It seems as though not a day goes by in the aquarium world when you don’t hear about some new product, animal or technique that will help change the hobby forever. New things that promise to simplify and improve our hobby experience. Yet, for some reason, many of us in the hobby seem mired in the past, with a “more complicated must be better” philosophy. Not only do we typically attempt to recreate the entire aquatic ecosystem in our systems with many layers of biological complexity, we equip our systems with tons of gadgetry to mimic this environment. Our equipment choices and husbandry techniques need to be broadly focused to match the goal of being all things to all creatures.
Rather than the shotgun approach, it would seem logical to design, equip, and manage our systems with a more precise focus. Why not zero in on the specific needs of the animals that we are keeping? Why not take a more focused approach to husbandry, emphasizing some degree of simplicity to get the job done? Equipping and managing systems to maintain the widest variety of organisms certainly has its merits – to some extent.
However, I find myself turning to a more disciplined and specific approach to aquarium keeping. For example, my love of biotope aquariums is directly attributed to learning about and desiring to replicate a specific part of an ecological niche— not the whole darned thing! With equipment, husbandry technique and aquascaping to match the biotope I’m attempting to replicate, it’s a great approach to manage a reef tank in my opinion. Do you ever wonder why we collectively seem to like to make things so darned complicated? I attribute this “complication syndrome” to a few possible factors:
I am not bashing everyone with a complex aquarium system with tons of cool gadgets and exotic husbandry protocols. What I am doing is questioning the need for such complexity. Sure, I’ll be the first to tell you that water quality management is paramount to success in the hobby. However, I’ll also be the first guy to tell you that picking up a siphon house weekly or more frequently is the ultimate expression of water quality management. All of the technology in the world is not going to save your system if you don’t have the fundamentals down.
Thank goodness we are collectively starting to rethink some long-held hobby beliefs and simplifying our approaches — to the benefit of both our animals and our pocketbooks! A great example of this is the wonderful way we have traditionally applied water movement in our systems. If you need to create intense flow patterns, it’s long been held that you need an armada of pumps, baffles, closed loops, powerheads, and other flow-enhancing devices to do the job. While all of these devices have their places, the truth is that you can create outstanding water movement with the logical application of a few very modest powerheads directed in a thoughtful manner.
I think we make things awfully intimidating for the new hobbyists with some approaches. Advising the newbie to equip his or her small tank with every conceivable technological prop for success perpetuates the myth that aquariums are tough to keep. Yes, there are some minimum equipment requirements that you have in order to outfit a tank. However, I can’t help but wonder if equipping the neophyte hobbyist with some extra food and a siphon hose and the admonition to use both regularly and frequently would benefit him/her far more than any electronic controller would.
Again, don’t get me wrong. All of the cool technology and equipment has its place. However, in this new era of the hobby, I think that it’s important to step back once in a while and re-evaluate what we’re trying to accomplish, why we are doing what we’re doing, and what really works. I’ll hazard a guess that we can simplify things and still enjoy great success.
Focused approaches are used every day by the enterprising hobbyists that are breeding fishes and propagating plants. Their systems, husbandry techniques, and approaches are based upon a specific need — fish and plant reproduction, and the results of this focused approach are demonstrating daily its virtues. The bigger picture here is that the application of a more focused approach can — and has been — leading to huge advancements in the hobby. In summary, I’m not admonishing you to abandon the fun of the community tank or the diverse aquatic garden. I am encouraging you to step back now and then and channel your energies to a specific purpose, and to share your technique and philosophies with the hobby. One day in the not-too-distant future, importation of wild fishes and plants may be severely restricted, or even non-existent, so developing focused approaches to keeping and breeding aquatic organisms may be absolutely critical to the survival of the hobby.
Until next time…Stay Focused — and Stay Wet
Have you ever done something with your aquarium that everyone said was nuts? More important, did you get away with it, or did you crash and burn? Did you at least try something that the “hobby establishment” said could not be done, or SHOULD NOT be done? Wasn’t it fun? Expensive. Embarrassing, perhaps…
But fun, right?
Did you try something “different” than what “they” say is the way to go? Something that provoked those kind of "If man were meant to fly..."-type comments?
