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NFC: Outdoor Ponds.......

Backyard Ponds
Konrad Schmidt
(American Currents: June 1986)
I have always been fascinated by the amount of life that strives in and
around a pond such as blooming wildflowers, singing birds, croaking
frogs, and of course fish. Unfortunately, I have always had to visit a
park or travel into the country to find a pond because I lived in a city.
The thought of building my own pond never crossed my mind until I met Don
Richmond who worked at the same pet store I did, appropriately called
Finny Critters. 

Don had already been in the hobby for several years and had pursued a
side interest of keeping a pond during the summers. This seemed like a
very interesting idea and I wanted to learn more so I badgered Don to
give me a tour. I was surprised to find out how simply he had made his
pond and still managed to get very impressive results. The pond had a
maximum width of about five feet and had a very irregular shape that
created many bays. The bottom was lined with a sheet of black plastic and
contoured to produce shallow bars and slightly deeper basins. The basins
were filled with a couple of inches of gravel to anchor aquatic plants.
At one end there was a cascading waterfall that was operated by an old
parts washer pump that Don had found at a junkyard. 

Don originally stocked his pond with tropical fish, but later added
several native species. The most visible fishes were the livebearers and
some killifish that were always active and remained within a few inches
of the surface. However, several other fishes would make brief
appearances when it was feeding time. Don's primary interest was in fish,
but he spent a great deal of time on other aspects to make the pond look
as natural as possible. He collected several species of aquatic plants to
landscape the inside of the pond. The plants had no problem adapting to
the artificial environment and really flourished by mid-summer. He also
landscaped the pond's outer edge with bog plants that really added a
convincing touch. He tried releasing frogs in the pond, but most became
disenchanted and hopped away. However, he did find one species called the
green frog that did stay and had a very unusual croak that I will never
forget. Don received an extra bonus from his pond that he never expected.
Several species of songbirds that he never noticed in his yard before
were attracted to the pond and visited it frequently. 

After seeing Don's success with his pond I decided to also give it a try
and finally got around to it last summer. I used many of Don's ideas and
made up a few of my own that resulted in even a simpler pond. I bought a
small, circular wading pool and sunk it into the ground. I used a large
air stone and silent giant pump to provided circulation that with a
little imagination resembled a natural upwelling spring. I bordered the
pool with boulders and seeded the surrounding area with garden flowers. I
remember how barren and unnatural it looked in those first few days, but
in about a month the flowers were beginning to blossom and lean over the
water hiding the pool's edge and giving it a more natural shape. I
primarily used the pond as an overflow tank because I sometimes collect
more fish than I have room for in my aquariums. I also exiled some
problem fishes such as Texas cichlids to spend the summer outside. I
threw many fishes into the pond over the summer, but the banded killifish
and minnows tended to be the most visible. Some species such as Johnny
darters and tadpole madtoms were not seen again until I drained the pond
in October.

Don and I both derived a great deal of enjoyment from our ponds that
cannot be conveyed in words. I strongly encourage anyone that has a spare
corner in their yard to give the idea some consideration. I can also
recommend a free pamphlet titled: A Pool for the Backyard that provides
information on a variety of designs to enable the individual to select
one that will best suit his needs. The pamphlet is available from the
following address:

National Wildlife Federation
1412 16th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
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