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How does one get smarter in the hobby?

How does one get smarter in the hobby?

  • Experimenting with different techniques

    Votes: 10 71.4%
  • Read books (hobby and plant biology)

    Votes: 5 35.7%
  • Subscribe to magazines

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Engage at ScapeCrunch

    Votes: 11 78.6%
  • Talk to other hobbyists

    Votes: 12 85.7%
  • Watch YouTube videos

    Votes: 8 57.1%
  • Listen to podcasts

    Votes: 3 21.4%

  • Total voters
For me it's always been a combination of two things.

First is to seek out people who demonstrate success in a style similar to what you have in mind. Then study their methods. And even reach out and ask questions. Most everyone I know in the hobby is glad to share their experience and help others. IMO it's easily the quickest path to success.

The second is experimenting with different techniques. I've tried all kinds of different things over the years. Some worked, some crashed and burned. But that's the way you learn what works in your particular tank. The tricky part is only changing one parameter at a time. Many people have a whack-a-mole approach and keep changing everything all the time. The problem when you do that is you rarely understand the true effect of anything, and people often assign a causal effect to things when there is none. This takes a good deal of patience, which few have.

On a side note when you study successful people you begin to realize that they usually have many things in common. And it's not dosing, it's usually everything else. Good CO2 levels, the right lighting for the mix of plants, good horticulture techniques, and almost always a focus on keeping an uber clean tank. If you get those right you have a lot more leeway with nutrients.

I am also an advocate of keeping detailed records. I keep a spreadsheet that tracks EVERYTHING. Nutrient dosing, pH drop, level of PAR, water changes, filter cleanings, pH probe calibration, TDS levels, etc. along with observations of what is going on at the time. That way I can look back and see where things were at any time and correlate that to my observations and tank pics. Saves a lot of time chasing ghosts.
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Seconding what was said above. I document *everything*.

I go out of my way to constantly be in communication with other hobbyists. I've rarely found anyone in this hobby who wasn't incredibly excited about sharing advice and strategies thatve worked for them, and I think I know why --this isn't the sort of thing most people excel at without being incredibly passionate about it!

I try different things yes, as often as possible, and exactly the way Gregg said: one parameter at a time. You have to approach it like a close approximation of a controlled experiment, slowly, with isolated variables and with the goal of trying to draw out some semblance of empirical data (or at least a couple notches above anecdotal data :) but what I also do is I pay attention to when another friend and hobbyist tries something new. Almost everytime someone mentions something they're trying, I'm like, hey, take some pictures, keep me updated over the next few weeks. Hey, know we haven't talked before, but what you're doing is super interesting, mind explaining your logic behind it?

Basically I bug people constantly 😂 but we always have a really cool discussion. A couple sayings are just as true here as anywhere else...surround yourself with people who do and know better and more than you. And also, as important as it is to study those better than you, it's just as important imo to teach those a little fresher than you. You don't truly understand something until you can break it down and explain the what and how of it to someone who only knows about 75% of what you're talking about. Aside from doing what I think is a really important duty of making the hobby more widespread and open to all, I think it's a great way to reinforce and refine knowledge you thought you already had.

The tip about emulating styles is an important one too. I like Dutch, that's my eventual goal, nice Dutch tanks. So those people I talk to most. A good Dutch amounts to having near perfect plant knowledge, husbandry skills, and placement experience. So those are the things I focus on. I can plant a really nice tank, I can maintain a really nice tank, I can grow the hell out of some plants. But I couldn't put a rock in it to save my life 😂😂 (@GreggZ can also vouch for that, he's seen me struggle first hand)

The stuff people do with hardscape is absolutely beyond me, because it's not the style I'm going for or interested in.

Linn mentions SC here being a perfect place to learn--it is. Take in as many resources as you can but there's something about forums and the way data and info is organized and always available to reference that's invaluable. More importantly, you get something that YouTube videos don't have, which is a community of great minds developing. Having learned a lot of what I know from some of the people here, I can safely say that we 100% have some of the greatest here.

YouTube videos are good for some things but I question the integrity of info when someone's selling something, and while they're great for shallow coverage of broad subjects, the information's gonna be diluted on purpose in order to reach a wider audience by it's very nature.

So yeah...to summarize, I asked alot of questions on groups and forums. And when I needed to know more and dive a little deeper, I just started hitting people up out of the blue 🤷 I do it to people when I buy, sell, or trade plants too. Every single time. Doesn't matter if it's a picky species, if it's something I've never grown before, or if it's a plant I'm getting rid of that I've been propagating since day one. I am going to ask you how you're growing it, and in what conditions, and why that way, and why don't you do it this way, and we'll what's your maintenance schedule like, and hmm idk that PO4 looks awfully low to me but if you say so 😂 I just ask ask ask, shamelessly.

