Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Life Aqautic on the Homestead (part 2)

Our Littlest Friend dips his toes in the cool water of one of my ponds.

Last week I wrote about why I love my ponds. This week I thought I would give a few pointers for "pond" building. Of course, in the Homestead context I am also including garden barrels and animal troughs as ponds.
I don't think the Internet needs another tutorial about building a basic pond so I will just focus on the helpful features and techniques I have learned through the experience of building several ponds.
This is one of my latest and favorite ponds that I have built. It is 5 feet long 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. I didn't add any critters, not even snails. I just let nature takes its course and now it is a thriving and balanced ecosystem. In fact, as you can see, the plants need thinning, they are growing so well.
I did not introduce any animals to this pond. Only plants and water. A couple years later it is swimming with Rough Skinned Newts, Chorus frogs, skipper bugs, oar beetles and snails. Where do they come from? I have seen a newt walk up the driveway one rainy spring day. I have seen beetles fall from the sky into the water. Since I have often seen slugs and snails tangled in my dogs fur I don't doubt some of these creatures hitch hike their way into the pond. Regardless of how they get there, I am always happy and amazed to see them.

This spring, I spied a Columbia Spotted Frog  hangin’ out in it. If you look carefully you can also see a Rough Skinned Newt peeking up in the middle.The plants you see are goldfish grass, duckweed and a hardy Water Lilly.

You can also see the Butyl liner I used. It is very thick like a car tire inner-tube. It is non toxic and thick enough to last through dog, cat and raccoon toenails. I had it concealed more effectively in the past but all the many visitors to the edge of this pond have degraded my rock ledge. Keep that in mind when you build your own pond. Make the edges very stable because the allure of a pond is irresistible and you DO NOT want to take the pond out to make repairs once wildlife moves in.

Which bring me to a necessary caution. Please don't forget that with a pond comes a responsibility to supervise children and pets.
Even if you don’t have small children, you might have a visitor someday who does. Every visiting child is delighted to see a pond. It is a very magical place for them.

When our Littlest Friend comes to visit we inevitably spend a half hour or so watching the newts and frogs and if there is no wildlife to be seen, off come the shoes for a little toe dip.

Our dogs and visiting dogs alike, love to drink the water from the pond. You can tell it is a special treat for them. We have also had visiting dogs run straight into the pond. They thought the Lilly pads were solid ground! They have a very funny look on their faces when they sink. Some go in for a second time because it was apparently so fun. Or they're slow learners.

Because our ponds are such a popular place for kids and animals I put an added precaution.  I always build an easy exit from my ponds. I include a shallow end and ledges that build up to that shallow end, like steps, so that animals and people can easily escape the water should they fall in.

Even if you live in the city you will have varmint problems. Blue Herons, Kingfishers and Raccoons are very happy to fish out their dinners from your pond. We have a blue Heron that will sit on the crest of the roof and watch for fish in our biggest pond. The only fish that are left in this 14 year old pond are huge black goldfish. We can't even see them unless the sun shines just so.

Raccoons love to come at night and fish out all the snails to eat for dinner. You will see goldfish grass draped all over the edges of your pond when you get up in the morning.

To give pond life a place to escape to I try to include a deep spot at least 2 1/2 feet deep, so that pond creatures can hide down there, out of reach. It helps quite a bit. I have also added black "Milk Crates".

I get them from the storage section of our department store. They don't show from above the pond and they make it even harder for the Herons and Raccoons to chase down and catch the amphibians and fish. They also make the pond a little safer for animals that fall in since they can be stood on. The crates can make a great place to set plant pots too.

At the Homestead we have a lot of water troughs and half barrels, for the horses, chickens or providing water for the Honey bees. I have been converting each of these into little ecosystem ponds. I only use Goldfish grass and duckweed for troughs since they are nontoxic and harmless to my goofy horses who like to eat them.

This is the root system, but Goldfish Grass will grow new roots if you just have a snip of the plant.

I put the roots and ends of pieces without roots in an old recycled container of any sort.

Then a little clay or goo from another pond or even loose dirt from a gopher hole (don't use garden dirt, it has too much nitrogen in it) and then pile rocks on top to hold them down. Silt and organic sediment will form as the pond ages and the plants will grow roots into it.

The goldfish grass will grow to the top and lay across the surface sending a few roots into the water and blooming tiny white blooms. It looks a little messy when you walk up and look at the trough (the leaves that touch air will turn brown) but, if you stick your hand in the shaded water underneath the plants you will feel that the water is 10 degrees cooler. The animals- dogs, horses, cats, birds- all go straight for the pond water, choosing it over any other source. It must taste yummy and very refreshing on a hot day.

For years I had to drain the mosquito larvae infested water and scrub the red algae out of my troughs and water barrels a couple times a summer, which was a real pain. I set up my first trough as an ecosystem about eight years ago. It has been a great discovery for me. It’s made a big improvement in water quality for all. Instead of having hot stale water with red algae in it to drink, the animals now have cool, fresh, oxygenated water.
When the duckweed gets this thick I just skim handfuls off and toss it in the garden for mulch. You want only 30 to 50 percent of the surface covered. This keeps the water cool but lets the goldfish grass underneath get some sun also.

Rio has to have his goldfish grass replaced now and then because he can’t just be a normal horse. He likes to put his head under water like a Hippo and eat the grass on hot days. What a nut.

 Here are just a few of the resources I found on line for designing and building ponds. Don't get too caught up in all the talk about pumps and filters and water falls, you can have them if you want, but you don't need them. Just start small and go from there. Most of all, have fun!

1 comment:

  1. wow, you thought of everything. You are now an expert in ponds in my eyes.


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