By Dayleen Van Ryswyk aka “The Koi Lady”
When it comes to pond maintenance, cleaning the muck out of the bottom of the pond isn’t usually a fun job. If you have good, properly sized filtration and you maintain it on a regular basis, you shouldn’t have too much in the way of gunk. Whether you want to call it debris, muck, pond sludge, gunk or sediment, it’s all the same stuff. It’s the stuff nobody wants in their pond and it serves no good purpose to ponding. It is basically decaying plant matter, fish waste and soil from tipped over pond plants. If left in the pond, it contributes to your organic load and that, you don’t want. If left until it gets thick, it goes anaerobic and creates hydrogen sulfide gases which it very bad. You know, that rotten egg smell you get when you stir it up.
Rock bottom ponds tend to harbor a lot of debris because it just isn’t easy to get it out from between the rocks. Everything that goes into the pond pretty much goes down, down to the bottom and between all the rocks. This is exactly the reason I’m not fond of rock lined ponds that have fish in them, especially Koi. They typically are a maintenance nightmare, if not the first season, then shortly thereafter. After all, this is a pond and not an aquarium. Try using an aquarium gravel vacuum in here.
There are some products on the market that can help with this issue. I’m not paid by any of the following companies to endorse their products. I’m only telling you about my experiences with different products that I personally use or have used in my ponds. There is nothing scientific about my opinions other than good old “using them in the real world” in ponds outside of varying sizes with varying fish loads. The following is my opinion on these products and how they performed on “my” 9 ponds.
Since this article is in a spring issue, we’ll start with spring products. My usual spring regime is to clean any fallen leaves out of the pond, basically tidy it up and get my filters running again. The product that I add to my pond to help with my clean up/start up is Spring/Summer Cleaner by Microbe-Lift or Bioverse Aquasphere Pro and Blast packets. It’s a natural enzyme designed for cooler spring water that breaks down leaves and debris. I kind of think of these products as the cleanup crew for the pond. They in a way, eat up the stuff you can’t get or slipped through your net when trying to get it out. Not only do they help clean up debris (this doesn’t mean you should leave your pond full of junk either) but they help your filters work more efficiently, they improve oxygen levels in the pond because the organic load is reduced. This particular product also has biological bacteria in the bottle that helps jump start the good bacteria in your filters, thus getting the pond off to a healthy start faster.
Sometimes when I have opened up my pond for the season and gotten it all tidied up I still have a thin layer of debris I couldn’t reach or get out. Usually within 3 weeks of using the Aquasphere's and Blast packets or Spring/Summer Cleaner, I can read the writing on the side of my liner. No kidding, it works that well. I have customers ask me all the time if I vacuum my ponds and I have to tell them that I don’t, I use Bioverse Aquasphere's and Blast or Microbe-Lift. For people with rock lined ponds, Microbe-Lift has a more concentrated formula for you. It’s designed to work between the cracks and crevices created by the rocks and gravel. The product is aptly called Sludge Away. I have used a lot of different products in the Microbe-Lift line up and have very been happy with the results of the ones I have used. I wouldn’t hesitate to try any product in their lineup. The Aquasphere's and Blast are relatively new (2 years now) but I'm beyond impressed with both. What's especially nice is the Aquasphere's are only added monthly and the Blast packs weekly for 5 weeks, then as needed. Personally. i add them every week. Why let a problem develop and then fight it into submission! As with anything though, you need to use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions AND you really need to accurately know the volume of your pond to dose any product correctly.
In the summer time we use the same product from Bioverse. The Microbe-Lift changes to their PL or HC blend.. The nice thing about the warmer water is there are more manufacturers to choose from that make summer treatments. Again, I would recommend a Microbe-Lift product like one called PL or HC if you have a lake size pond.Bioverse Aquasphere's come in sizes up to 500,000 Gallons and Blast in packs that each treat over 80,000 Gallons. Another brand that we use here is made by Tetra and its called Sludge Reducer. This particular product is powdered as opposed to the liquid of the Microbe-Lift. I also find that the Tetra product seems to go farther, as in; it treats more gallons in an average size pond, than Microbe-Lift. Now I’m not sure that it works as fast as the Microbe-Lift but it does work very well and we are pleased with its results.
