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US zone 8b garden pond help

 
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We just bought a house with a run down garden pond. I don’t know much about aquaculture but if this pond can be salvaged I would love to get some edible plants and fish going. It’s about 12’ at the widest point and I estimate an original depth about 3’ at the deepest point.

There may be plant roots growing through the liner, It’s mostly muck in there not much water. Not sure what all plants these are but somebody told me the bulb looking ones are hyacinth and the lily pads do bloom, although the water is getting no aeration apart from when it rains and there’s frogs in there.

You may be able to tell in the pics where the water used to go under the bridge and around to the stone waterfall. A broken pump and broken irrigation pipes were removed from the area . No telling how long it’s been sitting like this.

I’m a busy working mom and we’re also doing home repairs to this old house so I’m looking for suggestions that are easy, low maintenance, not too labor intensive, etc. and willing to be patient for results
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pollinator
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The plants I recognize are water hyacinth, water lily, umbrella sedge (the tall spiky plant), and lizards tail (the tall broadleaved plant).  The easiest way to restore the pond is to temporarily move the plants into some tubs, then dig out most of the muck (great compost for other parts of the garden, be careful not to damage the pond liner while removing the muck), then replant the plants into the remaining muck, then refill the pond with water.
 
Lynn Faulkner
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Thanks so much Mike that’s really helpful! More specifically, I’m wondering what aeration needs a pond this size has, and if there’s a permaculture way to do that? Is a pond this size too small to support fish we could eat?

Mike Turner wrote:The plants I recognize are water hyacinth, water lily, umbrella sedge (the tall spiky plant), and lizards tail (the tall broadleaved plant).  The easiest way to restore the pond is to temporarily move the plants into some tubs, then dig out most of the muck (great compost for other parts of the garden, be careful not to damage the pond liner while removing the muck), then replant the plants into the remaining muck, then refill the pond with water.

 
gardener
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Lynn Faulkner wrote:Thanks so much Mike that’s really helpful! More specifically, I’m wondering what aeration needs a pond this size has, and if there’s a permaculture way to do that? Is a pond this size too small to support fish we could eat?



I have never been successful trying anything other than a water pump plugged into the grid.  I'm not saying there is no way to, just that it has never worked for me.  

I have tried:
solar pumps (invariably cloudy days that kill the circulation, often for a few days at a time)
water pistons (great idea in limited uses, such as CHIFT/PIST aquaponics setups, but a failure elsewhere),
solar panel plugged into low wattage pump (anemic flow rate and pretty quick failure of either solar panel or pump)

Now a decently rated water pump plugged into the grid ran flawlessly for two years with excellent flow and oxygenation.

There is an approach called low-tech which relies on plants to oxygenate the pond, mineralized topsoil as a substrate (not hard to do, takes a month or so), and a low volume of fish. A 12' wide, 3' deep pond has a great surface area-to-volume ratio. Wind action and co2 exchange at the surface should help a lot keeping dissolved oxygen ok at cooler temps.  Zone 8b does not have cooler temps.  So you are playing a delicate game of oxygen/co2 ratio with little room for error in a low-tech pond.  Overfeeding, heat wave, evaporation, algae bloom, all could threaten the pond.

One mains-powered pump and a float valve for pond refill from a hose to top off evaporation would do wonders for that pond.  It looks like it was crafted with care.  If you kept those same plants and stocked it with rosy red minnows for mosquito control, plus some other form of fish for interest you'll have a really pleasant spot there. Not koi or goldfish, those excrete a lot of ammonia.

If you want to raise edible fish, you certainly could.  I would think catfish and tilapia as one option or perch as another (not sure that perch get along with catfish, maybe they do.)  You will need a fish feed that is intended for aquaponics to get a decent growth ratio to make it worth your time.  You'll need to feed every day, preferably twice a day. You can make a black soldier fly larvae incubator for a permaculturish food supplement, and also use a solar spotlight that runs across the water surface at night to attract bugs.

In zone 8b your window for growing tilapia is about March to "plate size" (approximately 1-1.5lbs).  If you feed aggressively, plate size will come around August.  If you feed less aggressively, you risk losing the fish come wintertime.

I suggest that you take it in steps. Clean out the pond, gently, and make sure the liner is intact.  Consider adding a second liner if you're uncertain, but if you fill the pond and it doesn't drain out you are probably ok. Add some screened topsoil or pea gravel as a substrate.  Put the plants back in. Add a pump that releases at the highest point and ensure that the waterfall flows correctly. If so, you are in great shape!  Add a bunch of rosy red minnows (native fish about 14 cents a piece) and wait for water to clear up and balance to occur.  You can pee into the pond to speed this along (google peeponics.)  If you get an algae bloom ride it out for a week or two until your plants catch back up. At that point, decide whether you want to take on the rewarding-yet-challenging effort of raising tilapia come next March.

 
Lynn Faulkner
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Wow thanks Rob! This is exactly the info I needed! Do you have a PayPal or anything? For real 😁

Rob Lineberger wrote:

I have never been successful trying anything other than a water pump plugged into the grid.  I'm not saying there is no way to, just that it has never worked for me.  

