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Fall and Winter Pond Care

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Pond water quality is usually at its best in the fall because of fewer water battles with algae.  Fall is also the one time of year where your pond may need daily maintenance.

Falling Leaves

Prepare the pond for the autumnal leaf fall by purchasing a fine-meshed pond net.  Remove leaves before they have a chance to break down and pollute the water. If large quantities are left in your pond, they will decompose and rob your pond of oxygen.  Don’t sweat if a few leaves get left behind in the pond.  They can help provide overwintering places for frogs and insects.   If you have a skimmer, you may need to empty the debris net daily.  If you don’t have time for daily skimmer maintenance, consider purchasing a pond net to cover your pond entirely.

Plant Care

Plants will start to shed leaves quite dramatically as the temperature drops.  Be attentive about removing any decaying leaf matter before it becomes detached and sinks to the pond bottom.  Stop fertilizing your plants as well.  Their nutritional requirements will be less as cooler weather begins.  Hardy bog and marginal plants should be cut within 2 inches of the base of the water level.  Water lilies should be trimmed back within 2-3 inches of the base of the plant.  Tropical plants should be removed and brought indoors to over-winter, otherwise, they can be treated as annuals and replaced next year.

Fish Care

As the weather gets cooler, you will notice your fish spending more time at the bottom of the pond.  Because pond fish are cold-blooded, their metabolism and appetite are dependent on the pond’s temperature.

As the water temperature drops to 65°F, start offering a lower-protein food.  Marketed as cold water fish food or spring and autumn food, they offer low-protein and high wheat germ combinations.  Wheat germ is a highly digestible protein.  Higher-protein food should not be offered this time of year as they can only digest a limited amount of protein.  The remaining protein is excreted as toxic ammonia, leading to water quality problems.

Stop feeding your fish when the temperature has reached 50°F.  If you don’t have a pond thermometer, it’s a wise investment.

Winter Fish Care

In northern climates with extreme cold conditions, your pond can freeze over so it is important to maintain an opening in the pond so that fresh air and gas exchanges can occur.  Decomposing organic matter can be exchanged with fresh oxygen.   There are several ways that you can eliminate pond freeze-over.

A popular option is a floating pond de-icer.  De-icers are designed to maintain a small hole in the pond ice.  Most are thermostatically controlled to insure a worry-free solution for your pond fish.

Another option is to move your existing pond pump close to the water surface to create water movement.  There are pumps that are marketed towards this very option.  Aquascape markets their AquaForce® for this solution.  Depending on the extremity of the weather, this option might be successful.

An overstocked pond can benefit from pond aeration.  You may already have one located at the bottom of your pond.  However, winter applications for pond aerators are not recommended to be placed on the bottom of the pond as this can disrupt the natural thermocline of the deeper portions of the pond.  Most successful winter applications involve placing the aeration discs 1 to 1-1/2 feet below the water level.  Always consult your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation of winter applications.

You can also choose to run your pump throughout the winter.  If you do choose this option, proper care should be taken to monitor your pond during the winter months to monitor water levels.  Drops in water level could be due to evaporation or ice build-up.  Ice build-up over the waterfall can lead to water being diverted out of the pond, leading to significant water loss.  If this happens, consider removing the pump and follow manufacturer’s procedures on over-wintering the pump.

Winter Filter Media

If you choose not to run your pump, consider removing your filter media and, if possible, keep it moist or wet over the winter to retain the essential beneficial bacteria for next year.

Calcium Montmorillonite Clay

Calcium Montmorillonite Clay
Calcium Montmorillonite Clay

What is Calcium Montmorillonite Clay or Calcium Bentonite Clay?

Calcium Montmorillonite Clay or Calcium Bentonite Clay is rich in minerals and trace elements (contains over 60 trace minerals) that are needed to help the overall vitality of our fish.  It is believed by many to be the secret to the healthy, vibrant-colored koi found in Japan.  The Japanese are said to replenish their mud ponds in the spring before filling with Koi.  You can simulate this same activity by gradually adding this clay to your pond on a regular basis all year round.  If your local water supply is treated to remove a lot of these minerals and trace elements that our fish thrive on, it can be especially beneficial to add this clay.

“Montmorillonite” is a term used to describe a wide family of clays which are mined all over the world, and is a component of volcanic ash weathering.  Most people use clay to improve water clarity, but the main reason to apply clay to your pond is for its unseen actions during ion exchange.   The added clay is in an alkaline state retaining its electrically active, negatively charged ion.  Once introduced to the pond, the toxins, bacteria and pathogens in the water, which carry a positive electrically charged ion, bind to the negatively charged ions in the clay.  These particles are held in a suspended state inside the clay particle until it is filtered out of your pond.  This ion exchange aides in toxin removal, while replenishing minerals and trace elements.  Some of the trace elements include:  calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and iron.

