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Robyn's Pond Newsletter December 2002

Last Updated: 10/29/06

Introduction and Miscellaneous:

If you have something pond-related that you want to share (information, jokes, web sites, pond secrets and tidbits, something pond-related for sale), let me know, and I will add it to the next newsletter. What topics would you like me to cover? Do you have a question that I can answer or pose to others in the next newsletter?

As I mentioned in the last newsletter, my cousin gave me her two hedgehogs. Well, on 11/6/02, the female had three babies. By 11/8/02, she had killed them all (which is very common for hedgehogs). I've also been having problems with getting them to eat. See my hedgehog page for more information (http://www.fishpondinfo.com/hedgehogs/index.htm).

My rabbit, Jimmy, died on 11/24/02. See my page at http://www.fishpondinfo.com/rabbits/jimmy.htm if you want to read his story. I have one rabbit left, Isabella, who misses Jimmy.

This newsletter is getting shorter and shorter and losing steam (or rather, I am). There are no major web site changes or web pages of interest this month. Anyone have anything they want me to cover, a favorite website, or anything else?

Happy Holidays! I hope you get lots of pond stuff!

Happenings at Robyn's Ponds:

1. On 11/3/02, the pond water was 43 degrees F. I had to use my bare arms to cut the slimy leaves off of the pink/white tropical night-blooming water lily. Then, my father helped me pull it out of the pond. After going inside and running warm water over my arms and hands, I got in with my hip waders and gloves to pull out the floss. I squirted it off, got back in, and the tubing came off the pump again. It just doesn't fit. So, out of the pond, to the garage to get a screw driver, back into the hip waders and into the pond, and I had to loosen, try to shove on, and re- tighten the metal ring over the tubing to try to hold it onto the pump. I got back out and turned it on and so far, it hasn't come back off. When the pump dies or the tubing cracks, I don't know what I'll do! I guess I'd have to set up tubing on the ground where it could freeze and not be able to use the biofilter since it enters in the bottom (buried 5 feet deep) and then the waterfall wouldn't run either. I want to smack the men who built my pond. I'm envious of those of you with pumps and filters outside of the pond!

Anyway while out, I potted up the lotus tubers that were in my 20 gallon lotus tub pond into a 4 gallon pot. (Earlier I had netted out and bailed out as many tadpoles as I could from that tub pond. I also cut back plants in the other tub ponds, netted tadpoles there, and collected leaves off of all the ponds.) Then, for the fourth time, I pulled on the waders and gloves and got back in. I tidied up; netted some rocks; collected some leaves; cut back the sweetflag, cattails, dwarf cattails, and pickerel rush; shook the net to get the leaves into one area (which I removed later); put in the lotus pot, etc. After I finally got out, I put the net back on, collected leaves, and did more trimming. Next, I attacked the 5 gallon tropical lily with a shovel and managed to get it out of the pot without cutting it out (they no longer make these pots so I have to save them if at all possible). I used my bare hands to pick up, mix, etc. gravel. I found 3 hard walnut-sized tubers and 4 growing heads the size of softballs. I put the tubers in a ziploc bag with damp sand for the winter. I know the growing heads will turn to mush but I put them in another ziploc bag too (perhaps in case someone who has an indoor pond comes by and wants one before they die which will never happen.). After cleaning up the pond stuff, I planted some bulbs as I bought over 100 this year. I can only plant about 25 a week all by myself but at least the ground is wet this fall for once. I'm sure after all this work, the deer, voles, rabbits, and squirrels will eat most of the bulbs. By the end of the day, my hands were black and covered in dozens of tiny, painful cuts. Yes, I'm crazy which is why I have no friends.

2. On 11/10/02, I got in to remove the floss to be squirted off. The darn tubing popped off again. The water was 52 degrees F but too cold for the tubing to be pliable at all. I collected leaves and tidied up a little but the high winds deterred me. From the 153 gallon pond, I pulled out the PondMaster fountain system for the winter and installed the Luft air pump. I netted the bottom there a little bit. I only got one snail and one tadpole, no frogs or fish but I did get over a hundred earthworms! All the rain fills this pond up with tons of earthworms which by spring will poison the pond with their rotting bodies. Yuck! I also brought in most of the whirligigs and ornaments around the gardens. The next morning, we had severe thunderstorms (they spawned deadly tornadoes in Tennessee, Ohio, etc.). My ponds were full of mud. I have an overflow system but it failed. The 153 gallon pond's overflow PVC pipe was clogged with mud. I had to pull out. The big pond had leaves in the overflow but was still draining some. The downpours were so hard that dirt was washed over the top of all the liners and into the ponds where it will stay (making bugs and frogs happy I guess). While I do shop vacuum the 153 gallon pond in late March, I've never cleaned out the big pond totally.

