Processes, practices, participation...and mental shifts.

Today's piece is sort of the "Part 2" to yesterday's blog about Nature doing some of the work. We'll focus a bit more on the practical aspects of managing a botanical-style tank today...and the complimentary mindset that needs to accompany the work.

After years of experimenting with leaves, botanicals, and other natural materials in aquariums, and with a growing global community of hobbyists doing the same daily, the mental roadblocks to this approach arestarting to fall. We're seeing all sorts of tanks being created by all sorts of hobbyists, which in years past would garner far more hushed whispers and criticisms than any gasps of envy.

Nothing we're doing here is really that crazy a departure from more "conventional approaches", in terms of husbandry, care, and observation of our fishes. 

And again, it boils down to observing many basic tenants of aquarium keeping. We operate with techniques that probably foster tanks with more "organic compounds" in them than most, because we play with decomposing leaves, botanicals, and soils. Stuff breaks down. It must be acted on by bacteria, other microorganisms, and fungi in order for this process to occur.

Now, the moniker "organics" that we in the hobby have used as a metaphoric "red flag" to discourage throwing this stuff into tanks in years past is still important to understand. Sure, organics can accumulate and even be problematic- if you don't have necessary control and export processes in place to deal with them. What would these processes be?

Here's the part that's gonna blow your mind! NOT! 

Well, to start with, you need decent water movement and filtration, to physically remove any debris. Use of some chemical filtration media, such as organic scavenger resins, which tend not to remove the "tint", but act upon specific compounds, like nitrate, phosphate, etc. Or carbon. Yes, carbon, in small quantities. Your call.

And of course, water exchanges. Yeah, the centuries old, tried-and-true process of exchanging water is probably the single most important aspect of nutrient control and export for any system, traditional, botanical, etc. There is no substitute for diluting organic impurities through regularly-scheduled water changes, IMHO.

This isn't some revelation.

Botanical-style aquariums run best on common sense, patience, and tried and true aquarium husbandry techniques.

I'll say it yet again: In my experience, there is nothing inherently more challenging or more dangerous about these types of tanks than there is with any other speciality system. The fact that the water is brown doesn't mean that a well-managed tank is any closer to disaster than any well-managed clear water system.

There's no magic here.

We simply need to do the work necessary to keep our aquariums operating in a healthy state. Nope, nothing new here. In my opinion, NO aquarium of ANY type is "set and forget"; do that and you'll be in for a rude awakening with a natural, blackwater, botanical-style tank- or any tank, for that matter. You can't really take that approach in this hobby, IMHO.

You have to "participate."

That being said, I commend many of you for forging ahead with new ideas and this approach that might not be familiar to you. Moving from the theoretical to the functional takes some courage, imagination, and most of all..impulse. When it comes to trying out exotic new concept aquariums, guys like me (as you all know by now) just need to get the damn thing started and stop musing on about it.

Others spend very little time contemplating, and go full speed ahead...damn the torpedoes! Regardless of your "style" of aquarium work, self-awareness is important! I think it's in my nature to get a bit too deep into the planning. The challenge for me is not to get so bogged down in an endless cycle of "analysis paralysis" that I never get projects off of the drawing board!

Don't get into this rut, okay? Understand what's involved, what's required of you as a hobbyist, and move forward. Just remember one thing when playing with "twigs and nuts":

It's not a "plug-and-play" proposition. It requires some effort, thought, observation, and patience...

By observing and assessing on a continuous basis, you'll get a real feel for how botanicals work in your aquarium.  And what's the real "finesse" part of the equation? It's the nuance. The subtle, yet noticeable adjustments and corrections we make to keep things moving along nominally- sort of like pruning in a planted tank, or weeding a's a process.

Yeah, a process.

In fact, the entire experience of a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium boils down to a process and a pace that helps foster the gradual, yet inexorable "evolution" of the aquarium. And let there be no doubt- a botanical-style aquarium does "evolve" over time, regularly and steadily changing and progressing. As we've mentioned many times before, it might be the perfect expression of the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi", popularized by Takashi Amano, which is the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

A mindset. A point of view. A philosophy, for sure.

And the patience to allow your system to evolve. It's absolutely the most essential skill to have if you're going to work with botanical-style aquariums. Period. There are no shortcuts, major "hacks", or ways to dramatically speed up nature. Why would you want to? 

Adopt a "long game" mindset.

Know that good stuff often takes time to happen. I'm personally not afraid to wait for results. Well, not to "just sit around" in the literal sense, mind you. However, I'm not expecting instant results from stuff. Rather, I am okay with doing the necessary groundwork, nurturing the project along, and seeing the results happen over time.

A "long game." 

That's what we play here.

And understanding that what we do in the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium world requires these mental skills above almost anything else. I mean, look at what we do: We add leaves and seed pods to our aquariums, for the expressed purpose of having them break down.

We all know that aquariums with high quantities of organic materials breaking down in the water column add to the biological load of the tank, requiring diligent management. This is not shocking news. Frankly, I find it rather amusing when someone tells me that what we do as a community is "reckless", and that our tanks look "dirty." 

As if we don't see that or understand why they might think this...

They haven't made those mental shifts just yet.

I hope they do. They're really missing out on all the fun.

Until next time...

Stay chill. Stay focused. Stay observant. Stay diligent. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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