art, science and business of aquascaping

Balazs Farkas & Green aqua

“So, I have a friend I was just speaking with that I think we should bring on the show. His name is Balazs.”

This is how I first became aware of who Balazs Farkas was. It was just some pre-talking with Jurijs Jutjajevs before hitting the record button for an episodes of The ScapeFu Podcast. It was January 2015 and it turned into ScapeFu Podcast Episode 22: An Interview with Balazs Farkas. To this day, it is still one of my favorite episodes as the conversation was so free flowing and authentic.

Today, five years later, I am honored to be able to share with you a more in-depth and personal conversation with Balazs. Oh, I know he’s a big YouTube celebrity now! The Green Aqua Channel he hosts is a huge hit with over 360,000 subscribers and growing. But, I think my talk will show you a side of Balazs that we don’t often see in front of the camera.

Let’s get behind that camera to get to know Balazs Farkas.

Who is Balazs today? Please share a little bit about where you live, family, what you do for a living.

Well, I’m a co-owner of Green Aqua – a Hungarian Aquascaping Shop and Gallery. I live in Budapest with my wife, Dory. Everybody knows her she’s been featured in the Green Aqua videos before.

Copyright Balazs Farkas

And I have a daughter, she’s 17.

Um, I don’t do anything for a living. I invest for a living. I do not work for money. I like to say that money works for me. I don’t like 9 to 5 jobs and working for other people.

what is your typical day like? Any habits, practices you like to do?

Balazs Farkas Green Aqua standing
Copyright Balazs Farkas

Oh well, my typical day? I don’t think that I have typical days. I don’t have weekdays; I don’t have work days.

Basically, my life revolves around trying to come up with new ideas. Thinking a lot, reading a lot. Watching lots of YouTube videos in many, many areas but especially psychology, investing, aquascaping. Basically, these three.

I also spend a lot of time with Dory; and my daughter, Liza, but she’s big enough to have her own things.

In terms of my habits. I think my most important habit is self-reflection. Thinking. Pursuing my dreams. Having dreams and trying to think of how I can be better in whatever I do- in my thinking, dealing with people, in my aquascaping. I go to Green Aqua and do scaping, meetings, video shoots, video editing, company development. Or, I just stare at our koi fish pond from the couch in my office.

where did your interest in the aquarium start?

My interest in aquariums started in my childhood. I had 400 liters of freshwater tanks. Four tanks of 100 liters. Sorry, I cannot tell you what that is in gallons. [Art’s comment: 400 liters = 105.669 US gallons 🙂 ]

I really loved them. I had Gouramis and I had a lot of Boraras, and livebearers, obviously, and some stem plants and pebbles.

And then my interest shifted towards girls when I was 17 or 18, and I stopped with the hobby. Then – many years later – one day my daughter asked me what kind of pets I had when I was a child. She was really small, so this must have been probably like 15 years ago. And I told her that I had aquariums and then she said “OK I want one too”.

We went to the local fish shop directly after this conversation and got a small nano tank for her, but I committed all the noob mistakes. Internal filter, bad type of hardscape (limestone-based). Overstocking from day one, not letting the filter cycle.

All the fish died and the tank was just ugly, full of algae. That’s when I started reading about aquascaping a lot more and trying to figure out how to do a modern, good looking tank. That’s when I met Mr Amano’s works. I started doing plenty tanks afterwards and the rest is… Green Aqua history.

I first met you in 2015 for the scapeFu podcast when we talked about your amazing aquascape- before the creation of adam. It was amazing! tell me about it.

Before the Creation of Adam - Balazs Farkas
Copyright Balazs Farkas

Well, first of all, thanks. I’m really glad to inspire and I’m really glad that you liked it.

Actually, I always wanted to do very creative things, that are very far away from whatever other aquascapers are doing. This is not only true for aquascaping, it applies to my filmmaking, or to my thinking as well. For example, I’ve never seen anybody use sculpted hardscape before, so I thought it would be nice to come up with sculptures that look like underwater rocks.

We glue rocks together, but then you’ll have to hide the glue somehow, which is really a problem, and it will just make the rock non-continuous. So, I came up with this new idea.

The problem was that you know … I couldn’t do it, so I had to ask a sculptor friend of mine to do it – based on my plans. He’s a really talented, now famous artist, Gergő Ámmer.

Copyright Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd | Green Aqua LLC | Balazs Farkas

He came up with some prototypes, and I suggested some changes. And then, the whole structure came together. As you probably know, because I’ve been talking about this in other interviews as well, the scene was inspired by the movie Riddick, which is a science fiction movie. It’s one of my old favorite science fiction movies, and I really liked Riddick’s planet. The sun comes up and burns the surface of the planet, and that burning will create really nice structures. I tried to imitate those structures. The other idea was to have a minimalist Iwagumi scape, with rocks only and nothing else – just very clean lines.

