Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How to Clean Up a Nasty Water Garden - and Keep it That Way!

In my previous post I dove into the myth about water gardens not needing filters. Many people subscribe to the theory that mother nature will take care of their backyard ornamental manmade water garden or koi pond or goldfish pond but I have proven in my last post that these types of ponds are nowhere near being natural bodies of water.

I think many ponders now are convinced that a koi pond or goldfish pond requires a filter because extra biological filtration is needed to keep the water free of ammonia and nitrites and healthy for the pond fish. What very few people consider is that a water garden void of fish would be a lot cleaner and prettier with a filter system tough enough to filter out all the junk a water garden creates.

Like I said earlier: There's nothing uglier than a dirty, neglected water garden. I'll add to that. There's nothing smellier either! Everyone takes for granted that ponds with fish in them are dirtier and harder to keep clean than a pond filled with only plants. It's really quite the opposite. A water garden is, by nature, dirtier. What do you have the plants planted in most of the time? Dirt. What happens when plants die back? They shed leaves and these old and moldy leaves tend to fall to the bottom of the pond and, over time, become part of the muck that ponds collect. Fish only leave their poop behind but that doesn't mount up to the dirts and organics left by plants. It is truer to state that water gardens are dirtier than koi ponds and a combination pond that has both plants and fish is bound to be even dirtier.

The facts are that leaves, spent blooms and dirt all fall to the bottom of the water garden and collect. To make things worse, the floor of many water gardens and combination ponds are lined with rocks and that gives lots of cracks and crevices where this muck can hide. After about a year of muck collecting between those rocks, turn one over and take a big whiff. It could knock you out! You have successfully cultivated a cess pool. Now, isn't that a wonderful place for grandkids to dangle their feet into? And think of the animals who drink from it. Read my article, "Turn Your Pond Into a Cess Pool in One Easy Lesson" for more rantings from me about the use of rocks on the bottom of the pond.

So to combat this collection of crap on the bottom of the pond manufacturers have come up with ingenious ways of making you feel you are doing what you can to keep that water garden clean -- short of correctly filtering it. They invent sludge eating bacteria that will help but alone will NOT DO IT. They invent complete pond construction kits that feature side-skimmers with biological waterfalls. They'll instruct you to line the bottom with rocks to "hide the liner", putting you on the road to building a beautiful, natural-looking cess pool. They'll tell you that those two thin pads in the bio-falls will filter your water and keep it clean and healthy...

NOT! For one thing, the side-skimmer rakes the water that is going to be filtered off the top of the pond. It doesn't even start to tackle the muck on the bottom -- you know -- the dirty part. The two little flimsy pads in the waterfall box, therefore, do very little filtering and, by the way, will be "low-maintenance" because of it! You never have to clean pads that trap no dirt, do you? Read my article, "Landscaper's Dream, Homeowner's Nightmare!" if you want to hear more of my rantings about the terrible side-skimmer system.

So - what WILL work to keep that water garden or pond clean? A for-real filter (external !!) that is fed water from the lowest spot on the floor of the pond. Oh - and don't put those stupid rocks on the bottom! What they do to "hide" the liner they make up for with breeding disease.

It's that simple.

First you need place your submersible pump or bottom drain water pick-up (for external pumps) in the deepest part of the pond. That way you pull all the dirt and debris that has fallen into the pond out where the filter can filter it.

The type filter you use will make all the difference. If the filter does its job it will require some attention about once a week during pond season. If it never needs cleaning it is not doing the job of filtering. There are filters that require more maintenance than others so you can have filters that work but don't work you - well, at least not too hard. The bead filter is the best one for lowest maintenance because it backwashes the filter media with only a turn of a handle. If your pond or water garden is smaller than 600 gallons you really can't put one on your pond without being accused of "overkill". In that case, you can't get by without washing some sort of filter pads or media.

The bead filter I like best is, of course, the ProBead Biological Pond Filter. I designed the ProBead myself and the what makes it better than all the other true bead filters out there is because it utilizes the Anti-Clogging Multi-Bead Feature - simply put - it uses four different sizes and styles of beads to keep them from clogging. I'm not going to go into it here but if you want to know more about the ProBead, here is an article to read: http://www.ponddoc.com/WhatsUpDoc/Equipment/BreedBead.htm

For a small pond that a big bead filter might swallow whole there are smaller filters that do a very nice job of filtering the water such as the BioForce or the PondMaster Filter. The BioForce is an external filter so it brings the dirt out of the water and cleans much better than a submersible one like the PondMaster so that would be my choice if not a bead filter.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Natural Pond Myth

I don't have enough fingers to count how many times I have read in books, on the internet, in magazine articles and heard from pond experts that water gardens do not need filtration. I've even made the comment myself that a water garden (without any fish) doesn't need a filter. Well - I was wrong and I'm ashamed of it!

There's nothing uglier than a neglected, unfiltered water garden.

Okay, there's uglier things -- but not many.

I've spent more than a decade of my life arguing with so-called pond experts about the filtration needs of a pond. The old way of thinking was that ponds were natural and mother nature gave ponds everything they needed to run naturally. Their way of thinking was all you had to do was build a natural environment with plants and fish and rocks and mother nature would take care of the rest. Manmade filters were nowhere in the equation.

I ask you -- What's natural about a hole in the ground that is covered with a thick rubber liner, lined with rocks quarried several hundred miles away, filled with water from the faucet, decorated with plastic pots filled with plants that are not native to the area and about 20 goldfish thrown in for "color"?

The whole setup is the furthest from natural you can get. It's a fake environment engineered to look natural but it has nothing in common with the bodies of water mother nature provides for us naturally. The hole is dug by man. The rubber liner actually prevents natural exchanges from occurring between water and earth. When have you ever seen a lake totally lined with rocks? Mother nature does not use chlorinated water nor does she use plastic for a planting bed. Then there's the fish. Look at a natural lake and you tell me. How many fish per 1000 gallons of water does mother nature place in her bodies of water? The answer is somewhere between 0 and 1.

So that brings me to filtering this artificial natural environment. If the ancient ones have their way these water gardens only need a pump and hose to create a natural waterfall and some movement. That's all fine and dandy for a couple of months. Then the natural processes between water, rubber and rock begin happening. The sun and fish poop join forces to fuel algae growth that clings to the rocks, the plastic pots and the rubber liner and turns the water from murky haze to solid green. The plants sprout new leaves, shed old leaves, flower and die back and drop dead organic material into the water which falls between the rocks where it joins the fish poop and uneaten fish food to metamorphis into a nasty, decaying matter that just sits there being covered up with more layers of natural processes. Lovely, isn't it?

I invite you to reach into this natural backyard pond environment with your naked hand then take a sample and look under a high-powered microscope. Yummy, isn't it? --- Oh, and let's not forget to take a big ol' whiff, especially after turning over a rock off the bottom.

With the proper filtration (and a few changes to the pond itself) this natural pond could be relatively clean and healthy environment. ...And how to do that, my friends, will be the next posting to my blog...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Killing Your Koi with Kindness - Spring Feeding

It's that time of year again. I love it and dread it at the same time. This is the time of year when the weather acts like a yo-yo going from cold to warm to cold to warm. There's nothing like the elation one feels on that first warm day of the year - in Georgia it's usually still in winter - when it's in the low 70's and the koi and goldfish start moving around again, nibbling at the sides of the pond for a morsel of algae. That's what my koi are doing right now and it's great to see!

What I dread about it is the problems that people will have from it - including me. I'll be flooded with calls from people whose fish are dying or sick because of a range of things that happen when the water in the pond begins warming up. One of the problems that can pop up during this time of year is directly linked to feeding the fish.

Although my koi are looking up to me with hunger in their eyes I know better than to feed them yet. It takes every bit of will power I have not to throw them a handful of food. It's still winter here in Georgia and the water temperatures have not yet reached 50 degrees. Even if, on the warmest of days, the water peaks above 50 degrees I know that within a day it could go right back down. That's what can kill the fish if I feed them right now.

The body functions of koi and goldfish are controlled by water temperature. They go into a semi-dormant stage of just hovering above the floor of the pond when the water is cold. They don't breathe as much through their gills, they don't move much, they don't want to eat as a rule and their digestive system does not function. If they eat proteins during a short warm spell (when the warming of their environment triggers hunger) the proteins can be trapped inside the digestive tract when the water temperature drops and sit there without digesting until it warms back up. The food literally rots inside their digestive tract and causes internal infection often ending in death. Often you don't even know it's happening. There may be no symptoms other than the fish simply dying.

So - what I'm saying is please use self control. During this time of year you can kill your koi with kindness by giving into them. Remember - you are the adult and they are your children. You wouldn't allow your children to run out into the path of a car. Consider food at this point the speeding vehicle.

When can you safely feed them? The stock answer is when the water temperature gets above and stays above 50 degrees. Then feed them a low-protein diet (we use a wheatgerm-based food called M-Wheat) and feed them sparingly - like once a day all they can eat in 5 minutes. Use common sense. For example, if a winter storm is in the forecast and temperatures are sure to drop in the next two days stop feeding them immediately so that whatever is in their digestive tract has time to digest before the temperature plummets.

If you want more information about what happens to the pond during the spring, here is a link to our list of articles that deal only with the change of seasons: http://www.ponddoc.com/WhatsUpDoc/Lists/SeasonList.htm

If you want to find the M-Wheat koi and goldfish food that we use (which is a great quality at a low price - often lower than what you find at PetSmart by weight and healthier in most cases), here's the direct link to where it is on PondDoc.com: http://www.ponddoc.com/Store/Food/food.html

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Who is the Pond Doc?

My name is Cecil Ferguson and I am the original "Pond Doc". The reason I say I'm the original Pond Doc is because, believe it or not, others have tried to steal my "name". Up until last year my wife, Peggy, and I owned and operated "Pond Doc's Water Garden Center" in Alpharetta, Georgia. We have since closed the store and are concentrating our efforts nationally through the internet.

I have been in the koi and pond business for more than a decade and I guess I could be considered one of the pioneers when it comes to fish health. I am not a vet but I am a koi and pond professional. Our website, http://www.ponddoc.com/, has been around for at least 11 years - probably longer than that - helping folks who have ponds, koi and goldfish with their ponds. You know, keeping them healthy and clean and pretty. Although http://www.ponddoc.com/ has loads of informative articles on everything from pond construction to koi varieties, I thought it would be a lot of fun to keep a diary of sorts and what better way to do that than right here with this "blog thing" that I am still trying to figure out.

So, I hope I can keep you amused while instilling some of the knowledge that I've gained over the years while selling pond fish, plants and supplies. If you are in need of some intensive and thorough information right now about ponds, koi health or water quality and you can't find what you are looking for on this blog then go directly to the information section of my website. The link to it is: http://www.ponddoc.com/WhatsUpDoc/newsevent.html

I'll be posting soon...