April 12, 2012

D.I.Y. Container Fish Pond

For my 'big' spring garden project this year I decided I really wanted to make use of the unused wine barrel I had bought to use as a fountain two years ago.  It didn't work as well has I had planned so I moved it to the backyard and am turning it into a fish pond.  I put 'big' in quotations because this was actually a fairly simple project compared to some of the other ones I have tacked in the past.  For less than $150 you too can enjoy the relaxing sound of a beautiful, functioning, living water feature even if all you have is a small porch. All you need is a few days to set it up and you're done!

Step 1: The Container
I had a wine barrel on hand that I bought two years ago for about $30 at Bi-mart.  Any container that can hold water can also be used as long as water won't leak out.  My barrel was already painted from before but you can always just leave it natural looking if you prefer. When you find the location you want your barrel, place some cement pavers underneath to keep the bottom from getting wood rot if it going to be sitting somewhere it can get wet easily.  This wine barrel holds about 31 gallons of water, a great size for some fish and water plants.

This is the wine barrel I painted and moved to the backyard and replaced a dying rose bush with.

Step 2: Water
Once you have your container in place be sure you have cleaned out the inside of any debris in it.  Fill the container almost to the top with water.  Next, if you plan to add fish to yours you will need to wait 24 hours before adding them in.  The chlorine found in the tap water can be deadly to fish and needs about a day to evaporate from the water.  You can also play it very safe and buy a product called Pond-zyme that helps clean the water and remove harmful ammonia that can also build up.  It contains beneficial bacteria that make the water a pleasant environment for the fish.  I bought the powder rather than the liquid version because it lasts 3 times as long as the liquid.  Follow mixing instructions and tap it onto the surface of the pond.  It will slowly make its way to the bottom of your pond and clean the water for you.

Step 3: Plants
Next comes the fun part of choosing what plants to place in your pond.  Most websites I looked at recommended have 3 different types of plants for your pond:
  • an oxygenating plant (one that grows underwater).  These provide oxygen for the fish
  • a floating plant (one like a water lily that grows on the water surface)
  • and a thrill factor (one that gives some height to your pond for excitement)

Above, I have sketched out what my pond will look like with the various plants I have chosen.  I picked Anacharis for my oxygenating plant, a yellow blooming water lily to float on the water surface and a pickerel weed for my thrill factor.  The pickerel weed will attract butterflies and sometimes hummingbirds to the pond.  I also decided to experiment with creeping jenny and corkscrew rush, not usually considered water plants but I decided to give it a shot and see if they survive.

This is the Anacharis.  I picked it up at the local fish and exotic animal pet shop in Corvallis.  They didn't have their other pond plants in yet so I went to home depot and picked out a few other items.

My waterlily.  I probably should have went for a dwarf variety since my pond isn't very large but they didn't have any dwarf plants so I went with this yellow one since I liked its color the best.

This is the pickerel weed.  It grows in shallow water so I built a shelf for it and stuck the other two small plants in it that also liked to be near the water's edge.

The box even shows a butterfly one it so it must draw them in, right?!

Here is the corkscrew rush and creeping jenny I bought from my garden center.  Neither are meant to be used directly in ponds but I liked them and thought I would experiment and see if they survived.  If they don't, oh well!

To plant your pond vegetation I just followed the instructions on the packages for the water lily and pickerel weed.  For the anacharis all you need to do is anchor it to the bottom of your pond with some gravel.

Word of the wise:  DON'T use regular potting soil to plant up your plants.  It is too light and floats to the top and makes the water murky.  Really murky.  If you do need to use soil for some of your plants use a clay soil that is recommended for ponds.  It won't cloud the water like potting soils do.

Also, when you are lowering your plants into the pond do it very slowly so that the rushing water doesn't unsettle any of the dirt or gravel in your containers.  This will also help keep the water clear.

Here is a fine example of what not to do.  See all the floating debris in the water and on my upper plant shelf? That is all potting soil I didn't know I should not use.  To fix this problem I took out all the plants, dumped out all the water, cleaned the barrel again, refilled it with water and then I replanted my plants using just gravel and clay soil that came with the water lily.  For the corkscrew rush and creeping jenny, since they were already planted in soil, I used the garden hose and sprayed off all the soil and just planted their bare roots into the gravel with the pickerel weed.

 Much better! Now you can see all the way to the bottom of the barrel

Step 4: Fish
When selecting fish make sure to choose varieties that will do well in the pond.  I stopped by the exotic pet shop but didn't find any fish to my liking and then went to Petco and found exactly what I wanted.  They had many fish suited for pond living that were inexpensive and really cute.  I settled on four fan tailed goldfish that were already in the same fish tank together so I knew they wouldn't compete with each other for food or living area.  The rule of thumb of choosing how many fish will fit in your container is:  One inch of fish should have no less than 5 gallons of water for comfortable living.  Therefore a 30 gallon tank should hold 6 inches of fish.  My fish were about an inch in length so I decide to buy four in case they need some growing room still.

 Here are my Petco fish.  The label on the aquarium even said they did well in ponds.  I named the two calico ones Sherlock and Holmes, the orange one is Watson and the red head is Mrs. Pennyworth (she is much chubbier than the rest, she could be pregnant.  We're not sure).

 Before you dump your new fish into their new habitat it is recommended to float the bag on the surface for at least a half an hour so that the bag temperature can slowly change to the new water temp and not shock the fish.

There's Watson investigating the bottom of the pond.  He seems to be the most adventurous so far.

This is the plant shelf that is holding the pickerel weed, corkscrew rush and creeping jenny.  I adjusted the height of the shelf so it would rest parallel with the water level so that small insects, birds and other critters could come get a comfortable drink without falling into the pond.

See any fish in there Charlotte?

So that's my pond.  I also ordered a small solar powered fountain online for $16 to help areate the water some more.  I didn't realize it shipped from China when I bought it so I might be waiting a while before it arrives. 

I shall continue posting photos of how my pond and fish are progressing through the season as the plants start to grow and fill in the pond more.  So far its been two days and my fish are still alive!!!  Hurray me!

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