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I am a hobbyist on a tight budget, and this makes me ambivalent on the issue.

On one hand, I resent that common materials, devices, tools, and chemicals triple or quadruple in price when the word "aquarium" goes on the label. Examples are polyester fiberl (a.k.a. filter floss), gluteraldehyde (a.k.a. Flourish Excel), and any number of common horticultural products which are the same thing as expensive substrates.

On the other hand, it repulses me that hobbyists do not demand and will not pay for healthy, tank-raised fish kept in humane conditions. Instead, we flock to Pet Megalomart when the otos are on sale for $2.98 even though these fish suffer huge mortality in capture and shipping, and often do not survive even after they make it into our aquaria. Similarly, we will not pay the price for healthy plants kept in optimum conditions, but will buy plants from retail chains stored in the dark and packaged in plastic tubes even when the plants are actually terrestrial and will not survive submerged anyway.

Maybe if we were willing to pay prices for livestock that reflect the real cost of keeping these animals and plants alive and healthy, retailers would not find it necessary to put an exorbitant mark-up on polyester fiber and fish meal (a.k.a. Tropi-Colorific Supreme Floating Morsels).

Or maybe I just hate modern marketing, LOL!
 

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Niko, two points:

In the link you posted, all five of the "winners", and most of the other entries, are in what I call the minature landscape style. This style imitates macro-nature--whole views of grand scenery. This is deeply rooted in the Asian arts of bonsai, penjing, and saikei. From my point of view, when it is good it is very good, but when it is bad it is kitsch.

Only a few entries were in the "nature aquarium" style, which creates a 1:1 scale version of an especially beautiful underwater scene. I believe this is the style you prefer.

Second, to my way of thinking, El Natural (horrible name) is not a style. It is a technique for creating planted tanks that relies on a soil substrate and manipulation of the nitrogen cycle with the simplest technology feasible. I form this opinion from Walstad's book, in which she almost never discusses aesthetics at all. The fact that many Walstad tanks have a similar, non-designed look is due to a self-selection phenomemon. Walstad does not do high-design in her own tanks, people attracted to her method tend to imitate this, and new people seeing the technique for the first time think that this is way that all Walstad tanks must look. If the newcomer likes the look, they try the technique. If the newcomer dislikes the look, she moves on to some other technique in which she sees designs more to her personal tastes.

There is an exact analogy in my own profession. Native plant gardens can be done in any landscape style, but they rarely are. People interested in native plants also tend to like very informal, natural, almost un-designed landscapes. So all native plant gardens tend to look that way, reinforcing the preconception that this is the only way they can look.

If this seems astray from the original topic, let me bring it back. I was attracted to Walstad's method because of the low-tech, low-cost, low-maintenance aspects. But I am trying to use those techniques to create carefully designed aquaria. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting better. So my commitment to the hobby is expressed in my design efforts, rather than my limited budget.
 

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It has always been my impression that el-natural tanks are more of a science experiment type thng.... Something good for a sixth grade biology project but not much else. Sort of like putting some egeria, duckweed and mosquito fish in a tank. You can do that but... You can also do better.
Does this tank look like a science fair project? It was set up and maintained using Walstad's method.
 

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Shady and jungly it is, but a far cry from a "sixth grade biology project" made by "putting egeria, duckweed, and mosquito fish in a tank". At least I persuaded you to look at one.
 

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Art, your comments are right on target. In fact I've been trying to convince a new LFS in my neighborhood to do exactly what you suggest, without success so far.
 

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Typical Martha--low content, over-simplified, and unlikely to produce success without MUCH more research and effort.

However, even a whisper of interest from Saint Martha can boost a hobby or activity to surprising levels. One of my other interests is poultry, and Martha's glowing accounts of her chickens helped to start the current surge in backyard chicken keeping.
 

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Maybe I have been incredibly lucky, but all of my tanks have been easy, and relatively problem-free from the start. My introduction to planted aquaria was Walstad's Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, and I have continued to use that method, with my own elaborations.

This may be wildly over-confident, but I think I could give a new hobbyist relatively simple, step-by-step directions for setting up a tank that would be as easy as mine have been. And it would not be expensive either. But this method would never be heavily marketed or become highly profitable because it uses common equipment and materials.

Maybe the money saved could be used instead for well-grown, healthy plants; and fish that are raised, shipped, and sold in humane ways. What a pipe dream!
 

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"I do however agree that if there was a well defined easy to reproduce cheap and easy to maintain tank style it would bring in more beginners to the hobby."

This exists: the Walstad method, especially if you add the enhancements of good circulation, generous biofiltration, and moderate modern lighting.
 

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"Well not only do these methods need to exist they need to be more readily available to newcomers."

That is what we are here for.

I did a 90 gallon Walstad demo tank at my LFS. It is the only planted tank in the store, and the owner was quite skeptical about it. It has been up and running trouble-free for about 3 months without a single water change! Not that I recommend this, but it made a believer of the shop owner. And he tells everyone who asks how it was done. At least three new members have joined our local club because of that tank, and the support they get on this forum.
 

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I suspect one of the problems with dirt tanks is the marketing angle - having to wade through the dozen or so kinds of soil at a gardening center is probably too daunting for a newcomer, but the ADA stuff is (a) not available everywhere and (b) really expensive for a newcomer who may not be sure they want the full "planted" effect. Also, buying enough plants to fully pack a new setup with dirt would be really expensive, unless you're already in touch with a forum or club. (In which case, you're not really the "newcomer" we're talking about as far as I can tell.) Other than the ADA system there doesn't seem to be a "convenience" factor in planted aquaria yet.
Well said! I've tried to convince the shop owner to carry at least the supplies for mineralized top soil, if not the finished product. But because of his agreements with suppliers and economics of wholesale purchasing, he can never compete with big box stores on these products. And making his own MTS is out of the question.

The plant quantity problem is why I preach cheap stem plants to beginners--pack the tank with them until the slower growers that you really want can take over.
 

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Planted freshwater aquara may never be as popular as saltwater. But does that matter? We know that there are beginners out there who ARE interested in planted tanks but who cannot get reliable information. They show up on our "Introductions" and "New to planted aquariums" forums daily.

When I show my gardening friends my tanks, they almost always say "Wow, I never knew an aquarium could look like that!" They've seen the marine fish, and they don't care. They want plants and gardens, and if the gardens are in a glass box filled with water in the house it just makes them more interesting.
 
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