This is how we do it...


So it seems like in the blackwater/botanical-style aquarium "game", like in so many areas of the aquarium hobby, technique, ideas, and "best practices" are evolving rapidly and regularly. As more and more hobbyists work with these types of systems, more and more is added to the body of knowledge we have about their design, daily management, and long-term operation. Although I've been working with botanicals myself for almost 10 years now, it seems like I learn new stuff, or refine old ideas and techniques, more frequently than ever. And thanks to the daily input from our ever-growing global "Tint Nation", new ideas and theories are being played out all the time. It's awesome!

So, today, I just wanted to share a few of my latest thoughts on a couple of basic things that seem to come up frequently in discussions. Let's just jump right in!

Leaf preparation:  Okay, after working with all sorts of leaves from different trees and different suppliers, I've so of hit upon a practice that works for ME. Here is what I do now...I will rinse off dried leaves to remove any residual dust/surface dirt/atmospheric pollutants that might be present on their surfaces, then I throw them in a pot of water and bring the water to a boil, and let them boil for about 10 minutes. Then I allow the leaves to steep in the pot for another 10 minutes or so, followed by a rinse with fresh room-temperature water. I Will then place the leaves into a container of room-temperature water overnight before placing them in my aquariums. 

In some instances, you might want to run a little inside box filter with carbon in the container, but it's your call. Now, a lot of people seem to be under the impression that by boiling and/or steeping/soaking the leaves before use, many of the beneficial tannins will be lost. I respectfully disagree. My experience just doesn't bare this out, as you can see by the color of the water in our display aquarium, in which 100% of the leaves we use are prepared in this fashion.

I think there is a lot to be gained, and very little to be lost by taking an admittedly conservative approach. 

I am a big believer in being conservative with the preparation of ANYTHING I toss in my aquarium, and it would be flat-out irresponsible for me to tell people to just "toss stuff in the tan." I don't, so I will never recommend doing that. Also, the boil/steep/soak methodology has the added benefit of "saturating" leaves enough to the point where they sink right to the bottom, which is nice in a higher-flow situation like mine.

Botanical/leaf addidtions: Another area where I simply cannot urge you enough to go slowly...There is absolutely no sense in adding a ton of stuff into your established aquarium all at once and expecting anything other than possible problems. Leaves and botanicals are bioload. They break down and release organics and other materials (lignin, etc.) besides just the tannins and humic substances that we're all into. The humic substances and tannins are the "prize", as we've discussed many times in this blog and elsewhere. However, they come in a "package" of other materials, some of which simply remain in the water and are not providing any additional benefits, and are typically exported with water changes. 

The reality is that we are working with closed systems, and although we are attempting to replicate- on some levels, at least, the aesthetics and function of natural litter beds, the aquarium is a different game entirely, subject to different influences, inputs, and export mechanisms than nature, so at best, we are replicating some of the processes and functions which occur in nature.

I think we're learning more and more every day abut the longer-term operation of botanical-style blackwater aquariums, and that this has tremendous potential benefit for the entire aquarium world. Why? Well, for one thing, learning how to manage and control what, in reality, is a rather extreme environment- in the confines of our glass or acrylic boxes, in and of itself provides tremendous insights into techniques and practices which can be utilized in other types of aquarium systems, some of which we'll be discussing soon!

I make it no secret that I believe my reef keeping background has given me some tremendous insights and a skill set that has benefitted my botanical/blackwater "practice.", and I think those of you who come from other aquatic "disciplines" will agree that the skills you've acquired will be of tremendous benefit to you and your fishes as you continue to experiment, operate, and refine in this tinted corner of the aquarium hobby.

So, that's it for today..just a quick few thoughts on the continuously evolving techniques that we use to enjoy our blackwater tanks! Hope this spurs some thoughts of your own, and maybe gives you some incentive to refine and share YOUR techniques! By sharing, everyone will win, and the dark, murky world of blackwater will be a whole lot less mysterious, and even more alluring and accessible to all sorts of fish geeks!

Stay persistent. Stay observant. Stay patient. 

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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