I mean, something ill-advised, sort of crazy, off-the-wall, or just downright kooky? Or, did you act on one of those ridiculous ideas that someone threw out when tossing back a couple of brews with the gang after the fish auction or club meeting? Something totally wild?
Relax. You're among friends.
As one who has been known to take a few chances, go against prevailing “hobby wisdom”, and generally push the outside of the envelope a bit (as well as encouraging others to indulge in similar foolhardy adventures), I have even developed an unofficial “classification system” for such free thinking.
Of course I’m going to share it with you, because it’s important for me to continue to nurture disruptive behavior. That’s what makes the hobby great, right? So, here we go, with the “Fellman Scale of Innovative Thought”, which consists of "categories" of ideas:
Ill-Advised Ideas- I’m probably most guilty of this one, along with the majority of hobbyists who dare ask the “establishment”, WHY? Examples of this would be things like the time I was convinced that I could keep 4 different types of Knifefishes and Mormyrids together in a 255-gallon system without calamity or bloodshed. It was exacerbated, of course, because I went with mature (yeah, no juveniles for me) fish. After the days (yeah, DAYS, not weeks or months) went by, in addition to relentless territorial battles reminiscent of the tribal areas of Afghanistan, the rest of my prized fish collection was showing signs of, as one of my friends eloquently put it, “wear and tear…”
You can imagine how fun it was to break down the aquascape (“Multiple driftwood ‘stumps’, so that each fish has it’s own territory”, I reminded myself before I embarked on this foolish escapade.) after I came to my senses and decided to end the grand “experiment.” Hey, this one was a product of my own arrogance, and I was really convinced at the outset of the experiment that I was to be THE ONE who could pull this off. Did I admit defeat? Nope. I just concluded that it could work better with a larger tank...
Arrogance. Simple arrogance. But it was interesting.
Sort of Crazy Ideas- You DIY-types are usually more “guilty” of this one…You know, stuff like top-off systems that involve dosing additives, surge devices in your living room, 4 chambered recirculating carbon reactors, homemade refrigeration systems for cold-water fish, automatic live food dosers, etc. "Improvements", you call them. The "better mousetrap" is your thing. I mean, these ideas are usually pretty nice, and represent many of the great values that we have in the hobby (the independent spirit, adventure, the pursuit for knowledge..the desire to save a few bucks…). Yours is a world of duct tape, twist ties, and Home Depot runs. Ideas haunt you at night...Some of these ideas are just a little too advanced for our skills, or perhaps there is really no inexpensive way to make an all-in-one-surge/autofeeding system for under $1,500. Well, maybe there is…It’s just that kind of thinking that keeps the creative (well, you can call them “sort of crazy”) ideas flowing…
Off-The-Wall Ideas- This is typically the realm of newbies..or even experienced hobbyists- who, because of their genuine innocence, love of the hobby, and/or “Why CAN’T it be done?” mindset, come up with some of the craziest ideas of all- and often execute them, albeit with mixed results. I think we should really consider them “outside the box” ideas, however. Ideas like Tubifex “farms” for nutrient export, Java Moss “reactors”, multi-level gradient cryptic zone filtration systems, etc., which have a great theoretical effectiveness, yet may be challenging to apply in reality. Nonetheless, it’s at this “level” that real hobby innovations often occur…Stuff like electronic monitors/controllers for aquarium functions, controllable internal pumps, breeding setups for fishes like Plecos and Rays. Many great companies, both in and out of the aquarium hobby sector at large, were founded on just such a mindset. And, you’ll recall, it wasn’t that many years ago that the idea of cutting up frags of coral to grow out on ceramic plugs seemed pretty “off-the-wall”, right?
Downright Kooky Ideas- This is the type of stuff that gives our hobby the appearance of being a bit, well- eccentric- to outsiders. Stuff like converting indoor swimming pools to Mauna communities, building aquariums that look like telephone booths and Ford Pintos (heh, heh, couldn’t resist), 10 ml ultra-pico reef tanks, trying to grow gamefish in a home aquarium, selling dried seed pods, etc. etc. Look, I’ll be the first to tip my hat to the dreamers, free thinkers, and even the eccentrics among us. However, I’ve always been a bit of a realist…I mean, counterproductive, hurtful, and idiotic thinking is never in vogue. Yet, where would we be without the truly absurd stuff to give us some a) comic relief, b) measure of how serious we take this stuff, and c) ability to let our passions (and our checkbooks, all to often) run wild from time to time. Brainstorming is great…Bringing down the ideas from the ”Downright Kooky” region into the “Off-The-Wall” territory results- many times- in some of the best innovations that we have ever seen.
