Retired from the University of Texas and too old to play soccer anymore. Now, in the twilight of his years, time is spent writing in this blog, hiking and exploring Texas Parks, photography, working out, gardening and tending to the five ponds he built .
Two weeks ago, we were still at 100 degrees, last week it dropped to 80 and overnight it dropped to 35 degrees with a high forecast for today of 45.
We did get about 2 inches of rain but that is far short of what we need. Creeks and ponds are totally dried up and it will take a lot of water to bring everything back up to normal levels. Even the Pedernales River at Reimers Ranch is just a trickle.
At least I haven’t come across any sun bleached bones of human or animal skeletons on the trails… yet.
Well we finally got some very welcome rain last night. Actually a lot of rain, at least two inches at my house accompanied by high winds. Lucky for me, the Spruce tree that is in one of the ponds did not blow over as it has done in previous high winds. We have not had any significant rain in over three months prior to this and on my drives around the countryside, stock ponds, small creeks and such are bone dry. It is going to take significant rain to bring everything back to normal.
It has been so dry that I have recently cut down almost all of the greenery in my garden, something I normally do following any frost that we may get in the winter. This year, it will not matter how hard it freezes as the only thing that will be affected are the plants in and around the ponds, at least from my perspective.
I even had to turn on the heat inside the house as the temperature indoors had dropped to 65 degrees, a little too low for comfort. Obviously, we are through with the air conditioning for this year. This is typical Texas weather where we go from 100 degrees to 90 degrees and then to 65 degrees all in the space of a couple of weeks. At least it is now great trail hiking weather although I don’t like hiking immediately following heavy rains as the trails are usually pretty muddy and tend to build up on the boots. I have enough problems in just carrying my body weight around without the addition of several pounds of wet dirt.
Maybe I’ll take that walk tomorrow or the next day and give the ground time to dry out a bit…
Looking for something to do just what it is I haven’t a clue as my eye has not yet perceived the task and nothing springs to mind that lasts the weather is too damn hot for work with the temperatures at one hundred degrees and everything outside working fine with nothing pressing my time to assign I feed the fish in the early morn and check that everything works fine and if it isn’t I add the task to fix whatever is well-worn the problem is there is too much heat and has been like this for way too long and all of the things that need repair cannot keep as their need is strong it seems to me I have little choice but to go outside even though it is hot to work as quickly as I can and when I am finished I’m a happy man.
Once again, on the third Monday of the month, regular as clockwork, the Austin Pond Society held it’s monthly meeting at the usual place, Zilker Botanical Gardens Meeting room.
The meeting was attended by 40 members all of whom enjoyed Chinese from one of our Sponsors, Bamboo Bistro. The food was delicious made even more so for me that I am currently on a Chinese Food kick, eating it at home on a regular basis. Members brought in other foods including salads and deserts.
The evenings meeting comprised of two separate parts although they were intermingled together and happening at the same time. Indoors, there was the Annual Calendar Photo contest which always raises a lot of interest with the Members putting some pretty spectacular photos on display in the hope of having them placed in next years Calendar. Not only that, this year the winners were awarded cash prizes which by mutual agreement of the Board Members was not only reinstated but the actual prizes were increased with the winners in each bracket getting $50.00, second place $30.00 and third place $20.00. There are four separate brackets, fish, pond plants, pond creatures and ponds and/or water features.
There was also some time spent by the Nomination Committee on announcing the proposed upcoming Board Members at least to this point. The actual voting will occur at the next meeting in October but Margaret as head of this committee wanted to show the members what the line up currently looks like and to try to persuade the Members to volunteer for the remaining positions, the biggest of these in terms of importance being that of the Pond Tour Chairman. There is some discussion of splitting these duties and two people combining to fill this very important post without whom, there will be no Pond Tour. Cat Bilbrey has volunteered to be one of these people but we still need one more. We are still lacking a Hospitality person and Barb added that to her duties for this year but only out of necessity. Actually, it automatically makes whoever fills the role, the most popular person in the club.
