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@ Margit- I feel the need to respond to your post. My responses are in blue. I will quote your line first and then respond

..this whole discussion centres around a very strange argument: commitment is proportionate to the amount of money spent (the size of the diamond is an accurate measure of love, right?)...

Wrong - the question was not how committed you are to the hobby by show of $$$ spent. It was why are people willing to shell out the $$$ in salt water but not freshwater? Why is there such availability of species flora and fauna in the SW side but not FW side? Usually that comes down to the profitability margin because without the demand there is not supply. If it costs to stock it and bring it in then people have to be willing to buy it.

you need advanced technology to have a "nature" tank...

No one ever said this. We have an entire forum dedicated to "el natural" style methodology. This discussion wasn't necessarily about a "nature" tank, just FW scapes in general. I'm not even sure there is an official definition of a "nature" tank.

When I read some tank journals, inspiration invariably comes from landscapes or fairy tales ("enchanted forest"); seems none of the scapers ever went through the trouble to study biotopes or put on a set of goggles to take a good look around under water.

I don't think these type of aquascapes claim to be biotopes. Why would you assume that they are lacking in education about them?

There is nothing wrong with wanting a showy, albeit unnatural planted tank; some people prefer sculptured boxwood to a garden that's running wild. And so need CO2 and fancy lighting. It's legitimate to do so - but it's not the height of the hobby... and when the beautiful technology breaks down (failed valve), you've gassed your fish to death...

I'm not sure what is at the "height of the hobby". I do know that the aquascape winners are using the fancy equipment. Most that use CO2 have many fail-safe's built into their setups. For me I have a double guage regulator to prevent end of tank dump, a Ph controller and even then I never turn my CO2 higher than it could hurt my fish EVEN if it were continuously running. No one wants to hurt their fish or livestock. Mistakes can happen, even in a set-up like yours.

... Again, if it floats your boat, it's legitimate. But it doesn't mean that you've arrived at the pinnacle of the hobby or that you're setting standards. All it means that there exist many ways to skin a cat, some with technology, others with little or none. But don't take money as a yardstick for seriousness... and do take a minute to consider the ecological costs... chances are that your set up is sustainable only as long as the friendly neighbourhood nuclear plant doesn't blow up...

This is your 2nd use of "it's legitimate" and then you end up with the ecological costs, neighborhood nuclear plant... It's quite clear in your tone that you do not think it's legitimate. We could go on and on about ecology and personal beliefs but this discussion is not about that. Also since you missed the premise of the discussion NOT being about commitment to hobby = $$$ spent you are off topic. No one is trying to decide a winner here or set standards. This is just a discussion

Finally, I have spent months thinking about how I can run a successful tank that is sustainable in an environment, where I can't take a steady supply of electricity for granted. I now use sunlight only, a heater for those chilly Nairobi nights and a circulation pump. My tank is locally made. No filtration; instead, I rely on plants. If there should be no electricity for a month, my tank will still provide a stable environment. Before y'all preach technology, try a bit harder catching up on ecology...

Good for you. I'm glad you have achieved your goal. No one faults you or would want to take this away from you. This was not a thread about preaching technology to sacrifice ecology, which seems to be what you espouse. For me it's more about what amazing availability there is in other countries of flora and fauna and why we don't have it in the US when we do have a high standard of living. What is it that keeps it from this country? Many have said it it that the $$$ aren't there to sustain the availability. I think you missed the point. You sound angry and judgmental. I love the diversity. I don't keep or have biotopes. It's not because I don't know about them. It's not because I think they are inferior. I want to enjoy as many species of things as I can in my spaces. I don't expect you to be me. I'm glad you are happy. I don't want to be forced to be you either. We can all be ourselves and enjoy the hobby.
[/QUOTE]

Amen.
 

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Well, with Margit here we see another extreme side of the hobby - the ultra-natural if I can call it that way.

I have finally started to understand that in this life things work best when there is a ballance. I truly dislike tanks with too much fancy equipment. And you really don't need it anyway. But some folk lean to the opposite side of the spectrum - away from Margit. To them the little gadgets "make" the tank run. I personally believe that things like a pH controller, Dropchecker, precise fertilizing, and even AquaSoil are not really needed to run a high tech planted tank. But many people believe in the need to use all these things.