Also, another friend of mine, a graphic artist, did the background. The background was a backlit LED background, which had a printed graphic vinyl that was designed by Ákos Nádaskuti, based on my idea of an out-of-focus solar flare.

IAPLC winning work
copyright Balazs Farkas

what are your thoughts today on planted aquariums for the mass public? How has your thinking about the Freshwater planted Aquarium market changed or evolved?

Balazs Farkas Green Aqua talking
Copyright Balazs Farkas

Those are two very difficult questions!

I think that more and more people will get drawn into the planted aquarium hobby. Actually, I think many will start the fishkeeping hobby with aquascaping, right from the beginning, and not with conventional fish tanks we are used to seeing from beginners.

The modern world inspires people to have beautiful moving images in their houses. They have big screen LED TV’s and they also have aquariums now. They also try to do these green walls with live plants and everything else, so just watching fish swimming around in an empty tank with maybe just a couple of plants and pebbles at the bottom is no longer satisfying visually for most people.

Which is a good thing because they can really do better, visually.

My design skills and my technical skills have evolved, but the way I think about this aquascaping has not. I still agree with what Mr. Amano said: the planted tank hobby brings us closer to nature. I think this is still valid today. It hasn’t changed. This is not going to change. I think it’s going to stay.

You are famous or famous for the Green Aqua’s YouTube channel. That is absolutely fantastic. Please tell me how the channel came about and what what it takes to produce it.

Thanks for the appreciation! I really feel all the the support that is coming from all the fans, and all the viewers from all around the world.

It takes a lot of effort to produce these videos – a lot people invest a lot of time in this on a weekly basis. We actually now have about 12 professionals involved in making these videos – from tank maintenance and aquascaping to assistance in the production. We’ve got producers, editors, camera operators, post-production professionals for color grading, sound mixing, subtitling, voiceover artists.

It is me who you mostly see as host, but I don’t think this should be a one man show.   I’m happy that I can involve Tommy and Viktor more and more, and we’re inviting other aquascapers for workshops too. Our goal is to make a non-conventional YouTube channel. One that is more about scaping, not about individuals.

Green Aqua Team
Copyright Green Aqua LLC

You might know that I have a TV director and producer background. I’ve been working for television stations for more than 20 years. I stopped doing TV more than five years ago, to completely focus on aquascaping, and on producing these videos for the YouTube channel. So, I’ve got an edge in being able to come up with this channel-concept, and knowing what it takes to produce it, and what it takes to technically do these videos.

I think aquascaping and filmmaking are really close to each other, in the way that both of them are visual art-forms, so I can use my skills in both areas, which seems to make people happy.

Do you have any special topics or episode series of the YouTube channel that you are planning for 2021 that you can share?

Well, we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2021, but I had many plans on visiting many places, inviting many famous aquascapers to the Green Aqua Gallery for workshops and Master Classes and other exciting events, and I hope that when this COVID thing is over, we can resume what we had to stop.

Green Aqua Gallery
Copyright Green Aqua LLC

Now this is very funny, I was just looking around the other day in the Green Aqua Gallery and realized that almost all the big tanks are scaped by me. I don’t like this. My plan is to change this. I’d love to have great aquascapers from all over the world to come here and inspire people through the Green Aqua platform. To make it one of the centers of the aquascaping hobby. Even more than it is now.

workshops at Green Aqua
Workshops at Green Aqua | copyright Green Aqua LLC

I’m planning to go to the US, have been planning to do that for many years, to visit my aquascaper friends, and to possibly do some diving with Chris Lukhaup in those beautiful rivers of Florida, that are full of crocodiles.

Chris Lukhaup Florida River
Chris Lukhaup Florida river | Copyright Dennerle GmbH
George Farmer swimming in Florida river | copyright George Farmer

Please tell me about the origins of Green Aqua and how it came to be what it is today.

Green Aqua started as a web-shop many years ago – founded by Attila Néder, Viktor Lantos and me. We were aquascaper-friends, who met on Attila’s blog, contributing on it, writing different posts.

Green Aqua Budapest
copyright Green Aqua LLC

People started asking us about sourcing the products needed to complete those beautiful scapes, that we were always showing them. We started to direct them to different shops, and that’s how we figured that there’s a need for a local aquascaping shop. We found that there was a problem in people’s lives, that needed a solution. The problem was they needed a good place to get all the products to build a beautiful planted tank.

We found a logistics company, they helped us do the packaging and shipping, so we didn’t have to do anything – and that’s how it all started. That’s the business side of it. The community side of it was already in place on Attila’s blog. It was a great community, with good friends, more and more of them. Then we opened the first shop – the rest is history.

