Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ponding Ponderings

There is so much both going on and NOT going on in and around the ponds, that today’s post is merely a hodgepodge of things floating around in my head and I barely know where to begin.

My main pond was very murky this morning. I suppose it is rebelling against all of the unseasonal rains. Perhaps I need to clean the bio-filter. The barrel is so large that the chore is a bit daunting for me. Hubby is working long hours and my son is busy with a new “friend”. So eventually, the job of cleaning the filter will fall to me. Really, it is a matter of age, my balance isn’t as good as it used to be, so it’s not so much the cleaning that gives me cause for concern as it is my footing as I ascend and descend the hill. Maybe I should consider a tip into the pond a blessing while the heat here has been so oppressive. And I would, if I could manage not to break an appendage in the process, like my skull for instance. For now, I think I will simply add a filter of quilt batting around my pump.

The next challenge I faced this morning was the discovery that a squirrel had chewed through the lid on the barrel where I keep my fish food and bird seed. With all the rain we’ve had there is mold growing on the seed and pellets. That’s about ten pounds of sunflower seed and twenty pounds of fish pellets gone bad. Not that I really need to feed the fish, there is more than enough natural food for them. But, we enjoy watching them hungrily gobble up the pellets, splashing water at the dogs, announcing, “this food is for us, so back off”. I guess it is time to invest in a new steel drum.

Though my water lilies seem to be late blooming this year, the gardens around the ponds are in full glory, with the hummingbirds enraptured by the prolific monarda that blooms above the original small pond. Daylilies and lilies are in bloom everywhere I look and the rose of sharons are also a beloved stop for the hummers.

My yellow butterfly koi is changing color on her head. It is turning to a beautiful shade of golden copper. If her body remains as yellow as it is and her head stays this new coppery color she may well take the lead as my favorite in markings of my fish.

I finally installed a pond for the fry. I put in a 90-gallon pre-formed pond next to my porch. I counted 35 fish as I moved them from the small barrel where they hatched, to the new pond. Because it is in full sun, I covered the surface almost entirely with water lettuce. So far it’s doing a great job of filtering out excessive algae. The fish seem to be more than happy with their new digs.

The fry aren’t the only ones happy with the new pond, a little frog immediately took up residence and hangs out all day, hidden in the water lettuce.

Neither the fish nor the frog seem to mind that the water lettuce doesn’t like the excessive sun. The water lettuce on the other hand is getting quite a sunburn. I am fairly certain that it will survive the season.

The fry are still too small to capture clearly on camera, but the frog didn’t mind striking a pose.

There you have it, the hodgepodge of ponding ponderings.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Making a Splash-Waterfalls and Plants

Because waterfalls and plants are so dependant upon tastes I have decided to combine these categories. For instance, in waterfalls, you may prefer a big splash of water from one location while another may prefer a gentle spill across a wide area. In plants, one might prefer a subtle look while another chooses to make a bold statement with large, colorful plants. As you can see, there will be choices to make, from subtle to bold and everything in between.

Let’s talk first about waterfalls. I prefer the sound of the gentle waterfall. My main waterfall has a small, gravel covered pool near the top, where birds can drink and bathe. The pool is then bordered by Arrowroot and River Rush which spreads through the crevices of the fall and creates a gentle spill into the pond. This waterfall spreads gently into a slope for a softer fall.

Mosquitoes lay their larvae in still or almost still water, so the gentle waterfall does little to move the water enough to discourage them from visiting. To counteract this problem, I have also added a bubbler to the center of the large pond. The bubbler doesn’t distract much from the waterfall, but makes a big difference in the movement of the water.

The smaller pond has become more of a filtration system than it is used as a pond. The waterfall into the small pond is more upright and has further to “fall”. Much of the debris that makes it through the pump in the large pond settles to the bottom of the small pond, leaving the top water clear as it flows into the river and finally back into the large pond.

The river has a gravel bottom and is peppered throughout its length with larger rocks, Arrowroot and Parrots Feather, to further filter the water before it reaches the end of the river. The water at the end of the river is then slowed by thick plantings of Louisiana Iris and Arrowroot, before falling gently into the large pond.

All of this works together to give plenty of movement to the water in the ponds. A single sharp fall of water could do the same job. By creating a more upright fall with a single or only a few rocks jutting out over a long drop into the pond you can get more movement and much more splash. This bigger splash translates into more water movement from a single space. Of course the bigger the splash, just like with color, the louder the sound of the fall.