Between these two opposites - ultra-natural and ultra-high-tech lies the "golden middle". I think it has the best of both worlds - simplicity, knowledge about plants/requirements, but also freedom due to use of special equipment. Without special lights and CO2 you are limited to being able to grow only certain plants. With this freedom comes the tendency to do stupid things - mix plants with different requirements, from diffrerent parts of the world and so on. A good parallel example are the photo websites where anyone can post their pictures. With the progress of digital photography we saw more and more bad photographs. To the point at which some sites are just full of images that we have seen hundreds of times before. With planted tanks though we are yet to start to understand what is cheesy and what not. To me personally all these cute little moss trees, waterfalls, miniature underwater mountains etc. are pure kitsch. But for some people they are very cool. I don't spare ridicule when I find something stupid in this hobby, but I have never, ever, criticised a "kitschy" tank:





http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitsch

So, somewhere in the future we should see a hobby that is more mature, ballanced and with a better understanding of Nature. For now, only about a decade after Amano gave new life to the planted aquarium hobby we are still in the baby step stages. Look at the way we run our tanks - we don't even have a streamlined methods of doing that. If we are honest about it we will agree that if EI and PPS were that great most of us would have adopted them a long time ago. My point is not to mock these two approaches, but to make the point that we are still figuring things out.

In these first stages we will all agree that the hobby needs an improved image. It needs not to be seen as "cheap", "diy", "free plants", and "hard to do". Lack of financial basis stifles this hobby badly. Most people here know me - in the last 3 years I imported ultra rare pet fish and sold them online. We had to shut down the business because... people would not pay enough for fish that are so rare that don't even have a scientific name yet. In 2010 only we imported 250 species of fish that you cannot normally find anywere if you look today. The image of the freshwater hobby killed us - people do not value what you, Margit, value so highly. It drags the hobby down - image, perception, new and good products, new knowledge. Plants are vewed as even less valuable than fish... This is what this thread is all about.

So, thank you for expressing an extreme view about our hobby. I too have and continue to post "controversial" thoughts with the only goal to "make the ice budge" as they say in Russia. We need direction, perspective, and common sense. Opposing views and good discussions should lead us forward. I've heard that French people love to discuss things in depth (and often come across as annoying). We need something French in this hobby, hahah. I think we are doing exactly this in this thread so far.

--Nikolay
 

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Here's something else. It has to do with the topic of this thread for sure - "money and the hobby". In the sense that the way we see this hobby is a driver to achieve something better.

http://www.dfwfishbox.com/forums/production/showthread.php?t=20632

If we are to popularize this hobby in such a way that it leads to a new perception we cannot use El Natural looking tanks. That's the sad truth. People react more to the "kitschy" side of the hobby than to true natural beauty. Some of the tanks in that link achieve such intricate natural looking beauty, but mix plants from different parts of the world. I guess that's the ballance I'm talking about - perception vs. inner workings.

--Nikolay
 

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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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When it comes to el-natural style, I don't visit that forum or look at the pics. I just don't like it and that is OK if others do. This may sound mean but if I wanted to look at the life in a ditch, I wouldngo look at a real ditch..


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.
 

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Hi Niko,

before I reply, a compliment on your signature line...:biggrin:

When you mention El natural, I immediately have an image in my mind (similar to yours, I guess... a bit on the drab side). But that's because it has already been "chiseled in stone" as a method and is being guarded by its acolytes. Others use Japanese design principles for their iwagumis, oblivious to the fact that any other parts of the world might have interesting rock formations, too. I am not convinced that the hobby is advanced by propagating methods, but by stirring up an interest in ecology and natural habitats (e.g. Bleher is doing biotopes without going low tech or El natural). Then, you can choose your technology as needed - and not as prescribed.

Just one observation on Tex-Gal's retort: if you don't want something approaching a biotope, what makes a planted tank different from an 18th century orangerie? #-o

I found Walstad's book interesting, but not particularly inspiring. Instead, when I wanted a low tech set-up, I hit the books of the early aquarists, whose books were first published in the fifties or sixties (Frey, or my second edition Sterba, etc.). So, I use soil (up to 10 inches deep), but I definitely do not have a Walstad tank (I keep polypterus and hope to add cichlids...; yet, in terms of sheer weight, my tank has more plant matter than a densely packed Dutch aquarium and still features loads of driftwood and rocks)

The point I'm trying to make is that there are no quick fixes, no matter the amount of technology available. If new hobbyists are enticed by the more attractive images from your link, and are made to believe that such results are entirely within their reach, they will be sorely disappointed. No amount of design principles, dosing regimens, pressurised CO2 and high-end lighting - and no recipe-style checklist of soil, gravel capping and a heaped tablespoon of duckweed, either - will prevent a system collapse.

So, no, I don't think that bringing money into the hobby serves any purpose (other than enabling industry to develop more technology); promoting the idea that one is dealing with living systems and that working with nature is easier than working against her, is, in my (not so humble) opinion, more productive.

Cheers

Margit
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 · (Edited)
Margit - I'm not sure what you mean about 18th century orangerie unless you are saying that it's like having the aquarium look like a conservatory of sorts. I agree. I'm ok with that. That is how my tanks usually look. I love to try all the different species and learn about the different plants which then gives me the need for the high tech equipment.