Green Aqua logo
copyright Green Aqua

This would be a typical script for all types of businesses: you need to find a problem in society. If you find a problem people have, you’ll need to try to come up with a solution to that problem. This is your niche.

Green Aqua did exactly that. We found the problem – aquascaping was not popular enough. People wanted to have more beautiful planted tanks, but they didn’t know how to do them. They didn’t have the know-how, they didn’t have the gear, they didn’t have the inspiration. They had some inspiration, but it was scattered all around the Internet and we wanted to create a center for that information and that inspiration.

What is something that most people don’t know about green Aqua?

They don’t know that we – at Green Aqua – struggle with the very same things as all aquascapers do. We forget to restart the filter after maintenance. The CO2 bottle depletes, and we don’t notice for days. We have a long power outage over the weekend. The RO filter barrel overflows and floods the Gallery. We do everything so that nobody notices anything of these events.

Green Aqua Gallery | copyright Green Aqua LLC

Tap or RO?

Reverse Osmosis, 100%. You don’t want Chlorine in the water! You don’t want heavy metals in the water. You don’t want hard water for your mostly equatorial plants, so RO is the way. It makes planted tanks more manageable.

What is your current thinking on what it takes to have a successful planted aquarium?

Balazs Farkas pointing
copyright Balazs Farkas

My current thinking is that you need to address seven issues.

  1. Good filtration;
  2. Good CO2 levels;
  3. Good lighting;
  4. Soft water;
  5. Good, professional fertilizing;
  6. Have algae eaters; and
  7. Do the regular maintenance.

What markets does green Aqua sell to?

We currently ship to European countries only. Our focus is to have a quality service in Europe with the best user experience. Yeah, we received many request from all over the world to expand our services, we know there’s a need for the same quality worldwide service.

What is it like working with Viktor and Attila? How do the three of you make it work? What things would you change about each of them?

Viktor Lantos - Balazs Farkas - Atila Neder
Viktor, Balazs & Attila | Copyright Green Aqua LLC

Well, this is a very good question. I think that Viktor, Attila and me are working together in the most efficient-, and the best way possible. I don’t think that I would change anything in this matter.

We started as hobbyists. We started as friends. And yes, we are indeed very different in our personalities, but in order to have a team that works well, you really need people around you that don’t think the way you do. Because, if you work alone, you will inevitably have blind-spots in your decision-making. You will not foresee some problems, so you’ll need different perspectives from people around you. We will sometimes disagree but will always reflect on the others’ opinions.

In the past 11 years we grew to respect the differences and grew to tolerate our personal weaknesses. I think this is key. I think that this trinity, if you wish, is at the core of the Green Aqua brand, and I would not trade it for anything. This is teamwork, a good process, which – in my opinion – will bring the brand forward.

I see Green Aqua’s manufacturing certain products, including plants. Please tell me about this side of the business.

Yes, manufacturing is very important at Green Aqua. We do have lots of different products, including plants that we manufacture. Aquariums, cabinets, fertilizers, tools, you name it. This part of the business is very important, but so are the other areas. The promotion, the quality of our services, the inspiration we provide in building quality planted tanks. Manufacturing has to come in line with these things, equally.

My personal view is that nowadays, in the 21st century, building a brand is more important than being able to manufacture something. With that said, we’d like the quality of our manufacturing to reflect and represent the quality of Green Aqua in general, to be in line with the effort we spend on building this for so many years. Customer satisfaction is key.

Who is the better aquascaper Tommy, Viktor or you?

aquascaping battle
copyright Green Aqua LLC

Define better. Aquascaping is an art form. It is highly subjective. We do different-style planted tanks. We do better and worse. I don’t think that anyone is better than the other. I think all three of us are experienced aquascapers.

So, to give you a direct answer: Josh Sim (Malaysia) is the better aquascaper; or Fukada san (Takayuki Fukada, Japan). And so are many others. They are at a different level. Tommy, Viktor and I are really just aquascapers, man.

Do you have any hobbyists besides amano that really inspired or continue to inspire you?

Oh yes, there are many. Known and unknown. There are many talented aquascapers, who are on a higher level in aquascaping than we are. I love the hardscape skills of the Indonesian scapers, I love their crazy contests. Obviously, aquascaping is very strong in Asia, but I’ve seen some Europeans that are equally good, and inspire me all the time. Brazilians. Americans too, even if some of them are half Japanese, half Chinese and live in Tokyo, LOL! I’m not going to go into names, you see them at the top of the IAPLC contests regularly. They’re there for a reason, and some of them were invited by the Green Aqua team to come here to do workshops and other events. I hope to present you many more in the future too.

What guidance would you give to someone who aspires to get into the world of planted aquariums?

Well, that guidance is already kinda’ provided through our YouTube channel, I hope.

