The Five Ponds and The Story Behind Them…

Original Pond built 1999

Original Pond built 1995

A few years back in the summer of 1995, I built the pond pictured left. It was around 1500 gallons, about two and feet deep and about fifteen feet across. It was my first attempt at pond building and I had absolutely no experience whatsoever. So, I did some on-line research and borrowed a couple of books on the subject, asked a few questions and said to myself and to whichever dog would listen to me,”What the hell, let’s do this”.

Following the ideas I picked up from my research and from the different diagrams that I had found and printed, when I was digging out the pond, I included a shelf for the plants about a foot below the water line all the way around the outside wall of the pond.  The theory of the shelf was good and in truth, it was very useful for the plants. Turns out, it was also useful for the big Blue Heron to use for a stepping stone to get closer to the fish when he visited. One of the reasons that I built the pond was because I have more than forty live oak trees in my backyard and nothing much grows under them, especially the grass. Prior to the ponds, I kept a horse in the yard for fifteen or so years until I had to have him put to sleep at the ripe old age of thirty-six. His name was Zippo and he was really an overgrown dog as he would follow me everywhere I went in the yard.

Zippo,my 36 year old horse

Zippo,my 36-year-old horse

I searched around and I found a pond “kit” in Home Depot comprising mostly of a piece of vinyl-liner about 25 feet square and a couple of plant pots. I thought I had a deal but in retrospect, vinyl liner is a big waste if time and money as it just doesn’t have the strength for the wear and tear of a big pond. You get what you pay for.The finished product looked very nice but was seriously flawed under the surface. For the next couple of years, I messed around with it changing this and that. I changed out the filtering system a couple of times and I even rebuilt the waterfall to make it resemble one I had seen at the Water Gardens.  The stone patio effect was very nice but it was also a ready-made landing ground for the heron. One of my early mistakes was to refill the pond after doing some work on it, with untreated tap water resulting in losing about a dozen small Koi that I had installed there. It’s a nasty shock to the system to walk out to check the pond and find the fish floating on the surface.  Only one fish survived and it is still alive today living in the rebuilt pond. That is one tough fish.

After a couple of years, the pond sprang a leak that I was unable to locate. I wonder why we use the expression of something springing a leak. Spring is hardly the right word in my case as it was a very slow (and painful) process watching the water disappear. I let the water drain down to almost dry but try as I might, was unable to find where the water was escaping. I used all of the methods that were suggested to me and a few more unorthodox ones as well but to no avail. I could NOT find the leak. I had already bought one of those three hundred and fifty gallon fibreglass pre-shaped ponds from Home Depot and set it up and used it as a temporary storage tank for the fish (oh yeah, after the chlorine episode, I went out and bought more) while I was messing with their home pond. When I realized that no amount of searching was going to find the leak, I had to make a decision on what to do. If I still wanted a pond, and I did, I had to either replace the liner in the existing pond or if I was feeling really adventurous, could rebuild the pond to make it bigger and deeper.

After much soul-searching, I opted for the latter. I was still working full-time so it was an evening and weekend job. I was also coaching youth soccer which also took up a lot of my time and it became a question of juggling as many hours as possible on the project. I took the old pond to pieces stacking the rock for later use, taking out the old liner, also to be re-used under the new one and commenced digging.

I live in Texas at the foot of the Hill Country. Doesn’t sound that bad until you try to push a spade into the ground and you almost immediately hit rock. Some of it is caleche which is rock and dirt mixed and moveable. Other places are large boulders that take quite a bit of work to get them out of the ground. As it happens, because the pond is fairly close to the house, when it was constructed, the builders did a lot of backfilling and leveling with sandy loam and that just happened to be where I was digging at least for six inches or so. I came across a couple of water lines that I had installed requiring me to divert them around and bury them deeper. And then I hit the rock and there was no more going downwards.

The answer was really simple. If I could not go down, I could go up and that is exactly what I did.  I set to work trucking in loads of rock in my trailer and built the walls totally surrounding the outside of the pond. At the lower end, the wall is at least three and a half feet high. On the inside, I took the dirt that I had dug out and which, incidentally had been stacked in the middle of the pond, and made sloping sides almost to the top of the rock walls the object being to make some mass on the inside of the stone so that the weight of the water could not force the walls over.

With the excavation complete, it was time to install the liner. I bought a piece that measured thirty feet by twenty-five feet. I was told that it weighs a third of a pound per square foot so my piece weighed around two hundred and eighty pounds give or take.  I had it all folded up on the back of my trailer but it was not folded the way I wanted it to unfold. So, with a lot of pushing and shoving accompanied by the pre-requisite  grunts, groans and cuss words, I was able to place it in the center of the lawn where I unfolded it and then re-folded it the way I needed it. I roped it up so that it would remain intact and maneuvered it up onto my two-wheel dolly (read that as four for the purpose of loading) and roped it to the dolly. Next thing was to build this long ramp that stretched thirty feet from the pond because I had to get it up and over the retaining wall of the now elevated pond. I happened to have some two by eights for another project and nailed them together to make a solid ramp.