So please know that if you send me so much as a Java fern, you're getting grilled on it.

That's a joke of course but hell, rotalas a common weed and Vin was able to draw some pretty badass conclusions to how they can actually be some of the pickiest species in regards to nutrient uptake.

There's always something to learn 🤷 and that's what keeps me coming back
And also, as important as it is to study those better than you, it's just as important imo to teach those a little fresher than you.
Ryan great post.

And I especially love the part quoted above.

When I got into the hobby, I studied the methods of some very successful and well known people in the hobby. Then I started reaching out to them and again I was surprised that they took the time to respond to me. It struck me how kind they were and how willing they were to help me. I am happy to say over the years I have got to know them very well and now consider them friends.

Ever since then I have gone out of my way to try and help others as often as I can. I consider it paying it forward from the kindness that was extended to me. And I really get a kick out of seeing someone grow in the hobby and progress. Like you said helping others is good for the hobby and I love to see the hobby grow.

On a side note I recently joined a few FB groups with lots of beginners. I hate to say this but there is so much just flat out wrong information being offered there I don't even know where to begin. It can make your head spin. Every cliché and myth is repeated over and over. And the same can be said for many Youtubers. I see the advice being offered and wonder how newbies have much of a chance.

But that goes back to learning from those that can demonstrate success. Why people listen to and take advice from people who can't show a single picture of healthy plant is beyond me. But yet it happens all the time.
A couple sayings are just as true here as anywhere else...surround yourself with people who do and know better and more than you. And also, as important as it is to study those better than you, it's just as important imo to teach those a little fresher than you.
This is something that was killing me on the other forum. I am far (FAR) from being as talented as a lot of people here, and still have a lot of learning to do. I was plugging along nicely with my tank and hadn’t visited that forum in a while, but when something went wrong, I went back to try to get some advice and found most of the experience had left. I was just sort of floundering with no real place to turn. I tried asking for advice anyway, and the people that answered just gave a ton of really bad info…

As an example, I was struggling (and still am struggling tbh) with Green Dust algae. I made a very detailed post with exactly what I was doing, my lighting schedule, my CO2 levels, the fert regiment… literally everything I could think of. I swear on my life, the first suggestion I got was to stop dosing phosphates and add Phosguard to my filter. They then suggested that after I had done that, I needed to do a 5 day blackout (but I should leave my CO2 running). I obviously didn’t follow this advice, and instead just decided to use the forum as a way to teach what I could to the newer people. That proved to be just as frustrating, when the advice that I was 100% confident was solid was just turned down and brigaded against as being bad. I just totally gave up…
One of my choices was "YouTube videos" but I really need to preface that option lol.

There are some YouTube channels that add knowledge to the hobby, but there are a handful that give you enough to get a tank setup, but don't explain the mechanics behind why certain things work and others don't. These are the channels that get people into the hobby but set them up for failure.

Even worse is that many of the YouTubers that I'm referring to as bad sources of information don't have a tank set up for longer than a few months. It's hard to come up with content unless you're doing a new build. Not many people are going to watch video updates on a tank that they've watched 200 updates on. Overall I think these types of YouTubers are an overall positive force in that they're attracting new people into the hobby, but it seems to be a double-edged sword unfortunately.

Most of my knowledge came from other hobbyists, trustworthy hobbyists who started an LFS, and from fellow hobbyists on forums such as this one.

Always be wary of the person who claims that their method is THE ONLY way and all other methods are trash. This is a person who turned their particular method into a religion.

Even though I've always been one to experiment with stuff, I didn't choose that as an option because of the wealth of information we have access to these days. One doesn't need to don a lab coat to get smarter in the hobby....just do some reading and ask specific questions.

Over the years I've learned that if you want to increase your knowledge, talk to the people who always have their hands wet. I can ask an engineer how a piece of software is supposed to work, but I'd rather ask that question of someone who uses the software to solve problems. The engineer can tell you how it's supposed to work, but the user can tell you how it works in the real world. I'm sure this offended some folks who may be engineers lol, and that wasn't my intention.

There are so many variables in this hobby, much like reef keeping that what works for one person may not work for another. Different lights, water chemistry, water flow, etc. can take a method that produces amazing results, but mediocre for someone else.