Staying wet...and healthy.

I woke up in a philosophical mode today, which, as you know, is often dangerous, as it means I'll either write about something insanely esoteric ("How the health of your Cryptocoryne collection  can impact your wife's clothes-buying decisions") or rather direct ("How to prepare leaves for aquarium use."), or downright incendiary  ("Why every other botanical vendor besides Tannin Aquatics is stupid and unprofessional...")... I mean, no one else in the aquarium world writes about some of the  nonsense I do, huh?


Fortunately, I did get a decent night's sleep, and I'm sitting on my Yoga mat, laptop in place, ready to proffer my two cents worth on your life as a fish geek...

Cue relaxing New Age sitar music...

This morning, young Grasshopper, we're going to talk about how your aquarium experience can teach you about life...

Ok, that sounds kind of insane, actually.

Yet when you think about it, an  aquarium CAN teach you a lot about life. Those little pearls of wisdom that we acquire as we play with our tanks can have real and profound impact on the rest of our life. Really.

Let's look at these "lessons" a bit closer, and if you don't agree- then you can tell me that I'm crazy! (Wouldn't be the first time I've heard that!)

Lesson One - Stay Focused - When building and managing your aquarium, you'll come to the realization that it's hard to balance what you need to be doing with what you have the time, energy, and resources to actually do. Sure, you should be changing water every week, but you have that little distraction called life that may get in the way. And that's okay. Your family and relationships are more important than your aquariums. Yup. I just said it. Don't lose focus on what's really important. You'd be shocked to know how many people in this hobby don't grasp that.

Oh, and focus on quality, not quantity in your aquarium management. Better to do a few things great than many things poorly. Seriously. Prioritize what needs attention more at certain times. Filtration? Algae scraping. plant trimming? Things will ebb and flow and you can tackle every single one of your aquarium dreams and ambitions. You just don't need to do them all at the same time!

Lesson Two- Practice Patience- I know that in my personal life, I'd hardly be given the moniker of "patient", but in my aquarium keeping- and my aquatic business, it's my mantra! It can take me months to go from having a tank in my home to having a tank in my home with equipment, and months more to having a tank in my home with equipment and water. Sure, like everyone else, I want a lush, healthy aquarium as quickly as possible. However, I found out the hard way through many years of aquarium keeping that the old cliche about not rushing things holds true. An aquarium is a biological system, and it follows eons-old natural patterns of function and process. A botanical-style blackwater aquarium is even more aligned with these natural functions.

You can't rush it. Oh, sure, you can "seed" your aquarium with biological material to speed up the cycling process, add "blackwater extract", and you can grow your fry a bit faster with frequent water changes, feeding, and vitamin supplementation...But stuff can only go so fast. Why not follow those good practices, but expect- and enjoy- a slower, more measured pace of growth in your aquarium? Patience is about understanding what steps it's going to take to get you where you want to be, and measuring and evaluating your progress along the way. "Editing" is a beautiful thing (although, by the way I write, you'd never know that, huh?). Eventually, you'll get there. And you'll probably find the journey every bit as enjoyable as the destination. Trust me. This "evolution" we talk about in botanical-style/blackwater aquariums is very perceptible and very enthralling for those who observe...


Lesson Three- Be an "Authentic" Aquarist - Huh? What I'm getting at here is that you should love being who you are as an aquarist! Sounds like "psychobabble", but it's true! Your greatest reefkeeping successes will come when you practice being the type of hobbyist you are. Just because everyone is infatuated with African Cichlids and you love Swordtails does not mean that you're not a "cool" aquarist. There are so many angles to this hobby it isn't even funny. Love what you specialize in, and share what you know with fellow aquarists. You might just start a "movement" if you're not careful...


If you have no interest- or worse yet- no clue- about aquatic plant nutrition, for example- then don't get on the message boards and start preaching the gospel of fertilization to fellow aquarists. What I call "regurgitation"- the act of ranting authoritatively about stuff you may have heard of but have not personally practiced- is really unhelpful to the rest of the aquarium world. It stops people in their tracks from trying new stuff or acting upon ideas outside of the accepted "norms" of our "culture." We have seen this all the time...It's how the mindset of "blackwater aquariums are dirty and chemically unstable" got started, for goodness sake! I had people telling me that this was "how it was" even after Tannin started, and dozens of aquarists all over the world were sharing their successful blackwater tanks all over social media. What a waste of energy! Entrenched "closed-mindedness" takes a long time to dispose of...

And above all- proud of your aquarium, your experience, and the type of aquarist you are. Share selflessly, and play to your strengths. Push yourself, evolve, adapt, flow. But above all, be yourself.

Lesson Four- Count on Your Friends - It's crucial to have other aquarists to turn to when things get tough. Sure, you can be a free thinking hobbyist, but don't go it alone. You're not an island.(A leaf litter bed, maybe. But not an island. Err..nevermind.) Reach out on the forums and consult other hobbyists. Share your experiences and ideas- wins and losses. Not only will you learn more and have a good time with your hobby- you might just end up making lifelong friends!  And you might just end up helping another hobbyist who's working on something similar and perhaps experiencing the same issues you are...Build relationships, and seek out friends, experts and even "cheerleaders" when you need them. It's a smarter, more effective way to succeed in the hobby. And, I must admit, it's kind of fun.