New Big Pond

New Big Pond

Why, you ask, didn’t I get some help with this difficult task. I think it came down to pride and not letting this inanimate object outsmart me. I had thought everything through and was very confidant that my plan would work and the worst I could envision is me doing a forward flip if I didn’t let go of the dolly at the precise moment. That could be painful so it was up to me to get the timing right.

The ramp was built to my satisfaction and shored up with concrete blocks to make it firm with no sag. I dragged the dolly with its two hundred and eighty pound load to the start of the ramp where I had to lift it from the four-wheel position it was in to a two-wheeled dolly. More grunting and groaning (and cussing) and I had it upright and was ready to go. Making sure there were no critters in the way, I started off at a fast walk and by the time I reached the top, was at a fast run. I reached the designated tipping point and like a shot putter setting an Olympic record, let the bloody thing go. In went the dolly and the liner and landed squarely in the middle of the pond with the liner the right way up and the dolly now on the top. If my neighbors could have seen this entire episode especially the dance of joy that followed, they would have bust a seam with laughter. Hell, it should have been on U-tube except there were no camera men around to film it. Boy, did I slip up on that one, I could have been famous…

From that point on, it was a relatively simple task to unfold it and move it into the finished position followed by adding the rocks around the top both for appearances and to hold the liner down. Prior to that was the slow water filling process working, the folds into place and getting the liner to settle as smoothly as possible. I forgot to mention that the bottom and dirt sides of the pond were lined with both the old liner and old carpet to absorb and protect the new liner from damage.

I built two small bogs on opposite sides and ran water to them by plastic pipe from the main pump and filter box. In retrospect, I

Skippy Filter

Skippy Filter

should have just kept the inside wall low enough for the water to spill over into the bog but as I said before, hindsight is such a wonderful thing. I opted to use a one hundred gallon Skippy filter system. For those of you unclear with this type of filter, it consists of a one hundred gallon Rubbermaid water trough that I purchased at Tractor Supply (love that place) an inlet of usually two-inch pipe, a grating type floor raised up about six inches to keep the inlet area clear and then the rest of the tank is filled with regular filter type material. I used the buffing pads (new not used) from the floor buffers supply house as I happened to get a deal on them, and cut them into pieces of about six inches or so. The outlet is a six-inch pipe returning the clean water back to the pond but you could get away with a four-inch pipe.. I have had a lot of success with this type of filter and even have a couple of twenty-five gallon ones where I felt it needed additional filtering running off their own separate pump. For a floor, I used metal wire shelving cut roughly to shape with Plasterers metal lath on top. The original Skippy on this pond lasted fourteen years before I had to clean it out. The only reason I had to clean it then was because the floor had collapsed. The original floor was made of the plastic open grid replacement covers to regular flourescent lights and it didn’t last. If you want to smell something that is really bad, try fourteen years of fish poop…

I carefully arranged pots of water plants mounted on concrete blocks so they were just under the water, around the pond and let the pond stand for a couple of weeks before re-introducing the fish to their old/new home from the three hundred and fifty gallons pond where they had spent the last several months. In all, nineteen small Koi, half a dozen goldfish and a turtle found a new home and in all that time, I didn’t lose a single fish. Just to be sure, while they lived in the small pond which was set to ground level, I built a mesh wire frame over the pond to keep the heron and coons away.

The Rebuilt Pond showing the ponds beyond

The Rebuilt Pond showing the double pond beyond. The Skippy filter has the green pipe coming out of it and Iris growing in it.

Small pond raised above ground and boxed in.

Small pond raised above ground and boxed in.

I turned my attention to the three hundred and fifty gallon fibreglass pre-shaped pond which originally, I had set into the ground trying to figure out just what to do with it. It was really too small to keep fish in and I had already discovered to my dismay, that turning it into a “hospital pond”  and trying to treat any sick or ailing fish by separating them was generally a waste of time as they died anyway. So, I chose a spot next to the deck where the hot tub sits and by extending this deck, raised the pond up above ground and closed it in with boards to make it look good. Turned out a nice little pond and I relented enough to put some small goldfish in it even though I had said that I wouldn’t.  The Heron proved me right as he came in and cleaned out the entire pond which got me thinking on how to scare him off or at least keep him away from the fish. I solved the problem by installing a three-line electric wire fence around it powered by a doggy shocker. This seems to have done the trick as I was able to keep fish in the pond for the next several years. It might not have anything to do with the electrified part of the fence as the Heron’s feathers probably acted as insulation unless it was wet but more that there is now a barrier that prevents the heron from actually fishing.

After rebuilding the original pond, I kicked the idea around of building a second one-off to one side of the “Big Pond” again in an area where the grass wouldn’t grow. My original intent was to build a stream that bent around a tree and emptied into about a thousand gallon pond at the low-end. The tree is on the right of the picture above and you can make out the top and lower pond. This picture actually shows the difference in the water levels of the two ponds and is best viewed by double clicking on it to enlarge it to full size. It turned out that it was another area that the house builder had leveled up with fill sand and much to my surprise, the digging was easy again for two feet or so downwards until I hit the rock. I couldn’t resist and my plans for the stream went out the window and I opted for a double pond instead, an upper and a lower connected by a small weir. The upper pond holds about twenty-four hundred gallons and is no deeper than two feet by the lower end. The lower pond is around a thousand gallons.

There were no major construction problems building this pond and the liner was much smaller and lighter although I did have to

View from roof of the big pond on right and double pond on left

View from house roof of the big pond on right and double pond on left

buy a much larger piece than I first anticipated due to odd shape of the pond.  I thought that I could buy a rectangular piece of liner and by some skillful folding, make it fit the angle of the pond but the guy I was buying it from didn’t like that idea and suggested the bigger piece. I’m still trying to figure if that was a sales pitch or if there are legitimate reasons for not doing it my way. As he was the expert with many years of pond building experience, I accepted his advice.

I divided the ponds by building a concrete block wall between them. My first problem was in treating the pond as a separate entity as again in retrospect, I should have bought a big enough liner to cover both ponds. Instead, because I treated each pond separately, I ended with the liner for the bottom pond folded over the wall with lots to spare and then the liner for the top pond overlapping the wall and bottom liner from the opposite direction. There was no way that I could see that there would be any leaks but water is nasty, insidious stuff and can find the smallest outlet. What I didn’t know at the time is that I would “re-model” the bottom pond a few years later and my system would give me all kinds of grief in the process. I prettied the dividing wall between the ponds by placing rocks on the top and cemented in the weir and after the ponds were filled and the liners eased into place, placed rocks all around the top. The top pond is pretty much level with the ground as compared to the “Big Pond” as is the lower pond due to the difference in the fall of the ground. If I was to build this double pond again, I would eliminate the weir and center wall and raise the elevation of the bottom pond high enough to where it would be all one level and of course, use one piece of liner. I eventually did this but that comes later in the story.

Another view of double pond

Another view of double pond

Off to the right next to the tree, as can be seen in the picture above, is a small bog garden. This time, learning from my previous endeavours, I included this as a part of the pond and the water flows in and through albeit more static than flowing. The purpose of this bog was to introduce additional water plants that like their feet wet but not necessarily live in the water. I did not intend for this bog to be included in the filtering system so it has absolutely no bearing on the cleanliness of the water. Incidentally, all of the plants in this bog are in individual pots in the hope of controlling their growth and I have to add, not too successfully with Lizards Tail as that stuff will take over if allowed.

The bottom pond has a skimmer box with filters and in turn, pumps the water with the pipes under the gravel path to the furthermost point of the top pond and empties into a waterfall that is about two feet high. This pipe is buried and I have had to dig up the top end several times because of sediment blocking this pipe. Next time I have to uncover it, I will install a clean out trap so that I don’t have to dig anymore. I hate digging in Texas, no wait, I just hate digging…

I did discover one major problem with having the water flow over the weir to return to the bottom pond. When I first installed the system, I used a 3600 gph pump in the skimmer box thinking it would require a lot of “oomph” to keep circulating the water. I soon discovered that the problem was the water would not return as fast as it was being pumped out and the box kept going dry with the danger of burning out that expensive pump. Even by operating the valves, I still could not control it and it didn’t make a lot of sense to use a big pump and throttle it back. So, I experimented with a couple of other pumps that I already had and finally opted for a 1200 gph that I was able to regulate with the valves to make it work. There is still the problem of the weir getting trash in it especially as the big Koi in the top pond tear up the vegetation. When that happens, the top-level rises as they have successfully dammed up the weir and the bottom pond level drops accordingly. Keeping the weir clean solves the problem and it’s just a case of remembering to do this. One more thing that my aging brain doesn’t need. Luckily in this case, I have the visual aid of seeing the blocked weir, as long as I remember to check…

Just recently, I added a hundred gallon Skippy system to the top pond. The water is still pumped through the pipes from the bottom pond but now goes into the Skippy filter instead of directly into the pond. I also added two more twenty-five gallon Skippy’s, one on each pond as the big Koi, being bottom feeders, keep the mud stirred up and the water is always cloudy. The beauty of the Skippy’s are that you can grow things in the open top, right in the filter material. I have Iris, Lizards Tail and even Canna’s and Thalia growing in mine. As far as I can tell, as long as the plant likes its roots wet, anything should grown in these Skippy’s.

I have one more interesting story to tell about these two ponds and I swear, I didn’t plan it in any way. After I had finished both ponds, I moved plants around from the Big Pond and distributed them in both the upper and lower pond. I was in no hurry to buy fish  to stock these ponds so they sat for a while until one day, I noticed there were small Koi in both the top and bottom ponds along with one small goldfish in the lower one. Then it dawned on me. The plants that I had moved out of the Big Pond must have had fertilized fish eggs on them and my moving the plants, also transported them. It was a wonderful way to restock the ponds and to date, the top pond has twenty big Koi, the females of which are probably twenty-four inches or more and goodness knows what they weigh. The bottom pond had the same number of Koi (plus one goldfish) but only one of them has reached the size of those in the top pond. They are not far behind and now have the opportunity to catch up. More on that later in the story.

I am not sure if it’s the love of ponds and all things Nature or my working life wholly dedicated to the construction of “things”. Some very mundane like laying pipe and block walls, or building Firestone stations. Others that allowed my own artistic side come out with the building of ornamental brick walls  and fireplaces and now, the construction of ponds. You would have thought that four ponds were enough for anyone but a couple of years after finishing the double pond, I again got the pond building craze. I still had this one area over to the left of the garden that nothing much would grow and I still wanted to build a stream…

So, I did what every true blue pond builder would do and started work on pond number five. When I asked the dogs what they thought about the idea, none of them had much in the way of negative opinions or come to that, any opinions at all so I took that as a “Yes” although I gotta say that none of them raised a paw to help in the work. The plan was to build one long stream with a vase at the top turned on its side for the water to bubble out of and a short stream with another one hundred gallon Skippy at the top both emptying into a small pound of about eight hundred gallons. The streams were in a “V” shape and the pond would be at the point of the “V”. Just above the pond I built a bog garden but due to the different levels, could not incorporate it into the original construction and had to service it with a timer on the faucet that would run water into the bog every couple of days. But, I get ahead of myself.

In retrospect, I could and should have done things much  differently than I did and of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I chose, as the site for the streams, an area encompassed by gravel paths on the top and sides and open at the bottom so as to form a natural “V” shape. Building the pond at the bottom of the “V” was not a major problem and the intention all along was to make it fairly small, around about a thousand gallons.

As I mentioned previously, in my yard, digging is not easy as there is a layer of rock about a foot or so below the surface. It is not solid as it is mixed with dirt but some of the boulders can be quite large and difficult to move. In order to get any sort of depth, it was necessary to go upwards resulting in the pond having stone walls banked up with sandy loam around the outside to stabilize the stone.

The problem with this method of making the pond higher resulted in me having to bring in almost ten yards of sandy loam for fill to raise both of the streams to an elevation that allowed them to run into the new pond. Did I mention that there is no room to get in any type of heavy equipment like a small backhoe with a front end loader. I ended up using my riding garden mower as a tractor and hauled all of the material in a little two-wheeled trailer to where it had to go. It actually worked well and was one of the more fun parts of the job. You know, a grown man playing with his tonker toys. What made the job more difficult was that I could not get a truck close enough to bring in a load of sandy loam resulting in my hitching up my 6×8 trailer to my BMW X5 and hauling in the dirt, one cubic yard at a time. Again, a man and his toys which in some respects made the job fun. I gotta say that shoveling all of that dirt got real old, real quick.

After shaping the streams with the fill dirt, I installed rubber liner in them and then spent considerable time being decorative with stone and river rock allowing my artistic side to take over. I installed an urn tilted to allow the water to flow out at the top end of the longer of the two streams and installed a hundred gallon Skippy filter at the top end of the other stream. I installed a rubber liner inside the pond area and placed a skimmer on the lower end and voila, I had almost an eight hundred or so gallon pond.The pond filter contained a 3500 gph pump and I used two-inch pipe which I buried to run the water around the outside of  each stream and where I connected one to the urn and the other to the Skippy filter. Flow to these two points is regulated by valves on each line. I added a Frog fountain to the pond for effect, tapping into the two-inch line to supply it with water.

Looking towards the right stream

Looking towards the right stream

The whole thing gave a very nice effect and I have to say that the water in the pond was always clear probably due to it flowing over the rocks on its way back to the pond. Some of it could have also been because there was only one large Koi and about a dozen very large goldfish so it was not overpopulated as the other ponds are.

Again, in retrospect, I could have just installed a disappearing fountain instead of the pond saving all kinds of digging and manpower on trucking in all that fill dirt. On the other hand, I would not have got to play with my Tonker Toy’s…

One thing all ponders need to remember is that nothing stays the same as when it is first built. Pipes get clogged up especially around any group of fittings and even the long straight runs can get sediment in them. The point is, they have to be maintained so when the builder/plumber is doing his/her work, some thought needs to go into how are the pipes going to get cleaned especially if they are buried below ground. Provision needs to be made during construction to install couplings and clean out “Y’s” to give access to run a “snake” through. One thing is guaranteed and that is that pipes will block up and need cleaning.

The same is true of rubber liners. Even though they may have a guaranteed thirty year life span, things happen that causes or creates a leak and believe me, finding a small leak in a rubber liner is next to impossible.

Another cause of liner problems are the critters that we all have and actually encourage by the use of feeding stations for birds and squirrels. These also attract the unwanted kind of varmint like rats and coons.  Usually the rats are the worst as they get into the rock around the pond and dig tunnels and make nests and if they come up against the liner, are known to chew a hole in it. These can usually be repaired as they are big enough to be seen and water that has been allowed to drain down stops at the hole making it easy to spot.

By the way, if the pond seems to be using a lot of water, one needs to consider just how much there is in the way of plant life. If there is any amount, then the plants are probably using a lot of the water. After all, plants like humans are made up of water. That coupled with normal evaporation especially here in Texas usually accounts for most water loss and don’t forget too that waterfalls and fountains splash water around and some of that could also be lost. One of my most recent projects was to automate the filling system for the ponds. I did this by installing in line de-chlorinating filters at the faucet end and Automated Float Valves in the water. Now, the water stays at a constant level and the filters keep the chlorine level under control.

I deviate from my original story. It’s pretty amazing that when you wind up a ponder we all become story tellers. It’s probably because we have fish stories to tell except it’s not about the one that got away but more about the beauties that we have in our ponds.

Back to my story. At the triangle at the bottom end of where the two streams ran into the pond, I built a bog garden but again, not giving it sufficient thought in the first place and instead of using the streams to get the water into the bog, I had to resort to a stand pipe and timer that automatically ran for 30 minutes every couple of days. It was enough to keep it moist and things grew pretty well but there was no water flow per se. So, I decided that I was going to change it and this time, I would figure a way to use one of the streams to feed the bog and create a water flow back into the pond.

I started digging the old bog out and removed all of the plants and about two yards of fill. I mentioned earlier that there is not enough room to get in any mechanical equipment so all of this work was done by hand. My hands… Neither was there any room to stack material meaning that it all had to be wheeled away in a wheelbarrow as I can no longer get my garden tractor and trailer close enough. I look upon this sort of work as me being in the gym only it is not costing me to do it and even though it is tiring, the bottom line is that it is all contributing to me living a longer and healthier life and to help achieve my goal of living until I am 120 years old…Then there is the added benefit of sleeping like a baby as the body is so tired. That’s if the dogs don’t wake me.

I cleared out all of the area and had planned which stream I was going to use to get water to flow through the bog. About this time, the Herons which had not visited me for two years were by now, regular visitors several times a day and had been for the past month or so. There were two of them as one was bigger than the other and at one time, they were both in the same proximity but at least a hundred yards apart until one of them flew off. I started to get up early which for me is no mean feat but even so, and even with a double electric fence around the pond, the heron managed to catch a couple of the goldfish and the rest went down deep and would not come out. Then one morning, I found a half eaten goldfish by the side of the pond and came to the conclusion that the racoon’s were now able to get close enough because of the removal of all of the dirt from the bog. So, I was now faced with a different dilemma of how to protect the remaining fish.

I looked at the pond and looked at the hole I had dug for the new bog and it occurred to me that the smartest thing to do was to forget all about the bog and instead, just as I had done with the first pond, tear out pond number five and with some extra work, combine the bog space with the existing pond space and turn the whole thing into one very big pond which would be both larger and deeper than the original one. The more that I thought about it, the more convinced that it was the way to go.

Next step was to drain pond number five and rescue the remaining fish. I caught the one big Koi and put it in one of the other ponds along with ones of the same size. I’m guessing that it was almost 2o inches long and probably weighed close to ten pounds. I found five goldfish out of the original eleven and placed them in a special tank that I have as a temporary home and put a lattice cover over it so the Heron and ‘coons can’t get to them. When I went back to start moving the rocks and plants in the bottom of the pond, I found two more fish. In all, between the Heron and the ‘coons, I lost four goldfish.

The Heron did not give up just because the pond was dry. Instead, he started to eye the fish in the other ponds. I felt pretty confident that they were fairly safe as the ponds are either big enough or deep enough that the fish can escape and they have electrified fences around them. What I did not figure on was the ingenuity and determination of a hungry Heron.

Hard to believe the Heron landed on this

Hard to believe the Heron landed on this rock

The big pond that is located closest to the house and deck had a small rock that sat on the top of a concrete block that I put in the pond years ago when the turtles lived in that pond as a place they could climb to sit in the sun as turtles like to do. The rock that was a couple of inches above the water level was no bigger than about 12 inches round but it was obviously big enough for the Heron to land on. I woke early and looked out the sliding glass doors just in time to see the Heron standing on that rock. He saw my movement and with a bend of his legs jumped in the air and flew off.

The fish had all gone down and as far as I could see, were all there. They quickly rallied around when I threw in some feed. I used a long pole to knock over the rock and the block to take away the Herons perching spot and thought the matter was over.  Boy, was I wrong.

The next day, I got up early again and looked at the pond. This time, the Heron had landed on the urn that stands in the middle of the big pond. It stands about two feet out of the water and the has a pretty powerful spout of water that is pumped through it. The top cannot be more than eight inches big and is not solid but there was this Heron standing as tall as you like on the top of it. I don’t know how it thought it could catch the fish as it was at least two feet above the water. As soon as it saw my movement, with a bend of the knees, it was in the air and flew off.

The Heron landed on this

The Heron landed on this as well.

I thought that it was time for some radical remedial action and through the course of the day, I stretched wire from one post to the other until I has a star-shaped design that crisscrossed the pond centered over the urn.  The Heron did not come back, or at least, has not settled in that pond. We are now keeping an anxious eye on the other two ponds for the next attack. We meaning me and the dogs. They do a good job of barking very excitedly when the Heron perches in the trees above the ponds or on the shed roof although the Heron no longer flies off when they appear and it is not until I walk out, that it decides to leave.

Again, I deviate. In my quest to enlarge pond number five, the one that was originally a pond and two streams, I had to go deeper if I was going to achieve anything. As I had previously mentioned, the deeper I dug, the harder and rockier it became and in the end, I had to go to Home Depot and rent an electric Jack Hammer.

I have to tell you that I hate those bloody things. For one thing they are heavy. I had the lightest one which the hammer alone weighed forty pounds. Slide in a cutting spade and now the thing is at least fifty pounds. Couple that with the fact that I only stand five feet eight inches tall and the hammer with the bit placed on the ground is all of four and a half feet makes for very difficult working conditions. I rented the thing for a week but managed to finish in four days and thankfully took it back hoping to never ever have to use one again.

It really needs two people to operate around a jack hammer, one to drive the hammer itself and the other to use a shovel and clear the dirt away. As there was only one of me, I would jack hammer for a bit to loosen the dirt and rock and then grab the shovel to clear the dirt. It really needed a third person to push the wheelbarrow to dump the dirt away from the hole in the ground to a spot that I was leveling and again, as there was only me, I ended up piling the dirt in a different place still in the hole away from the work area.

By the time I had finished with the hammer and the hole was to my liking, I had at least a three yard pile of dirt and rock that had to be shoveled out of the hole, into the wheelbarrow and then taken to the area that I was using to dump all of this surplus material. Did I mention that as a part of my early digging efforts before the jack hammer, I had already piled up the dirt on the pathway around the outside of the hole and it had at least two yards of good sandy loam on it that I also had to move to store and save for later use.

It took me almost three days to move the surplus dirt and level it in the new location. A part of it has raised the dry creek bed which is the actual Murmuring Creek that the street is named after.  The rest went outside the fence to build a higher berm to stop the really heavy rain from flooding the yard when it  seeps under the fence. When I say heavy rain, it has to be the sort that drops a couple of inches in an hour before the yard floods. When it does, it is indeed a site to behold with water running across the yard, into the creek bed and outside of the fence at a torrential rate. Directly outside of my fence there is a thirty inch culvert that empties the water from the surrounding area and directs it under the fence and across the yard. It is easy to understand the power of water when you see it in these natural conditions.

When it came time to remove the old rubber liner from the existing pond, my buddy George came over to help me drag it out of the hole. George is an ex pat and an ex pro soccer player from England and is a big and strong gentleman. At least we all thought so until he had a minor heart attack a few months back. He seems to have recovered as he worked as hard as me to pull that liner out. This piece of liner is probably about sixteen feet square and with the mud and dirt piled on it, weighed a ton. Well, maybe not a ton but at least a couple of hundred pounds.  It felt like a ton but with a lot of grunting and groaning and cussing under our breath (OK, out loud) , we managed to get it out and away from the area. It will be reused as underlayment and placed under the new liner which will be twice as big and will weigh several hundred pounds.

With the digging all finished and all of the stone walls re-built and banked up on the outside for support, it was time to think of new pond liner…again.. I should mention that the only stone that will be visible when we are through will be that which is stacked on the very top to keep the folded liner in place. A pity really to waste the stone rescued from the original pond but I did not have the necessary depth or room to build a wide enough wall with the stone on the outside and as I already had it, there was not much sense in buying concrete blocks.

I  lined the pond with old used carpet, the old liner and then purchased a special pond lining material that acts as an underlayment for the rubber liner to complete the job. Both as a combination or alone work very well. This covers up any rough edges to any protruding rock and saves the liner from getting punctured.  In an earlier part of the story, I told of how I got the new liner in the pond known as the “Big Pond” and this one was not going to be any different. I planned on using the same method with the difference that I made sure that the liner was folded how I needed it when I helped to unroll it from this gigantic roll at Emerald Gardens. My piece probably weighed almost three hundred ponds and it took all of my feeble strength to get it onto my dolly as before. Again, I built the ramp and with a whoop and a holler took off at a fast clip up the ramp and just as before, my timing was perfect and the tied up roll landed in the middle of the pond. I gotta say that I am getting real good at this but again, there were no TV cameras  to record just how good (or how crazy). I carefully unfolded it and worked it to where I felt it belonged. With rubber liner and with any surface it is covering, due to the unevenness of the original surface and the shape of the object that the liner is being installed, it always requires much care in working the folds so they make the most sense. There is no adjustment after the water has covered the liner and it all needs to be done when it is still dry and then the final creases and folds are pressed into place as the water covers the material.

I had placed the skimmer box where it was originally but did not attach it to the liner until the pond was about three-quarters full at which point, I was able to use the water as a level mark and figure out accurately and set the box to the right height accordingly. This required standing in the water, cutting the correct hole in the liner and then caulking and screwing the closure gate frame back to the box. It is imperative that the seal be a good one or it will leak around the opening door. My next step was to build two waterfalls, one for the returned water from the Skippy filter to flow down and the other for display only. They were both on opposite sides. I used the existing two-inch pipe that I had buried from the original pond and tapped into it to make the diversion to both the waterfall and to a small bog that I incorporated into the design this time.  Hooray, I finally learned… Water flows through the bog and then back into the pond and acts as a filter.

The final step was the one that appealed to my artistic side although it required that I use my muscles to move the heavy rocks and stack them around the perimeter of the pond. I also took the opportunity of placing pond plants on eight inch blocks where I wanted them and at the same time, I installed three lilies. Even though I enclosed them in special floating lily nets, I don’t have much faith that the Koi will leave them alone. I finished filling the pond and I should mention that I kept an accurate count of my water meter through the entire filling process and according to it, the pond holds sixty-two hundred gallons making it the biggest of all of my ponds. Wow. I let it stand for almost three weeks and then I called my buddy George to help transfer the fish.

Almost Finished Pond. Just lacking rocks around the top.

Almost Finished Pond. Just lacking rocks around the top.

Stream Fountain Box ready for the liner

Stream Fountain Box ready for the liner

During those three weeks, I turned my attention to the what remained of the long stream. Re-circulating it back into the pond was right out of the question as the stream was now almost two feet below the pond surface. I was chatting to Jeff Yarborough of Emerald Gardens about disappearing fountains and he suggested that I use concrete blocks with a liner inserted for the box and then place the grate and mesh on the top. I thought about it and it sounded like the very answer I was looking for. I purchased the grates and mesh from Jeff and as I already had the blocks and a piece of liner and  took my goodies home to surveyed what I physically needed to do. What is unique to both building and maintaining ponds or any type of water feature is that they all require some sort of physical action on somebody’s part. In my case, I am the physical action required to make things work. It’s not altogether so bad as it does help to keep me in shape and has definitely helped me lose twenty-two pounds in less than a year although it’s sometimes tough with the

Stream showing the hidden box at the end under the stone

Stream showing the hidden box at the end under the stone

Texas summers to get out in the heat. I excavated the hole the size I needed (more bloody digging) and installed the blocks and liner including the existing piece of liner in the stream which I had to trim to size. Placing a block in the middle for support, I installed the grating after having cut out one corner as a removable piece to get to the pump when it needed servicing. I had completed the plumbing by cutting back into the original two-inch line but this time, I included the clean outs that I referred to earlier and hooked it up to the pump. After running a test to make sure that everything worked properly, I covered the grate with stone and lo and behold, I have a working stream even if it is only about fifteen feet long.

Talking of Texas summers…

In line filter cartridge

In line filter cartridge

My most recent automation is in the ponds themselves which are subject to evaporation from the sun and heat and also water usage by the pond plants. This loss of water normally requires that the ponds need to be topped up every 4-5 days which has to be done very carefully and very closely monitored to prevent the addition of too much untreated water. The concern is that the chlorine and heavy metals in the water when added to excess, does kill the fish. Accidents like forgetting the faucets are running only to remember way too late are common stories in the ponding world and many owner returns to find the fish either dead or dying and it’s not a pretty sight.

The float in the box

The float in the box

In order to alleviate the risk, I always top up the ponds by use of a timer and even then, try to make sure that the water does not run for too long. Timers have been known to fail so the system isn’t foolproof. My most recent installation on three of the ponds is to connect 1/2 ” pvc pipe through an automatic float valve at the pond end with an anti-chlorine filter at the faucet end so all of the water is treated before entering the pond. The float valves are all pre-set to the level that I need and in turn, keep the water topped up all the time. The beauty of the system is that water is continually being added but in such small amounts that even without the filter, the amount will not harm the fish.

I called my Buddy, George to help me transport the fish from the smallest of the double pond to the new pond. I knew I couldn’t do this alone very well as it would require getting in and out of the pond many times, not an easy task under the best of circumstances. It was really a simple process with two of us as I was in the small pond and catching the big Koi one by one with a net and then passing the net off to George who walked several steps to the new pond and very carefully emptied the fish into it. The fish, in their efforts to escape and as they jump around, sometimes get their dorsal fin hooked up in the netting and it requires care and patience to get them untangled. The transfer went pretty uneventfully and in the end, we moved nineteen big Koi to the new pond and the solitary goldfish joined the four Shubunkins in the small pond as they waited their turn to move to bigger digs. The Koi really didn’t quite know what to make of their new environment as it is more that than six times as much room. Now they can grow as I have heard that they will only grow as big as the space they live in. Not sure if that’s entirely true as the fish in the larger of the double pond are huge and it is only about twenty-five hundred gallons.

Little Old Man Fountain

Little Old Man Fountain

While all of this was going on and in between working on the big pond, I spent some time rebuilding my Little Old Man disappearing fountain which was using a lot of water for such a small set up.This is not the first time that I have had to repair this piece as Richie, my tearaway dachshund got into it after a rat and tore the lining up in his efforts to do what he considers to be, his job in this world, catching rats.

The rats have burrowed down into the rocks and created tunnels and had nests under the fountain stream

Old Man and stream

Old Man and stream

and had of course, chewed up the liner while they were at it. I tore out the little waterfall and replaced the entire liner. The stream is about twelve feet long so it was no really big job. I then rebuilt the waterfall  with dry stacking rocks and used a foam injected into the cracks to seal them and then turned everything back on. This is one of those projects that you have to wait to see if the water level goes down in the fountain box before you can see if the fix worked. Well, it didn’t. The water level was still going down and took about five days before it needed re-filling, almost the same as before.

