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Advice Needed About a Natural Fish Pond (No Electricity)

 
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Hi everyone,

I'm looking for advice and input on some ponds that I want to put in. I've done some research but I'm very new to this topic. One of them will be pretty small (30 by 30, and of an undecided depth). The other could be half an acre or more. I've done some research and have read an article relating to this on mother earth news titled "DIY Natural Backyard Pond." I also read a thread here on permies called "Has anyone set up an aquaponics system which does not use electricity?" I'd link to both but my phone is being buggy.

I want to create a natural, productive environment in both. My aim is to not use electricity or pumps at all. I want to produce fish of some kind, and I'm not particular on what they are. My soil is a heavy silt clay and I have a very high water table (if I dig a foot down in a normal looking pasture I hit water). It's flat though I might acquire the hill above me.

These are my needs:

1. To use a natural setup that does not use pond liners (I've heard ducks can create a microfilm of biota because of their manure. I don't know how it's spelled but a friend called the process glaying).

2. To do this without any electricity, including solar or fancy pumps. Also either no windmills or windmills that are easy to build and maintain. Natural ponds and fish farms in ancient China, India, and Rome didn't have electricity, though perhaps they used a complex gravity system that I don't have resources for.

3. To choose productive elements (fish and plants) that are appropriate for my environment and that will be easy to feed and care for (no heating). I'm interested in crayfish because I love eating them and I'm open to Carp or anything else anyone can suggest. I don't know anything about growing plants for food in a pond, but I'm open to it. I'm also willing, of course, to support plants and animals that aren't directly productive, especially if they're an important part of the ecosystem I'm trying to create. I live in zone eight (western Washington) with about 70 inches of rain a year and hit dry summers. I live at the bottom of a valley which helps my water table to refill.

4. To be able to produce all of my own fish feed on site and/or in the pond itself.

Thanks for your feedback and ideas!
 
gardener
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The best advice I could give is look at any ponds you can find that are nearby, whether they be natural or man made.  
This will inform you as to the conditions a pond of your own might need.  Look at the flora and fauna.  See what's going
on in there!

1. If you have sufficient clay in your soil, you may not need to worry about "gleying", the clay will act as the seal itself.
  Here is a way to check for clay content: https://www.peakprosperity.com/wsidblog/87489/testing-your-soil-pond-site

2. Aquaponics without electricity? You mean like a natural pond or specifically for production of fish/plants?
Again looking at ponds near you will tell you what types of critters are going to live in yours.

3. See above
4. See above

To me, it sounds like you are wanting to make a natural pond that does things ponds tend to do, maybe you are over thinking this?
A pond is going to do what a pond is going to do, and the more you try to fit it to a certain mold it doesn't want to be in, the more you are fighting nature.
If anything, dig a hole by hand and see how it does. See if what happens after a good rain.  A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

 
James Landreth
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Thank you. What I want to do is sustainably raise fish and plants in this pond, while also adding diversity to my land
 
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Hi James,

We build a pond in Urban part of Paris, France with the intention of making it as natural and self-reliant as we could. It worked fine. After a huge amount of spontaneous wildlife moved in, frogs moved in for the spring this year altough our 3 shubunkin fish had 13 baby fish . So we are quite happy considering the peri-urban location of this garden.

My advice would be to go slowly, don't rush any new species, wait well until your pond looks super stable before adding fish. To get your pond started, add as many selected “good“ plants you can find in your area for your pond (ground growers, floaters, bank growers, tubers, ...) they will purify the water, oxygenate the water, shade the water, provide shelter and breeding ground, etc.. This is all very important if you want your pond to self-regulate. Also, find a pond that looks healthy and take some mud from it and put (a handful is enough) the mud in your pond. You will be adding lots of microorganisms and planktons your pond will need.

