executing the idea without prior experiments...the idea WAS the experiment!) without any prior "prototypes." 

It worked smashngly! And most important, it inspired others in our community to try to create their own version.


Yeah. Big ideas CAN come from small tanks- and small spaces.

Sometimes, the "idea shelf" is the ONLY option to keep fishes.

Currently, I'm sort of forced by circumstance to use the "idea shelf" as my sole batch of home aquariums. My wife and I are in the middle of an extensive home remodel, which necessitated that all of my tanks (and everything else, lol) be placed in temporary storage. That basically means that I can't have my "full-sized" aquariums for a few months!

This time, I literally bought a shelf to place I the room that will serve as my home office. I had to do a little research to find a piece that wasn't made of "cheese board" (as one of my friends calls those cheap shelves made of particle board), had a bit of strength, a couple of levels, and the load capacity to handle the collective weight of a few aquariums.

A few days of searching online found me a suitable candidate.

In this rather weird time, I am certainly lucky to be able to create a functional "idea shelf!"

What's on my shelf at the moment?

Well, I've had this weird idea of doing a sort of above/below the water version of the "Tucano Tangle", except not specific to any particular habitat. Rather, it's just an execution I wanted to do using a lot of wood and root to create an environment that supports emerged plant growth, enables me to experiment with different substrates, and uses the unique footprint of a long, shallow aquarium (in this instance, an ADA "60F"- a very nice tank. 

Now, I have no illusions about this tank breaking new ground in the hobby. It's an execution that's been done by many hobbyists many times- and most of them were way better than mine, aesthetic-wise. 

What makes this execution different for ME is that I'm interested in playing with aquatic plants for some damn reason, and it gives me a chance to play with them, educate myself, while doing some stuff that I may apply to future full-size executions. A true "test bed" idea.

I've had to solve a lot of problems with this tank- like hiding internal filters, heaters, etc. Yeah, I could use a canister filter and call it a day, although for some reason, I loathe them..and loathe glassware even more- even though there ARE some amazing ones out there.

Maybe some day. 

The beauty of the "idea shelf" is that it gives you the opportunity to try things that you may not even WANT to execute on a larger scale; stuff that you can play with "just because"- without long-term attachment to them. 

And of course, I have a "waning wet season" phase  of one of my "Urban Igapo" tanks- a small, 3 gallon tank that Ive had for 13 different "innundation/dessication" phases.  It's home to a small group of juvenile Notholebias minimus, a South American annual killie that I've had I the tank for several generations. 

It's at that phase where it's starting to look "tired"- the water is highly turbid. There is a lot of epiphytic growth on the plants, and the fishes are ready to be transferred out to a more permanent home. Yet, this little tank has been a super groundbreaker for me, and I hope, a bit of an inspiration to others.

Then, I have what I call- "The Void"- an incredible waste of a tank, sort of. A UNS 45A All in one, filled with...water. And substrate. And that's it, at the moment.


It's serving as a sort of testbed for studying the characteristics of some new NatureBase substrate formulations. I'm seeing how they interact with the water, influence its chemistry, etc. I've tested about 4 different types now as I hone in the formations I want.Some did have different wood types in them, as well...all sort of weird testing stuff.

And finally, I have my beloved mangroves. I'm growing out these propagules for inclusion in my next brackish water and yeah- reef- tank!

So, that's what's on the "idea shelf" at the moment?

Even after my full-size systems are up and running, there will be stuff brewing on my "idea shelf." 

It's not just a place to put small tanks. It's an oasis of sorts. An enclave. A place where dreams become ideas which become executions. A place where ideas are tested, myths shot down, failures made, and successes savored. A place where no one can tell you what to do, and no one can pass judgment. A place where your own voice- no matter how unusual- can resonate.

We all should have an "idea shelf" in our lives.

 I'm certainly glad that I do.

Stay creative. Stay excited. Stay observant. Stay motivated. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman
Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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