Having a planted tank is the best thing for an urban lifestyle. It will bring you closer to nature. It’s going to calm you down. It’s going to disconnect you from the everyday problems.

It’s just a cool hobby. Try it, you’ll love it.

Tell me about your first car.

Balazs Farkas Trabant
copyright Balazs Farkas

Nice! Remember that I’m an Eastern European guy. I started broke, like everybody else here, in the post-communist region at that time. It was a Trabant and I loved it! It was a true two-stroke-engine car. I had many problems with it, and I grew to learn how to service it myself. But it took me everywhere. I loved it. You are always nostalgic about your first, right?

favorite superhero.

I’ve got a couple of superheroes, actually.

My biggest superhero is a Hungarian psychologist: Peter Popper. I really like the way he thinks about life, he was my teacher at the Hungarian Film University. He was a published author of many books. A very smart and thoughtful person. Unfortunately, he died in 2010.

The other hero of mine is another Canadian-Hungarian psychologist, Gábor Máté. He has a really good book about addiction: “In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts”.

And then, I’ve got some investor superheroes: first, the biggest investment guru of all times, Warren Buffett. Then Robert Kiyosaki, a Japanese American investor from Hawaii. The way he thinks about financial freedom, about assets and liabilities, changed my way of thinking about work and money. I love Ray Dalio’s way of approaching problems in life, I really like his principles.

Lastly, we all have an aquascaping superhero: Sensei Takashi Amano.

describe something about yourself that most people don’t know.

Balazs Farkas green tea
copyright Balazs Farkas

Haha. Well, most people don’t know that I’m an alcoholic. I used to drink for many, many years. It’s going to be five years since I stopped, this February. Five-years-sober, baby! That’s why I drink green tea all the time.

What are some personal values that make who you are?

The biggest personal value that I grew to learn in the past years is that I need to be aware of my feelings. To really know why I feel certain things, and to be able to admit these feelings, rationally, to myself.

I, like many people, lived very subconsciously for a very long time. Avoiding certain topics, not facing my limitations, not being able to accept my limitations, thinking I’m more than I was. I hope I’ve dealt with those things. This is a continuous learning curve that everybody has to go through. To learn from our mistakes. To really value rational consciousness, because that’s what’s gonna bring us higher – to be better.

describe an aquascape that you created that you are truly proud of. why do you think it holds a special place with you?

I don’t think that I’m proud of any particular scape. I guess I’m proud that I never stopped exploring, and never stopped coming up with new things. And I’m proud that I was able to create so many different scapes.

Each scape was a darling when I created it. In the past, I always thought that the last scape that I made it’s the one I’m the proudest of. Today, I think it’s more important to give your best in aquascaping – again and again – and not to deal with misleading feelings, like self-pride. I’m proud of the process though, of trying to be better.

Balazs Farkas maintenance
copyright Green Aqua LLC

Chocolate or vanilla?

Nakd Lemon Drizzle. Go Google it.

favorite food favorite drink.

I don’t have a favorite food, I eat a lot of different healthy foods.

Favorite drink is easy: green tea.

T5 or LED?

LED all the way, man. Let’s use the technological advancements..

Readers of my blog are avid hobbyists from all around the world. Any words of wisdom you would like to share with them to close out the interview?

Balazs Farkas tools
copyright Balazs Farkas | Green Aqua LLC

I don’t want to sound pretentious. I’m going to tell you what I learned from my superheroes: go ahead and do things. Don’t be afraid of your mistakes – learn from them. Practice and impartial self-reflection will make you better in anything you do. And don’t forget to aquascape – it’s a perfect way to relax!

Take care, cheers!

Conclusion

I want to thank Balazs for not only the time he gave to answer my questions but also for how authentic, honest and personal he was with his answers. I really enjoyed getting to know him better. It would be great to meet him in person one day.

My aim is always to show the real person that I’m interviewing and to give my readers a chance to truly get to know them as people. I want to see them beyond their Internet persona. I hope you feel this way about Balazs now that you know more of him. He’s a very interesting member of our aquascaping community.

If you haven’t done it already, please go to the Green Aqua YouTube Channel and subscribe. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

Art

About the author

Art Pennom

Art Pennom is the founder of ScapeCrunch.com where he writes about the world of planted aquariums and aquascaping. In the past, Art founded AquaticPlantCentral.com, ScapeFu.com and the ScapeFu Podcast.

Art lives in Miami, Florida

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By Art Pennom
art, science and business of aquascaping

Art Pennom

Art Pennom is the founder of ScapeCrunch.com where he writes about the world of planted aquariums and aquascaping. In the past, Art founded AquaticPlantCentral.com, ScapeFu.com and the ScapeFu Podcast.

Art lives in Miami, Florida

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