In the botanical aquarium game, there are definitely some practical, "nuts-and-bolts" aspects- procedures to follow. "Best practices" to be aware of...As with any aquarium.
However, where the botanical-style aquarium departs from the "norm" is when we understand that what we are doing is harnessing a different part of nature to assist us in creating an optimum environment for our tropical fishes.
Some elements of our type of aquarium keeping reminds me very much of some of the philosophy behind the practice of yoga. The world of yoga is a very interesting one. Not only does it provide strength and inner peace, it teaches lessons on introspection and self-awareness. And an appreciation for the world and nature.
One of the key components of yoga practice is called "vinyasa", the Sanskrit word for arranging something in a special way. In the yoga context, it refers to a sequence of poses, or "asanas."
In the context of utilizing botanicals in our aquariums, I'd like to think that vinyasa refers to a sequence of what happens after we add these materials to our aquariums. What Nature wants to do...We've sort of touched on this before, but it's a concept so central to our botanical-style aquarium practice that I think it warrants repeating from time to time.
In my opinion, it's every bit as important and valuable as knowing and adhering to some sort of pattern to arrange rocks, or other seemingly metaphysical concepts which have been incorporated into modern aquascaping and aquatic arts.
There is a certain sequence by which we do things in our aquariums which, when coupled with two important skills- observation and patience- creates an aquarium which not only looks better- it functions more like a natural system.
When you first start an aquarium, it's all about sequence, flow, and process. And the pace is determined, to some extent by us; however, the real cadence is determined by Nature herself.
From the minute you prepare a leaf or botanical for use in the aquarium, it begins to break down...
The processes of hot water steeping, boiling, or prolonged soaking start to soften the tissues of the leaves or seed pods, release bound-up pollutants, and begin the gradual, but irreversible process of breaking down, at a pace, or "cadence" which Nature determines.
As we know by now, many types of seed pods and other botanicals will last much longer periods of time than leaves in most aquariums, yet may not impart their tannins and other substances as quickly as say, leaves, simply because their very structure is different than the softer, thinner leaves. Many will hold their form for a very long period of time, yet may not be releasing quite as much tannins or humic substances as they were initially.
Nature dictates the speed by which this process occurs. We set the stage for it- but Nature is in full control. As an aquarist with a botanical-style aquarium, it's our "job" to observe and know when- or if- to intervene by adding or removing botanicals as they break down.
Franky, it's sort of a judgement call.
Without the ability to measure the levels of the specific substances that botanical items are imparting into your tank (and, quite frankly, knowing just what they are!), it's really about "nuancing it", isn't it? Like so many other things in this hobby, you sort of have to take a "best guess", or go with your instincts.
Hardly the precise, scientific, "boiler plate" advice some of us might like, but that's the reality of this kind of tank. It's not like, our example, a reef tank, where we have detailed chemical baselines for seawater parameters, and 32-component ICP-OES tests to establish baselines and measure deviations from them.
Nope. It's about nuance, observation, "feel"... finesse.
Obviously, you need to obey all of the common best practices of aquarium management, in terms of nitrogen cycle management, water quality testing, nutrient export, etc. in a botanical-style blackwater aquarium. However, you have to also apply a healthy dose of the above-referenced "emotional elements" into your regimen as well!
This is a much overlooked aspect of aquarium keeping that is more obvious, and I feel, impactful- when working with botanicals.
It's much more than simply tossing some leaves or botanicals into an aquarium. I've seen a rising crop of botanical advocates who have started businesses around botanicals much like we have. It's wonderful. However, most of them seem to simply consider botanicals as a "consumable" or a "product", not grasping the real essence behind them. I find this puzzling, really. I guess it's because I look at botanicals a bit differently. Maybe I'm a bit too serious...a bit weird, but...
There is so much more to this...
Being natural materials, filled with tannins, humic substances, and nutrients, they do more than just make a tank look good, or throw off some substances into the water- they help create a dynamic aquatic environment on many levels- some that we may not yet fully understand...
And of course, there are always the caveats:
Remember, anything you add into an aquarium- wood, sand, botanicals, and of course- livestock- is part of the "bioload", and will impact the function and environment of your aquarium.
It's a fact we all need to understand and accept.
It's about understanding a balance, a quantity, a "cadence" for adding stuff, so that the closed environment of your aquarium can assimilate the new materials, and the bacteria, fungi, and other organisms which serve to break them down can adjust.
We can't rush the process. We can intervene- removing stuff. Siphoning out what we consider to be "unsightly growth" on our botanicals. We can interfere...However, we cannot stop the process.
Nor would we want to.
We talk about botanical-style aquariums "evolving" over time...They most assuredly do, much as Nature has dictated for eons. We can participate in the process. Make significant changes in direction. Yet, at the end of the day, nature dictates the pace, the process...the vinyasa.
We should work with Nature. Trust her. Learn from her. Every day, we have a unique opportunity to do this with our aquariums. How lucky we are.
I hope that, by taking a few seconds to appreciate the process- the flow, and the wonder of how nature can positively impact our aquariums, that we can all achieve what is known as "Ananda"- The condition of utter joy.
Not a bad way to go. I'm pretty grateful for the opportunity to experience the joy that nature brings to all of us- each and every day.
Stay observant. Stay curious. Stay appreciative. Stay open-minded. Stay introspective. Stay patient...
And Stay Wet.