3. On 11/17/02, I got into the 48 degree F pond to remove the floss. I squirted off the floss and bioballs. I pruned back some more canna and iris but there's still a lot of plant growth left that I've yet to cut as it's mostly still green. It took a long time to collect all the leaves off the net. I also raked as many as I could off the mulch surrounding the pond. It was hard as it was 46 degrees F, windy, and was raining steadily. The leaves were thus very heavy so I had to kick the pile to move it. I can't imagine getting all the leaves away from the pond within just a few weeks before the net has to come off before the pond freezes. It's probably a bit early, but I put de-icers out too. I had four and tested them by putting them in the freezer, plugging them in, and seeing if they got hot. Two were dead. They only seem to last one winter and sometimes less! So much for the three year warranty! Now I have to buy two more spare (which I did). You should have a spare de-icer for each one you use (unless you have more than say four in which case it would be highly unlikely they would all die at the same time although I've had three die in one week).

4. On 11/24/02, I did not get in the pond. I collected some leaves. I think I forgot to check the temperature! On 12/1/02, I was due to go into the pond to squirt the floss but did not get in. The pond was partially frozen over. I could have easily broken the ice to do the chores but the wind was really bad so it felt like 15 instead of 32 degrees F all day. I did try to collect more leaves though and top off the ponds. The back pond (no plants or animals in this 16 gallon pond which is for deer to drink from) is nothing but leaves so I will try to shop vacuum it on the first above- freezing Sunday we get. The leaf nets are due to come off now as well but with the strong winds and leaves still all over, they'll have to wait until I can catch up. I just hope they don't freeze in before then. I broke the thermometer through the ice, and it read 36 degrees F. I had also wanted to cut off the hardy canna leaves which finally got cold enough to turn brittle. Plus, there are still other marginals in there that need to be cut back. The tub ponds have all frozen over. In the two above ground 20 gallon tub ponds, the tadpoles I couldn't catch before are now tad-pops. I did get out most though.

5. By 12/4/02, the big pond is frozen over except for the de-icer and waterfall area. Snow is flying on 12/5/02, and I could't get to work. We got 8" total. This is the first time that I did not get the net off before the pond froze and/or it snowed! Granted it came early this year but I feel really negligent in my ponding duties! Those nets need to come off but I need to collect the leaves from around the ponds first. Not only do I not have time, it's dark when I get home, and the leaves are frozen into the muddy ground anyway! The first Sunday that it's melted, I will have to do a LOT of work! The morning of 12/5/02, I did manage to pull the net off the 153 gallon pond so the birds, deer, etc. can drink from it. It is not frozen at all. The smaller ponds are buried under ice and many inches of snow. The big pond is frozen except for the de-icer and waterfall. The net is still on, and there is no way I can get it off. Luckily, the snow over the open areas is going through the net and onto the ice and is not weighing down the net. Where the net is over the waterfall and rocks, it's covered in snow. That's a first! I can't clear an opening in the snow to let light in the pond because the net is frozen suspended a foot over it! It shouldn't be there! As I look outside right now (morning of 12/5/02), the snow is falling fast. The yard is full of dozens of grackles, cardinals, and other birds fighting over the bird feed. They haven't found the open pond yet but when they do, it'll be a poop-fest there as it has been in past years in January and February but not December! We haven't had a significant snowfall in early December as long as I can remember. We've only had a white Christmas once.

Interesting Animal Sightings:

1. On 12/7/02 while checking on the ponds in the snow, I heard a loud woodpecker call. It was a pileated woodpecker! It was a ways away but I know for sure that's what it was. It was hopping up and down the trees, was about a foot tall, had a red crest, and flew off in a strange woodpecker flight. I thought I heard and saw one a few years ago but this was the first 100% sure sighting of one. I hope they come by more often. They're like Woody the Woodpecker.

Pond Tidbits:

1. For those of us in cold areas, the snow may soon fly. Some of you already have snow (ok, now we do). Here in Maryland, we have some years with a few feet at once and some years with practically nothing. I'm still a kid at heart and like snow. It gives me an excuse to take a day off from work if it's deep enough (if shallow, it just gives me a heart attack and a 1.5 hour commute). Something about going out in fresh snow with everything covered takes my breath away. I like to eat snow (you already know I'm crazy) as does my dog. For our ponds, we do need to remember to care for them even at this time. If the pond was not frozen when it snowed, then there is nothing to really do. But, if the pond was frozen over and now there is a layer of snow on it, there are some things to consider. Snow does insulate the pond somewhat from heat loss. It also blocks sunlight. The animals under there do need some sun. I suggest using a broom to push aside snow from a small area of the pond at least to let in some snow. I usually can't resist writing in the snow on the pond with something like, "Help Me!" (referring to the trapped fish) or just "Hello!" The pond should have an open area from de-icer, heater, waterfall, aerator, or whatever. Be sure the hole doesn't freeze over since dropping snow will make it much harder to keep the hole open. Pour some warm water over the area or, for the de-icer, bounce it up and down a little. In winter, when things are frozen, pond water levels may go above the normal overflow level as they do for my pond. If the overflow system is frozen, then extra water will just add depth to the pond until it finds the edge. For this reason, during thaw out, ponds may take in more dirt, mud, etc. The water may also appear a little un-clear when it is thawing out. This is all normal. During thaw out, my ponds look a little yucky and may start to smell a little. If fish, frogs, tadpoles, snails, lochness monster, Yeti, etc. have died in there over winter, things will start a-stinkin'. As soon as you spot a victim and can get past the ice, net it out. I usually get half a dozen dead frogs over winter (out of some 30-40 frogs) but only rarely a fish. Be aware that live frogs that are still in hibernation mode may appear dead and black. If they are really dead, in my ponds, they are usually upside down, their tongues are hanging out, and there's fungus or obvious rotting. You may need to hold your breath! In late March, I clean out my 153 gallon pond, and it is usually full of hundreds of rotting earthworms! Yuck! This is a good time to add that first dose of good bacteria and enzymes like Microbe-Lift or BZT. Even if the water is still 40 degrees F, it gives these things a jump start. After all, if the dead animals stink, that means they're decomposing and something's "eating" them meaning bacteria are active in winter too, just not as active as summer. If a few animals die over winter, that is no cause for alarm but if you lose more than 20% of your frogs or fish, then you need to rethink your situation to prevent that next year. Most likely causes of winter death are due to a build up of hydrogen sulfide, methane, and carbon dioxide and lack of oxygen. Keeping a hole in the ice is essential to release these bad gases and let in oxygen but dropping an air stone in the bottom may be necessary for some deeper ponds to prevent deaths. Be sure to remove most debris in fall and add bacterial/enzyme concoctions to prevent the build up of hydrogen sulfide and methane from decomposition over winter.

2. A new newsletter subscriber asked me about growing watercress. I have a large section on it at http://www.fishpondinfo.com/plants/marginals.htm that you should read if you're interested in it and haven't read this section yet. This is a good time of year to start a crop if you don't have any watercress. You do need to have a waterfall or stream where you can put the watercress in spring. Many regular and specialty grocery stores sell watercress along with other greens. You can buy some if it's green and healthy. Bring it home and set it in a small pot of mud or water in a bright window or under a plant grow light or full spectrum fluorescent fixture. It should root itself within a week. Be sure to change the water weekly or it will stink. If you can only get seeds, it will take a little more work. You could wait until spring and then toss them into the nooks and crannies of your waterfall or stream, or you can try to start them now. Press the itty-bitty seeds into damp planting media. Clay dirt works well but if it's from your yard, baking it in the oven to sterilize it may help prevent colonies of funguses and other critters from growing in there instead of the watercress. I've never cooked dirt but it's said it stinks pretty bad! You may try sterile potting media but it is often too light and floats and makes a mess when wet. Sand may work better. I've never tried starting watercress from seed myself so these are just ideas. Once you get sprouts of about an inch high, add water so there's about 1/4 to a half inch over the dirt/sand. After your pond thaws out in late March or April, move the sprouted grocery watercress or seed-started seedlings to the waterfall/stream. As watercress will start to suffer in non-moving water in your house, it may not make it until spring. In Zone 7 or higher, you can really plant it even in winter during a non-frozen spell. In colder areas, it is better not to start the watercress inside until late winter unless you can provide water movement in an indoor mini-pond. Once you do plant them outside, you need to secure them so the water doesn't just wash them into the pond. I use pea gravel to hold them down. I put both pre-rotted watercress and un-rooted watercress straight from the grocery store in my waterfall/stream and both survived. Once they root, they REALLY root. My plants, which came from the grocery store in 1997, self-seed themselves so I'm not sure how well plants live year to year. I pull out most of the watercress in early fall and by mid-fall, the waterfall and stream are full of babies from the seed, and the remnants of the older plants have new growth as well. The plants grow well until hard frost and then go dormant until the freeze is over. In spring, they grow like mad, flower in summer, and die back. The early spring and mid-fall growth is the best to eat (the least bitter). I find it too bitter to eat too much myself but my relatives, rabbits, guinea pigs, deer, goldfish, koi, and chickens love it. Watercress is hard to kill if it has these four things: moderate to strong light, lots of food (fish poo is good!), moving water, and always having its roots wet. Also, goldfish and koi love to eat it so if they can get to it, say goodbye watercress! You can feed them some as a treat too. Watercress is a great vegetative filter. I would say that watercress is definitely one of the "keys" as to why my 1800 gallon pond is clear all the time! If I could only have one plant in my pond, this would be it (sorry lilies!).

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