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Keeping the Balance of Nature: Pond Water Maintenance
You might be tempted to let Mother Nature, tend to your backyard pond, and who could blame you? After all, she does a pretty good job of taking care of really big ponds, so why would your backyard ecosystem pose much of a challenge to her?
Unfortunately, the fact is your backyard pond is only going to get some cursory attention from Mom; the rest of the work is going to be left up to you.
In the "real world" chlorinated water doesn't find its way into ponds very often. "Big" pond water passes through a great many natural filtration and oxygenation systems, and the various fish and flora work together to keep the pond clean and fresh. Our backyard ponds don't have quite that much help, so here's where you need to step in:
If you are going to keep fish then you absolutely must remove all traces of chlorine from your pond before your favorite Koi set up housekeeping. Pond fish cannot live in chlorinated water so don't even try. There are many products available to remove chlorine quickly, or you can opt for the old-fashioned, natural way if you have the time to spend.
If you opt for 'a la natural' then expect to wait about 8 to 10 days for the chlorine to dissipate. You will need to make sure that your pump and filter are running and that you have set up an aerating method such as a waterfall or "splasher" to bring oxygen into the water. Make sure that the pond is exposed to plenty of sunlight (the natural enemy of chlorine), and use a chlorine testing kit to check the water daily.
Me? I just drop some de-chlorinating product into the pond and check back the next day.
Even if chlorine is totally removed, you still have nitrite and ammonia to worry about. These two toxic buddies are byproducts of fish waste and can wreak havoc with your Koi's health. After a while Mother Nature will kick in some help by allowing beneficial bacteria colonies to develop that enjoy eating nitrite and ammonia for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They won't be present in new ponds, however, unless you buy some bacteria starter kits to kick start the process.
Your garden pond could become overtaxed, ecologically, if you add too many fish too quickly. Start out adding no more than two per week so that the newly introduced bacteria do not get overwhelmed by the waste that will be produced.
Just when you think you've got it all under control that ugly thing called "pH" raises its head. Testing for pH levels is also very important since neither plants nor fish will survive very long if the pond's pH is out of whack. Your pH test kit should show a reading of between 6.8 and 7.4. You can add the proper chemicals to raise or lower if as neccessary.
Speaking of test kits, get one that will allow you to test the pond's salt levels as well. Unless you're raising baby Sea bass, too much salt is not a good thing.
After your pond is fully established, Mother Nature will lend a bigger hand and you can settle into a routine of testing every three of four weeks unless something serious, such as flooding, has occurred in between.
Brett Fogle is the owner of MacArthur Water Gardens and several
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