Finally, remember that we might think a pond is nice and self-regulating if it is clear watered, but that is not an obvious criteria, you might prefer it, but the pond (most of the time) doesn't care. Levels of sun penetrating the water, oxygen in the pond, nitrates in the water, etc are all elements that will increase amounts of algae her to balance it out again.

So keep watching your pond closely, go slow, understand what has changed, the water will react very quickly to anything new or changing in its “parameters“.

As for the aquaponics section, I'm no expert, although I understand that for most system you need a pump to push the water through your plant growing system. But you might be able to set up a floating raft system for plants in you bigger pond if you like with certain edible productive plants. Check out this link that could be of some help
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2B2Nyji7v0

Cheers
 
James Landreth
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The video is good, and I'm sure I can learn from it. However, I'm trying to oxygenate my pond without electricity, including the solar pump that he's using. I'm hoping plants could perhaps accomplish this, but I'm not sure how to go about it (do I need a bigger pond? What density of plants do I need? Etc)
 
Lennan Bate
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In this system, Geoff is using a solar pump to oxygenate the water for a couple of reasons. Firstly this pond is a productive fish pond so he want's to get as many fish as he can, oxygen being important to maintain a good yield year round. Then he uses the pump to create a high oxygen zone in wish fish are accustomed to visiting so he can harvest them more easily.

Then of course, plants will produce oxygen in the water but if its too sunny/hot, they will be using the oxygen from the water at night. So if you wanna maintain a good level of oxygen in your pond without any pump, be sure to shade your pond. On our small pond, we had a trellis going over it. We could grow annual crops over it during the summer which shaded the pond and kept the water at an acceptable temperature (thus keeping oxygen level to an okay level), it was esthetical, productive and it increased the protection for the fish regarding birds that could catch them.

Again, the way you do it will depend of your situation. The temperature of where you are, the amount of water, if you have shallow areas that could create flow in the water (through hot/cold water flows), if you have deeper areas that are more stable for the fish to be in (oxygen and temperature) the number of plants your adding and number of fish you have.
Spend a year observing, it will take time for your pond to really stabilise and during that time you'll be able to observe the changes and fluctuations depending on the temperature outside and inside the pond, sun exposure, etc.. From those observations, make your assessments and you'll find your own solutions.
Designing is a journey, the more you stay aware and observant, the more your system will benefit from your learning and reflections.

Oh and for the number of plants I would say go for it! They will develop and the fish might eat some of them so you'll also figure out what works for you.
 
pollinator
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You can and should use plants to oxygenate your pond - any is good and more is better; if you are worried they will take over, you can itroduce a vegetarian fish species, or support species to manage growth, and figure out the best ratio over time.

in terms of energy-free aeration, the other solution is all-natural - wind.

If your pond is exposed, you will get some aeration from this - any disturbance of the water introduces air. Rocks and partially submerged forms make "nucleation" points for waves and ripples to break, your water in-feed should tumble down over stones, or just be raised over the surface, and that will help aerate.  Natural stream-fed brings oxygenated water right in; rain will do the same.

Concerns for aeration are only for VERY small systems, and those that are indoors or have no life other than the fish.

If you have so many fish that they are going hypoxic with all these aeration sources, it means you need to harvest/sell a few.
 
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I think too much focus is put on sealing a pond vs sealing just the dam. Sepp is attributed as using ducks/pigs whatever to seal them.  In actuality he probably doesn't do this at all. He seals the dam, the dam extends down to a dry clay layer that sits under an underground water flow. He dams the underground water. When evaporation takes place, the water is there to replace it.

Underground water is cleaner than surface water. Its been filtered

When you mentioned a small pond, sepp does that prior to the big pond. Its a sediment pond. It can raise crawfish though. And plants. It keeps the main pond from filling in. After the sediment pond the water travels over rocks. Hitting, changing directions, super aerating..

When you look at his system,  he has achieved all your goals (plus stuff you havent thought of) with no energy systems.