So, dear fishy friends, don’t be put off or led astray by “conventional” reef thinking, if there even is such a thing…Rather, allow your mind to wander, your passions to soar, your visions to take flight- and your dreams to come true. Don’t put them out with the “wet towel of negativity…” Rather, temper them and nurture them with the spirit of innovation. Keep those ideas flowing, visualize a way to make them become practical realities, and think about the greater good your developed dream will unleash upon the hobby. Disregard the spills, glued fingers, frayed nerves, short circuits, cracked aquariums, and occasional insurance claims. Think of the bigger picture: The conquering of new worlds, the sharing of new ideas, and innovations as yet undreamed of, which will forever change the hobby for the better.
I close with a classic quote, often attributed to the great Mark Twain, which holds much relevance to this diatribe:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Don’t shoot down that wacky, sleep-deprived, alcohol-induced idea that you and your buddies concocted at 3:30 AM at last year’s ACA Convention…even if it IS “Downright Kooky!”
Let’s hear of your triumphs, tragedies, absurd ideas, and amazing innovations. Be open, be honest…Be aware. And most of all…
We’d like to think of ourselves as the industry’s leading purveyor of aquatic botanicals (which, according to one of my friends isn’t THAT much of a stretch, because, as he so eloquently stated, “You’re the industry’s ONLY purveyor of aquatic botanicals!”), and part of the price you pay to achieve that lofty status is that you need to understand how what you offer your customers is prepared and utilized.
We spend a decent amount of time in the kitchen, boiling an assortment of pods, stems, and other aquatic botanicals, methodically and carefully noting their characteristics, durability- and most important to all of us- their “sinking time” (ie; how long it takes for a given aquatic botanical to sink). Making "tannin Tea", as we jokingly say around here. This requires a lot of time, patience, a good stove- and an understanding spouse- all of which I’m fortunate enough to have!
I suppose many years watching my mom cook soup and stuff when I was growing up added to the fascination of boiling weird stuff. It continued when I was a killifish fanatic, boiling peat moss and running it through the blender…you know, stuff like that. Which was infinitely more tolerable for my mom than say, slicing up black worms (which resided in a plastic container in the refrigerator)…Man, she was patient- and understanding! Growing up in an “aquarium household” was cool!
As predicted when we first started this whole adventure, some of the botanicals would be a royal pain to get to sink. Others turned out to be surprisingly easy (Savu Pods and “Helix Pods” are two that come to mind immediately), sinking with minimal boiling times (like 10-15 minutes), with others, such as “Jungle Pods” taking over an hour to sink! And then of course, there are the totally unexpected surprises, like “Heart Pods”, which require no boiling- something that gets the aquatic botanical lover’s heart racing (really)!
And you learn a few things along the way…like the fact that “Helix Pods” kind of “un-helix” themselves after boiling..but are pliable enough to “hand shape” again…And you learn to enjoy the pleasant, earthy smell of boiling botanicals cooking in your kitchen. You develop coping techniques…alternatives for “problem pods” that won’t sink after what we consider more than reasonable “boiling times” (like well over an hour!). Things like placing them in a filter bag and running them in your canister filter, sump, or outside power filter to continue the “saturation” process…or just throwing them in a bucket with some rocks on top of them…Even using a coffee “French Press” (thank you, Starbucks!)…Whatever it takes. As long as it takes.
Patience. Fortitude. And a healthy desire to do weird stuff in pursuit of the ultimate biotope aquarium.
It’s what the aquatic botanicals game is all about. And the aquarium hobby, for that matter!
Until next time…May your pods sink on the first try. may your water be golden brown.
And may you always…
Ever think about how the hobby has changed, yet how we still hang on to some old stuff?