I also agree that you can always have a system collapse. There is nothing natural, as has been said by so many, about keeping a little bit of nature in a glass box in your house. We are not nearly as good at replicating nature as nature is at creating it. Hopefully we are attentive enough to intervene when things get out of balance. This happens even in nature too as when you see ponds turn over with algae blooms and fish gulping at the top, massive fish die off's because of over population of certain types, etc. Nature is not kind about these adjustments - deer starvation because of overpopulation etc. We don't want or like to see this in our homes so we intervene. I use to keep kribensis but don't anymore because they multiply like rabbits and their sheer numbers could overwhelm my tank.

I also agree that working against nature is fraught with frustration. I see this all the time in outdoor landscaping. People use plants that will not work in areas as they mature and then they pull everything out, just when it's getting mature and redo everything all over again - working against the nature of the plants.

What money buys for me is variety. I get to learn, enjoy, experience different flora and fauna that I wouldn't otherwise because of availability. I think it's always been like that though. The people who have money can travel and experience it that way. Those of us that don't have to wait til the prices come down and we can get it where we live.

Technology just for it's own sake is a loosing endeavor. There is always something more advanced coming out next week. Technology chosen as needed is what makes sense for us all. Lets face it we all don't even have the skills to be able to use technology at the same level anyway.

Also, while technology does cost, it's not even necessarily where the money can go. I guess I would like to see more flora and fauna available. That costs money to import, to keep, to sell. That is what I'd really like to see. I think that's what Niko was talking about in his "fish business". Whatever technology I need to maintain this nature, I'm willing to purchase and learn to use.
 

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Really good discussion!

Some observations:

What is a planted tank? What is an aquascape? For me as mentioned the latter is about aesthetics. Now that doesn't mean a planted tank can't be attractive, but it doesn't necessarily have aesthetics at it's core. I don't think big money will be spent around a planted tank especially an "El Natural" one. That is really about simply growing plants in a fish tank.

Pictures of aquascapes by professionals or advanced hobbyists are a mixed bag. Firstly there attractive and people say "I want that" It happened to me one day reading Nature Aquarium World at the book store. I think it generates interest and expenditure, but many times it's not sustainable since the disappoint rate is too high. Most people can't maintain the tank like the picture for several reasons. The biggest being "Stems Grow".

Plants vs Fish -One to one plants lose, easily. But if those plants become an aquascape and that aquascape becomes art then the plants have a fighting chance. But as mentioned there is a fine line between a gitchy scape and a work of art. For example a Dutch Scape could be a sight to hold or it can easily look like the vegetables in the supermarket. Same goes for those scapes as mentioned with trees, brooks,etc.

Fish dominate the saltwater hobby and expenditure is built around them. Yes a nice reef tank is a thing of beauty, but it's pretty dead (I know it's live rock) until it's teeming with life. Planted tanks are much more difficult to maintain than saltwater by professionals. You would have to have service people in there twice a week to really keep it looking like a piece of art. Once the live rock is set in place. It doesn't need constant pruning, etc. so it can go at least a week before it changes and doesn't look picture perfect.

I do think in addition to dollars it takes a special commitment to succeed. ADA, Knott and other's have a higher commitment to the hobby thus they will naturally have more success. They spend much more time, etc. then a typical hobbyists would. That's why they all do things in different ways and it still works.

Where does all this leave us, I haven't a clue.
 

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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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It's been awhile since I checked in on this thread. I just noticed a bit about El Natural and how some might perceive it to be a style rather than a method, etc... I think there is some truth in the fact that many who use natural methods tend to scape in a way that looks..."El Natural". But it really all depends on the scapist. Here are 2 "El Natural" tanks. I'm not saying that these are extremely beautiful scapes worthy of competition or drawing people into the hobby, but they certainly don't look "El Natural" to me. They were simply scaped in a way that I would have scaped the same tanks using high-tech methods. The style would not have been any different using a different method.





Now, all that being said, the bottom tank is actually gradually being converted to high-tech (CO2 injection, high light, better filtration, etc...).

Sorry if I strayed off topic with this post...just wanted to inject a thought or two.

-Dave
 

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Whoa! What beautiful tanks!

This topic is not about aquascaping styles or methods. But serendipitously we have stumbled on something interesting -How a tank can be both beautifully aquascaped AND as natural as it can be in a glass box!

I say, you Dave, start another thread that dispels the misconception that El Natural is a small size tank on the window sill with swords that have grown 2" in 2 years and amber-yellow water that barely moves. Method vs. aquascaping style. What is special about it all. Stuff like that.

Nice!

How long do these two tanks take to get to that state? Did you start with a lot of plants? Algae problems? Light? Filtration?

--Nikolay
 

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Those are nice tanks, but I think the point is missed.