Suggestions on Usage

There are several ways to introduce clay into your pond besides just the regular maintenance dosage available with your product.  Additionally, you can roll your fish food in the clay.  After the clay is absorbed into the food, you can feed your fish a more nutritionally complete version of fish food.  Once ingested by the fish, the clay binds to the toxins while passing through the digestion system.   It’s also stated to strengthen the immune system, enhance the production of enzymes and detoxify the body in general.

When re-potting your plants in the spring, add a few tablespoons of clay to the potting soil along with fertilizer tabs.  Many have noticed beautiful results.

There is even plenty of information available on the benefits for humans and animals.

Are All Calcium Montmorillonite/Bentonite Clays Equal?

There are a variety of grades available.  Some contain more silica, while some have more impurities than others.  The best way to determine the suitability for your pond is to do a simple test.  One test is to simply mix it up.  If it clumps up, it is an inferior grade.  Another quick test is to mix some in a glass of water.  After a few minutes, you should not notice a lot of particles floating on the surface of the glass.  The more floating particles you notice, the more impurities that are present.

Preparing Your Pond for Spring

 

Spring is officially here!  With an unusually warmer than normal winter this year, most ponders have already started getting their pond ready.  Are you one them?  Need some ideas to assure your pond will be ready?  Read on….

Clean Up

This is the time to remove any debris that has accumulated during the winter.  Leaves, twigs and fine sediment should be removed with a net.   A skimmer net is a good choice for removing sediment, as it has a finer mesh than a fish net.  Be sure to the remove pond heater and bubbler that you may have added over the winter to keep a hole in the ice for proper gas exchange.

Assess Your Water

Now is a great time to test your water.  Getting a baseline for your water quality will allow you to understand the current condition of the water.  There are several water testing kits available.  If you need help understanding the importance of what each water testing parameter represents, read this article titled, “Water Quality Parameters for Your Pond”.

In the spring, your water is rich in Dissolved Organic Carbons (DOC’s) because the fish are coming back to life.  While their metabolism increases, the beneficial bacteria that naturally help to remove these organics aren’t fully up to speed because of the water temperature.   This time is also referred to Aeromonas Alley due to the prevalence and rapid growth of the Aeromonas bacteria.  This is potentially a vulnerable time for your fish. 

Partial water changes are a great way to help dilute any excessive toxins in the water, while simultaneously adding fresh oxygen back into your pond.  When refilling your pond, be sure to apply a water detoxifier to remove chlorine and other heavy metals.   The addition of beneficial bacteria can help your pond adjust to the addition of the ammonia and nitrite levels after a long winter.  These products are temperature sensitive but are available in cold water varieties as well.  You can also consider a Spring Starter Kit, which will have all essential products to help your pond off to a great start.

Happy Spring to You All!

Water Quality Parameters for Your Pond

 

Your pond’s water quality to your fish is as important as our air quality is to us.  With that said, do you test your pond water?  And if you do regular testing, do you even understand what those tests mean?  This article gives you a look into each of the common testing parameters available in most water testing kits.

pH

The pH of your water is the amount of hydrogen ions that are present in your water.  The pH scale has a range from 0-14, acidic to basic (alkaline), respectively.  The midpoint, 7, is considered neutral.

Your pH controls many of the chemical balances in your water.  One very important chemical balance is that it affects the toxicity of the ammonia in your pond.  In general, the higher your pH and water temperature, the higher the ammonia toxicity will be in your tank (if ammonia is even present).

Ammonia

In your pond, fish will release waste into the water.  In addition, decaying plant matter and uneaten fish food will break down.  All of these activities will create ammonia.  This buildup of ammonia is lethal to fish, especially at escalated pH levels.  If left untreated, ammonia will damage delicate gill membranes, causing respiratory distress or death.  As the ammonia levels increase, beneficial bacteria named Nitrosomonas will begin to consume and convert the ammonia to nitrite (NO2).

Nitrite

As stated in the previous paragraph, Nitrite (NO2) is the result of beneficial bacteria named Nitrosomonas consuming ammonia and converting it to nitrite.  Nitrite is extremely toxic to fish, preventing the fish’s blood from carrying oxygen.  This prevents the normal gas exchange from their gills.  If severe enough, the fish will die from oxygen starvation.  So clearly, this is yet another important parameter at which we should monitor.

If your pond is established and your nitrite level is in check, it’s probably safe to say that you have abundant amounts of the beneficial bacteria named Nitrobacter.   It will consume and convert the nitrites to nitrates (NO3).  This newly converted nitrate will then be consumed by plants and algae as source of nourishment.

Phosphate

Monitoring your phosphate level is important because it is one of the primary nutrients responsible for algae blooms.  Common phosphate sources include decaying plants, waterfowl excrement and treated landscape run-off.