Yeah, there are a bunch of low-tech wonders from the past that have transformed our hobby, while transcending time and defying more modern technology. Clever, crafty, defiant, and yet, useful things that are the literal “tools of the trade.” A chef has his knives, a carpenter his tools…We have these beauties. Here's my tribute to the simple, elegant stuff. Where would the modern hobby be without:
The nylon fish net- I mean, there was a time, many years ago, when all you could get were cotton fish nets. With rusted-out metal handles. Nasty, icky musty fish nets were somewhat common.Yes, the nylon fish net predates most of us, but it’s just one of those things we take for granted as having always been around. Ironically, the wooden-framed ones are considered better quality than the twisted, coated wire ones. Low tech rules! The newer ones that supposedly “blend in the water” so that fish don’t see them seem like a good idea to me…But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a time when a fish “didn’t see” the net as it’s coming after them, nylon, plastic, or otherwise. Well, thank goodness for quality fish nets, regardless.
Plastic airline tubing- This stuff is the duct tape of aquarium keeping- I mean, yeah, lots of hobbyists use it for pumping air into aquariums, but its so much more versatile. We use it for things like creating drip acclimation lines (hardcore users start a little siphon and then i.e. a knot with it to start a slow drip). I’ve seen it used for tying stuff together, making extensions on plastic syringes to act as an ITFD (“improvised target feeding device”), and many other uses. A serious invention that’s stood the test of time!
The airstone- Wooden, ceramic, or plastic, this invention dates back to the 1940’s-50’s and has been a fixture in the aquarium hobby to this day. This humble pice of technology, simple though it may be, is a cornerstone of modern aquaristic practice. An easy, elegant way to deliver aeration to an aquarium, it’s been used for decades with reliable efficiency. Sure, some of the plastic and wooden airstones are prone to clogging from time to time, but the ceramic ones, which have changed very little in like half a century, are pretty darned reliable. Weather you’re using them to aerate a tank, hatch brine shrimp, power a protein skimmer, or provide aeration in a temporary holding container, the airstone is without peer in the world of aquarium supplies.
The plastic specimen container- Omigod, this is like the standard-issue piece of fish equipment. It’s transcended everything from Goldfish keeping to reef keeping. You’ll find specimen containers being used at every level. I’ve used them to acclimate corals, treat sick fishes, hold baby guppies, hatch brine shrimp, mix salt- I mean, there’s hardly a fish room task that the decidedly low tech specimen container is not up for. It’s totally future proof, too, right? How does a box to hold water go out of style? I don’t think the design has changed in like 50years. I vaguely recall an experiment where I directed water flow into one from my reef tank, grew Caulerpa inside, along with some sand and (I don’t recall why) snails-and let the water flow back into my reef. This was like 1987, and it was my crude attempt at an “algae scrubber”, or perhaps I invented the modern refugium..Yeah, that’s it! If Al Gore invented the internet, I invited the ‘fuge! OK, in my head, anyways…(the modern refugium concept predated my crude idea by years…but a guy can dream, right?). And of course, it’s the ultimate kill fry rearing tank, too!
The algae scraper- Woah…Freshwater, saltwater, brackish- whatever. Hobbyists of every age, experience, and generation have come to hate algae on the sides of our aquariums. It’s a nemesis like no other, defiling our tanks, frustrating us, and causing hobby havoc. I know people that left the fish hobby because of film algae. It’s hated stuff in our world. A constant battle we must fight. Along came the algae scraper..and the battle was joined. Originally, just a piece of sponge on a stick, the algae scraper has evolved from humble stone axe to high-tech, synthetic wonder. You have plastic scraping blades, razors, dense matrix synthetic plastics, and other types of scrapers of varying composition and effectiveness. We have ergonomic plastic handles, replaceable scraping surfaces…We even have the ultimate evolution- to the algae cleaning magnet, equipped with replaceable, high tech synthetic pads to both polish your outside surfaces while attacking this dreaded pestilence- all while keeping your hand dry. The stick may be gone, but the goal is the same: Cleaning viewing areas without getting our hands wet.