Im saying sepp, but this is zach Weiss method also. elemental ecosystems. I would highly advise anyone to watch his youtube selections. He really opened my eyes. And the difference between zach and sepp, is zach is available for hire in the usa. From assessment /design/ sampling to full implementation. Getting him out for a day is probably less $$ than an aeration system that wouldnt be needed in his works.

 
James Landreth
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I'm curious if anyone has any thoughts about the original question. I'm still interested in raising fish without electricity, if it's possible
 
pollinator
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What have you found in the last 4 years?
 
James Landreth
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I have found crayfish work well. I would like to try raising carp but they are incredibly difficult to get ahold of due to their invasive nature if they escape
 
master pollinator
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There are mechanical windmills designed to aerate dugouts and fish ponds. Basically they pump air. If you have reliable, regular wind they work well. If ...

I had this notion at a local trout pond, which was sheltered by trees and having difficulty with adequate aeration: put in a couple of easy-pedal bikes like you see at public outdoor fitness parks -- but they would run an aerator, and you could see the bubbles rising as you pedalled. Put those kids to work while you fish!
 
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I'm in a similar situation to you - Western Washington with a ~1/2 acre clay-bottom pond that doesn't have a natural inlet of a creek or spring that I've found. So no natural aeration. I suspect the pond is man-made but it's been there for quite a long time so I don't know for sure. I'm coming at it from a different direction than you - I started with ducks on the pond (Muscovies) and have been having trouble with the babies dying soon after they hatch. Every pond person I've talked to has suggested that the pond is probably anaerobic at this point, basically with too many nutrients and not enough oxygen to break it down, so we may be having a problem with bacteria or algae being toxic. I got an aerator sized for the pond, have salted it, dyed it blue, and seeded with aerobic bacteria. No visible changes yet, but we have a lot of ducklings hatching soon, so I hope it's safe this time! I want to do some climate-appropriate aquaponics on the pond as well, so I've been looking into that and thinking about it.

As for natural oxygenation, I'm not sure how much oxygen plants release into water - I suspect it depends on the physiology of the plant, since my understanding of plants is that oxygen is released through the stomata on the leaves. So like a hair algae that's totally underwater will certainly release oxygen into the water, whereas something like a lily will release it from the leaf on top directly into the air. So maybe certain plants will be better at oxygenation than others! This might be a thing you'll have to experiment with. I'd start with things like cattails or iris whose leaves rise through the water. If you can keep a large shallow section with a lot of those, that might be enough to oxygenate properly based on your fish load. Duckweed is another amazing plant, and if you can get it to really proliferate on your pond, the leaves will build up and push each other underwater where they'll release oxygen. Some people may recommend against this, since duckweed can be pretty intense - it's one of the fastest growing plants that in the right conditions, can double its biomass in 24 hours. But it's actually a great low-fiber, protein and carbohydrate rich green that humans and basically all animals can readily eat. I can't think of other water plants right now since I'm not well-versed in them, but just look for anything whose photosynthesizing portions are submerged. I think this is a thing you'll have to either start experimenting yourself with, or reading white papers on individual plants to see who oxygenates best. Until you find a good solution, maybe electricity is a good way to get started, and try improving naturally from there? I find I work on a project more if I just thrust myself into getting it started and start seeing the problems I have.

As for aquaponics, I've been looking at a rafting system for that. You can build floating rafts that hold plants just above the water, where they dip their roots in as much as they need. The basic design is a floating ring (rectangular or otherwise) with a net or something across it that holds plants just at the water's surface. My plan is to anchor them in the middle of the pond, where they'll get the right amount of sun and not disrupt the bank ecology. Keeping the ducks away from my lettuce is another problem entirely. But with just ducks living on the pond right now I should have plenty of nutrients, which you can tell because my pond looks like chocolate milk lol. Once I get it a little clearer I'll start adding some fish into it. I'll probably start with Channel Catfish, since they seem hardier, and should take care of the leeches I've been having problems with. (see my other posts for horrible pictures) .
 
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