Have you ever noticed that there are lots of different ways to accomplish the same thing in our little tinted world?
There really is no set "formula" to establishing a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium. No exact way that you should proceed to achieve a specified result. No "rules." Only guidelines. "Best practices." Ideas. Recommendations from others who have walked the path before.
However, there is one requirement- patience.
And, with patience comes great rewards.
"Rewards", in this instance, being an aquarium which is set up to "evolve" slowly over the long term, providing a rich, environmentally stable environment for its inhabitants.
Seems like everyone in our botanical-style aquarium "game" has developed a technique, or set of techniques- or even, rituals, for that matter...like the preparation of botanicals for use, the documenting of which by members of our community has become the stuff of social media legend, with cool pics of boiling pots of seed pods commonly gracing our Facebook and Instagram feeds!
And of course, not to be outdone (lol), I have developed some personal, almost "ritualistic" practices in regards to adding botanicals to my new blackwater/botanical-style aquariums. It likely comes as no surprise that my technique is well... freaking slow! And measured. And- dare I say- almost "zen-like" in its execution.
My "concept" ( I use the term only half-seriously) is to mimic, sort of- what happens in nature: It's based on the way materials accumulate. So, the thought goes something like this: After your substrate (typically sand, in this instance) wood, and (if you're into them) rocks are played down, you add the most durable, almost "semi-permanent" botanical materials...
You know, stuff like Catappa bark, "Jungle Pods", "Savu Pods", "Encontro Pods", etc. In nature, this is often what would happen in a stream or flooded forest. The heavier, "Old growth" materials, which fall from the surrounding trees, are likely to end up on the forest floor (or stream booth, as the case may be) first. I dare refer to these items a a secondary part of your "hardscape", much like wood or rock.
Makes sense so far.
Wait a week or so.
Let the botanicals "break in" a bit; perhaps softening and beginning to recruit a "patina" of biocover. If you are really patience, and can hold our a week or two, you'll find that your new aquarium actually looks quite established, almost "wabi-sabi" in Amano jargon.The typical "brightness" or "harshness" of the new aquarium will dissipate quickly. This paracti is analogous to a planted aquarium- allowing specific plants that are the "anchors" of your 'scape to establish themselves before the other plants are added.
(At this point, please feel free to ponder this for just a few seconds, and laugh at the fact that you are literally reading an article- one which takes itself fairly seriously, I might add- about tossing "twigs and nuts" into your aquarium. It is kind of funny, right?)
Next you'd add what I tend to refer to as the "second layer" stuff- items like "Terra Sorrindo", Fishtail Palm Stems, Banana Stem pieces- stuff that will break down, but typically after a few months submerged. These are materials That tend to "interact" with the aquatic environment far more quickly and noticeably than the initial materials do. Again, I'd wait a week- or longer, if you can handle it.
Breathe. Take it in. Enjoy.
Finally, you lay down the most "ephemeral" materials- leaves and the very softest of botanicals. The leaves add that final "softness" to your aquascape. These materials will, of course, be the ones that break down the fastest, most rapidly impact the water chemistry, and may be continuously replaced as necessary.
So, yeah, this is my layering "technique"- my way of "stocking" an aquarium with botanicals.
No real mind-blowing, world-changing tactic here...well, not on the surface, at least.
However, if you put some thought into this as a process- a practice that is all about the 'evolving" nature of your aquarium. Something analogous to what goes on in the wild. Something that fosters biological and chemical interactions and impacts we have come to see as part of the fascination of our blackwater, botanical-style aquariums.
And the common thread among the techniques that I favor is that not-so-exciting, yet absurdly beneficial philosophy that time, observation, and above all- patience- are the key requirements for success.
It's as much a mental shift as a "technique."
So, sure, you can simply drop the leaves, pods, and other materials into your tank right from the start. Likely, you won't see any real detriment in doing it this way; you just may not get the enjoyment of seeing the "evolution" as clearly as you would otherwise. Observing and enjoying the subtle nuances of your aquarium at every stage of its evolution. With my "go slow" practice, the differences are subtle- and the "payoffs" really more apparent over the longer term.
If you can do it next time, I think you'll notice a difference in the way your aquarium looks, performs, and evolves.
Slowly. Steadily. Quietly.
That's the "zen" of "Botanical Layering!"
Stay diligent. Stay observant. Stay calm. Stay disciplined...
And Stay Wet.