I get made fun of for many things but one of them is my disdain for “low tech” planted aquariums. It’s not the tank, it’s the actual term “low tech”. It’s misleading in my opinion. It doesn’t mean necessarily cheap or low maintenance.
There are 3 main classes of tanks. Limited Supplementation System, Enriched Systems, and High Supplementation Systems. I proposed these terms because even saying high tech just implies a bunch of gadgets and says nothing about the actual care and upkeep.
Most “high tech” hobbyists seem to have a better grasp of the husbandry, to begin with, going back to why I say the term “low tech” is misleading. “Low tech” gives the impression that it costs less and is easier or requires less aquarium knowledge.
I’m open to amendments. I feel like it should describe the care and not the “tech”. It seems to be something I carried over from my saltwater days. Salt hobbyists are more descriptive with their styles. Fowlr is a Fish Only With Live Rock. Zeovit is a system with zeovit reactors and a macro tank is a macro algae heavy tank (basically a saltwater planted tank). There seems to be a blurred line where low/high tech starts and stops and just saying “one has co2” is not accurate to me.
Sometimes we physically have to balance a planted tank, or any other tank for that matter, with WC, media, or chemicals. Other times we can add biological elements to get there. It can be confusing to some, for example, saying Anubis is a “low tech plant”. Plants do not possess technology. It has limited supplementation and lighting needs but can be used in other types of tanks as well.
Limited Supplementation System
A Limited Supplementation System is exactly as it sounds. There is limited lighting, limited fertilizers, and little to no CO2. An inert substrate such as gravel or sand is another key point as many commercial and even potting mixes used for substrate have nutrients in them(dirt is a fert). The use or addition of low demand plants lends itself to Limited Supplementation Systems, meaning that they don’t need much lighting or fertilizing regiment. They also don’t need to be supplemented with CO2 or if they do very little.
An Enriched Supplementation System requires regular and frequent dosing with weak commercially available fertilizers along with some form of CO2. Enriched means that plants needing low to medium light lighting are used. Substrate in the tank can be either inert or an enriched substrate. Regular fertilization dosing with weaker products or root tabs for low to medium care plants fall into this category. A mild CO2 supplementation may be used but is not necessarily required. If you are doing more than just water changes you are working with an Enriched System.
High Supplementation Systems
A High Supplementation System is exactly as it sounds. You blast the tank with dry or concentrated fertilizer such as NPK and Micros. Pressurized CO2 is ran at an advanced level. Lighting is relatively high. Maintenance such as pruning and cleaning is very regual. High supplementation is just that. Blast it across the board aggressively. High demand plants are used that require light and fertilizer. Commercially available substrates are used and often in layers with a cap on top for aesthetics.
Low Tech and High Tech leaves too much room in the middle to accurately describe what is really going on. Ultimately I aim to help the newcomers tothe hobby. If they are not hung up on “tech” and learn the biology and chemistry side of the care, I think they will have a better start. I’m tired of seeing the novice dump dirt in their tank because someone said that dirt plus cheap lights will give them a lush garden. No, there is more to it than that. They use to call “low techs” balanced aquariums and somewhere balanced fell off the radar.
by Jeremy Champlain