So there you have just a few of the most humble, yet useful tools of all time. Sure, we have electronic controllers, LED’s, high-tech pumps, dowers, and other gadgets, many of which I couldn’t even figure out how to use (like electronic leveling devices…scary). However, these simple throwbacks, derived from need and function, comprise part of the legacy of our hobby’s “greatest generation”- that time when if you needed something, you’d cobble it together, because there was no online vendors or Google, or even Twitter (oh, had to get my dig in.)…Can you imagine, having to DIY stuff? Oh war, we still do DIY…Thank goodness THAT hasn’t changed! Only difference is that these things end up in our Facebook news feed (“Look, I repurposed my toothbrush into a protein skimmer changer!” Like. Whatever.)
I submit to you that few aquarium writers of my generation have written columns on specimen containers and the joys of plastic airline tubing,- and none threw together a piece on said subjects at 4:30 AM PDT), so I open myself up to the scrutiny of my peers for my choices, and challenge you to add to my humble tribute list.
What humble, generation-spanning aquarium inventions do you find indispensable, and still relevant? Don’t be shy- it’s the chance to wax poetic about the relics from a gentler, kinder time, when frozen food still got freezer burn, and there was only one choice for water testing (a pool pH test kit)…We owe it to these devices to pay tribute. Heck, we owe it to our children, to pass this tribal knowledge on, so that future generations of hobbyists can appreciate the efforts of the nameless hobbyists who helped build our culture.
Ok, that was really prosaic. Just share what gadgets from the past you still use. Simple. Extra points for pics of old, repurposed gear, too.
As always, look back with pride, look forward with hope, and look at the present on your iPad.
To paraphrase a question posed by one of my friends, "Scott, your company is going to offer more than just twigs and nuts, huh?"
To which I answered, "Of course!" (He asked this as I was feeding my Tetra tank)...Which made me reflect:
One of the cool product lines we offer at Tannin is Paradigm Fish foods. I've been incredibly impressed by them- not just for their unique form factor (a "crumble")- but for how eagerly accepted they are by my fish...And they're fun to use...You can take out your daily frustrations on the food (really, it's great fun!) when you crush it up!
One of my favorite in the Paradigm line is "Grow", which is designed for the unique energy needs of young fish...And, it has the added "bonus" of being readily accepted by small adult fishes, too!
As an unabashed Tetra fan, I've been thrilled with the results I'm getting from this food. Colors, growth, and general vitality are fantastic! The only bummer is that because it has the perfect particle size already, I don't get the thrill of crumbling it like I do from the other Paradigm foods! Oh well..
Of course, my little pals tear into Grow like I do into a bowl of cereal! (I'm into bran flakes and stuff like that , if you must know...). If I were a fish, I'd be chowing on these foods, because they're just like something I'd eat myself! Seriously! They're all-natural, with no fillers. Fish derive more nutrition out of a given quantity- that means no waste! If ever there were a candidate fish food to be found at Whole Foods, this would be it!
How does a simple answer to a question turn into a product review? The mind boggles...
I was talking to a non-aquarium person the other day, and, after hearing about my business ventures and hobby endeavors, she asked what it really meant to be a serious aquarist, and what makes us any different from all of the people who just have a nice community tank in their house and that’s the extent of it.
I thought that maybe we are all the same- fish people...Well, we are, to some extent...but we are a bit different. So I drove off with the nagging question of "What makes you guys so different?" in my head. I had this bunch of thoughts as to how I'd describe myself...and it made me think about just what makes a serious hobbyist different than people who just happen to own an aquarium.
It served no purpose other than to help me define myself a bit, but it was interesting to look at in the context of the company we’re about to launch.
I'm a serious aquarist.
I don't dabble in aquariums. I'm obsessed with them.
I know that keeping aquatic life alive requires understanding, skill, patience, and good habits.
I know that a successful aquarium requires me to take certain steps that many other fish people aren't willing to do.
I regard my aquariums as microcosms of nature; learning tools, an experience..Their main function is not to provide a piece of decor in my home.
I have procedures for every scenario, every problem playing out in the back of my head. I have other obsessed hobbyists to share these thoughts with. We are a community.
I obsessively maintain my aquarium based on husbandry methods that work for me; skills learned and honed from years of practice, towering successes, and humbling failures. I listen to other hobbyists, then do whatever I darned well please, if I feel my way is better...And then I try theirs, when my ideas fail! I'm stubborn..and proud.
I don't chase down every hot trend, obsess over every new gadget. I try things that work for my animals. I geek out over obscure stuff, however.
