"The evolution will be managed..."

One of the things that's so fun about the hobby is the ability to "tweak" and even "evolve" tanks intentionally as the years go by. Of course, it's not a "given" that you have to. Yet, I think that if you poll a random sample of hobbyists, almost every single one would want another aquarium!

Now, not everyone can have another aquarium, right?


For many hobbyists, their one aquarium is the only one they can have- at least for now, but possibly forever. Space, economics, time, etc, all come into play, and there really isn't much you can do except work with the one you've got. I mean, it's a blessing to have even one...but to the serious fish geek, that desire to move on to a greener pasture (or should we say, "browner river?")-to just taste some new stuff- seldom retreats.

It builds. Inspiration is everywhere. 


Yeah, we want to shake things up. Try something different...I occasionally go through such moments. Entertain such thoughts. I can't escape it!

You know- like, "Scott, it's been a while since you've changed up the 'theme' of your tank...Maybe you need to do something different!"

Can you relate?  

It's a bit weird for me, because I have generally had an obsession with NOT changing my tanks up constantly. 

Of course, there is a bit of a contradiction: After starting Tannin Aquatics in 2015, I realized that, in order to "spread the gospel" about this emerging botanical method thing, I needed to show a lot of tanks. And of course, that means one of three things: Either I needed to set up a lot of new aquariums myself, recruit a lot of fellow hobbyists to create and share botanical method aquariums, or...I could "iterate" my existing tanks more frequently.

Yet, I still need to project patience; it's a fundamental part of what we do.

I think- think- that it's often challenged by my desire as the Tannin "mothership" and a need to showcase new ideas and botanicals. Well, maybe that's an excuse.

But hey, we all love to try new stuff, right?

I know that I do.

And it's funny, because I think that even though I fancy myself as this restless "conceptual guy" who is constantly evolving his ideas, the reality is that my "makeovers" are seldom that radical; rather, their little iterations that represent incremental changes or improvements over previous designs.

I tend to "stay in my lane", and not stray all that far from it.

I almost envy those of you who can make completely radical changes at the spur of the moment without regret, or a whole lot of consideration. Like, how do you do that?

I often wonder why I play with such a tight set of characteristics- you know, certain wood types and arrangements, use of botanicals of specific textures, colors, etc. Maybe it's just that I've found what works for me?

Although I'm definitely prone to "over-analyzing" stuff at times, it's fun now and then to step out of my own mind and look at stuff as if I'm a "third party" of sorts. Shake things up.

It's led to some pretty cool tanks over the years.


Maybe I have that sort of "comfort zone" that I tend not to push myself out too far from. I mean, I operate in a pretty radical "sector" already- the blackwater/ botanical-method. It's not everyone's cup of tea, being pretty different from the conventional, "clear water", highly stylized aquariums we all know so well. I realized a long term ago that, when I make changes to my tanks, they are always more like "iterations" of the existing design.

Radical changes aren't my thing, I suppose.

I have learned over the years to give stuff time and space to evolve on its own a bit, without my intervention.

I know enough to understand a fundamental truth about botanical-method aquariums:  

The way the tank is looking right now is NOT how it will look in a few weeks, or months. 

I play a really long game.

One which acknowledges that the fact that our botanical-method aquariums evolve over very long periods of time, not reaching the state that we perhaps envisioned for many months. My actions reflect this mindset. Unless there is some major emergency (which I have yet to encounter, btw), about the only thing that I might do is to add a few more botanicals.

Just sort of "evolving" the aquarium a bit; making up for stuff that might break down.

Minor, small moves, if any.

That being said, the biggest hurdle to me in making changes to aquariums has always been the psychological one. The "shame" that I assigned in my own mind if I simply broke down tanks and "recycled" them time and time again. That being said, I slowly (yeah, emphasis on slowly) came around to the idea that this is an effective way to demonstrate new ideas to our growing community.

All the while, I'm keeping in mind that the system will change on its own without any intervention on my part. It will "get where it's going" on its own time. Adding a few botanicals or leaves along the way is simply what you do to keep the process going. And it's extremely analogous to what happens in Nature, as new materials fall into waterways throughout the year, while existing materials are carried off by currents or decompose completely.

Yeah, just like Nature.

We're going to revisit the topic of "getting started" far more often here, following what are turning into "best practices" and tips to get your botanical-method/blackwater aquarium off to a good start as Nature evolves it. It's so important.

I mean, this philosophy makes a lot of sense, because botanical-method tanks, in my opinion, don't even really hit their "stride" for at least 3-6 months. Yet, in the content-driven, Instagram-fueled, postmodern aquarium world, I know that we tend to show new looks fairly often, to give you lots of ideas and inspiration to embark on your own journeys.

And I suppose, that's a very cool thing. Yet, it's likely a "double-edged sword." It might give you the wrong impression. 

Like so many things in the social media universe, the representation of today's aquarium world likely gives the (incorrect) impression that these tanks are sort of "pop-ups", set up for a photography session and broken down quickly. We are, regrettably, likely contributors to some of this misconception. 

Because we play a long game. A really long game. And the tanks we present to you in our images and videos are typically many months along.

So, what am I usually doing with my botanical method tanks?

I'm holding.

I'm just going to do the "scheduled" tweaks that were in my plan. Add some elements as I intended as the tank breaks in further. But nothing more. No big switches. No radical maneuvers. Why hold? I mean, after a tank has been up for a few weeks, now would be the time, if a tank isn't when're you want it, right?

It's because I have faith in Nature. I know that She'll push things along correctly- because that's what She does.

And I know that to intervene now- to "edit" Her moves-at the time when the tank isn't looking it's "best" to me, yet it's progressing ecologically and biologically- would be a shame. It would be akin to selling off a stock just before it "breaks out", or to unload a property just before the market takes off...

It'd be a shame.

Because "as sure as day follows night', if you've laid the correct groundwork to be successful, and if the tank is "checking off" all of the proverbial basic "boxes", the tank WILL get to where you want it.


Sure, as I say all the time, there are no guarantees when working with Nature. She can (and will at times) kick your ass, even when you did everything right! However, there is something else. Something more visceral that you can take comfort in:


And a certain objective realization that things ARE going well with your tank. And that they just need more time in order to fully attain the vision you had...or even exceed it.

Of course, we can manage the evolution of our tanks- by letting them do their thing.

The "mental stretches" that we talk about incessantly here are still occurring for me, years into this game. With each pic I see of the natural habitats we want to emulate, and every beautiful aquarium that I see come to life from our community, it's inspiring, interesting, and engaging.

I'm seeing and experiencing new things, coming up with new ideas, and trying to understand and embrace the processes and aesthetics in a whole new light.

I am happy to see many of you doing the same.

Stay bold. Stay creative. Stay curious. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment