I just had a minor panic when I went to feed the fish and the pond was practically empty.
The fish were huddled over the pump in the bottom well of the pond. Had I left it until I came back from shopping the water would have gone and the pump would have cut out – or blown up! And that, in a way, would have made a decision for me.
The two ponds were here when we moved in, although one was drained. Re-lining it seemed a good idea at the time. If I’d known then what pondkeeping entailed, I would have suggested we fill it in and grow vegetables instead.
During winter, I can forget we have ponds. We stop feeding because the fish don’t feed in cold weather. They lie around at the bottom of the pond so I don’t need to clean the filters either because nothing’s moving around to stir up the muck that settles.
Now it’s summer, and they’re all milling about down there. I have to feed the fish again, pull sheets of blanketweed from the waterfall, and clean thick sludge from the filters, ignoring the worms wriggling through the filter foam that I gather are indicative of a healthy pond.
Like any pets, fish are a responsibility.
The most puzzling thing about our ponds is their water clarity – or not.
For most of the last winter, both ponds have been sludgy and opaque, even though nothing has been moving around to stir up the muck. However many bottles of sludge-busting eco-friendly, harmless-to-fish preparations I emptied into it, the water stayed cloudy. Now the water in both ponds is suddenly crystal clear (even before I refilled the one that nearly emptied). Perhaps it needs the sludge to be moved around before the pump can draw it in.
One downside to this sudden clarity, is that I can now see the branches and leaves and dog toys that need fishing out from the bottom of the pond. But, of course, the first couple of passes with the net stir up the sludge, so I can’t continue until next day when the water has cleared again.
The other downside is that when we can see the fish, so can the herons passing overhead.
One pond is exposed in the winter when the weeping willow loses its leaves, and we have a sort of cage affair to drag over it to keep the herons off the fish. This comes off in the spring when the willow grows leaves again and hides the pond. (Even from ground level.) The challenge then is to find somewhere to put the cage contraption through the summer. (It is a big pond.)
Willow sounds a lovely idea over a pond, but the leaves and thin branches fall in high winds and have to be netted out of the pond before they sink to the bottom. Come autumn the cage goes back on to help catch the falling leaves, but then it’s harder to get in to net the leaves that fall through.
Then there are the tree roots that grow through the pond liner, so do the pond plants if not moved occasionally. When we arrived, we moved a lily in the active pond and found three enormous koi hiding under its leaves. They were easy to find by then as the water was draining from the pond where the lily roots had grown through the pond liner.
Fortunately by then we had already lined and filled the pond under the willow at the end of the garden.
Water levels have to be monitored, especially during the summer when hot weather causes evaporation. I have been known to leave the hose filling the pond and forgotten to go back out and turn it off. I once came out next morning to find the corner of the garden awash.
The smaller pond has a waterfall which is another potential cause of leakage, especially when visiting dogs inspect it by walking up it (those that don’t prefer to just plunge into the pool). This dislodges stones and creates little dams which cause water to back up and overflow.
On the most recent occasion, the leak was from the filter box, which was overflowing and pouring water over its side. Going online to find a cause, all the advice I found suggested clearing the outlet. I was ready to dismiss this as too simple. The outlet was enormous and water was flowing out of it as usual. But I turned off the pump, cleaned the sludge from the filter sponges and rooted around at the bottom of the plastic filter thingies to move anything that might have collected down there, not believing such a simple (if mucky) measure would help.
It was humbling to find that the box was overflowing because I hadn’t cleaned it out properly!
When we moved in, I wasn’t a complete novice where fish were concerned as I’d kept two indoor fish tanks for decades when the children were growing up. Back then, fairground stalls gave away goldfish as prizes, which was how it all started. After a while though, visits to the local aquarium shop prompted me to set up a tropical tank as well as the cold water tank. Livebearers – the guppies and mollies – were fascinating.
We found the cold water fish didn’t thrive in winter with the central heating on. These were eventually moved to a laundry lean-to where I could watch them swimming around through the kitchen window. This tank outlasted the tropical fish tank and I gave the surviving fish away to the local aquarium shop when I downsized.
It was these fish tanks which first prompted the idea of tiny water-people living among the fish. When I wrote the short story that later became the Pond People, I located them instead in the outdoor pond, which seemed a kinder environment for them. I certainly wouldn’t set up another aquarium tank now – or a fish pond.
At least the fish tanks my children knew didn’t pose the risk of them falling in. When my grandchildren visit, I barricade the nearer pond with decaying garden furniture to keep them away. The other pond is too big to barricade so I have to drag the winter cage over it (which is now in danger of falling apart, as am I).
Watching fish swim is supposed to lower one’s blood pressure. I’m sure that cleaning up after them and fending off fishy disasters has raised mine more often than they’ve lowered it. So, if you were thinking of installing a garden pond, think again, very carefully.