Monday, March 17, 2014

Time for the Spring Serenade!

A male cardinal in the lilacs keeps announcing how “pretty, pretty, pretty” he is, while close by, his busy mate is paying little attention to his posturing. Just a single pair or two claiming territory here is all that remains of a huge flock of cardinals that crowded our feeders through the snowstorms. The long cold fingers of winter are gradually being pried loose by a gentle but persistent sun, and the soft, moist air smells like new life.

Soon spring peepers will be calling in the pond, looking for mates and laying long, gelatinous strings of eggs that will hatch into tadpoles and polliwogs.

The pond has to be cleaned this week before they arrive so their eggs don’t get destroyed in the process. Tadpoles are good citizens in a pond, eating algae which helps keep the pond clean, while providing food for winter-starved goldfish and koi until they get too big. When they have matured, baby toads scatter through the garden, tiny eating machines that munch bugs and slugs as they grow. We need all the toads we can get as they are the first line of defense in plant protection here at Chaos.


Our pond is about 8’x 15’ and some three feet deep in one end, which is deep enough for koi should we choose to keep them. There were beautiful butterfly koi and fancy goldfish a few years ago, until a marauding raccoon cleaned them out. We haven’t replaced them since, just stocking the pond with feeder goldfish from the pet store in recent years. They grow fast and live a long time, if the raccoons don’t come back for lunch; but if they do, at least we won’t have provided them with an expensive gourmet feast.
I’m not sure yet if there are any fish alive in the pond this year. It might have frozen solid to the bottom with the intense cold, possibly too much for even the cold hardy goldfish. I do hope the leopard frogs that overwinter in the muddy bottom have survived.

The pump was turned off last fall as there is a leak somewhere that kept draining the pond at the rate of 6” or so a week. We couldn’t find it in the pond liner, so the waterfall will have to be dismantled to see if that is where the problem is. Possibly roots from our Crimson Queen Japanese maple growing are through the liner somewhere. 

While the waterfall is torn apart might be a good time to put in a better filter, if we ever decide to try koi again as they need more oxygen in the water than do goldfish. A long-handled leaf grabber made for picking up leaves behind shrubs and flower beds also makes short work of leaves and pond debris, except for what settles to the bottom, but we don’t worry too much about that. A little mud on the pond bottom doesn’t hurt anything, while providing habitat for water insects and little organisms that fish and tadpoles feed on. About every 5 years we drain it and clean it out when it builds up too much.

It’s going to turn green for about four weeks, that’s the nature of a pond. In winter, warm water settles to the bottom, where fish hibernate during cold weather. In the spring, the pond “flips” which means that the warmer water rises to the top and colder water settles to the bottom. As sunlight enters the water, it causes algae to “bloom”, or grow, which can turn water pea soup green. Fish don’t care, but most pond-owners hate it as it isn’t aesthetically pleasing.  The usual reaction is to drain it and refill with fresh water; but that is exactly the wrong thing to do as it starts the algae blooming process all over again with fresh nutrients for algae to feed on.

If your goal is instantly clean water, there are chemicals to kill floating algae and settle particles, especially if you have koi as they eat plants, root in the bottom like the finny pigs they are, and can generally make a mess of a pond. We prefer to do without most of the chemicals, letting plants help achieve that natural equilibrium as they grow, but until they do and begin to shade the water, it is going to be green. Patience is the word here. Besides, I like to save my money for important things, like more hostas, and chocolate.
Keeping 40-50-% of the water surface covered with plants prevents sunlight from reaching into the water, thus starving out floating algae. Annual floating plants like water hyacinths and water lettuce provide shade, and are also natural filters, their roots catching and holding debris which would otherwise make the water murky. Oxygenating grasses float under the surface, also blocking sunlight. Water lilies and lotus shade the water with their big leaves. A coating of a beneficial algae that grows underwater on the sides of the pond also helps keep water clear of the floating kind. A small bale of barley straw helps keep the water clear of filamentous algae; long stringy stuff that covers everything.

 When fresh water is added to top off the cleaned pond, we use a dechlorinator which neutralizes the chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals present in city water that will kill fish if not treated.  A preventive dose of fish medicine as well helps promote fish health.

We cleaned out our little woods pond also, where the wild things come to drink. It was full of leaves, the raccoons have eaten the fish, but there were water hyacinths  and a water cypress with a new shoot still alive, buried under two feet of leaves! Amazing!

Look who I found in the woods pond! This little leopard frog was cold and sleepy and not moving much but alive and well!

I can’t wait to open my windows and listen to the spring peepers in the clean pond as they sing me to sleep at night. Then I will know spring is truly here.

"The music of all creatures has to do with their loves, even toads and frogs."--Henry David Thoreau


No comments:

Post a Comment