Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Life Aquatic on the Homestead (Part 1)

Making a lot of noise for little frogs, I went out one night to see what all the ruckus was about- Ahem.

Years ago I learned how to build  a pond to be self sustaining (no pumps, filters or chemicals) from a truly lovely lady who called herself “The Pond Lady”. We have since, sadly, lost her to breast cancer, but she did a great deed in the world with her enthusiastic educational efforts. And those whom she taught have been teaching formally and informally with the same enthusiasm.

I have found that once you build a truly balanced pond and see the amazing transformation that happens to your micro climate, you will want to build more and more of them. Then, when you run out of room for ponds in your own space (if you have too many ponds in your yard they join together and form a mote around your house), you will be very excited to encourage your friends and cohorts to build a pond or two.

We have a few of these food grade blue barrel halves around the Homestead. My mom had a friend who worked at a bakery and he gave these to her. I don't particularly like plastic but they are already here and I am not going to toss them into someone else's backyard (the landfill) just because I don't like plastic. I have decided to just use them while they hold water.

I love looking into each "pond" I've created and seeing all the life I made room for.
It took me all last summer to get this series of photos of our little frog friends in our garden water barrel at the Homestead.

Egg sack

Just about to "hatch", they are already wiggling!

Just hatched

Livin' the life with his belly full of bugs and algae

Look Ma! I have LEGS!

The very first thing The Pond Lady taught us was to stop thinking of our ponds as swimming pools and start thinking of them as ecosystems.

There are ways to have lovely clean water that has no chemicals in it and no pumps for tadpoles to get stuck in. There are methods to keep the mosquito and algae population down and healthy wildlife up.

My method mostly depends on digging the hole, lining it with something the Racoons can't poke a hole in with their sharp claws and filling it with water. Then putting pots of “goldfish grass” Egeria densa at the bottom and having at least one type of floating or partial surface covering plant (about 30% to 50%) to keep the water slightly shaded and cool. Voila! The frogs, newts and skipper bugs will appear as if they had been waiting by your front gate for this moment!

Egeria densa can be invasive also, so be careful not to introduce it to native water ways. But it is fantastic for water oxygenation in your ponds, water bowls and troughs. And because of this, it is the cornerstone of your pond ecosystem. It uses up nitrogen (that is introduced by fish poop, hay, leaves, and bugs that fall in) preventing algae from forming (algae will have no nitrogen to eat) and then it uses its green leaves to turn sunlight and nitrogen into oxygen through photosynthesis. If you sit and watch on a sunny day, you can actually see hundreds of tiny oxygen bubbles forming on the leaves and then floating to the top, keeping the water oxygen content high.

This water bug literally fell from the sky into the water as I was filling Rio's trough the other day. Who knew they could fly?

The nearest waterway to the very first pond that we ever built, was over a half mile away and down a sheer basalt cliff. That did not stop all the varied amphibians and water bugs from appearing as if by magic, in our new backyard pond.
Sure, we put some goldfish in there too. It was our first pond and we had small children who wanted fish in there. Two years later we had to drain it, net out and find homes for the HUNDREDS of little baby goldfish. It was one healthy habitat.

Although Gambusia affinis,  mosquito eating fish from the Guppy family, are very popular in some states, I no longer use them in my ponds, but I do have one pond and another trough with Gambusia already in them.

One reason I don’t use them anymore; I have serious doubts that these fish cannot survive Oregon winters in the wild ( as I have been assured by the Vector Control officer of our County.) They have survived just fine in my small, frozen over ponds, and since I cannot imagine our Willamette River getting any colder than that, I believe they could be a future invasive species here in Oregon, as they are now in other states and countries.

They do eat mosquito larvae, but they also eat everything else. Which includes native frog and toad eggs along with dragonfly and damselfly larvae, newt eggs and polliwogs and so on. I don’t feel they serve a big enough purpose to justify the damage they do. They also procreate at an alarming rate and soon they are the only living things in the pond.

I would suggest that you give your pond a full year before using these fish. You will be pleasantly surprised at how many natives will move in to take care of the mosquito problem. It just takes them time to reach a balance. I would even choose mosquito “dunks” over Gambusia. At least one can stop using them when the pond gets balanced with other wildlife. Once you install Gambusia in your pond, you will always have them. It’s impossible to remove them all, no matter how hard you try. So think long and hard about whether you want to use them or not.

I no longer put goldfish or Koi in my ponds either. They are not as veracious as Gambusia, but they do make it difficult for the native amphibians to procreate. They are beautiful to gaze upon, but they fill the water with lots of fish poop and left over food, all nitrogen rich and algae inducing. Koi will root around in your plant pots and the silt at the bottom, making your pond murky which then makes it necessary to put in a pump and filter.

Next week: Part 2 , where I show how to put in plants and how my goofy horse gets them out.


  1. I did not know that about the mosquito fish. The vector control puts them in the county owned pond at the end of our street, and the herons will come and eat all of them! The pond is filled with thousands of frogs and I swear that when they sing, it sounds like each one is 20 pounds. Love listening t them.

  2. It is an exceptional post. Its extraordinary spot to see and live uncommonly their water pond is especially interesting. Take care of pond with Pond Coatings however intrigued to know their method for consideration.


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