Join the local aquarium club, or start one if there isn't one in your area. Hang out at your local fish store. It's the literal "watering hole" for your local hobby experience. Not only will you be supporting a good cause (your local brick and mortar store), you'll be making valuable aquarium-keeping connections that will provide you with great pleasure and camaraderie. Of course, you can join one of the many friendly fishkeeping communities on line, and connect with fellow aquarium geeks all over the planet. Cultivating friendships is a great little investment in your reef-and your life- that will pay huge dividends down the line.

Everyone needs a "cheerleader" (or a dozen of 'em) from time to time!

Lesson Five- Learn to Stop - Apparently, Im not alone: Many aquarists just never learned how to say "no" gracefully! This is evidenced by the many homes with aquariums in every nook and cranny in the house, or by the many 40-gallon aquariums stuffed every conceivable type of fish and plant known to the hobby! "Just one more.." This is a real problem, as it can lead to an overcrowded, biologically mismatched population at best, and total disaster at the worst! For that matter, more than one domestic relationship has been impacted by what my reef-keeping friend Tony Vargas aptly calls "The Spouse Factor." You know-your 150-tank fish room is consuming almost all of your free time- and a lot of your finances...The solution is to excercise restraint. Just say "NO" sometimes!

It works with developing an aquarium in your home, and it works with stocking the aquarium, too...You can always get another aquarium at some point (the whole "Multiple Tank Syndrome" experience) if you want to try keeping widely divergent animals together without bloodshed. You need to get the blessings of your spouse and your finances, of course! And the final thought on fish-hoarding"- You just don't want to go down this path, adding every conceivable fish to your aquariums. If you're so busy saying "yes" to all of the "wrong" fishes, when are you going to have the space for the right ones when they come along?

Lesson Six- Face Your Fears - Good heavens, get out of your comfort zone once in a while! I'm not saying to try to set up a 400-gallon biotope aquarium for "Soda Cichlids" just to prove that you're a badass..What I am saying is that you should try something different from the tried-and true sometimes. Keep that slightly-less-than-super-hardy Pleco or Apisto if you have the hunch that you can do it. Great things can happen when you push through the fear. Put your experience, intuition, and observational powers to the test. You might be the first person to breed that weird little Loach or Goby that you have a secret fetish about. You may be the one person that figured out how to keep that uber-delicate Killie alive and thriving. You don't know until you try, right?

I'm not advising you to gamble with the life of a helpless animal in order to vanquish your fears. What I am suggesting is that you should play the occasional hunch and push yourself a bit. If it weren't for the brave folks who try these things, we would probably just now be realizing a viable market for commercially-propagated fishes- and corals, for that matter. If someone like ROasrio La Corte didn't take a chance trying to breed dozens of varieties of fish back in the day, we might be stuck with guppies and Zebra Danios as our only captive-bred fish options. When you feel you are capable - take a chance. The benefits to you- and to the hobby- might be incalculable.

Breeding fishes always involves leaving your comfort zone...

Lesson Seven- Lighten Up! - You heard me! Have some fun! This hobby is not supposed to be a peer-pressure-ridden pressure cooker with impossible-to-meet challenges and goals. You aren't required to have a perfect "Nature Aquairum" that some self appointed aquascaping demigods must approve of. You don't need to be doing all of the same things that the guy in Holland with a 29,000 liter river aquarium is doing. You don't, and you probably can't - so why sweat it? "Jumping on the bandwagon" just because "all of the cool kids are doing it" isn't really that cool, anyways. Trust me. Enjoy your aquarium, no matter what size, what type of animals you keep, and how it looks. Laugh at the fact that you get all worked up about little snails on your sand, or that you use your spouse's expensive cookware to prep botanicals when/heshe isn't around...or that you keep stinky frozen foods in your freezer, right next to the Haagen-Dazs. Take pride in the fact that you are one of a select group of people that keep some of nature's most amazing creatures alive outside of their natural habitat. Not only alive- but thriving!

Oh- and once again- you boil botanicals in your spouses' cookware...


When you screw up- and you will - accept the consequences with grace and humor. Laugh about it. Share the mistakes and foibles with fellow fish geeks. You're probably not the only one who nuked his or her aquarium with phosphate remover, or placed an expensive Asian moss two inches from your large and aggressive stand of H.C., or who used the wrong-sized tubing and flooded his/her carpet.. so smile...That which doesn't kill our enthusiasm for the hobby makes us a better aquarist. Perhaps less financially solvent- but better for the journey!

My hope here is that you realize that an aquarium is not just a pleasant diversion; a fun hobby- it can be a lifelong passion, a teaching tool for the entire family. And perhaps, most underrated of all - an aquarium can serve as a beautiful classroom for some of the larger "mysteries of life." It sounds almost bizzare, but I believe it to be true when I say that "everything I needed to know about life, I learned from my aquarium." Ok, almost everything. I still haven't figured out exactly how to take good pics. And how to do those Sodoku puzzles, or how to flip pizza dough, or...

So, until next time. Stay focused. Stay bold. Stay original. Stay involved.

Lighten up...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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