Carbonate Hardness (KH)

Carbonate Hardness, or alkalinity, is the measurement of the water’s ability to neutralize acid, known as the buffering capacity.  Buffering capacity is the water’s ability to keep the pH stable as acids or bases are added.  So if the water has sufficient buffering capacity, it can absorb (like a sponge) and neutralize additions without affecting the pH.  There is, however, a limit on the sponge’s ability.  Once this limit is reached, the pH can change rapidly.

Carbonate Hardness is also an important source of energy for nitrifying bacteria that consume ammonia and nitrite.

General Hardness (GH)

General Hardness, or Total Hardness (TH) is a measurement of the dissolved salts in the water, mostly composed from calcium and magnesium.   The concentration of dissolved salts is important to fish for 2 reasons:  Osmotic regulation (equilibrium of the internal salt concentration) and blood calcium levels are regulated by the amount of General Hardness levels.

Koi/ Goldfish Spawning

I remember in my early years of ponding my first encounter with spawning.  One early summer morning, I noticed something different happening in my pond.  My first visual clue was a pond full of white foam as well as, a strong fishy smell.  My first thought and concern was that there had been predators in the water stirring up the water.  After doing some research, I realized that my koi were spawning.  How exciting!  So, you want to understand more?  Keep reading!

Under normal conditions, distinguishing between male and female fish can be quite difficult.  Females normally have a larger girth to them and during the spawning months, they will have a swollen underside.  This swollenness is a result of hundreds of eggs waiting to be released.

When the fish spawn, you may notice several thinner males chasing the female(s) around the pond.   They will bump against her sides and stomach area in an attempt to release her eggs.  Once her eggs are released, the males will release their milt, fertilizing the eggs as they adhere to underwater plant life or some other shelter.  Without some form of proper shelter for the newly created fry, adult koi will eat their young.   Mother Nature does provide her own way of keeping fish populations in check this way.

I have my own experience with actually transplanting water hyacinth from a larger pond to a smaller pond.  It was later that I realized the water hyacinth roots had koi eggs housed in them.  These fry successfully lived in the smaller pond.   I initially fed them koi food crumbs until they grew big enough to eat “big fish” food.

More important spawning information to consider:

  • Spawning occurs between March- July, or when water temperatures are between 68°F – 72°F.
  • Spawning normally occurs in the early morning hours or late evening.
  • Healthy eggs will be translucent while unfertilized eggs will be white and will start to grow fuzz.
  • Keep water quality in check to assure a healthy environment for spawning to occur.
  • To ensure survival of some of your fry, provide shelter using plants or manufactured spawning ropes and brushes or isolation.

 

Maintaining Your Pond During the Winter

If you live in a colder winter climate and have chosen to allow your pond to run throughout the winter, then you are probably already aware that this will require maintenance in bitter temperatures.  Whether or not you decide to allow your pond to run all winter long, below are some items to consider.

Water

Just as your water levels need replenished due to evaporation in the warmer weather, the same is true for colder temperatures as well.   Adding water may become more challenging in the winter with normal water sources shut down.  Some options for adding water include:  making multiple trips with a bucket or running a hose from an internal faucet.  There are many pond owners that perform partial water changes on their ponds during the winter to relieve the pond of harmful buildup of ammonia and nitrites.   While adding water is not convenient in the winter, it is an important part of maintaining your pond during these cold temperatures.

Water Circulation

Be aware, that pump size is a critical factor in determining a waterfall’s ability to operate during the winter.  In most situations, a pump size of 2,000 gph or bigger can be operated during the winter safely.  If you are presented with many sub-zero temperature days, your system may not function normally due to ice build-up.  Carefully monitoring your pond during these extreme temperatures is important.  It may become necessary to shut your system down until the ice has melted and normal water flow can be restored.

If you decide to shut your pond down due to these extreme temperatures, be sure to consider a few maintenance steps.  Always be sure to follow your manufacturer’s recommendation for properly storing your pump.  Also remove and rinse the filtration media and place in a frost-free location for ease of replacement in the spring.

Fish

If your pump has been shut down, it is important that some form of aeration be provided to allow for an opening in the ice.  This allows for the escape of harmful gases to be released.

There are several great options when considering alternate forms of aeration.  The Aquascape AquaForce® is a great winterizing pump.  This recirculating bubbler pump is designed to sit in the pond and oxygenate the water.  Simply place the pump in the water, positioning the discharge pipe below the surface of the water.  The bubbling from the pump will maintain a hole in the ice, which will help increase oxygen levels and allow for dangerous gases to escape.

The addition of a floating de-icer in combination with the bubbler pump is recommended for extreme prolonged cold winters to insure there will be a hole open in the ice all winter long.

In Conclusion

Whether you run your pond all winter or shut it down is a decision to have to make based on how much maintenance you want to perform during these extreme temperatures.   The beauty of beautiful ice that is created from the water may be rewarding enough to consider maintaining it all winter long.