The World in Your Backyard
by B.K. Davis
Every day we react to stresses in our jobs and on the highways. We read in newspapers and see on television the ravages of the world's diminishing natural resources. We are constantly touched by crime and urban decay. In the face of this onslaught, we are finally realizing the necessity of a refuge from modern life. We need our homes to be an oasis, a garden where we can go to heal and to make contact again with the nature within us. One such sanctuary is a backyard koi pond.
A koi pond is a place where we can sit quietly in beauty, listen to the trickling water, watch the gleaming koi slide gracefully past and let the pressures of the world outside slip away.
If you are looking for a respite from the outside world, you may consider installing a koi pond in your home. Building a koi pond in your backyard adds substantially to the value of your property. It would be a project similar to installing a large fish tank and a spa in complexity. A pond can become a large scale landscaping project or can be tucked into an existing patio area. You can do it yourself, hire a contractor or find a mixture that works for you.
One of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of building a koi pond comes from the responsibility it creates: You are installing an ecosystem. An effective pond should strike a balance that encompasses aesthetics, efficiency of maintenance, and a healthy environment for the koi and the other organisms that live there. The very act of developing and maintaining that balance can create an internal awareness of our place in the balance of nature.
You will be creating a miniature world of water, plants and animals. Therefore, the location of the pond is crucial. It should be in harmony with the surroundings, visible from inside the house, have subtle lighting for 24-hour appreciation, and include a pleasant place to sit nearby. After those criteria are met, the details of size and design are nearly infinite.
A koi pond is more than a hold in the ground with a plastic liner. In order to have a healthy, dynamic pond environment you also need a biological filter, a source of aeration, a circulation pump and adequate space.
The filtration system purifies the water of wastes, bacteria and other toxins. An aerator, such as a waterfall, pushes air into the water so the fish will have oxygen and the water does not stagnate. The pump moves the water through the filter and aerator. This cycle is the lifeblood of a pond and the ongoing expenses in electricity and filter materials should be calculated into your maintenance schedule. I would definitely recommend consulting an expert regarding this part of your pond design so that you install the most efficient and easily maintained system possible.
There are some limitations on minimum size in creating a healthy living space for the koi. A depth of at least three feet and 50 to 60 gallons of water (or square yard of surface area) is recommended for each eight to ten inch koi. It is best to have at least three koi since they are communal fish. Your koi will not grow to be larger than the pond can support so you should calculate what size you want them to attain when planning the size of the pond and number of koi. (Koi are an eighth of an inch long when they hatch and have been known to grow up to five feet in length.) In general, if you plan a pond that is a little bigger than you think you want, it will turn out the right size.
Choosing plants for the area in and around your pond is another important concern. Aquatic plants should be surrounded with a protective barrier because the koi will nibble on them. Ground plants can be used to camouflage the pump and filter.
Cats, raccoons, ducks and turtles are predators of your koi. Incorporate hiding places for the koi into your pond.
Once complete, you can then choose the variety and color of koi that will most enhance your pond. Include compatible bottom-feeding fish or snails into your ecosystem to keep the pond vital and minimize algae. Koi should be fed as much as they can eat in a five minute span twice a day. Their appetite will vary seasonally, decreasing with colder weather and increasing when the weather warms. Commercial koi food and spirulina (an algae that enhances the red color in the fish) are readily available at aquatic pet stores.
Like a fish tank, a koi pond will require regular cleaning and maintenance. Uneaten food collects at the bottom of the pond and, as it decays, produces chemicals that are toxic to the koi. Skimming uneaten food off the surface after five minutes or so is one way to minimize this waste. Draining about ten percent of the water from the pond and replacing it regularly can also minimize this. The water you drain from the pond is rich fertilizer for your house and garden plants.
Cats, raccoons, ducks and turtles are predators of your koi. Incorporate hiding places for the koi into your pond. Resist the urge to toss pennies or coins into your pond as if it were a wishing well. The coins are toxic to the fish. Chlorinated water is also very hazardous and must be neutralized before being added to your pond. Koi are very hardy, provided the pond environment is stable and healthy. Illnesses are rare and can be treated easily. If a koi does appear ill, (sluggish, swimming alone, hugging the bottom of the pond), place it in a separate tank until treated. Medications for common fish diseases are available at aquatic pet stores.
In the spring, when the water reaches temperatures of sixty degrees or more, mature koi will spawn. They attach the eggs to plant matter. You can place a new rag mop head in the water for this purpose. The eggs should be separated from the pond for hatching because both eggs and hatchlings will be in jeopardy of becoming a snack for the established fish.
To maximize your chances of creating a successful koi pond, join a koi club and benefit from the experiences of others in setting up an ecologically sound pond. Once your pond is completed, you will discover the pleasures of the peaceful green setting, the music of the waterfall and the beauty of the koi. Koi will respond to the vibrations of tapping the pond's edge or walking around the pond. Often they will follow people strolling past. And since koi live for a long time, you will enjoy their company for years to come. This concludes our series on koi.For more information on koi, please read Koi Living Works of Art.
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