Most pond books do a good job of telling you how to dig a hole, install liner and put "a pearl of rocks" around the pond. This process doesn't make for a very natural looking pond.
john has created this page to share with you some of the things he has found the books don't say...or, if they do, say rarely. john has included these things not to scare you from creating water features, but so that you create them better.
1. Don't let the pond freeze totally over in winter. Gasses from fish and rotting leaves can suffocate fish even if they are in hibernation. Usually, placing bubbling water near the surface or using an air bubbler will keep ice from forming. If you use bubbling water, this will work until about mid-February in Kansas City, then an ice bubble forms over the flowing water, just like a coffee percolator.
DO NOT chop a hole in the ice... shock waves kill fish! Put a cattle tank heater on the ice and let the heat melt a hole. The best overall solution is to use air stones (www.lagunakoi.com). Not only do they keep the surface moving, but provide much needed oxygen for the fish.
2. Create an extra inlet. Most books tell you to design your pond's shape, but never tell you to create an extra inlet on one side so that hoses, electrical wiring, etc. can enter the pond unseen. A flat rock can be placed over this inlet to hide everything. If you wait until the pond is built , you will have to drape all of this over the edge of the pond in plain view.
3. Always buy too much liner! You can always roll the excess underneath itself, but it is frustrating when you are 6 inches short of what you need. Liner is heavy and getting it centered over the hole sometimes is tough, so you may end up with too much liner on one side... and too little on the other. Liner in expensive, but add at least an extra foot or two on all sides. You won't regret it.
4.Vortex Separators and Bubble Bead filters: One Koi is like 21 people in a swimming pool never getting out. Koi dirty the water seriously! A sand pressure filter can filter this, but at a very high price. It took a pump running at 11 amps all day long to keep a 1000 gallon pond clear. The sand pressure filter would often "channel" during the backflow clearing process. Channeling is when the backflow water cuts a path through the sand rather than evenly flowing though the entire bed. If you have an extra $100 per month to burn, go ahead and use this technique.
Vortex Separators and bubble bead filters work much better. One source of these is www.fluidart.com. However, they are not cheap. john plans to install such a system in the Spring of 2002 at a cost of $5000. Water Gardening magazine, September/October 2001 has a good article about bubble bead filters.
5. Leaves are the enemy: Leaves are one of the biggest headaches of owning a pond. Also, rotting leaves also can fill up the pre-filter to a pump and cause it to run dry.
If possibly in the Fall, place netting over the pond to catch leaves. john, at first, used vertical 1 inch diameter PVC poles mounting in concrete buckets to hold up the netting, however, when enough leaves fell onto the netting and then it rained, the poles would fall over from the massive weight and the whole thing still ended up in the pond.
john next tried using 2 inch diameter horizontal PVC poles spaced one foot apart all across the small pond with netting tie-wrapped to the poles. The leaves still managed to fall into the pond! Mostly this was due to john having to use two pieces of netting and not being able to tie them to the poles out over the middle of the pond.
Netting can also catch small animals and trap them so be careful where you place it.
Still, john recommends netting.
6. Pond Skimmers and biofilters: john has found that most professional pond contractors hide a pond skimmer at the edge of the pond. These work great! The one john bought for the small pond is a patented fiberglass box with an internal netting for catching leaves/twigs and a sponge filter for removing fine particles. There is room at the back for a submergible pump or pump hose. They cost around $450 from PondSweep Mfg. Co. (630) 553-3088. PondSweep doesn't appear to have a web site. These filters seem expensive for what they are, but they do work great. As part of this system, the same company offers a small biofilter (another $450) as part of the outlet for a waterfall. john did not purchase this portion since his small pond is shaded, doesn't get algae and has only a small fish load.
7. Priming, or keeping water flowing to the pump, is of major concern for pumps mounted outside the pond. This is why many professional pond contractors use submergible pumps. However, if you do decide to use a surface pump, it is best to keep the pump below the level of the pond's surface. This can often be difficult to do. Usually you don't want to mount the pump in a hole that can fill up with water during a rainy period. Digging a hole, placing gravel in it and setting the pump on top of the gravels also keeps water from the pump.
Another solution is to put an anti-syphon flap just at the start of the hose from the pond. Make sure to use some type of grill in front of the anti-syphon to keep leaves/twigs from blocking the flap open. john has found that there is a four inch green downspout grill at Home Depot that works well. He had to use reducers to get down to the two inch hose size.
8. "Sequence 1000" pumps: This brand of pump has worked great for john. The Sequence 1000 is both efficient (1/3 hp) and a workhorse (4400 gph). These are surface pumps. john has two of these on the large waterfall and plans to put a third one on next Spring after he finishes the new pump house behind the falls. (www.lagunakoi.com)
8. 2 inch flexible swimming pool hose: john used 2 inch flexible swimming pool hose everywhere. He is glad he didn't use solid PVC pipe instead. He has found that he hasn't had to be concerned with draining or blowing out the water for winter. The hose seems to be able to expand enough not to burst. The problem with swimming pool hose is that it is white. There is some black "flexible" hose available that isn't flexible enough. Usually john is able to hid the white hose. He has considered painting a part of the hose with car underbody paint, but he hasn't tested to see if this is safe for fish.
