After a number of years playing with botanicals in a large number of aquariums, there are a few things I've noticed that are almost "constants." One of them is that we LOVE to scheme, build, set up, scape, and populate new tanks. We add stuff, nurture it, make modifications, and just work it. We typically do this over extended periods of time. I've taken to using the (arguably inappropriate and decidedly "marketing-hyperbole-sounding" term, "evolving."
I think it's a pretty good descriptor, but I can understand if some of you wince when you see that term used in this context...
The other day, I was perusing a forum post (yeah, I do that in my infinite free time...) from a guy who had recently switched over his lighting on his planted aquarium to LED’s, and was sharing pics and some comments about his results. The plants looked beautiful, and obviously were healthy, colorful, and growing. And this was a guy that was a hardcore T5 user for many years (man, I made that sound like he was on heroin or something, huh?), and decided to make the "big switchover" on his tank to LEDs. Among the many questions he fielded from fellow hobbyists were numerous, repeated inquiries about how fast his plants grew under the LEDs.
I mean, I suppose it’s a fair question, right? People want to know what to expect. However, to me, it seemed oddly strange for home aquarium hobbyists to be so incredibly preoccupied with the idea of growing plants so quickly. I'd say 80% of the questions on this thread revolved around the concern of how fast stuff grew. In the commercial side, on the other hand, in addition to color and health, we are all about growing fishes, corals and plants as quickly as possible so that we can "bring them to market" in a relatively short period of time. In the coral propagation sector, we constantly had to think of economies of scale, operating costs, etc., so speed was important. That makes sense.
However, these were hobbyist inquiries, and I thought to myself why “quick” growth was so important. (I suppose if you're thinking about the relationship of plant growth to nuisance algae, in a highly fertilized environment, there could be an assumption that fast growth takes a more important role...but why not just back down on fertilizing, right?) In my tanks, I certainly don't complain about rapid growth- especially when you start with tiny fishes, like I do- but the main goals are good color, morphology, long-term health, then growth. Yeah, when you’re starting with a juvenile fish, microchip-sized plant cutting or coral frag, you want to see it grow and fill in fairly quickly. I can get that. However, I really want to see the thing look nice and THRIVE, too. And I think you do, too, right?
So why does our "default" always seem to be, "How do I get there quickly...?" It's not just in planted aquariums, either.
I wonder if it has to do with some inherent "impatience" that we have as hobbyists- or perhaps as Homo sapiens in general: A desire to see the "finished product" as soon as possible; something like that. Provides us some "closure" or something. A goal. A "finish line" that is a tangible destination for us? And there is nothing at all wrong with that, I suppose. I just kind of wonder what the big rush is? I guess, when we view an aquarium in the same context as a home improvement project, meal preparation, or algebra test, I can see how "rapid growth" would take on a greater significance!
On the other hand, if you look at an aquarium as you would a garden- an organic, living, evolving, growing entity- then the need to see the thing “finished” becomes much less important. Suddenly, much like a “road trip”, the destination becomes less important than the journey.
The process. It’s about the experiences gleaned along the way. Enjoyment of the developments, the process. It begs the question: Is there even a “finish line” to an aquarium?
We see our customers and fellow "tint enthusiasts" evolving their aquariums every day, slowly adding new botanicals, tweaking hardscape, replacing leaves, carefully placing new fishes into the mix..and just letting natural processes of decomposition, growth, and life- do their thing. It's a process- one in which many derive as much enjoyment from watching the "evolution" as they do seeing a "finished product"- although we still don't know what that is in this context, huh?
Which brought me into one of my typical philosophical ponderings. I mean, to most hobbyists, I wonder what’s more important? Rapid growth, daily appearance, or some other factor? And why? I suppose if I ask 100 hobbyists, I’ll receive 100 different answers, but I am more curious about the prevailing attitudes among our community here, as we take a different sort of outlook than many in the "general" hobby world.
And, to add to the equation, there is the simple, but inescapable fact that an aquarium-planted, hardcscaped, blackwater/botanical, African Cichlid, brackish, or otherwise- can be a real pain in the ass sometimes- challenging us and testing our skills, patience, commitment, desire, and oh- yeah- our finances! It’s never as easy as just starting up an aquarium, doing “A-B-C-D” and ending up with this killer system. There are all sorts of challenging twists and turns along the way. And really, that's not so bad, right? What fun would it be anyways if you just start it up and it's all roses..if that’s all that there was to it, right?
So, to get back to the spirit of my original question... Is an aquarium ever really “done?” Is there some point of finality when you just say, “Okay, I don’t want to change anything, add anything, take out anything?” Is this even possible? Could you hit that point? Would you want that? I mean, when there is nothing more to do but change water, tweak a few gadgets, and feed, is it still an enjoyable hobby to you? (not looking at that with awe or disdain, just asking, lol) Is THAT a hobby in and of itself? Further, have you EVER actually gotten a tank to that stage?
The reality, as most of us grasp, is that an aquarium is not a static entity, and will continue to encompass life, death, and everything in between for as long as it’s in existence. In fact, planted tanks, reef tanks, botanical-stye aquariums, and other systems require some form of "active management" throughout heir operational lifetimes. It goes with the territory. It's not "set and forget, by any means. And it's kind of fun to be involved, anyways, right?
Yet, what is it that really happens in a truly “mature” aquarium that separates it from those "in process?" Or is there a difference? What factors come into play? There might be some competition between plants or fishes that results in one or more species dominating all of the rest…or does diversity continue to win, with lots of plants and other life forms eking out an existence in your artificial microcosm, just as they have managed to do for eons in nature?
I’d especially like to hear from hobbyists that have had an aquarium running for a really extended period of time, like 10 years, 15 years…or longer.
Deep questions, huh? But interesting ones, nonetheless, aren’t they?
Until next time…