You know how your thoughts on stuff changes over the years? And how you sometimes get into a mindset that the way you're doing something really is the best way?
Well, that was me for the longest time in regards to preparation of leaves for aquarium use.
I've been messing around with botanical in aquariums for well over two decades, and now running Tannin for 3 years (Wow! Can you belief it?), and I'd like to think that my set of "best practices" on how to use botanicals has evolved quite a bit.
Especially with leaves.
When we first started Tannin, I was really a huge fan of recommending boiling and soaking leaves before using them in the aquarium as a matter of course...My biggest concern was that someone would dump a bunch of leaves in their tank without cleaning them in any way, leading to some sort of massive influx of polluting materials...and that an "extinction level" even would ensue in their aquarium...
A sort of paranoia. I never wanted that email saying, "You never told me NOT to add all of these leaves at once..Now my whole Discus collection is dead!"
Or something like that.
I mean, I still worry about that a bit. People tend not to read or follow recommendations sometimes. We really have to drum some things into our heads. Being a business person makes you a bit paranoid, I suppose. And, when you're going to new places, as the old expression goes, usually you're seen as an ass before you're seen as a "pioneer." (I think I might have been labeled both simultaneously, however, lol)
However, I'd like to think that, after three years, thousands of conversations, social media posts, blog posts, product descriptions, magazine articles, etc., that hobbyists would get the idea that at least SOME preparation of leaves should be undertaken before adding them to their aquariums.
And I think everyone kind of gets it. I mean, they definitely do with the botanicals. Look at all the cool "Botanical boiling" videos and pics we see from our community! It's kind of the fun ritual for us...A useful ritual, at that!
People tend to be a bit more relaxed with the leaves than the botanicals, however. The reality of the leaves that you purchase from us are that they are from sources around the world which I have very carefully vetted. They are not exposed to pesticides and other pollutants, and are generally quite "clean" ( I mean, as far as dried leaves got that is...).
So I'm less concerned about the leaves bringing some nasty pollutants to your aquarium to create an "End of Days" kind of thing.
I'm still concerned about the newbie to our botanical-style aquarium practice going too fast- dumping a huge amount of botanical materials into an established, relatively stable aquarium, and causing a massive increase in CO2 and a level of organic material that overwhelms the ability of the resident denitrifying bacteria population to break down the organics.
The human element.
That sort of thing is always still possible. And it's within our control. That's what you read blog after blog written by me urging you to go slowly. To observe your tank and fishes. And to test the water regularly...and do regular water changes as part of your husbandry regimen.
The usual stuff.
And fortunately, we've had very, very few of these scary things happen over the years. And they have typically been attributable to, ahem- "human error", rather than some "defect" in the "product." But we're learning. Together. And nature, although perfect...is unpredictable. And filled with variables...and stuff happens when we try to put nature into a small box of water, and that's why we have developed our well-known and well-discussed "best practices." It's why we have that whole section on how to prepare botanicals for aquarium use.
And it's also why I have decided to "relax" my previous recommendation about boiling leaves. My new recommendation and personal practice is to prepare all dried leaves that we offer for aquatic use is to give them a quick rinse in fresh water, followed by a 10-15 minute steep in recently boiled water.
This is not earth-shattering.
Nor is it really different than what most of you are likely already doing. It's just that I'm saying it's recommended, lol. (as if I am some "high priest" of botanical-style aquariums...). However, it is an evolution of sorts from our previous recommended practices. I know many of you just toss the leaves into your tank, too...no prep..without any problems, ever.
Well, I'm not quite there yet, in terms of a recommended practice, anyways!
A 10-15 minute steep in boiled water is, in my experience, sufficient to soften, saturate, and clean even the most durable of the leaves that we offer (I'm thinking Artocarpus and Jackfruit, for example), and to release any surface dirt and contaminants from their tissues. And you won't lose massive amounts of the tint-producing tannins and desired humic substances and such produced by the leaves.
Again, this is not some earth-shattering thing...but an incremental change in our recommended prep practices, based on the confidence gained years and years of great result from both ourselves, and from hobbyists worldwide.
So yeah...an evolution.
And a big deal for me, because it shows how far we've come as a hobby. It shows how far "Tint Nation" has come as a community. It's no longer some obscure oddity of a practice. Now, the idea of blackwater/botanical-style aquariums has become a sort of "thing"- I mean, it's always been a "thing"- but now, perhaps, a more generally accepted (albeit tinted!) thing.
And the confidence I have as both a hobbyist and business person in what we are doing has increased continuously. A dynamic, growing, worldwide community has found its way- found each other...and helped move the hobby forward. Every single day.
And evolution, yes.
But a very cool and profound one!
Thanks to all of you for pushing the state of the art.
Stay bold. Stay open-minded. Stay practical. Stay romantic. Stay diligent...
And Stay Wet.