Building Our Pond

Click on each picture to see a larger version

One day in February of 1998 the sun shown brightly, the January thaw had softened the earth, and I decided it was time to start on the pond I had been planning. Digging a hole, even for a small pond, is not small task, but broken into short sessions, the job can be accomplished. So each nice day I dug for awhile, moving the dirt to 'Johnson Hill' a short distance away in the new prairie area. Luckily I had chosen a site that avoided the old graveled alley that used to run through what is now our property. Digging in the old alley is a challenge, but prairie plants and native shrubs do fine - planted when very small so you don't need much of a hole. Although it took many weeks and much heavy lifting, the task was a welcome way to get much needed, as well as useful, exercise. It felt exhilarating to use my muscles and breath the fresh country  air in winter. 

 Pond1.jpg (81145 bytes)It took a long time! By July I had bought the supplies needed to construct the pond, the weather was warm enough to work with lots of cold water, and it was time to finish the job. Bill also got busy with the camera. It was a bright, sunny, still day when I did the final shaping of the hole. Notice the umbrella propped on a camera tripod to provide shade, and the house fan to move some air. (Click on the picture to see a larger picture.)

Pond2.jpg (91440 bytes)With the digging complete, the die is cast and it's time to lay the expensive rubber liner, the most critical part of the task. It looks so easy in the books, but wrestling this heavy black monster into place was not so easy. I had a pallet of limestone to work with in fastening and finishing the edge, so there were lots of pieces to choose from, but it was it look lots of hauling to find the right piece for each spot along the edge. The little cluster ofPond3.jpg (69820 bytes) stones to my right in the third picture would be the shallow area for birds to bath. Cutting the liner to shape caused considerable anxiety, and as I was to learn later, I should have been more generous.

Pond5.jpg (62844 bytes)Finally the job is done. It's not perfect - you can see some black liner showing, but perfection is not the order of the day for this beginner. It's been a long day - notice that it is getting dark, so it must have been after 9 o'clock when I finished filling the pool. The water plants I had tucked away in plastic bags would have to wait for the next day.

It's a good thing the weather was warm, because... well you can see what it took to set the plants in place! The water was delicious, but it took some pondering to decide where everything should go. The plants consisted of:

Placing the plant supportsMarginal Plants
Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus)
Aquatic mint (Mentha aquatica)
Pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata)
American arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)
Cattails (Typha augustifolia)
Blue iris (Iris versicolor)
Water iris - salmon red (Iris versicolor ?)

Floating Leaf Plants
Setting plants in pond Waterweed (Elodea canadensis)
White water lily (Nymphaea Colossea)
Yellow water lily (Nymphaea Moorei)
Floating heart (Nymphoides pelata)

Submerged Plants
Cabomba (Cabomba caroliniana)
Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
Anacharis (Egeria densa)
Water moss (Fontinalis antipyretica)
Parrot's feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)
Dwarf sagittaria (Sagittaria ?)

After things had settled down, I introduced three tiny gold fish. I tested the water and found it quite alkaline - no doubt from the underlying limestone in this area, which was what I used to line the pond. It took frequent additions of acidifier before the pond would maintain a proper pH to keep the creatures happy. 

The Deluge
Everyone seemed to be happy until a couple weeks later when Mother Nature struck with rain - rain - rain - 4 inches over the course of a couple days! The pond was surrounded by grass that I thought would protect it, but I discovered it was in a low spot - Remember this is historically the Great Black Swamp. The mound of soil nearby that I had taken out of the pond hole, was quite free to wash down into the pond, and I went out the next morning to a pond full of muddy water! The fish weren't happy - two died. The plants were covered in mud. There was a big clean-up job to do. 

I knew I didn't want to replace the pond water, so I removed the plants (and fish), washed them off and put them aside in buckets of water. I checked at the pond place (which is half and hour away) and got some 'dawa' (That's Swahili for medicine) that would help to settle the mud and clear the water. That worked, and in a few days we were back in business, EXCEPT I knew I had to raise the level of the edge of the pond! Froggies sitting in sunshine To accomplish that I removed all the flag stones and laid down a tier of cement 4 inch thick blocks and then replace the flag stones. This meant that what was a generous amount of rubber liner was now somewhat borderline.  To this day this causes some problems with liner edges that show and don't want to stay put - as you can see in the pictures. I didn't like the looks of the cement blocks, and also there were lots of flag stones left, so I put a course of them around the pond, filled in the space with dirt, and now a variety of things are growing there - catmint, Houttuynia, creeping thyme, and various volunteers from the meadow that I have to keep pulling. 

Eight froggies sunningI also acquired a couple green frogs to help with pond ecology. One of them laid eggs, then we had hundreds of tadpoles, most of whom became dinner for the fish. But at least eight survived - I spotted eight of them sunning themselves one afternoon the next summer.

The next crisis came when I realized that mosquitoes had taken up residence in the pond - the fish - by now three again - could keep up with them. Another journey over to the pond place and the problem with fixed with three mosquito fish, one very fat. Within a few days there were lots of baby mosquito fish, and they made short work of the mosquito larvae. There has been no further problem with mosquitoes. The mosquito fish did not survive the winter of 2002-3, but the other creatures living in the pond keep them in check. 

Pond - Summer 2002Pond experts like to advise you to clean out the pond each spring - new water, etc. Since this is a wildlife habitat, that seemed an unnecessary disruption of the ecosystem I had carefully devised. So far things have gone well. There has been little problem with algae growth in the spring, and at long last the water stays at a good pH. But things do grow! Harvesting some of the plant growth must be done  regularly. The puny water lily you see in the first picture has become a monster, some of which must be pulled out from time to time. One of our green frogs The plants have multiplied into an auxiliary mini-pond in a cat-sand container that sits next to the pond. The three goldfish and the frogs - now about four - are happy and the water is beautifully clear.