Monday, June 1, 2009

Pond Passion

Stephanie showing me how the fish in her pond like to "kiss" her finger

It started small.

In fact, it wasn't really a pond at all; it was a pot with water.

To Stephanie, however, it was pond, which explains why she decided to add fish and plants to the fiberglass pot that her friend gave her.

It worked beautifully! For two weeks. And then the fish were gulping for air.

And thus began Stephanie's adventure with backyard water experiments.

She frantically set up a real pond to save her fish, which entailed digging a hole for a 60-gallon pond and installing a pump. This lovely pond boasted rocks, plants, and even a water lily--alongside the fish she managed to save from her first experiment with the pot.

Then the raccoons came and she realized that fish are too easy of a target when they are in a 60-gallon pond. The raccoons killed 1-2 fish a day. Stephanie began digging again, this time trying to create a hole large enough for a 100-gallon pond.

Around this time, her doctor diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis, and digging her pond became her way to battle her diagnosis and to prove to herself that she could still accomplish everything she set out to do.

After she successfully installed a 100-gallon pond, she realized the raccoons could still get in, and one of her fish--Smarty--could easily get out. He would do "acrobatic tricks" and land outside the pond. Miraculously, Stephanie managed to find him three times and throw him back in before it was too late.

Then she undertook a 3-month long project to enlarge her pond to accommodate 800 gallons of water. No, that is not a typo. She really dug a hole in her backyard to hold 800 gallons. Her friends joked, "Why not just make it a swimming pool?"

For Stephanie, a pond "pulls you into your backyard" and makes you "interact with your yard more." She describes a backyard pond as "refreshing and cooling." She says, "life finds your garden."

Stephanie also bought a rental property in The Heights with a pond, and, during our interview, she called over there to see if we could stop by for a tour. When the woman didn't answer, Stephanie left a message and continued gushing about the benefits of having a backyard pond. A few minutes later, the tenant called back and said, "I'm sorry I didn't pick up the phone; I was in the backyard sitting by the pond."

Backyard pond at Stephanie's rental property

If you're interested in creating your own backyard oasis, consider these tips from Stephanie:
  1. Read information about how to set up a pond before starting. All the books pretty much say the same thing, so read up about the basics of creating a pond. You could even reserve one from the Houston Public Library and have it sent to the Heights Branch like we talked about last week.
  2. Don't start with fish. Give your pond a chance to settle and get acclimated. Fish add an element of difficulty, since the water has to be conditioned before it's suitable for fish.
  3. Start bigger than you think. That way, you won't have to constantly upgrade your pond and dig bigger and bigger holes. Stephanie's convinced that once you start with a backyard pond, you'll quickly become addicted to the "wildlife eco-system" in your backyard.
  4. Buy a quality liner. Avoid pond liners that have different pieces glued together. You want to avoid leaks!
  5. Make a plan and commit to getting it done in a weekend. The longer you stretch out digging your hole, the more difficult it will be.
  6. Make friends with the folks at Nelson Water Gardens and Nursery. They offer everything you need to get your pond up and running, and they're very helpful!
  7. Put in a bog for natural filtration. A bog is basically a natural filtration system made from gravel, rocks, and flowing water. The plants and gravel purify the water as it come up into the bog and flows back out into your pond.
I'm pretty convinced that my husband and I should take the plunge and build a backyard pond (or maybe a creek?). All of the potential downsides that Stephanie mentioned (potentially dangerous for small children or dogs and about $20-$30 extra bucks a month in electricity bills) don't seem bad at all. And Stephanie assures me that it's easy to keep the raccoons away by making sure not to leave out any cat food.

Frankly, I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed by all the home improvement projects on our docket (and we bought a house that had been recently renovated!). Maybe a prioritized list will help:
  1. Finish fence
  2. Close off bottom of house so bloodhound cannot shimmy himself under the house and escape out the other side
  3. Reupholster two chairs
  4. Buy a used leather couch to help us better manage the dog hair and bloodhound slobber
  5. Stain or paint our front porch
  6. Redo front path (by resetting the flagstone and filling in the spaces with gray rocks)
  7. Build an herb garden
  8. Build raised beds for a vegetable garden
  9. Plant stuff between the street and the sidewalk (and build a little path through it)
  10. Landscape our entire backyard. Oy vey. It's a perfect canvass, but I have very few ideas. Anyone want to volunteer to help me come up with a vision (or earn Time Dollars through the Heights Time Bank)?
My big, blank backyard in desperate need of some vision

Aaahhh! I just need to remind myself that a home is a work in progress. It's about the journey, not the destination--right?

Maybe staring at a pond in my own backyard might help me relax...


  1. One of my neighbors lost all of his fish after Ike with the power outage. When I heard my other neighbor had fish who were struggling, we took a bicycle pump to the pond and pumped it several times a day. It wasn't enough air to keep them happy, but enough to keep them alive until the electricity returned.

  2. I loved my pond, at my former house in the Heights. The only thing I'd add is to try not to build it too close to your bedroom. Reason: the toads will come and mate in it very loudly. Very, Very Loudly, and for long but unpredictable spans of time. The bonus is that the toads will grow up to eat mosquitos.
    Also, make sure to think of safety for young children-- yours, any visitors, those wandering by. Have a fence that latches securely at a minimum.

  3. Interesting blog having stories in its self. About ponds I know one thing that Application on Pond Liners can make any pond repair and prevent leaks and add life to pond.

  4. It is a great post and now size of pond is not a hurdle in maintenance. Koi Pond Repair has made it convenient to look after pond for everyone.