photo courtesy of Sebastian Bush
Everything you Need to Know About Aquascaping
December 6, 2022
“Welcome to the beautiful world of aquascaping,” says a slavic middle aged man. “[Welcome] to the Green Aqua gallery, I brought you some flowers,” he continues, holding out a pair of gardening gloves. “Lovely, isn’t it? But I don’t want to talk about flowers today, I want to talk about this nano aquarium.”
Balazs Farkas, co-founder of Green Aqua and avid aquascaper, is no stranger to the difficult. In his video titled, “The psychology of aquascaping,” Farkas talks about his struggles with alcoholism, the reasons that he gravitated towards aquascaping, and why he continues in the hobby today. “We don’t do aquascaping for pleasure… your reward is not what you get at the end… [it’s] the pursuit of making a better planted tank.” And so, for the last decade, Farkas has devoted himself to Green Aqua, growing its YouTube channel to over 51 million total views, making its online superstore one of the largest in Eu- rope and helping hundreds of thou- sands of people explore that beautiful world of aquascaping.
What is Aquascaping?
In a video posted by The Aquascaping Type, Alex, a motion designer based in Toronto, explains why she loves aquascaping. “Aquascaping is everything I love about art, it is an interpretation of the most beautiful elements of nature. It evolves and changes over time, it’s a story, it’s a living painting, it’s birth, it’s death, it’s rebirth. I find solace [in aquascaping].” Ryan, Alex’s counterpart on the channel, describes his own experience with aquascaping, “The hobby reaches down, deep inside of me. It’s an opportunity for artistic expression, for personal expression.”
Their video continues, where 10 other major aquascaping content creators share their understandings of aquascaping. But all of these answers ring the same message, one perhaps so profound it can only be described in lyrical imagery of serenity and creativity, perhaps as cheesy as any other passionista describing their hobby. Ultimately, however, aquascaping can be de- scribed simply and succinctly:
Aquascaping is the artistic layout of substrate (such as sand or gravel), hardscape (stones and wood) and plants, where an ecosystem is created to fill the frame of the aquarium.
However, as evident in the complexity of the answers given by Alex and Ryan, there is more to the hobby than fancy fish tanks. Most aquascapers would agree that there are three fundamental truths that define aquascaping in a deeper sense;
1. The aquarium is not solely for the viewer. It is meant to be a slice of nature. It is not a product of modern consumption, but the antithesis of it, an example of human control where responsibility, not power, is prioritized. Where life is above all else, and where a home is built for the living organisms and ecosystem contained inside.
2. The aquarium can also serve as a form of artistic expression. Once nature has been preserved, the mind is free to roam. From murky forests and rolling pastures to jutting spirals and graceful designs, the appearance is reflective of the creator.
3. Aquascaping is not a transaction but rather a growing and forever changing work. Maintenance is not only key but what brings many joy. The ‘scape’ will never be cemented in place—it is always in flux.
If that definition feels overwhelming, I understand. Over a year ago, I found the world of aquascaping and it blew my mind. In my search for methods to combat fatigue in my betta fish, I stumbled upon theidea of live plants in the aquarium. For the two months that followed, I consumed every piece of content I could about planted tanks and keeping fish and plants together. In September of last year, I ordered my first plants and tried my very best to make them look pretty in my small, scratched up plexiglass fish tank. The “pursuit of making a better planted tank” didn’t end there however, as I soon found what I had truly been looking for, aquascaping. Five more months of constant research, content consumption and reading only brought me to spend hundreds of dollars to set up my own, admittedly amateur, tank.
Without Farkas and Green Aqua, The Aquascaping Type and countless other YouTubers and Insta-gram influencers, I would still not know how to truly define aquascaping. It is elusive by nature. I can throw ideas, words and phrases out there, but nothing will come close to encapsulating the wonders of your very own underwater realm. My attempt at a concrete explanation (step-by-step procedure):
An itemized list of things you need for an aquascape:
Rocks and/or wood
Plants (multiple varieties is best) Inhabitants (fish, shrimp, etc.) Food
Maintenance equipment (bucket, razor scraper, tweezers, etc.)
How to build your aquascape:
Fill the base of the tank with your chosen substrate system. Sculpt to best suit your desired look.
Add hardscape, ensuring any rocks are securely anchored and all wood is weighed down so it does not float.
Plant foreground and midground plants, including any epiphytes (a plant which grows by latching itself onto rocks or wood instead of soil). Fill the tank with dechlorinated water and plant stem and background plants.
Add equipment including filter, heater, thermometer and light. Fully cycle your tank for about 2 weeks or shorter depending on the cycling method used, testing the tank water thoroughly along the way.
Add inhabitants and feed them. Add fertilizer.
Conduct water changes every 1-2 weeks or as needed.
Unfortunately, aquascaping, just like any hobby, has multiple obstacles when it comes to entering the community. Firstly and most prominently is the obstacle of cost. To create a base level “low-tech” (meaning no injected CO2) aquascape, a reasonable price estimate would be between $400-$600. A smaller budget aquascape could be built for between $200-$300, and a more complete “high-tech” tank would most likely cost you more than $750. Although other hobbies may have higher initial costs, aquascaping is a very expensive hobby. Not only is the cost high for your first tank, but most ‘scapers’ are not satisfied with just one, and eventually move on to other sizes and types of aquascapes, spending thousands of dollars in the process.
Another consideration when entering any hobby is how much time you want to spend on that particular hobby. For aquascaping, this amount of time needed is not insignificant. From the original hoursspent learning, scaping, planning and working to create a beautiful tank, to the hours spent on maintenance and care for the aquarium’s inhabitants, the hobby requires further investment of time. Most of the time, this is not a problem as people will be willing to spend time on whatever grabs their interest. Despite this, those who do not have lots of free time may not suit aquascaping.
However, this hobby is not simply a bottomless pit to throw away your money and time, it can also be an incredibly useful outlet for stress and serve as a form of meditation. Alex of The Aquascaping Type has spoken extensively of her relationship with mental health and aquascaping on social media. “Over the past few years, aquascaping has become a significant tool for healing in my life.” She says after the death of her father and a bipolar disorder diagnosis, she felt she had nowhere to go.“Aquascaping fell into my lap at a time where I truly felt I had nothing to live for.” She says despite trying traditional meditation techniques, nothing seemed to really help. “I discovered aquascaping…and I was immediately transfixed. The grief subsided, and it was aquascaping that became all consuming. It’s like a switch flipped. I found it. I found hope.” She concludes, “Aquascaping has enriched my life in so many ways. The meditative outlet it provides, the sense of community I feel, the sense of purpose it gives my artistic brain. It’s so many things, and it has given me the ability to move forwards.”
This piece was originally published in Inkwell’s Kitchen Sink Issue.