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Fish expel carbon dioxide as a by-product of breathing.  They also release waste products (goldfish are very good at this…lol).  Leaves, dirt and other debris including uneaten food also fall into the pond and sink to the bottom and decompose.  This waste produces ammonium compounds which are dangerous to the fish.  The fish can die if this level of poison gets too high.  If a pond has sufficient plant life these chemicals are absorbed by the plants.  The plants might even convert some of these chemicals into food items for their own needs.  I found that my pond stayed so much cleaner once I had established plants in the water making it so much easier to maintain my pond.

Decomposition is caused by anaerobic bacteria (non-oxygen breathing lifeforms).  They release nitrites into the water, which are lethal to fish.  However, they are converted to nitrates by aerobic bacteria (oxygen breathing lifeforms).  The plants absorb the nitrates.  This is known as the nitrogen cycle.  Ammonia is one of the lethal by products of this cycle.  See by chemistry class at college paid off, I remembered something!

The tricky part is keeping this all in balance.  The least expensive way to maintain water condition and clarity is to have a 25% water exchange every other week.  This removes a lot of suspended debris and dilutes dissolved gases and chemicals.  It is time consuming though to do this, and usually tap water is chlorinated so it must be left to stand for a day or so for the chlorine to dissipate into the air, or it must be sprayed in a fine jet to achieve the same result (this is the way that I do it, because I can’t think of a way to hold the water for a day or so).

A better way to maintain a healthy pond is to use a pump, filter or aerator to help keep a pond safe from stagnation and pollution.  (My pond always looks very dirty after a day of rain, makes you wonder about acid rain).  So please try to include plants in your ponds layout and plan on adding some type of aeration pump, even if you have a waterfall.

 

The best pond is one that copies as best as possible the natural conditions found in nature. You will want to make sure you have an equilibrium and it takes work to create a suitable balance. Just filling up a pond and expecting to be able to leave it to itself just won’t work. Fish in the wild don’t live in the same water every day without having some kind of continuing moving water. Fish and water plants (and other organisms in the water) need oxygen to keep them alive. Always remember that the warmer the water the less oxygen it contains. I learned this the hard way when I only relied on the waterfall to aerate my pond and when the temperatures went up over 80 degrees I didn’t realize until it was too late that my fish were under distress and were hanging out at the top surface of the pond, where wildlife (I think a raccoon) could easily grab 2 of them. I then found out how important it is to have an aerator in the pond and purchased one right away (I also had to purchase new goldfish). I didn’t realize at the time that the plants at night are taking in oxygen from the water and competing with the fish. Its important though to have these plants in the pond to filter and help clean the water. So learn from my example and don’t make the same mistake I did, have an aerator in the pond to keep your fish happy.

 
Pond Landscaping

Pond Landscaping

This is my most asked question:  “How should I start a pond?”

The first thing before doing anything is to research different pond ideas.  I looked at pond books that had lots of pictures and also searched online.  Once you have a pretty good idea of what you want the next step is to plan in detail the entire yard area that you plan on using.   Then draw it all out on paper (I used graph paper) try to get as close to scale as you can.  Add all the elements to this drawing:  rocks, boulders, plantings, where you want the waterfall, etc.  A true landscaper would try to achieve a good variety of shapes and colors to make it interesting all through the year for an all seasons appeal (I learned this after completing my pond, so now I use it when helping others build their ponds).

With my drawing plan in hand I go outside to the site I picked out and map it out on the ground using stakes and string to see if all my ideas would actually fit into the spot. Some things might have to be changed during this part.  Also keep in mind that plants grow so make sure you allow for that growth in your plan. Make sure you pick plants that can handle the location (do they prefer sun or shade?) Also remember to avoid invasive species (like weeping willows and if you plan on using any bamboo keep in mind how fast they spread (they are hard to contain but they make a great screening.)  Something you can add if you feel you need more to you final pond is potted plants.   I added potted plants around my pond for a few reasons, to shade the pond a little in the late afternoon sun, to discourage some of the wildlife from hanging around on the side, to soften some of the looks of the rocks around the pond and so that my wife has a place to put more of her potted plants.

So remember to research before you even start to think about digging your pond, it will save on so much aggravation.  And to the next person that asks me this question, now I can refer them to this post.

Oh, and before I forget, here is a book that my wife purchased for me off of Amazon on garden ponds that I would recommend.  It has some nice ideas and good pictures.  For those with smaller ponds (like me) you can always scale down the ideas you like.

 
Fish pond debris

Fish Pond Debris

There are many things that I’m sure any fish pond would hate (if you could ask them…only kidding, I’m not crazy) and this is my way to kill a pond list.

