Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2014

Pondering on Lombardy Road

By Michele Foerst

Our pond story begins last summer, when we purchased our new home on Lombardy Road.  My old home had a small, preshaped plastic pond dug into the ground; I wasn’t the one who installed it originally, but I enjoyed it so much over the years that you can bet we took it — and our 12 goldfish — with us when we moved!

At the new house, I was on a time-crunch to get the fishies into the ground so they would have a place to spend the winter.  For the months of June, July, and August, they were hanging out in a waterproof whiskey barrel on the back patio while we plotted, planned, and built their new home.

You see, goldfish are a cold water species.  During the winter, they go into a hibernation of sorts and hang out at the bottom of the pond (that means no feeding them during this time!).  The pond itself can ice over, but so long as it doesn’t freeze solid and you keep a hole open somewhere in the ice so the water can breathe, the goldfish will usually survive.  Since I knew the temporary whiskey barrel would freeze solid over winter, we had to get something more permanent into the ground before winter settled in.

To use the backyard slope to our advantage, the design we settled on was a series of smaller pools connected by waterfalls.  The top portion is a bog filter — about 12 inches deep — filled with pea gravel and water-loving plants, whose roots act as a filter to clean the water as it passes through.  From the bog, there is a short waterfall into the “middle pond,” which is about 500 gallons.  Right now, the middle pond holds some plants around the edges, a few water lilies, and some snails (nature’s vacuum cleaners!), but we plan on adding more goldfish this year.  From there, a second waterfall carries water into the lower pond, the preshaped shell I brought over from the old house.  It is around 125 gallons and holds the fish and the pump that recirculates the water.  The pump carries the water via some tubing, deposits it into the bog, and the water cycles through the pond series over and over.

The finished pond last year (right) and this year (below).

For the initial build, we tried to use a lot of what we already had on hand and it was a complete DIY project.  We already had a sizable collection of rocks, all that was needed was a rubber liner (for the bog and middle pond) and a pump to circulate the water between the three ponds.  And of course, lots of plants!  To minimize digging in our Maryland clay, we chose to build up the edges around the bog and middle pond, which allowed for some raised flower beds all around.  Since my yard has a slope away from the house, raising up the whole thing allowed us to keep it level while still looking nice.  When working with water, keeping it level counts because water will flow down to the lowest point and spill out if you don’t properly level the edges.

For the most part, the pond takes care of itself.  You don’t have to feed the fish (this way, they eat mosquito larva and algae in the pond) but they certainly appreciate a treat every now and again!  In the fall, we use a pool net to scoop out any leaves that may otherwise sink to the bottom, rot over the winter, and poison the water.  In the winter, the pump and tubing are removed and replaced with a tiny heater whose only purpose is to keep a hole open in the ice to keep bad gases from building up.

In the spring, the pump and tubing are put back in, and we occasionally have had to scoop out any string algae that forms along the sides while the pond plants are just waking up.  Once the bog and pond plants are fully growing, they will absorb the excess nutrients from the water and starve the algae out.  We also have to keep the pond topped off.  Water evaporates due to the waterfalls and the warmer temperatures, but it is maybe 10 gallons a week if there is no rainfall.  I also occasionally test the water to make sure it remains safe for the fish and, to date, we haven’t had any problems (knock on driftwood!).

The pond in 2014.

Our fish all survived this positively horrible and long winter!  As I write this, I have a resident toad serenading me and, during the day, the birds love to drink and bathe in the bog and waterfalls.  Living on the edge of the forest, predators are a concern.  Until we make the lower pond larger next year, we have it covered with wire netting to deter any predators (raccoons, foxes, etc.).  It is definitely not predator-proof but, so far, we have had minimal losses.

The thing about ponding is, you always want to tweak and improve it!  This year, we plan on redoing the edges of the bog and middle pond to make it more natural.  This will involve buying a few pallets of flat rocks and is why, in this year’s photo, you can see the liner around the bog and middle pond has been pulled out and sticks up, in preparation for the upgrade).  Next year, we will expand the lower pond to make it larger and more predator-proof.

If you are interested in putting in a pond and want some advice, or you have a pond and want to trade stories or plants, please feel free to reach me at [contact information redacted].   ■

   © 2014 NFCCA  [Source:]