10. Buy koi food in bulk: john at first fed the Koi from small containers of Tetra Koi food purchased from Wal-Mart. That didn't last long! The food was too expensive, packaged in small quantities. john now buys fish food in 50 pound bags from Raytown (MO) Feed and Seed for under $14.00 per bag. Some koi food advertises "koi color inhancers". john cannot tell you if that is worth the money or not, but john's koi do not seem to lack color.
11. Tadpoles, Snails and Frogs (ha ha): john has placed tadpoles and snails in the small pond to help keep the water clear and to hear the sound of frogs at night.
12. Artificial Rocks: If you are interested in making large artificial rocks, there was a PBS program featuring The Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, AZ. It showed them creating artifical rocks. john and joyce vacationed in Tucson and went to the museum. They have done a fantastic job of making these rocks look real!
In the PBS video, they sprayed "gunnite" (air sprayed concrete) into a mold made by casting latex and gauze over a real rock. They then used fiberglass to make a support backing for the latex mold. This kept the concrete from sagging the mold down. They said that gunnite works because it gets into the finest cracks of the mold and thus looks real. john wondered about rigging up a large shaking machine (off balanced motor) to shake concrete into the fine cracks. john also made a "rock" of fiberglass and Bondo for an artificial geode with massive Amethyst crystals for an acrylic coffee table. He ended up spraying it with "plasti-kote" Fleck Stone (Rose Quartz, #437), 12 ounces. plast-kote co. inc, Medina Ohio & Upland, California. He found it in a large art supply store (Michel's in Overland Park, KS. Looks very real, but he doesn't know how it would stand up to outside weather and if you could use it in large quantities without breaking the bank. When joyce and john went to a remodeling show recently they also noted that many companies are making "rock" fireplaces. One thing they learned is that iron oxide (rust) is used to add color. I think a call to one or two concrete companies would yield more coloring ideas.
john had found another source for videos on how to make artificial rocks that was excellent. The company was located in Australia. john has two of the tapes from EZRock and they were really great! Unfortunately, the site is no longer active, so if you need information, please contact john and he is willing to share information with you. Go to the Home page and see "Communicate with us".
13. Mulch: Mulch is a great landscaping material, but make sure you have a termite barrier if you place it near the side of your house. john has learned that the most common form of mulch, "Cypress Mulch" is not made from re-cycled trees, but from live trees! He will try to use an alternative in the future, but doesn't have one yet to recommend.
14. Fish and Tap Water: john was at first using small containers of crystaline chorine-eliminator. Since, he has found large gallon bottles of a liquid chorine-eliminator at a much more reasonable price. Filling the pond with tap water, and not adding chorine-eliminator, will likely kill your fish. john has had it happen! Another common way of killing fish is to forget to turn off the tap!
15. Costs: It costs more to build a pond that you might think. Even a small pond still takes a pump ($280), liner (around $1.00/sq. foot), hose (maybe $3.00 a foot?), rocks ($210/ton), a skimmer box ($450), a biofilter ($450), some plants and fish.
If these prices scare you, you could consider purchasing a small container, lining it with a liner, inserting a small pump and moving it close to the deck. You still get the sound of running water this way without the great expense! Now if you are obsessed like john, well there is no hope for you! It might be cheaper to buy a house on a lake. Instead, john built a lake for his house.
16. Steep Sloped Ponds - If you design you pond as most books show, you will have nearly vertical sides to it. This may prevent animals like raccoons from being able to reach your fish. On-the-other-hand, it has been john's experience that steep slopes mean death to small critters trying to get a drink and falling in and drowning. john now tries to design his newer ponds with very gentle edges. He has one pond whose slope looks like an indentation from a very oversized basketball. He covered the bottom of this pond with Mexican beach pebbles. An additional approach is to make a bog area prior to the actual pond itself. Finally, if you have an existing steep sloped pond, you might consider placing driftwood, etc. in it so that these small critters have a ramp to get out of the water.
17. Join your local water garden society - john stood up and asked for a helper at his water garden society and found Eddie. Eddie works all day long for $7.00/hr. lifting 75 - 100 pound rocks, pressure-treated beams, blocks, etc. In addition, many times ponders with overgrown water gardens are more than happy to share plants and fish at next to no cost with you. Finally, john has found that talking with others with similar interests is alway beneficial financially and creatively. john just noted that his water garden society is about to have an evening presentation on "Advanced Filtration". Don't you know john plans to attend that one! True, john many times is too busy working on zenpond to attend all of the meetings, but manages enough them to keep current.
18. Subscribe to Watering Garden Magazine - john thinks highly of Watering Garden Magazine, a bi-monthly magazine with excellent articles: www.watergardening.com
19. (July 2006) john just checked on the new prices to buy rock. Unfortunately, rock has gone sky high in price due to gasoline prices. When john first started buying rock, it costs $175/ton. Currently, the price is $550/ton. john isn't sure he could afford to build zenpond today!
20. Enjoy life - remember to take this journey with great joy and a calm mind. Practice really seeing the beauty that exists in right front of you, in the eyes of your fellow man and the hearts of all other living creatures.
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