Scheming. Executing. Evolving. A Day in the Life..

One of the things I've resigned myself to do (oh, darn!) is to re-do my personal aquariums from time to time to give you some new looks; execute some new concepts, create some interest, and stimulate new ideas. Now, as I've shared with you before, I tend to be slow to change. I've never been a big fan of just changing up tanks. That being said, it IS pretty fun to play around and switch stuff up now and again, particularly when it's a theme or approach that I haven't played with in a while.

The other day was such a day. My good friend and Tannin's Creative Director/world class aquascaper/enabler Johnny Ciotti and I tackled a re-do of my home blackwater aquarium.There was no doubt what I wanted to try this time: A planted, Southeast Asia-themed planted blackwater aquarium. Not a "biotope" by any stretch- just a fun tank with a few different fishes that I've wanted to keep in a blackwater tank for a long time!

Now, I admit, it's been a while since I've personally done a planted aquarium of any type, let alone, a blackwater one! The "concept" for my tank was pretty straightforward: I wanted to do an interpretation of one of my "go-to" 'scaping ideas- an aquascape built up around the idea of an old tree stump, partially buried by sediment and overgrown by aquatic plants. I've done it before, but not with a planted blackwater execution.

I think I love the idea of something "old and submerged", randomly covered by natural growth! Call it "wabi-sabi", call it "cliche"- call it whatever you want, but I think it's a wonderful expression- in a planted tank sort of way- of our philosophy of "evolving". That is to say, letting a certain degree of "randomness" in terms of plant growth, decomposition of leaves, etc.


We used some different materials this time. Specifically, the "medium" Asian Driftwood pieces we now offer. If I may drift into sales mode for just a second- if you are looking for some nice-sized, gnarly (LOL) and really attractive pieces for your next scape, these babies are strong contenders!

I don't know why I chose to call 'em "medium", because they are all like 15"- 20"/38.10-50cm. or more. (well, to ME that's on the large size, lol). And they're reasonably-priced for sizable peices, too. Sure, the name "Asian Driftwood" isn't as straight-up sexy as "Old Japanese Forest Wood" or whatever the "flavor de jour" is this month among the aquascaping fanboys and girls; however, it's an accurate description of what it is and where it comes from. And it's, well- "kick ass" stuff!  

Trust me on that.

After it gets through that brand-new wood" phase and gets that certain "patina" and loses that "cleanness", this wood will look truly incredible, with a really terrific vibe.

So, after deciding on the pieces we were going top utilize, it was  on to the assembly process. And of course, it was about this time that John, who among other things, is my social media "ass kicker", whipped out his cel phone, stuck it in my face, opened up Instagram, and was like, "Dude- we're live. Talk." 

And of course, with the experience and bravado borne of 15 years of speaking at clubs and conferences coursing through my veins, it was time to "light it up" with my brilliance. And basically what I did for an hour was just talk semi-coherently about whatever nonsense we were doing, and answer questions when I could, with John providing the "color commentary" on the planted stuff which he knew so well.

Total fun, and I promise to do this regularly. I'll only get better at it the more I do it. Maybe we'll even do "The Tint" in a video "live" format! Good times.

As you likely surmised, we left this tank essentially intact, in terms of the substrate  water, and filtration. This practice always makes transitions like this one a lot easier to execute, because you have what amounts to a pretty biologically functional tank from day one.

We decided to use some rock in this tank- partly to hold down the substrate and wood, and also to provide the desired stream aesthetic. We selected a rock called "Golden Stone", which has a very complimentary color and interesting texture.

For plants, we went with some of my faves- Cryptocoryne parva, which is almost "Saggitaria- like" in appearance, Nymphaea, and Cryptocoryne wendetii "Brown". I have a "one off" Crypt species (Cryptocoryne i-don't-know-what-the-hell-it's-called). The idea is to have a nice mass of green/red/brown spreading out over the wood and rocks and substrate. We started with a fair amount of plants, and I need to add several more little Crypts...Again, the idea was to achieve a very "old" look as soon as possible.

Now, with all of my new tanks, I am excited at the "settling in" process. I can't wait until that "patina" of biofilm and algal turfs forms on the wood and exposed rock (it won't be exposed indefinitely). As you have surmised by now, I strongly dislike the "sterile" clean aesthetic that is so popular these days in scapes. I like the established, "old-looking" vibe that strong growth, biocover, and tint bring!


And of course, we haven't really discussed the botanical aspect of the tank yet! Of course, there will be leaves. For the bulk of the leaf litter, we'll be enjoying my new fave, Texas Live Oak leaves, with a mixture of small Guava Leaves and Yellow Mangrove Leaves thrown in for good measure.

Other botanicals that will be in this 'scape will be Borneo Catappa Bark pieces and something a bit different- "Mini" Coco Palm Bracts, which form a sort of "semi-permanent" bottom cover; a supplement to the more ephemeral leaf litter. It's a mix I haven't played with before, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out on the substrate!

For fishes, we started with the insanely cool "Kubotai Rasbora", Microdevario kubotai. This fish is a perfect inhabitant of this type of tank. It's colorful, though not over the top, incredibly peaceful, and ceaselessly active! 

The other fish that is "in house" at the moment is the "Snakeskin Barb", Desmopuntius rhomboocellatus, which has really become my fave Barb over time. This fish is a fantastic, surprisingly calm Barb that is plant-friendly, community-friendly, and colorful, too! 

The next phase of fishes will likely include another species of Rasbora, Trigonostigma hengeli, which will be a fantastic contrast with the other guys. I'm also thinking very strongly about a group of Pearl Gouarami, Trichopodus leerii. I have always loved this fish, and have long wanted to do a tank around their unique "look." 

Finally, I want very badly to include a few Loaches- perhaps one of the most under-represented groups of fishes in the hobby, IMHO. Which species, I'm still pondering...Any suggestions? With an open-top, and a proclivity for jumping, it may be one of those gambles. However, with the large number of hiding places my 'scape will provide, it's a risk I might feel worth taking.

We'll see!

So, that's where we're at now. I'll probably hop on Instagram Live at some point today to show you the addition of the leaf litter/botanicals, and give a little update. It will be a lot of fun to see this tank evolve towards that "aged" look and biological maturity. Always open to your questions, comments, and suggestions!

Fun to have you on for the ride!

Stay engaged. Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

January 05, 2019

Thanks for the recommendation, Lily! Kuhli’s are definitely on my list; they are pretty fun fishes. The only worry I have is that they might never bee visible! And those Zebras…yeah! :) Decisions…Decisions!

Lily Northover
Lily Northover

January 04, 2019

Loaches are highly gregarious and very lively.Kuhli loaches at least 6 would be OK with your other fish. Zebra loaches are a lot of fun but may bother the barbs and microdevario (my favourite Asians too 😊)

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