The picture above shows tree debris floating in the water.  Seeds from oak and maple trees are everywhere right now.  I scoop out any debris I see each morning as a matter of habit.  Fall is the worst when the trees lose their leaves.

Tree limbs – Tree limbs are great as long as they’re attached to a tree, but when they fall into a pond they become a problem.  There’s always that chance they may rip the liner.  And some types of tree limbs can be toxic to fish when they sit in the pond water.   I always take out any sticks or limbs right away as soon as I see them.

Little kids skipping rocks off the surface.  The quickest way to kill a pond or any body of water for that matter is to fill it up.  Most people don’t think much about it, but for every rock, stick, or boulder that you throw in, that’s less space in the pond.  A pond is always dying… as debris is always trying to fill it in, so it always needs care to help keep it alive.

Too many fish can present a big problem for the cleanliness of the water and it stresses the fish out.  I’m sure the raccoons love it, easier pickins.  I chose not to have too many fish, just keeps the water cleaner and the pond easier to maintain.

Rocks precariously stacked around the pond (I thought at the time they were stacked just fine, but the wild animals showed me otherwise.).  I’ve had rocks that I’ve arranged around the pond to hold the liner in place and make the pond look pretty fall into the water when stray cats or raccoons go for a drink of water which from at first made loose rocks fall into the pond.  The finally made a nice little landing for themselves to easily reach the water. I ended up leaving this drinking shelf as is, it wasn’t a problem for me and there were no more rocks falling into the pond.

Stagnant water – A pond is at its best when it has a running source of water.  I’m sure the stream fed pond is best, but there’s not many of us who has the luxury of a stream running through their back yard to feed their pond.  That’s where the waterfall or some type of filter comes in to move the water and filter out some of the impurities.

Lack of plants – Ponds need plants to filter and clean the water. Its the most natural way to do it.

Salt and lawn chemicals – Be careful what you spread around your pond, it could leach into it.  Lawn chemicals, weed killers, or salt spread on the sidewalk nearby could all end up in the water, especially after a good soaking rain.

Keeping a pond away from a septic tank is good to insure that no runoff leaches into the pond.

Dogs – Certain breeds of dogs love to swim, and ponds have to be inviting.  But they can really do a lot of damage to the liner, plants and freak out the fish.  My youngest dog, Georgia, would love to get near the pond (she’s part lab) luckily she can’t reach it.

I had a lot longer way to kill a pond list in my head before I started typing this, and I’m sure I’ll think of them as soon as I post this.  I’ll add them at another time if they kick in my mind.

 

 

I just wanted to share a video with you of the pond.  I filmed this a week or so ago, and yes the pond needs some spring cleaning but I was just enjoying the moment and decided to video tape it so I could share it with you.  I want you to get an idea of why I enjoy my pond so much.  This is the second year that I’ve noticed 2 frogs that have moved in, which I enjoy and I can’t wait to hear their chirps at dusk (I can hear the ones down the street).  The goldfish are also enjoying the arrival of spring which has been slow to get here.  I hope you enjoy the video of Dons Fish Pond as much as I do.

 

The right spot for a pond site  is so important.  You want to really look over your backyard BEFORE you start to dig. I can’t emphasize that enough, learn from other people’s (and my own) fish pond mistakes. Here are several things to consider:

How is the slope of your backyard?  This is important because you don’t want to finish up and then discover that a heavy downpour of rain will ruin your pond site.  A few years ago I had a neighbor that was so proud of the goldfish pond he put in, until the first heavy downpour washed all the dirt from above the pond into the garden, and his wife wasn’t too happy seeing some of her newly planted flowers floating in the water.

Are there any underground pipes or wires that you might accidentally hit when digging the hole? This could be very costly if you hit an underground water or gas line. Or as I mentioned previously, the first spot I picked uncovered a hidden water run off container?, or as I like to call it my bomb shelter  that I didn’t know existed.  This is another example of a pond site gone bad …I often wonder what else is underneath our yard.

Will the spot you pick afford you the best view of your finished pond?  You want the best spot to be able to really enjoy your pond.  A friend of mine put his pond spot in the back corner of his lot.  He picked this spot because he had planned on adding a picnic area next to it, but then realized the ground was too damp for days after a good rain (it was a low lying area) so he changed the picnic area and he’s also considering changing the pond spot and filling in the old one which will be a lot of work for him (and me too as I know him he’ll ask me to help). Bad pond site selection… watch out for those wetland areas.  In nature, ponds are found at the lowest level of a terrain.  If your garden is sloping down away from your home, you can create an artificial situation by building up rocks around the pool.  The pond will appear to be in a low point of the garden.  Excavated dirt from the pond can be used to help with this effect.