The other part of the meeting was our Annual Swap and Sell where the Members bring in anything pond or garden related to swap or sell. This included plants and even a few fish although they usually have their own meeting earlier in the year entitled Plant Swap. There were not too many items on display although Darren had brought in a good supply of used pumps. BJ, as she usually does, brought in a whole bunch of different and unusual things which if nothing else, created some interest. The only large item equipment wise, was a Pond-O-Vac but it remained unsold at the end of the evening. This part of the meeting was not a qualified success and has not been for the past couple of years. I would not be a bit surprised if this is the last of the Annual Swap and Sell
The judging for the Picture contest took a bit longer than anticipated and because of the lack of interest in the Swap and Sell, resulted in the Members having to find items to talk about to fill in the time. It was a bit of a struggle but eventually, the winners were announced and received the applause and cash prizes to the delight of the Members.
The evening closed with the drawing of the door prizes with the usual catcalls and remarks of “fixed”, “draw again” as some popular member walked up to claim the prize.
The next meeting will be October 21. The Speaker will be from Bastrop Gardens which is an all Natives Nursery. It will be about culinary plants that can be grown as companions to Pond and bog plants. Some of these plants are edible and the discussion will include this. Hope to see you there
I have several Skippy Filters located around the different ponds in an attempt to keep the water clean. Fish are notorious for making the water dirty, they eat and therefore they poop. Add to that the fact that they are always poking around on the bottom of the pond and stirring up the dirt plus the natural phenomenon called algae and rotting leaves from the overhanging trees and at times, the ponds are so dirty that you can’t see anything.
Ponders have learned several different ways to help combat these natural processes most of which are of a mechanical nature involving pumps and filters. Of course, this being America, land of opportunity, there are manufacturers out there willing to sell you the latest and greatest in the form of expensive equipment to help the Pond Owners combat any of the problems that they may have.
I use a combination of manufactured items which includes the pumps and skimmer boxes and I do have one bio filter that I described in a previous blog and several homemade ones that emulate the commercial model. One of these is a 100 gallon rubber farm trough purchased from our local Tractor Supply, and is on the 6000 gallon pond and has been there since I built the pond around ten years ago. They are known as Skippy Filters and I had 3 large ones on different ponds plus 3 of the smaller size. Incidentally, I have never cleaned this particular filter in all of that time.
This one started leaking and as had happened on a previous occasion on a different Skippy on the 5000 gallon pond, the internal weight of the water caused the hard rubber container to crack. This was probably caused by a shifting of the concrete blocks that I used for the tubs to sit on as both tubs have split in the same place, close to where the drain valve is located. I was able to repair the first one and it has been back in operation for a couple of years and hopefully, so far is trouble free.
I turned off the flow to the filter in the 6000 gallon pond and let it sit for a week or so before attempting a repair. This was to allow it to dry out which would make it easier to tear apart. After I deemed it had sat long enough, I bit the bullet, and making a big effort to get up early to beat the heat, proceeded to tear into the vegetation growing out of the thing. I had planted the Iris and Lizards Ear as the roots all help with the filtration but as they had totally taken over the unit, it took a while to get it all out. Interestingly enough, the dirt from the filtered water was all pretty much collected on the top of the filter material in a solid layer several inches thick showing that the unit was more than doing it’s job. The actual filter material is comprised of the pads used by floor buffers, in my case new ones cut up into smaller pieces. It’s pretty much the same as the regular filter material which could be used instead. I sometimes use Lava Rock either in small mesh bags or loose. It also works well but is harder to shovel out and clean.
The filter unit has a chamber space under the filters of about nine inches deep and the inlet pipe is plumbed to empty its contents into this space. I placed a piece of fluorescent light grid on concrete bricks to make this chamber but commercially manufactured grid is available and is stronger.
I finished cleaning out the entire unit and was surprised just how clean the bottom half of the filter material was, more evidence that the unit was working as planned.
With the entire unit free, I pulled it off to an area so that I could work on it and hosed the whole thing out to clean it of any surplus material and then let it dry in the hot Texas sun, which didn’t take too long. I discovered a long crack of about 12 or so inches that had opened up right where the outlet hole is on this tank. This was exactly the same as what happened to the other tank so I had high hopes that I could repair it as I had managed to repair the first one.
By now, it was 98 degrees and way too hot to do any more outside work. I took the time to go to my local Lowe’s so that I could purchase the material I needed to make the repair. This comprised of a small spray can of Flexseal which is a rubberized material that will get right into the cracks and then Flextape which is also rubberized, to cover the entire repair.
When I returned and even though it was by now 100 degrees, I bit the bullet and took time to wire brush and clean the area before applying the contents of the spray can of Flexseal. Deeming that it needed to dry, left it for another go at it the next day which saw me up bright and early again busy applying the Flextape over the affected areas. It was not a straightforward job as there were many changing shapes and contours so I had to cut the tape in strips to cover them all. To test it, I put enough water back into the tank just to cover the affected areas and it immediately began to leak which left me more than a little upset. The air turned blue as I vented my frustration using words that I didn’t know existed. The dogs immediately bolted indoors.
I emptied the remaining water and left the unit to dry and spent that time with yet another trip to Lowe’s this time for a larger can of the spray as I had used up the small one on the initial repair. Luckily for me, Lowe’s is only 4 miles up Hwy 71, just a short drive and I am always listening to an Audiobook as I drive and if the timing is right (late afternoon), a stop at Starbucks. When I returned, I sprayed a large amount onto the cracks in the bottom of the unit and then waited (indoors) for that to dry before turning the unit over to respray the inside. With that complete, I let the entire thing dry out overnight before testing it with water again.
Next day, I was out bright and early eager to check the repair to see if it held up. Needless to say, it didn’t although the water flow has been reduced to just a few drops. So, I did more work on the unit and resprayed with the Flexseal. While I was working on it and upon further inspection, I discovered that the tub has several other cracks in it that I had not noticed before. I decided that as I am unable to fix the original leaks, that tub will be relegated to a flower planter.
All is not lost though as among my many ponding treasures picked up over the years, I have a filter unit that I got from Emerald Garden Water Gardens and Nursery when they were going out of the Pond business and transforming to Leaf Landscape Supply. I spent a couple of days preparing and replumbing it so that I can use it instead. It is not as big as the unit that it is replacing but as the secret is in keeping a constant flow of water moving through the filter material, then it will work just fine. It has a metal base which is quite heavy but the unit itself is easy enough to handle.
Incidentally, I intermixed working on this filter unit with another project. I already had a spare 30 gallon Skippy from the 350 gallon pond that I closed down earlier this year so I added it to the 2500 gallon pond that I just trimmed back as that water is also very dirty. It already has one 30 gallon Skippy and the one I added is the same size. This was an easy job and I had it in place and working within the hour. Now, all we got to do is wait for it to do its work. These small Skippies are not permanent unless I want them to be and so are handy to help clean up a dirty pond.
The Savio Filter unit that I recently installed on the Goldfish pond is doing a wonderful job. I can actually see the fish and it is cleaning up the water at a rapid pace.
The next day, I decided that I would make a big effort to re-plumb the “new” unit. I wanted to try to use some of the bits and pieces of pre-plumbed pipe, stuff that has a valve or an elbow and such that I have accumulated over the years and was able to incorporate a couple in the project. I still had to make a couple of trips to Lowe’s for last minute items. I eventually completed the plumbing including the outlet pipes which were both of recycled goodies hence the difference in shape with one elbow a 45 degree and the other a 90.
Then came the fun part of reinstalling the filter material and I carefully placed it piece by piece to get a nice level finish. I still need to cut a couple of pieces of filter that will cover the entire unit and sit on top of the other filter material to hold them in place. All that remained to do was to turn on the water at the pump installed at the far end of the pond and hope that nothing leaks. It didn’t and before long, there was a nice steady flow of water flowing through the filter and back into the pond. After tidying up the dirt around the unit and clearing everything away, all I have to do now is wait for the plants to re-grow up and around the unit to hide it from sight. That probably will not happen this year with the 100 degree heat but maybe in the Fall, there may be some growth. Definitely in the Spring.
Another successful project. Let’s hope that it lasts long enough until either I am too old to care or ten years like the original Skippy, whichever comes first…Wait a minute, in ten years I will be 93 and too old to care anyway.
The fourth pond that I have is only around 1500 gallons and is only two feet deep. This shallow depth is a problem for both regulating the water temperature and keeping the fish safe from the predatory Heron that comes sneaking around occasionally.
After the episodes with this beautiful bird way back in the early part of the year, I finally resolved the issue with the use of a Scarecrow. This gadget has an electric eye that activates it to spray water very noisily resulting in scaring the Heron away. Of course, the Scarecrow is not selective and sprays anything in range that activates it, including me and the dogs. The other problem is that any vegetation that blows in the wind in range of the electric eye, also sets it off. The two that I had installed and activated back earlier in the year added $25.00 a month to my water bill due to their indiscriminate actions. With the water color on the 3000 gallon pond so cloudy, see the earlier blog, I had shut down that Scarecrow and as the vegetation grew in the 1500 gallon pond, shut down that Scarecrow also.
In this case, the vegetation, mainly made up of green and black Taro and Iris had taken over the pond and it was almost impossible to see the water. It was fine when the Taro, which are both fast growing and very tall stood upright but as is often the case with tall plants, as they age they begin to droop and before long, the surface of the pond was just a mass of stalks and leaves. This did help to keep the water cooler and hide the fish from the Heron but was taking oxygen from the water at an alarming rate. Coupled with the tell tale signs of methane and ammonia gasses bubbling to the surface and the loss of five 12 inch Koi and two Goldfish convinced me that I needed to do something and do it fast.
I opted to change into a pair of my old soccer shorts and put on a pair of water shoes that I use in the ponds. I had kicked around the idea of putting on my waders because of the possibility of meeting the Brown Snake but decided against it as it would have been way too hot and uncomfortable. I was also relying the the common sense of the snake to get out of the pond knowing there was a human in it. As it happened, the snake spent his time in his usual spot on the wall between the two ponds sunning himself not more than 5 feet from me at times. It is not a poisonous snake but all snakes will bite when cornered.
It was slow and steady work as I cut back plant after plant. Some I was able to pull up by the roots which was a good thing as I would not have to deal with them again. Others, I just cut back knowing that they would probably regrow and I would have to do this down the road.
After finishing with this part of the job, I had the task of removing the dead material from the bottom of the pond which was much less that I initially figured. Even though I have a Pond-o-Vac vacuum cleaner built especially for ponds, it is usually quicker to get in and physically remove the dead muck and debris using a net. After completing all of the heavy work, I cleaned the skimmer and the filters and checked the pump which is working just fine. I then reactivated another Skippy Filter to help clean the water and finally ended by turning on one of the oxygenators. Now all we have to do is wait for the water to clear.
The next day I worked on cleaning up all of the material that I had cut back and cleared out of the pond and there was a lot of it. I have found that it is easier to use a pitchfork that I happen to own that I know for a fact is almost 100 years old having belonged to Clark, my Stepfather’s brother at the old farm back in New York State. It still works well and is ideal for picking up the long stalks of the Taro. I don’t know how many trips I made to the compost pile but it was a lot. I was a lot cooler the day before when I was working in the pond itself but cleaning up the mess was very hot work in the 90 plus degree weather.
I finally finished the work at least for a while. Things won’t grow as fast during the really hot weather and it won’t be long before it is Fall, only another month. As with the small pond, I had to reactivate another one of the scarecrows with the vegetation out of the way, the few remaining fish that are still alive, are possible food for the ever present threat of the Heron.
This pond is the next on the list to permanently close down in the next year or so mainly because of the shallow depth. I am getting old whether I like it or not and need to start thinking of the future which eventually includes selling this house and moving elsewhere, probably in an assisted living complex. I know that I cannot keep working on things as I presently do and must plan accordingly. It’s hell growing old…
Those of you that regularly follow my blogs are aware that I have four ponds ranging in size by gallons of 6000, 5000, 3000 and 1500. The two large ponds are pretty much established both mechanically in the equipment that is hooked up to keep the water clear and also in skimmers and waterfalls. Both have Aquadyne Filtering systems which are top of the line when it comes to this type of equipment.
The 3000 gallon pond was the last one that I “remodelled” making it deeper by raising the exterior walls by 3 feet or so above ground. Incidentally, the rocky ground in my part of Texas is only a foot or so below the ground level hence the need to go upwards. The water depth is a little over 4-1/2 feet. This is the home to a lot of goldfish probably a hundred or more who have the run of the pond. They do share it with a turtle and a very large 4 feet long Brown Snake that uses this pond as his very own smorgasbord although as far as I can tell, is not making any dent in the number of goldfish that the pond contains. I often see him resting up and sunning himself on the wall dividing the two ponds usually after having caught a meal. All a part of nature. This is also the pond that the Heron busied himself with at the start of the year although I haven’t seen it in several months. This could be due to the fact that the water in this pond with the current filtering system is pretty dirty, hence this blog.
The problem originally started when a hose failed overnight resulting in the loss of a couple of thousand gallons of water, which lowered the level of the pond considerably. All I could see was a mass of goldfish of all shapes, colors and sizes in what remained of the water in the bottom of the pond which was less than a foot deep. I was in immediate trouble to keep enough oxygen in what little water remained in order for the fish to survive and rushed to pull a couple of oxygenators from the other ponds which I knew would be good for a few hours overnight. Placing them in the water immediately stirred up the residue of dirt, leaves and fish droppings turning the water into a not so lovely shade of brown. At least it had oxygen for the fish to breathe. At the same time, I had turned on the system that I use to keep the ponds topped up so that fresh clean water was getting added. As that increased in volume I had to contend with the chlorine in the City tap water and was adding dechlorinator as the pond filled. It took several hours and finally we had the pond water level to where it belonged. The problem now was the quality of the water which was a dirty muddy brown color. The oxygenators did not help as they constantly kept the water stirred up not giving the residue a chance to settle but I had no choice with them. They had to stay in there at least for a couple of days to bring the oxygen levels back up.
Two days later, I took a chance even with the dirty water and removed the oxygenators and returned them to their ponds and installed a smaller and less powerful one. I was hoping that the pond filtering system that was already installed would, over time, take care of the problem of the dirty water and by the number of times a day that I had to clean the filters, it is working. With the big oxygenators off, the water also had the chance for the sediment to settle. However, it was way too slow and after a week, the water was still pretty dirty. I did not lose any fish except one that had jumped out of the pond overnight probably to escape the attentions of the Brown Snake and I found it the next day.
I had in my possession from one of the Fish Rescues that I had been on, a Savio Filtering System which consists of a large 60 gallon barrel that contains filtering material and a couple of different type filters that sit on the top. Quite a simple system really and I have six others around on the other ponds that I have built. We call them Skippy Filters and they do exactly the same thing as the commercialized model does. Three of mine are in 20 gallon containers and the other three are in 100 gallon tubs. I spent some time hooking up this system using an existing pump that had come with the unit when I acquired it. It was pumping too strong and I had to make some modifications by adding a valve to check back the flow otherwise more water was coming in than was getting pushed out. Needless to say, the pump lasted overnight and quit so I had to buy a new one adding to my frustration. I bought a less powerful pump requiring more work on the piping but do not have to regulate the flow of water with the valve. Good job I am handy with tools and know how and after 30 years of since I built the first pond, one would hope to have learned something.
The system works fine and although it has only been installed a couple of days, the water is starting to clear up and I have already had to wash the filters in the unit. I had to reinstall the Scarecrow just in case the Heron decides to pay a visit as with the water much clearer, the fish are visible to him (or her).
For Part 2, read about where I turn my attention to the smallest pond (in volume) to clean it up.
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