Predators?

I’ve been doing a bit of reading on some pond forums and have read stories of people’s ponds being targeted by mink over the winter months.  As a matter of fact, one of my client’s ponds was totally cleared out over winter by a mink.  They are small crafty little buggers in the weasel family.  I just thought that I would let everyone know that it may be a good idea to check around your pond for tracks just to be sure that you don’t find your pond empty in spring.

The American Mink will clean out your pond if given the chance.

Mink are powerful swimmers and aggresive eaters.

When this happened to my client last year there pond was entirely cleared of life.  They probably had 15-20 koi and goldfish in fall, but in spring, nothing.  I was there doing the clean-out and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I found one fin at the base of the waterfall, that is it!!!  No scales, no dead fish or frogs, no live frogs, nothin’.  I will say that I have never seen a pond so void of life in the spring.  Talk about awful, I felt terrible for the owners.

Evidently they had seen some tracks in the snow, but didn’t think too much of it.  The mink must have gotten in through the hole in the ice where their winter pump was.

While I’m on the topic, let’s talk a bit more about predators.  I’m sure that different areas of the country have different predators, but here in Wisconsin one of the most dreaded pond visitors is the Great Blue Heron.  These birds are fishing machines!  They are quite simply built to catch fish.

Great Blue Heron are fish eating machines!

That’s not to say that they won’t also take their share of frogs, but I believe they prefer the fish.  Not just any fish either, it seems that they usually catch the biggest prettiest one or the one that your kids just named.

Before I owned my pond, I assumed that these huge migratory birds just flew into the pond and started to feed.  Well, I was wrong about that.  I guess that flying in like that would scare the prey.  I’ve seen these birds land on the other side of my yard, walk across the driveway and ever so slowly creep up to the edge of the pond.  Very sneaky!  They get themselves in place to strike without the fish even knowing that they are there.  In our area, these birds have taken more unsuspecting pond fish than any other predator that I know of.  They will even spear a fish that is too big to eat and just leave it to die on the shore.  This was the fate of my beautiful powder blue butterfly Koi.  So sad.

The only other predator that I have heard of eating our pretty little pond fish are the Raccoons.  I personally have never seen one at my pond, but I know people who have seen them going after The common Raccoon has been known to snag a fish or two.their fish.  I’ve only heard of them swatting at the fish from the pond edge, but I would guess that they might swim after them too.  I have seen some fish with scars across their sides, presumably caused by a close call with a Raccoon.  I guess that those would be the lucky ones.

As far as preventing these predators from getting to your fish, there are a few options, but none of them are very effective.  I always install a fish cave into every pond to give the fish a place to hide, but this doesn’t help if they don’t know the Heron is there or if a Mink gets into the pond.  A device called the scarecrow is a fairly effective deterrent for the Heron.  This is a motion activated lawn sprinkler that will give the bird a spray if it detects motion.  This will scare the Heron away, but these units are well known for spraying as many pond owners and pond maintenance guys as they are for spraying predators.  Another option is pond netting, which will deter the Herons and possibly the Raccoon, but I doubt it would slow down a Mink.  Trapping is always an option, but the Great Blue Heron is protected under the migratory bird act so you definitely don’t want to catch one of those.  Also, depending where you live, you may have a never ending supply of racoon in your traps as these little guys are usually quite plentiful.

One of the best and possibly easiest deterrents may be the family pet.  The more time your family dog spends pond-side, the less attractive your pond will look to any predator looking for an easy meal.

We’ll go into this more in the future.  Until then, happy pondering and stay warm.

Doug Hurth

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Pond Basics

O.K., lets get started.  I’ve got a lot of information to convey and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to organize it all.  I think that it would be a good idea to get started with some basics.

This blog is meant to convey real world information regarding pond installation and maintenance.  When I refer to a pond, I mean a naturally balanced ecosystem pond.  This is a pond that by necessity has a controlled body of water that is circulated and biologically filtered.  Many people refer to these as water gardens.  I guess that the title water garden comes from the fact that to be balanced and successful, these ponds need to have aquatic plants growing in them.  However you refer to them, they all need to have similar attributes to make them naturally balanced.  Typically a water garden will be lined with rubber, rocks and gravel.  It will have a waterfall on one side and a pump on the opposite side.  It will be constructed in such a way as to allow aquatic plants to grow and thrive and the water will be treated using bacteria and enzymes.

Looking across my ponds.

Two ponds connected by a swim channel.

These ponds can be very large or very small, depending on your wants and needs.  They are usually fairly shallow, and are usually constructed in a stepped fashion versus the old cereal bowl shape.  The people that have ponds will be the first to tell you that they are the center point of their yard.  The pond is the natural beauty of the yard that all life revolves around, whether it is you, your family and friends or simply the wildlife that frequents your yard.  The pond is where you will want to hold your parties and where you will come on those peaceful summer nights to have a cool drink and contemplate life.  There is no other type of landscape improvement that will bring as much beauty and life to your yard.  Humans need water to survive and we are naturally drawn to the sights and sounds of falling water.  You know as well as I do that you can’t walk past a running stream or waterfall with out walking close enough to catch a glimpse of it.  We are drawn to water and we can bring this fountain of beauty and joy into our backyards with a little hard work and a few bucks.