Is there some shade and not direct sunlight all day long?   I found this out the hard way, as my pond does get a lot of sun, which will encourage the algae growth. This might not have been my best pond site selection choice, but in my case I picked the location just off the deck so we could enjoy our morning coffee watching the goldfish swim, I was also limited in my choices by a small yard. Both the fish and the pond benefit from direct sunlight, but some shade must be available.  Tree branches that overhang the pond shed leaves into it but they also provide shade.  I have trees next to my pond, which I enjoy because of the shade and because I love trees so I just keep a net nearby to scoop out any leaves or branches that fall in.  Some branches might be toxic so you’ll want to get them out of your pond when they do fall in.

Do you have enough room to fit everything?  Pond site selection also should take into consideration the total finished pond, not just the hole.  Will you have plants around the pond?  Plants will need the space to breathe and grow.  You will need room around the pond for these extras to make it look natural as though it has always been there.

So now you’ve seen some examples of why pond site selection is so important.  You should study the movements of the sun and the shadows created at different times of the day before siting the pond.  I know, this is a lot to think about, but I just want you to be aware that its more than just picking a spot that you want, it has to be the right spot too.  Just want to save you some aggravation.

 
Digging the pond exposes an underground room

Digging the pond exposes an underground room. What is it?

Okay, slow down and relax.  Before you decide to run out and buy all the pond items you will need, first sit down and ask yourself these questions:

1.  Can you afford it?  For the men out there:  Will your wife go along with your plans?  I put this as number 1 because I know how you may think it’s the greatest idea that you just came up with to build a big pond in your back yard… but I would bet your wife might just have other ideas for the money or the spot you’ve picked out.  So you might as well bite the bullet and include her in the decision, to avoid aggravation and lonely nights down the road.  Maybe take her out for dinner or bring home flowers… or will that tip her off that you’re up to no good?  You can always do what I did and make it sound like it was her idea from the end of last summer.  “Remember when you brought up how nice it would be to have a pond with waterfalls and Koi fish in the backyard…”  I was lucky that my wife was pretty cool about the whole thing.  So our pond now became a plan.

2.  Do you want to build a pond yourself, or hire someone to do it.  Of course having someone else do it for you is a great way to go if you can afford it, but its also a lot more expensive.   Most of us can’t afford the luxury so you might have to, like I did, do it yourself.

3.  If building it yourself, are you prepared physically for all the back breaking work?  I had to dig the hole (no small feat to contend with huge boulders stuck that get in the way and have to be hauled out of the hole. Then I had to buy rocks to build around the pond… and guess who had to haul them from the front yard, where they were delivered, to the back yard pond site.  I swear those rocks were having babies as I was working on the pile… so many rocks to move.  I tried to hire the kid up the street to help, but he just looked at me with a blank stare.

4.  Do you have a spot picked out?  If you do, physically pick yourself up off the couch and go out and look at it.  It’s amazing at how big a spot can be in your mind and then when you go to actually look at it, it shrunk.

5.  Visualize the spot you picked out and measure it out.  Make sure the pond will fit with all the borders and plants included in the layout.  Draw it out on a piece of paper, make a note if anything needs to be moved, like your wife’s garden (not a good idea).

6.  Ponds do require some upkeep, are you willing to keep doing the extra work and don’t stick your wife with it, she has enough to do.

7.   Make sure that you’re digging into a safe area… where no gas lines, water or sewer lines, etc. are located.  Don’t do what I did.  I just started digging.  What could possibly be underground in the back yard.  After digging a huge hole I hit a cement slab, that was next to other slabs… huh?  I removed the dirt from one slab that was at least 5 feet long and cautiously lifted it up, not knowing what might pop out.  Wow a huge room was under my deck and under the spot that I wanted to put the pond. I took my camera and snapped a picture, which showed a pipe coming in from the top of one side.  I was excited, I thought I’d found a bomb shelter (after all the house was built in 1945) and I don’t think it was a septic tank (too clean inside) so who knows what it is.  I carefully put the slab back on, covered it back up while filling up my hole and then had to move my pond over (uh oh, closer to my wife’s herb garden).

8.  What type of pond do you want and how big?  Do you want a waterfall?  Keep in mind, that if you do go for a waterfall make sure you have the type of neighbors that will tolerate it.  What is nice and calming for you might be an annoyance to them.  I’m lucky, my neighbor liked the sound of ours so much, she had one put in her yard (she was smart she paid someone to do it).

9.  If you have young children will you be able to safeguard them from the pond?

10. Do you need permits from your town or prior approval?  Better check your town codes before you start digging.  Some towns require a certain setback from neighbor’s properties.

Ok, if I didn’t scare you away already or make you want to rethink your decision my next post will be how to build a pond, or should I say at least how to build a pond the way that I did it.

Don

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