The choice of a faster fall over a slower fall is certainly subjective. So the next consideration will be in the cost and strength of the pump. A faster waterfall will need a stronger (or faster) pump to move the water quickly through the pump and reach the proper height of the fall. A sloped waterfall is well suited to a filtration system at the fall because you will want the water to enter the filter more slowly. has everything you need for your pond, including the pond itself.

Waterfalls add necessary oxygen to the life within the pond and when creating the sloped waterfall and adding plants into the fall itself, it also acts as a filter. The plants roots and stems will filter out some of the less desirable bacteria that finds its way through the filter, while at the same time introduce beneficial bacteria and oxygen to your pond.

As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, plants are subject to tastes. Yet, for the healthiest pond, there are a few rules to follow. There are three types of plants: Floating plants, marginal plants and submerged plants. Floating plants might include water lettuce, duckweed or water hyacinth. Marginal or bog plants will have the widest variety of choices, including the monster cattails. Finally, submerged plants, often called oxygenating plants.

When thinking of floating plants, it is important to note that for the best results for keeping algae out of the pond, you want 50% coverage of the top water. Water hyacinth spreads rapidly in my area to give quick cover to the pond. My sister uses duckweed to offer cover in her California pond. She says it covers her pond so quickly that she has to forcefully thin it out every week.

Marginal plants might include Louisiana Iris, Pickerel, Arrowroot or just about any plant that will grow in moist to wet soil. If you live in a tropical area, you will have a vast number of choices including taro, umbrella and canna. Many garden centers will offer tropical plants for ponds in non-tropical areas, however they will have to be brought inside to over-winter or considered annual plants.

Submersed plants are great for catching deep debris and algae, helping to keep your pond water clear and clean, not to mention that many, like hornwort, parrots feather and anacharis are great spawning areas for the fish. I suppose water lily falls into the category of submersed plant, though with its burst of beautiful blooms throughout the summer months, it’s hard to compare with parrots feather.

When planting pond plants it is best to use “old soil”. That would be the heavy dirt out of your garden rather than using a potting mix. A potting mix is too light and will quickly float out of your planters and dirty your pond. You can buy special pots made for the pond or you can use regular plastic garden pots. When potting, layer the bottom of the pot with small gravel, add the soil and plant, then top it off with another layer of gravel. This will keep your plants and dirt inside the pots.

Before introducing any plants into your pond be sure to check local recommendations and prohibitions as some plants can become invasive.

If you remember that your pond is three stories tall, you will have a healthy and beautiful pond for many years to come.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Spawing Koi and Goldfish

I am sorry to be so long getting back to these pages. I think (I hope) you were anxious to hear about the spawning process. The weather here has not been favorable to an internet connection or even, for the most part, turning on my computer. Even as I write this, thunder is rolling and I have no connection to the internet.

I’m sure you aren’t interested in my weather and you probably aren’t interested in what else has kept me busy, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I have a very stubborn hubby. He almost never sees a doctor and a bite on his toe that I believe is from a brown recluse, is no exception to his rule. I have been treating it with Epsom Salts and essential oils and so far it seems to be working. He is lucky to have a wife interested in natural remedies or by now his toe might well have fallen off.

Spawning? The goldfish are still at it. I haven’t seen any spawning activity from the koi since May 20th. But, it seems that every time it rains a heavy downpour the goldfish begin to get jiggy again.

About the beginning: I woke up at 4 A.M. feeling rested and thinking I was ready to get out of bed. I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I took a pillow and blanket out to the swing next to my pond. The sound of the waterfall quickly lulled me back to sleep.

I was awakened about an hour later by the sound of heavy splashing, it was just daybreak. I blinked to clear my vision. The rambunctious koi were crashing into rocks and the sides of the pond. They were crashing and diving over and into the potted and floating plants as well as each other.

Fish that were not involved in the spawning itself, followed nearby creating a slurping sound as they gathered as many eggs as they could eat before the eggs found a home on the plants, walls and rocks. There was so much activity going on, I couldn’t tell where I should watch next.

The most interesting sight of all was my prettiest calico koi, it is nice to finally know that she IS a she. At one point, she was standing on her head in a corner of the pond. More of her body was out of the water than what she had in the water! I am so pleased to have caught much of the shenanigans on camera. There are still eggs attached to rocks above the waterline, though the first batch of fry has hatched (so has a second and third batch).

