It’s late April 2011 and I now have this beautiful pond filled with water plants; lilies, Yerba Mansa, Pickerel Wart, Taro and Mosaic. We had small, starter landscape plants around the pond. We had 2 pumps – a large one for the waterfall and a smaller one for the stream waterfall providing plenty of oxygen. We had 3 filters – the main one for the 2 pumps and a filter for the main waterfall and another for the stream waterfall. We had plenty of filter capacity to ensure that the water remained clean. The water completely recirculated through the filter system every 3 hours.
The time had come to add fish. A co-worker said that she and her husband were dismantling their small pond and asked if I would like to have her goldfish and lilies. Boy would I! Our first additions were a few more lilies and a dozen goldfish – little guys. Everything was going well. Our pond water was clear and we could see the fish. They seemed to be growing! The lilies were blooming. We had our paradise. My husband even named each of the fish as he watched them feed every afternoon. We were enjoying the time spent on the patio, listening to the sound of splashing waterfalls and watching streaks of color swim by.
Paradise was soon to be lost, stolen by oppressively hot days that invited the algae to bloom unmercifully, causing the water to turn darkly green and murky. We could no longer see the fish. We wondered if they were still alive for how could they breathe and live in that morass of water? Every time that we cleaned the filter net we expected to see at least one small fish carcass.
Once again, I returned to the internet, this time to research algae and its causes. I called “experts.” I visited other pond sites. Did you know that there are almost as many remedies for ridding a pond of algae as there are people on this planet? I was horribly confused and panicked that I would soon have a steady dead body count of goldfish.
Just as we take pills to cure every ailment I decided a judicious use of chemicals applied to the pond would solve the problem. My first mistake was reliance upon science and the internet hawkers of algae remedies. They would have you believe that the algae are destined to vastly populate the pond water turning it into something the consistency of thick, country gravy, consuming every ounce of oxygen and asphyxiating the fish. My friend, who has a koi pond, cautioned patience. She said the water would turn green with algae and once the water “balanced” the algae would diminish greatly. My second mistake was not to heed her advice or the advice of others – all of whom – said, wait, the pond would right itself without my benign interference.
So began the great “Chemical Odyssey.” First I would order one, sure-fire chemical cure for algae. I’d faithfully follow the directions for its use, wait and wait some more, looking for the water to become at the very least, less greenish. When that batch of chemical didn’t work, I’d order another. Soon, the Fed-Ex guy and I were best buds, on a first name basis. This routine went on for the entire summer and into the fall of 2011. Now we actually had a dead fish count. Every couple of days another would be found belly up in the filter net. I would go to the local pet mart and buy a few more small fish to replace the “victims.” My husband despaired. All of his little goldfish that he had named and nurtured died and still I persisted, looking for the Holy Grail of Algae Killers while the water stayed a thick, murky green and the fish died.
This scenario continued until around October, 2011. Miraculously the water finally cleared not completely, but a lot – not because I had found the answer but because the water was cooling and the algae was dying off. But by then, so had the fish. We now had a beautiful, fish-less pond and despaired.
My next grand plan was that since we had no fish, the pond should be drained so that we could get rid of the muck at the bottom and kill off whatever algae still existed. So that’s what we did in January of 2012. We rented a siphon pump and pumped out all of the water. It didn’t go to waste as we used it to irrigate most of our backyard, nearly an acre in size. We even used bleach figuring that it killed everything.
Thinking we had nipped the problem in the bud we prepared to move forward. We refilled the pond and once again, had clear, sparkling water and a new home for more fish. We again waited a month or so for the water to “balance” itself and then we blithely went about picking out more fish for our pristine pond. We were filled with self-confidence. Surely the great pond draining and cleaning must surely have done the trick. My husband was happy and again, he named the dozen fish, a mixture of goldfish and Koi. He made sure they were fed once a day. He and I delighted in watching them from our back patio. All was right with the world…until…
It was the late spring and early summer of 2012 and the hot weather and the algae returned with a vengeance, only to again raise our fears about the fate of the fish. Like a dummy, I repeated the cycle of last summer and turned to my vast bag of chemical tricks along with some new, untried ones. I was still on a first name basis with the Fed Ex delivery man. Only this time I would be smarter and use the chemicals more sparingly. I even had the water tested.Yet all of the fish died or disappeared (that’s for another blog about predators) and by now we were both despairing of ever having fish in our fish pond. Then it dawned on me and I will admit to bring a slow learner at times, that I had created a toxic waste dump! In attempting to get rid of all of the algae I had gleefully poured so many chemicals into the pond that the fish couldn’t possibly survive the onslaught. Their demise was a testament to my stubbornness.
By July, 2012 I had had it. I vowed no more chemicals and come what may; we would coexist with whatever algae bloomed. For the next 5 months I used no chemicals. We had no fish and did not get any to replace our latest set of “sacrificial victims.” Yes, we got algae but it wasn’t the darkly green kind. The water did get murky but you could still see the bottom of the pond. I will admit that there were times when I was tempted to add just a little of some chemical or other but then I pictured another dead fish in the filter net and strengthened my resolve. Unknowingly I was doing what I should have done that first year. I was giving the pond enough time to really “balance” itself. I was allowing the “good” biological enzymes to build up in the filters.
This past Christmas our kids bought me three beautiful Koi for the pond. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was probably an exercise in futility and that they likely had thrown their money away. So we dutifully put them in the pond fully expecting to see them floating “belly up” within a week. To our surprise and relief they lived! Three months later, they are healthy and growing. After 8 months, chemical-less, I think we had finally rid the pond of all of the chemicals that I had used for a year.
We will get algae bloom again during the hottest part of this year but I have learned my lesson – no more chemicals. The fish will survive. They will reemerge to our delight when the weather cools enough to make the algae dissipate. We and the fish will have 8 enjoyable months of coexistence, reacquainting ourselves and my husband will happily name each and every one of them.