If you take an ADA/Nature Aquarium tank I think most are going to scape it. The whole image evolves around looks. The majority will fall within the middle of a bell curve. Some extremes scapes will be to the left and some simply 'planted tanks' will be on the right.

If you took all the 'El Natural' setups. I could be wrong, but I think most will again be in the middle and not be that concerned about looks and not really look like the tanks you just showed.

I mean ADA is positioned as Art. El Natural is positioned as Ecology.
 

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Hi Dave,

love those tanks, especially the second one.

Niko:

What's wrong with amber coloured water? I went through great pains to collect dried mango and guava leaves, even bought a little Indian almond tree, to recreate a bit of my beloved Cameroon here in Kenya... :biggrin:
 

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I mean ADA is positioned as Art. El Natural is positioned as Ecology.
Yes, I see your point here. In that respect, it comes to how the idea or style is presented. ADA has done a fabulous job at presenting the hobby as an art and as a form of "peaceful relaxation" (I beleive I've seen that in one of their translated adds...correct me if I'm mis-quoting).

So that brings us to...how do we promote that same idea here in the states? Maybe it's cultural? If our idea (as a whole nation, not as individuals) of art and peace is 'less input...just sit back and look at something and be entertained', how do we as individuals show someone how 'more input...cultivate an aquatic garden and put some physical energy and $$ into it' can also lead to peace and relaxation and artistic enjoyment?

My wife and I garden (vegetables, etc...) and it's very hard and tedious work. But, it's also very relaxing and rewarding to watch it grow, see the end result of our labor, enjoy the fruits of our labor. To me, an aquascape is the same. The more energy I spend taking care of it, the more rewarding it is to see it flourish. And it becomes my own art creation, which makes it more meaningful to me as the "artist".

(Niko, I'll take your advice on that thread idea. ;) )
 

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Hi Dave,

love those tanks, especially the second one.

Niko:

What's wrong with amber coloured water? I went through great pains to collect dried mango and guava leaves, even bought a little Indian almond tree, to recreate a bit of my beloved Cameroon here in Kenya... :biggrin:
Look at this. Pause at 1:05 and look at the clarity of the water. That is what most people like. And that is what most people see as cheaper than a hamburger:


Show these clarity-loving folk a tank with yellow water and they will not want to talk aquariums any more. Don't tell them it's the biotope of the cardinals and that's how Nature is or something.

It's about perception. Amano's "Natural" Aquarium Art vs. Texas Dave's Natural El Naturals....

--Nikolay
 

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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.
Can you blame me? If you had no picture and told me you had an el-natural tank, I would have expected something.... Unaesthetic. Your tank is the excption to the rule, and most el-natural tanks just look... Blah. Sorry if you took offence.
 

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I think the cheapness of most freshwater hobbyists stems from the fact that it's a lot easier to breed FW fish and grow plants than it is to propagate SW livestock. FW hobbyists can breed a bajillion fish in a bare-bones tank + sponge filter, and if we can grow plants in something low cost then the production value of the cuttings is low. The perception of low production cost of propagules (animals and plants) is pervsive in the FW side of the hobby and isn't likely to change. Add to that the lower cost of FW livestock compared to SW and it only reinforces the attitude of being able to get away with being cheap. What's a $5.00 plant or fish compared to a $60.00 coral frag or $200.00 fish?

Also, when one thinks about it, most FW hobbyists maintain multiple aquariums; sometimes MANY multiples. I've noticed that this leads to a quantity over quality mentality which is opposite of the [general] SW mentality. I've learned over the years that the SW folks have the right idea about tank setups; spend the money on quality at the start and it'll save money in the long run. This leads to the topic of tank permanence. Reef systems are intended to be long-term, nigh permanent fixtures whereas many FW (especially plant hobbyists) routinely make radical changes to their system every few months. If you're not setting up a permanent system why bother forking out the cash?

As for US vs. non-US hobbyists; I think it's a mixture of a capitalist mentality and American social trends. "Newer and bigger is better, but you'd better get it as cheaply as you can!" We're still very much a consumption society whereas many foreign societies haven't had the resources to "Consume Mass Quantities" for a long time. When space is at a premium one can't often give in to Multiple Tank Syndrome. That leads to Quality of Quantity Syndrome, which is, I believe the root of the issue. If I were lacking in space, but not available funds, I'd have the highest quality system I could set up. That translates into a lot of $$ being put into a single setup.

Long answer to a short question. :)
 

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Wow, this is a great thread, Tex Gal. Thanks for posting it. I'm going to have to think a little about this and put my two cents in.

I've been in this hobby since the late eighties and have seen it grow to where it is today. When I imported ADA products, very few people wanted to spend the money to purchase them. I see it as more commonplace today so I think the US hobbyist is opening the wallet more. However, I think it's far behind many other countries.

I have some thoughts on why this is but I want to do a little research before posting.
 
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