I spent most of the day enjoying the show and taking pictures. Later I got a large, deep pot, which I placed in the shade of a redbud tree, and filled it with pond water. I carefully pulled plants and rocks from the areas where the koi had been most active and dropped them into the big pot. In less than two weeks I had both koi and goldfish fry swimming happily in the deep pot.

When goldfish and koi are together, as mine are, it is difficult to identify a koi fry vs. a goldfish fry at first, unless you have a very strong magnifying glass. However, koi begin to show color within a few days, while goldfish take weeks before they begin to change from non-color brown to the colorful beauties they will become.

Because the goldfish have continued the spawning process, I have an almost constant influx of fry, seeming to hatch almost daily. However, I have not bothered to remove them from the community pond. Plants and carefully placed rock formations give the newly hatched fry many secure places to hide from hungry predators.

Plants in the pond not only give security and beauty to your pond and fish, they are also healthy filters to the water quality. Next time I will talk about pond plants and update you on the growth of the fry.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Dangers of Cattails



To me there is something nostalgic about cattails, childhood memories of gathering a bouquet of cattails, waiting for them to burst then blowing their feathery seeds through the air.

Perhaps it was this nostalgia that drew my sister beyond reason to add cattails to her little pond. My husband told her not to do it. Yet, she could not resist their allure. I finally conceded that if she would thin them each year, she would probably be safe.

The first year after installing the pond, I returned to California to help her with the thinning. After only one year, it was a huge job. Still she refused to remove them completely from her pond. I admit they were beautiful.

I then did not go back to California for three years (or has it been four?). She had not thinned the cattails as promised; after all remember it was a huge job for the two of us. She had merely pruned them. This pruning did nothing to slow the growth of the root ball. This root ball had completely consumed her entire pond.

I had timed my trip this year to catch another sister in her final week in California. She is not the outdoor gardening type. So, as my sister and I struggled with the pond, she enjoyed some quiet time alone in the house. At least that’s what she thought she would do.

I discovered that if I wedged the handle of the shovel under this huge root ball, it could be lifted in its entirety. Maybe if we just had one more back and one more set of hands we could get that thing out of the pond.

Now I ask you, picture if you will one 50 plus and two 60 plus, big reared, old women battling a big ball of roots that must have weighed no less than 400 pounds. Are you smiling yet? Had you been a fly on the fence, you would have been rolling with laughter.

We fought with that root ball for hours. Even when we got it outside the pond, it caused one of my sisters to fall and injure her finger. It popped so loudly, I thought she had bumped into a pair of rocks and caused them to make that sound. Fearing the finger was broken, we got her ring off immediately. Though it was obvious by the next morning that her finger wasn’t broken, we would have had to make a trip to the emergency room to have the ring cut off had we not gotten it off when we did.

In just three or four years, one little stand of cattails can completely cover a 5x5 pond. The moral of this story is, don’t put cattails in your pond unless you don’t want to have a pond anymore.

Once the monster was removed from the pond, it was no surprise to find there were no fish left in the pond. We made a trip to OSH for a few supplies; pots for new plants, de-chlorinator, that sort of thing. After three days, we went to the pet store for some conditioning fish. We bought a dozen minnows and 13 goldfish. Until last week’s heat wave hit she had lost only one goldfish. She informed me last week that she lost four of the minnows to the heat.

I had hoped to add a new water feature to her yard on this trip. I had visions of sand and surf, combining a new water garden with a surrounding floral garden. Time and energy would not allow for that. However, we did add a new fountain to her patio and bought all new patio furniture and accessories. The prints on her new cushions are very reminiscent of the ‘60s. Cushions, a much safer place to put your nostalgia.

Now for the water loss update I promised. I spent an entire week checking different areas in my ponds to zero in on the problem. As I told you before, I was losing water at the mouth of the river. That was simply caused by settling (and probably a bit of the “short-cutting” across that area). The bigger and more elusive problem, turned out to be a split in a joint in the liner in the waterfall. I replaced that area of liner with new liner and the problem was quickly resolved. When you have an issue with water loss, nine out of ten times, that issue is going to be in the waterfall.