I'm not afraid to try new stuff, but I always consider the impact of any new practice, procedure, or piece of gear.
I support those who are propagating fishes and plants, because I understand that the world's aquatic resources need our help. As a hobbyist, I know that the future of the hobby- the future of the world's aquatic animal population- is in part dependent upon how successful I am at keeping my animals healthy, and sharing my stories with others.
I screw stuff up all the time. And when I do, I share my errors with other hobbyists, get up again, over an over, and try to learn from them.
I am eager to hear about what my fellow hobbyists are doing, because that seemingly crazy idea might be the basis for massive success.
I realize that learning is a lifelong process in the hobby. I want to be doing this for the rest of my life.
I know that aquarium keeping is not just a hobby...it's a lifestyle.
I am part of a tribe; a community, which grows and nurtures and shares ideas, concepts, experiences, and animals.
I am a part of a larger whole, which is much greater than the sum of it's parts.
I am a serious aquarist. And so are you.
And I'm pretty darned proud of that.
Why are you proud to be a serious aquarist ? What do you feel makes us different than the rest of the people who simply “dabble” out there?
Let's hear it!
You know that we LOVE aquarium clubs almost as much as we love the hobby itself...The people, the fish, the camaraderie!
So, when one of the nation's most prestigious clubs approached us to donate some items for their annual Summer Picnic raffle, there was no hesitation! And, when you're a new company like Tannin, trying to get your name out there, it makes sense to support the people who you hope will be supporting you! We sent a few packs of Aquatic Botanicals to the BCAS, and apparently, they tuned out to be quite popular!
Our stuff had some illustrious company- many top vendors and manufacturers donated to this nice event:
Not bad for a company that few people may have heard of, that was still a good 3 plus weeks away from launching at the time of the event!
Thanks to everyone at the BCAS for thinking of Tannin. See you next year!
P.S.- If your club would like to have a few Tannin items at its next event, just shoot us an email and we'll hook you up with "The Tint!"
When we first conceived Tannin Aquatics, the idea was to offer fellow hobbyists all of the cool stuff that we love so much- Leaves, wood, and other “aquatic botanicals”, which add a unique, natural look and vibe to almost any aquarium. Our aesthetic leans towards the earthy, organic, and natural.
When it came time to find a way to package our products that conveyed this feeling, it was only obvious that we needed something earthy and natural-looking. After much research and brainstorming, we came up with the idea of a cool, reusable jute bag. We had to try out a lot of versions before we finally found what we are looking for.
We’d like to think that the result was one of the coolest packages in the aquatics industry, which provides form, function, and an unwavering sense of aesthetic! Yeah, we knew we were on to something when people started asking for the bags as soon as we featured them on Facebook and Twitter- before we even had a functioning web site!
Many of our aquatic botanicals will come with this cool, reusable bag, which will no doubt find a myriad of uses around the fish room and beyond.
It might be just a bag to some, but to us, it’s the tangible embodiment of our core values, mission, and aesthetics…Leaves, wood, water…life- and the ability to embrace all. We look forward to offering you materials that help you express yourself in the aquatic world. And it all starts with the bag!
What does it take to sink a "Savu Pod?"
Honestly, this is the kind of arcane stuff we ponder around here at Tannin.
You'll need to prep this "aquatic botanical" prior to use. The "Savu Pod" is surprisingly buoyant (well, WE were surprised, anyways), and we perfected the art of "sinking" 'em! Fortunately, it's really easy..
Just give them a light rinse, place them in an inert pot of water (make sure that your significant other understands what's about to go down), and bring them to a boil. Leave them at a steady boil for about 10 minutes, and allow them to cool. Rinse. Voila! They sink faster than Etsy's share price post-IPO! (Okay, that was just mean...)
Now, your shrimp, Corys and little Apistos have another cool hiding place, and your tank has another aesthetic touch.
Easy. Cool. Natural.
They'll continue to leach some tannins into your tank over time, which gives the water the "tint" we covet so much around here! You can either put them right in your tank, or continue to soak them in a container of water to leach out more tannin before use.
Like so many cool things, Savu Pods require just an extra bit of attention before you unleash their beauty on your aquarium.
And we think it's kind of worth it.