I have tried:
solar pumps (invariably cloudy days that kill the circulation, often for a few days at a time)
water pistons (great idea in limited uses, such as CHIFT/PIST aquaponics setups, but a failure elsewhere),
solar panel plugged into low wattage pump (anemic flow rate and pretty quick failure of either solar panel or pump)

Now a decently rated water pump plugged into the grid ran flawlessly for two years with excellent flow and oxygenation.

There is an approach called low-tech which relies on plants to oxygenate the pond, mineralized topsoil as a substrate (not hard to do, takes a month or so), and a low volume of fish. A 12' wide, 3' deep pond has a great surface area-to-volume ratio. Wind action and co2 exchange at the surface should help a lot keeping dissolved oxygen ok at cooler temps.  Zone 8b does not have cooler temps.  So you are playing a delicate game of oxygen/co2 ratio with little room for error in a low-tech pond.  Overfeeding, heat wave, evaporation, algae bloom, all could threaten the pond.

One mains-powered pump and a float valve for pond refill from a hose to top off evaporation would do wonders for that pond.  It looks like it was crafted with care.  If you kept those same plants and stocked it with rosy red minnows for mosquito control, plus some other form of fish for interest you'll have a really pleasant spot there. Not koi or goldfish, those excrete a lot of ammonia.

If you want to raise edible fish, you certainly could.  I would think catfish and tilapia as one option or perch as another (not sure that perch get along with catfish, maybe they do.)  You will need a fish feed that is intended for aquaponics to get a decent growth ratio to make it worth your time.  You'll need to feed every day, preferably twice a day. You can make a black soldier fly larvae incubator for a permaculturish food supplement, and also use a solar spotlight that runs across the water surface at night to attract bugs.

In zone 8b your window for growing tilapia is about March to "plate size" (approximately 1-1.5lbs).  If you feed aggressively, plate size will come around August.  If you feed less aggressively, you risk losing the fish come wintertime.

I suggest that you take it in steps. Clean out the pond, gently, and make sure the liner is intact.  Consider adding a second liner if you're uncertain, but if you fill the pond and it doesn't drain out you are probably ok. Add some screened topsoil or pea gravel as a substrate.  Put the plants back in. Add a pump that releases at the highest point and ensure that the waterfall flows correctly. If so, you are in great shape!  Add a bunch of rosy red minnows (native fish about 14 cents a piece) and wait for water to clear up and balance to occur.  You can pee into the pond to speed this along (google peeponics.)  If you get an algae bloom ride it out for a week or two until your plants catch back up. At that point, decide whether you want to take on the rewarding-yet-challenging effort of raising tilapia come next March.

 
Rob Lineberger
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Lynn Faulkner wrote:Wow thanks Rob! This is exactly the info I needed! Do you have a PayPal or anything? For real 😁



Haha thank you but it's my pleasure to talk permaculture here with likeminded people such as yourself.  
 
pollinator
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The first thing I would ask is why is it half empty? Is it just a lack of rain or does it have a hole. I would do as Mike suggests but I would refill the pond before replanting the plants to check there isn't a hole in that liner.
 
Lynn Faulkner
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I believe it’s lack of rain. We’ve been getting heavy rain w storms but only about once a month and not much showers in between. But that’s a good idea and I will do that to be sure

Skandi Rogers wrote:The first thing I would ask is why is it half empty? Is it just a lack of rain or does it have a hole. I would do as Mike suggests but I would refill the pond before replanting the plants to check there isn't a hole in that liner.

 
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Lynn, since you say you're a busy, working mom, this little pond could be a lot of work if you really commit to it.   A few things to keep in mind...

It's also expensive to either run a pump with electricity, or with solar, because good solar equipment isn't cheap... and the cheap stuff doesn't last long... which would only run when the sun is on a panel that is facing the sun, which is usually between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM if positioned where there are no plants/trees to shade it.  Doesn't look like that's the case since your pond looks in the shade and near a building.  If fish really need aeration 24/7, then only an electric pump with do it.  There's information at the sites that sell aquaculture equipment for raising fish in water.

Probably the most important thing is that it doesn't get mosquitoes, which it seems the frogs are handling at this point, since you didn't mention mosquitoes or other insect problems.  Doing something that changes the dynamic/balance that this pond has established might change whether mosquitoes can lay eggs there and get them to hatch.

Frogs are good at hiding and not being eaten by bigger predators, like foxes, coyotes, hawks, falcons, turkey vultures, bobcats, etc.,  (it looks rural there), but once the bigger predators spot fish there, they will come into your yard to get them, and then discover whatever else you have there that is snackable, like a cat or small dogs.  If you aren't there during the day, and it's quiet there, it won't just be at night that the bigger predators show up.  If you have raising chickens in mind for the future, then you don't want a big predator magnet like a pond with fish.

Fish poop a lot, so that water will be creepy, to say the least, and possibly smell bad in a poopy way, rather than an anaerobic way, and will need to be cleaned, just like a fish tank.  I don't know that frogs would hang around for that.  I wouldn't want pets drinking it, or kids floating boats in it.  You can see in the aquaculture sites with pictures that the water is brown and murky, and that's why.  