I found the leak on Friday and refilled my pond for the last time Friday evening. It was just in the nick of time. The water had all day Saturday to warm and the fish began spawning on Sunday. More on spawning next time!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Losing Water

I know I promised to report on my trip to California when I returned. However, I returned to an issue with my own pond. I am losing water. I know that 99% of the time, water loss is caused by problems in waterfalls or other connecting areas. Very often, a liner in a waterfall is exposed to more sunlight and becomes brittle. Another issue with waterfalls can be settling that allows the liner to slip to a lower level in one or more places. I have a lot of plants growing in my waterfall and sometimes roots can also push edges of the liner down, allowing water to escape.

My pond is actually two ponds joined by a small river. So I have three waterfalls. I have my original small 3x5 pond that started this addiction and an 8x12 pond that we added later. The large pond holds the pump. There are two hoses going from the pump to the large waterfall. One hose goes directly into the fall and the other goes into the bio-filter. The bio-filter is also equipped with an overflow hose that also goes into the waterfall.

The pump also has a hose that runs to the waterfall of the small pond, so all the water is circulated together. The water drains from the small pond into the river, leading to another small waterfall the pours back into the large pond.

I have been losing about 20 inches of water a day. In a 3x5 pond four inches can be considered a large loss. Add to that the second pond and a stream and twenty inches of water is massive.

Earlier in the season, I checked the liner of my large waterfall for settling and readjusted it as needed. The liner was still pliable and in good repair…so I thought.

We have had so much rain; the ground was too wet to find any standing water that might be leaking from the pond. We’ve had a couple of dry days now and I began testing this morning.

My first step was to turn off the valves going into the large waterfall. I waited two hours and checked the water level. I had already lost about two inches of water. I knew the small waterfall was not the issue. I looked for overflow on it as soon as I returned and found I had a problem (that liner is brittle and needs replacing). That was the easiest job since there is no filtration system up there.

An inch of water per hour is an incredible loss. There are screens on the drains from the small pond into the river. They have stopped up before with algae or debris that falls into the pond and caused an overflow. That wasn’t the problem this time.

I moved the rocks along the river edge, where the liner meets the drains of the small pond. I raised the liner a bit and immediately discovered water under the river’s liner.

The mouth of the river is very small. The dogs, kids and even the guys often use it for a “short-cut”. However, it’s very rocky there and stumbling often occurs. There could be a leak around the drainpipe itself or it is possible the dirt under the liner at the very top has settled allowing water to backwash and run underneath.

For now, I don’t want to assume that is my only problem. I have had my ponds for several years now so it is possible that there are other issues. I have turned off the valve to the small waterfall and I will monitor the water level with only the large waterfall running. I have tested the hose going directly into the large waterfall and found no leaks there. Hopefully, I won’t find any problems with the bio-filter either. So far, it has been a little over an hour since I last refilled the pond and proper water level has maintained.

If it turns out that my only issue is the mouth of the river, I will need to allow some drying time. If the drain itself is leaking, I’ll need to drain some water out of the small pond and let the area dry. Then I will have to put new glue around the drainpipe. If I find settling of the liner, it will simply be a matter of pushing a little bit of dirt back under the liner above the drain to raise it back above the waterline of the drain.

I will continue to keep you informed. Next time I will give you an update and tell you all about the dangers of cattails, or maybe I should call it, “the lessons learned in California”.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Problems arise on occasion beyond our control. Today, I want to cover a series of unfortunate events, what issues they cause and how to deal with it now.

The Problem: Toward the end of summer, a snapping turtle found his way into my pond. He/she proceeded to “snap” everything he/she could get his/her “teeth” into. The turtle snapped all the greenery floating in and on the pond. Checking with the local conservation department, I learned that snapping turtles love debris and waste. Apparently, he/she was snapping the plants so that the debris became a tasty treat after it rotted and fell to the bottom of the pond. All efforts to get the turtle out of the pond were in vain. Next, the debris began plugging up the pump and filter system. A fear of sharing the pond with the turtle, kept me from reaching into the now murky pond to retrieve the submerged pump. So, the only option left was to unplug the pump.

The next thing in this series to happen is we were called out of town in a hurry. The pond still had not been tended to. To make matters worse, we wound up being gone for several months. This trip took us through the remainder of summer, fall and into the winter months. Normally, the pond would be covered over in preparation for fall and winter. To protect it from leaves and debris that might blow into the pond. The plants should have been set to a greater depth to protect the roots from ice building up around the root system. All of this on top of the damage done by the turtle.