By now, it was beginning to bother me that I could not find the leak. I turned off the supply that led to the waterfall and let it stand for a while with just the Little Old Man fountain working to see if the box had a problem as it is only made of fibreglass and the rats could gnaw through this if they had a mind to but after a few days, the water level had not dropped. I knew it was not in the pipe as I could see that as it lay above ground so even though I had already changed out the liner and had rebuilt the waterfall, I went back in again and replaced yet another piece of liner and this time, rebuilt the waterfall using mortar cement.

Well, guess what? The damn thing is still leaking. How bloody frustrating is that? My next move will be to close it down and let it dry out and then use expanding sealant around the waterfall just in case I have missed something. As I said earlier, water is very insidious and can find the smallest hole to get out.

Luckily for me, I had a couple of other project going at the same time so I didn’t allow myself to get too frustrated with the Little Old Man fountain. After having moved all of the fish and the one very big turtle out of the smaller of the double pond, I pumped out all of the water so that I could address the issue that I refered to earlier with the overlapping liners between the two ponds. I wanted to increase the depth  and amount of water in the pond and without taking the most drastic step of rebuilding it, my only other alternative was to raise the perimeter walls as high as the existing liner would allow. I couldn’t get any higher than the weir but that would at least make both ponds at virtually the same water level.

In order to do this, I had to do several things. The first was to clean and scrub the algae off the existing liners so that I could glue them together and then place a six-inch wide patch over the seam. This was a horrible job and took quite literally hours. I finally figured the best way was to use a very sharp chisel to scrape of the worst and then my Ryobi sander to finish the job. Like I said, it took hours and was backbreaking because of remaining in one constant position. I spent several da y cleaning and re-gluing until I felt comfortable with the repair. Then I put water in the pond enough to test the work in the bottom of the pond.

Satisfied with the repair, I turned my attention to rebuilding the rock walls and making the existing liner secure. When I laid the stone around this pond on the original build, I laid it from the outside as I was able to get very close to the work and some of those rocks were huge and very heavy. From where I was working inside the pond, it was very difficult to get real close to the work so when I moved the rocks to raise the liner, it was as much as I could do to hold the weight. I know that I really tested my stomach muscles but what was really satisfying, even as heavy as some of those rocks were, is that I was able to complete the work without giving myself a hernia. Because I was raising the water level, I also had to raise the skimmer box. This required that I cleaned the existing liner around the area where the old hole was cut and glue a large patch over the hole and then at the appropriate height, cut a new hole and re-attach the skimmer box as I had done on the “New Pond”. Working with an old liner is a little different than working with the new stuff. For one thing, the old liner is not anywhere near as flexible as the new and for another, any folds or creases just do not flatten out. It can be very difficult making a patch completely waterproof for those reasons. Well, needless to say, I had a leak in a spot that I suspected was not a good seal and had to re-drain the pond in order to address it. I managed to make an effective repair and the water level held up on the next test.

I completely filled the pond to the finished level and let it stand for a few days to test it. I found a couple of suspected places where the water could seep out in the way the liner was dressed at the top and made adjustments and to date, the pond is holding up well. I had already put in some plant life and plan on a lily or two as this pond will not house any Koi, just goldfish, Shubunkins, Comets and small exotic type fish. I was confident enough that I went out and purchased fifteen of the above named fish from Water Gardens. Those along with the six that I had remaining after pond building, Heron and coons gives me a very good start with fresh stock.

Prior to starting the work, I had cut down as much of the Lizards Tail that was growing in the bog on the upper pond and knew that one of the other projects ahead of me was to clean out that bog of all of the Lizard Tail roots (and there were hundreds of them). So, sucking up my reluctance to dig out this bog, I started in on it. Turns out, it wasn’t such a bad project after all and the roots and dirt came out fairly easily. I did not have to replace much of the stone as I planted several new containers of things like native grasses, Blue Rush, Dwarf Horsetail and Umbrella Palm. The only plant I left in the bog on purpose was a huge Crowborough lily that has been blooming all summer long. The only problem with this plant is the leaf stems seem very fragile and tend to bend double instead of standing upright.

I learned a lot in the almost twenty years of pond building the most consistent of which is that nothing stays the same and works forever. Plumbing that has been so carefully planned and thought out is useless if there has been no planning for maintenance. Fish are messy things and pipes do get blocked up over a period of time especially around a collection of joints and elbows. If threaded connectors, slip joints or other means of disassembly have not been included, the end result is cutting into the pipe to gain access. Plants spill over and tend to grow wild if not carefully controlled. Sometimes that means serious cutting back but usually, it is very hard to kill a growing plant especially in a pond or bog and with a ready-made supply of water, and they quickly grow back.

Sometimes its necessary to abandon existing pipe runs because in the original design, especially if efforts were made to hide the pipe resulting in ninety degree elbows preventing cleaning.  The black corrugated pipe can and does dry out in the sun resulting in leaks over a period of time. Many of these things need to be addressed in the original planning and building.

All of the major work has been completed at least in the ponds themselves and from here on out, with the exception of the Old Man Fountain, it will be just maintenance and clean up which is never-ending. I still have lots of projects to keep me busy.

Oh yeah, I still have a mountain of dirt that I need to move outside to the berm…

The building of the new pond from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.