If you left it, and the muck built up, and it catches water, you could make a self-watering vegetable bed.  You could add compost, some bark chips, and plant things that need more water.  It's almost the perfect Permaculture kind of setup where it takes care of itself.  The stone waterfall portion of it would look great with nasturtiums climbing around on it, and it's the perfect rain catcher to keep the rest of it watered.









 
 
pollinator
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Rob Lineberger wrote:

Lynn Faulkner wrote:Thanks so much Mike that’s really helpful! More specifically, I’m wondering what aeration needs a pond this size has, and if there’s a permaculture way to do that? Is a pond this size too small to support fish we could eat?



There is an approach called low-tech which relies on plants to oxygenate the pond, mineralized topsoil as a substrate (not hard to do, takes a month or so), and a low volume of fish.



I was coming in to say this! I work with low-maintenance/no-maintenance fish tanks and aquariums and this is the primary (and often only) means of oxygenation. In a fish tank you have the means to see the plants pearling (giving off small streams of bubbles) when they are growing properly and getting their needed nutrients. I don’t know how you’d be able to watch for this in a pond unless you put in an underwater camera.
The soil substrate feeds the plants while the ecosystem of fish and critters are growing. Eventually the plants will use up all the available nutrients in the substrate, but by that time you should have enough fish to produce waste material for the plants to use.
If you start to get a buildup of algae, it means your balance is off; your plants aren’t using up all the available nutrients which leaves space for the opportunistic algae.
If your plants aren’t growing well or pearling it indicates a lack of nutrients or light. You may choose to thin out struggling plants to leave more nutrients for the healthier ones.

There’s a really amazing book called “Ecology of the planted aquarium” It’s a dense read, but goes into the science of creating a balanced ecosystem. While it’s meant for aquariums the information could easily be used to scale up for a larger system (like your pond).
My little tank was set up using this book as a guideline; Other than feeding my fish I haven’t done any cleaning or maintenance is over six months. I occasionally add more water since I does evaporate off some, but that’s it! I don’t run a filter or an aerator. I don’t even have a light for the tank, but instead rely on indirect sunlight.

 
Carolyne Castner
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My tank is one of the easiest tanks I’ve ever run. Waste material doesn’t build up, the water stays clear, and it doesn’t stink.
No other system that I’ve used has worked as effectively, including expensive filtration systems
 
Lynn Faulkner
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Mind blown lol. Why not leave it alone! It don’t really smell except when it rains then it reminds me of living by a creek when I was a kid. We’re not actually rural it’s a partial old growth wooded urban neighborhood. There are owls and snakes though and we do want chickens. I wonder if I could remove just a little of the plants so it’s not so crowded and borrow a little of the muck to kick off the garden without disrupting it too much

Cristo Balete wrote:Lynn, since you say you're a busy, working mom, this little pond could be a lot of work if you really commit to it.   A few things to keep in mind...

It's also expensive to either run a pump with electricity, or with solar, because good solar equipment isn't cheap... and the cheap stuff doesn't last long... which would only run when the sun is on a panel that is facing the sun, which is usually between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM if positioned where there are no plants/trees to shade it.  Doesn't look like that's the case since your pond looks in the shade and near a building.  If fish really need aeration 24/7, then only an electric pump with do it.  There's information at the sites that sell aquaculture equipment for raising fish in water.

Probably the most important thing is that it doesn't get mosquitoes, which it seems the frogs are handling at this point, since you didn't mention mosquitoes or other insect problems.  Doing something that changes the dynamic/balance that this pond has established might change whether mosquitoes can lay eggs there and get them to hatch.

Frogs are good at hiding and not being eaten by bigger predators, like foxes, coyotes, hawks, falcons, turkey vultures, bobcats, etc.,  (it looks rural there), but once the bigger predators spot fish there, they will come into your yard to get them, and then discover whatever else you have there that is snackable, like a cat or small dogs.  If you aren't there during the day, and it's quiet there, it won't just be at night that the bigger predators show up.  If you have raising chickens in mind for the future, then you don't want a big predator magnet like a pond with fish.

Fish poop a lot, so that water will be creepy, to say the least, and possibly smell bad in a poopy way, rather than an anaerobic way, and will need to be cleaned, just like a fish tank.  I don't know that frogs would hang around for that.  I wouldn't want pets drinking it, or kids floating boats in it.  You can see in the aquaculture sites with pictures that the water is brown and murky, and that's why.  

If you left it, and the muck built up, and it catches water, you could make a self-watering vegetable bed.  You could add compost, some bark chips, and plant things that need more water.  It's almost the perfect Permaculture kind of setup where it takes care of itself.  The stone waterfall portion of it would look great with nasturtiums climbing around on it, and it's the perfect rain catcher to keep the rest of it watered.









 

 
Lynn Faulkner
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I watch YouTube videos of these types of Aquariums sometimes! I will look up the book thank you

Carolyne Castner wrote:My tank is one of the easiest tanks I’ve ever run. Waste material doesn’t build up, the water stays clear, and it doesn’t stink.
No other system that I’ve used has worked as effectively, including expensive filtration systems

 
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