Now that we are home do you have suggestions for what steps I should take to get the pond ready for the next season?

The Solution: Lemony snickets you have a tough problem here! I am afraid I don’t have an easy solution. Your work is truly cut out for you.

First, you will have to wait for warmer weather. You’re going to have to go in there. As soon as the water warms enough that you think you can bear it, you need to pull the pump. Clean the pump to get all the debris out of it and make sure it still works. If the pump still functions, you can set it back into the pond and begin pumping the water out of your pond. You will want to save some of the water. The amount of water will depend on the size of your pond. For my 2000-gallon pond, I would fill three 55-gallon drums almost to the top. For my 200-gallon pond, I would fill two five-gallon buckets. Big difference.

If you have fish in your pond, as the pond empties it will be easier to catch them. Move them to part of the water you have saved. Be careful. Try not to traumatize them any more than you must. Save one container of water with no fish in it.

Once you have harvested the fish and the pond is as empty as possible, unplug the pump and wade on in. Some tools I would employ would be a bucket, an old soft bristle broom and a plastic scoop shovel. Warning! Be careful with that shovel! Keep your eyes open for any rogue fish that might have escaped your view hiding in the muck in the bottom of the pond.

If things go well, you will be able to use the scoop like a dustpan as you muck out the debris from the bottom of the pond. DON’T throw all of the muck away! It makes great compost starter for your gardens. All that fish waste is excellent.

Don’t remove every little bit of the “ingredients” in your pond. Your fish have worked hard to create that beneficial bacteria.

When you have your pond cleaned as much as you can start to refill it. When it is almost full you can add back the water you saved. The one with no fish. Check the water quality of your pond. If you are using a city water source, you will need to remove the chlorine from the water before you put your fish back in your pond. I would also allow as much time as possible for the water temperature to level out.

I think all we can do is hope for the best with your plants. Unless you had some extreme temperatures it is likely that they toughed it out and will survive the abuse. I would not get rid of them yet.

As soon as your fish are swimming happily back in the pond run a hot bath with Lavender Oil and Epson Salts, you’re going to need it.

If you have problems or questions about ponding or water gardens I would love to try and answer them.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Warm Day by the Pond

I couldn’t resist it. We have had two 70-degree days in a row. I had to uncover the pond and have a peek.

I see a few leaves have managed to make their way into the pond despite the cover. Even though it is quite warm outside the wind is blowing hard and more leaves tumbled across the garden, jumped in for a swim then skated across the pond like tiny sailboats.

I know that while the pump is off for the winter, I should not feed the fish. But, my desire for them to come up to the edge and say hello was too strong. So I broke another rule. Just a single small handful and there they were.

Goliath my biggest koi never disappoints me in his mammoth size. Though I think at this point he may have only added a single inch to his last years 16 inches in length, his diameter is shocking. His large head pokes up out of the pond like a slow moving whale.

The babies from last year have grown more visibly than the larger fish. Most of them were simply dull brown in color last year. There is no sign of a brown or dull goldfish anywhere in the pond.

Another change I noticed was a Butterfly Koi that was steely black and yellow last year, has no sign of yellow and the steel black coloring has changed to a more metallic silver. What once was yellow is now white, giving him the look of highlights.

I see a tiny iris making an appearance on the far side of the water garden. It is the only plant showing visible signs of life. It is a prolific bloomer and will re-bloom from spring, right through summer.

I can see that even with the precautions, I will need to do a little bit of maintenance this year. In addition to the leaves that still managed to find their way into the pond that will have to be removed, some of the border rocks have been knocked loose by critters hoping to find water. It looks as though my filter barrel has settled some, and that will need to be re-leveled for the waterfall to function properly.

I see many oaks on my property are stubbornly hanging on to their leaves. I know those oaks. They will hard-headedly wait for spring to bring new leaves to push them out of the way. This little trick they pull makes raking a moot point for my garden. No matter how much I rake trying to keep the leaves out of the pond, there will still be more hiding, laying in wait for new leaves to force the dead ones to the ground and ultimately into the pond.

A fellow water gardener once told me, “If there is a leaf within 20 miles of the pond, it will find its way in there.”

Now if winter will just get out of the way and let spring move in, I am ready to get wet and dirty and get the pond and gardens ready for summer.