I want to let you know right now that this is not a perfect science.  There are not hard and fast answers to every question.  We are trying to create a natural beauty.  We need to work with Mother Nature, not against her.  Working against nature is a sure way to fail in your water garden endeavor.  Working with nature, and watching and learning from nature, we can create a very natural water feature that is very low maintenance.  Because we are working with nature, there are no perfect answers.  Nature flows and changes daily.  We are not creating a swimming pool where we test the water and dump in the correct measure of chemicals to sterilize the water.  We will never need chemicals, but we will need patience.  Nature grows and flows and we need to allow our ponds to grow and mature naturally to get the most benefit from them.

You will undoubtedly read many other opinions about the correct way to do this or that with your water garden.  Because we are dealing with nature, there are many ways to approach this.  I am going to give you the most simple straight forward truths as I know them.  I’ve been doing this for a long time, have made many mistakes and am continually learning from my mistakes.  I am not promoting any specific brand of product; I think that you can choose your products from what you have available to you.  Maybe you have a supplier nearby and would like to purchase a pre-assembled kit.  That is fine; I will supply you with what you need to know to be successful with your kit.  Maybe you would like to buy as little as possible and make your pond as customized and personally unique as possible.  I will guide you through that as well.  There will be plenty of people who will swear that their way is the only way and that if you don’t buy their products, you will fail.  This is certainly not true.  If you have been doing this for a while, have installed and maintained ponds in the past and have a system that works for you, them by all means, do it your way.  If it aint broke, don’t fix it!  I’ll give it to you straight from years of experience and I don’t mind criticism.  I’m telling you the best way that I have found over the past ten years in the industry.  I am not a pond builder that lets others do all of the work, I am one who is out in the field doing it myself along with the crew.  I am not speaking from heresy, I am speaking from experience.

I am not a scientist, but as we get more and more into this blog I will do my best to explain the whole circle of life that is involved in the balance of a pond or water garden.  For right now, we only need to understand the basics.

1. You need to control the body of water.  This means that you don’t want a lot of water to be running out of or into your pond.  Either of these will cause you problems.  All water contains nutrients, and the more water that you need to add to your pond due to leaking or the more water that runs into your pond due to run-off, the more nutrients that you are adding to your pond.  More nutrients entering your pond will mean more fertilizer for the algae.  More fertilizer for the algae will mean more headaches.

2.  You need a lot of surface area in the filters and bottom of your pond.  More surface area equals more spaces for bacteria to thrive and flourish.  In short, more bacteria will mean fewer headaches.

3.  You need to circulate and aerate your water.  Water with high oxygen content can support more bacteria, and again more bacteria, less headaches.

4.  You need some way to compete with the algae other than chemicals.  Any pond or water feature that you build will grow algae.  That is a fact.  The algae will be there whether we want it or not.  Our job is to give the pond enough tools to combat the algae.  This is where the aquatic plants come in.  Basically, the more beneficial aquatic plants that we can get to grow in our ponds, the more nutrients that those plants will be absorbing.  The more nutrients that these plants can absorb will mean that there will be fewer nutrients available for the algae to live on.  We need to starve out the algae.  It is plain and simple, there is no magic potion.

5.  You will need to have some bottom feeding fish in your pond.  Koi and goldfish are the usual choices for these ponds simply because they are easy to keep, pretty to look at and they will eat the algae.  They will help keep our ponds clean and beautiful if we let them.

These are the basics.  I could go on for hours and hours, but for now, we must underderstand the basics.  I will leave you with one last thought for today.  If you do not want to cooperate with nature, if you do not have patience to let your pond grow and mature, if you want to see all algae in your pond die today, then you need chemicals.  There are many, many pond owners who swear by chemicals, and if you use chemicals, you don’t need plants, bacteria, rocks, flowing water, balance or anything.  You just need to keep buying and adding chemicals for the life of your pond.  With a little patience and understanding, you can have a pond that takes care of itself.  You need to choose nature or chemicals and stick with it.  You can’t go back and forth.  It never works.

Until next time, keep pondering!

Posted in Ponds by Doug. 2 Comments

New Blog

Hi All,

I’m Doug Hurth and I’m starting this blog to provide a source of professional pond and waterfall information to all of you pond and waterfall enthusiasts out there.  This industry is full of all sorts of information ranging from downright wrong and bad to excellent and helpful.  I’ll be posting all that I know to be true regarding the pond and waterfall industry.  I will remain as truthful an honest as possible.  My goal is that this page will be a resource for anyone who may be interested in building a pond and waterfall.  I’ve been building ponds since 1998 and I’ve been in the landscape industry since 1987, so I’ve got plenty of real world experience.  Please feel free to comment, debate, correct or clarify anything that I post.  We can all learn from someone.

The House on The Rock Japanese Garden

Here's a project that we built in 2008

Posted in Uncategorized by Doug. 4 Comments