Another product line that we use and have great success with is the Laguna line by Hagen. We use here on a regular basis the Bio Sludge Control and the Phosphate Control. The name Bio Sludge control is self explanatory but what you may not know is that the bacteria and enzymes in the product not only help your water but they help the fish with digestion as well. Apparently, the bacteria and enzymes boost the fish’s digestive enzymes in a similar way as yogurt supports enzymes in our own digestive tracts…who knew!
For the last few years we have had one pond on our property that was a magnet for string algae. Last summer we decided to try something new, maybe (hopefully) make some kind of impact on the amount of it. I wasn’t looking for total annihilation as that’s unrealistic but when you can pull it out by the bucket load everyday and it seems like you can actually see it grow. When it goes from nothing much to 4’ long in a few days, something needs to change. What we decided to try was Bioverse Aquasphere's and Blast religiously..as in..not forgetting. That and Barley, either liquid or pellets in bags in the waterfall. The reason I picked these two different items was this.Barley has been used for years to inhibit string algae growth. I chose the liquid concentrate because of the things barley has to do to work. Barley tends to turn your water a little brown or tea coloured, I don’t like that. Also, barley needs to de-compose to work and I don’t want a rotting mass of mess in my pond. The pellets are by far less messy and don't smell.The liquid version solves all these issues and it instantly goes to work unlike the whole barley bale.
I used both products together, every week for a month and had no algae. That seemed successful so as usual, i got complaceant and forgot a few weeks..well..it came back..but..I started my regime again and it was a distant memory the rest of the summer, it’s easier to keep it away than it is to try and get it back in shape. This spring I will get working on it early before there’s a problem and I’ll make sure I stick to my schedule!
Laguna has a great line of products to help you with your pond problems. They have barley but in pellet form that you put in a mesh bag. It isn’t as messy as barley bales. They have the liquid Phosphate Control but they also have it in bags in granular form, making it easy to drop in a skimmer. It’s called Phos-X and having it in bags helps people like me who forget to add something on a specific day. It’s already there working even if you forget about it. Higher PH tends to grow more algae as well, so adding their peat granules or liquid peat helps to safely lower it a bit.
A product that was featured at our Water Garden weekend seminar is also made by Laguna. It’s called Pond Clean. I hadn’t had any experience with this particular product until this event. It helps with cleaning the pond of debris but it also helps clear the slimy stuff the rocks on your waterfall seem to grow. I found that the product didn’t seem to do a whole lot the first few doses but after the 3rd treatment I was walking by the test pond and noticed that the water was quite clear and the stringy slimy algae was gone. I’m told by Laguna that they have made a larger size available for this year, great for us ponders with large ponds or more than one pond.
Now, I’m not exactly a lazy ponder but having said that, I’m not big on doing more than I have too. I own a water garden centre, I have a busy family and I build ponds for a living. To be perfectly honest, I don’t have time to fool around with things that don’t work. Hence the reason I have properly sized filtration on my ponds. It isn’t just a necessity but it makes my life easier by spending less time maintaining things. I don’t usually have to vacuum my ponds but we do quite often have to clean out plant holding ponds. It never ceases to amaze me how much dirt and muck can end up in the bottom of one of these. To vacuum these out I have used several different makes and models and this is my thoughts on the ones I’ve used.
I absolutely love the Odyssey Muck Vac. It hooks up to your garden hose and works by venture action. I find that it sucks up gravel and sludge like nobody’s business. The down side to this vacuum is the fact that you absolutely must have over 50 psi on your garden hose for it to work well. We have lots of pressure and the vac works amazingly. However for people on the lower end of water pressure, it either doesn’t work well or not at all.
An actual pond vacuum that plugs in solves water pressure issues but even these vacuums have their challenges. Oase makes 2 good vacuums worth mentioning. The Pondvac 2 (now called Pondomatic) and the newer Pondvac 3. The Pondvac 2 is similar to a shop vac except for one very nice feature; it drains its self when it’s full and then starts up again. Anyone that has ever tried to use a shop vac on their pond knows they fill in seconds and need constant attention. Both Oase vacuums come with several attachments for different applications. I use the #vac here and actually prefer it over the newer Pondvac 3. When the new one came out I must admit I was very excited to get my hands on one. After all, the manufacturer claimed this new vac could not only drain its self but it could do it while you were still vacuuming. Well…sign me up for one of these, I got my new #3 and started vacuuming. To me it didn’t seem to be able to suck and drain very well at the same time, it seemed to lose suction. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t very happy with it and was less happy that it cost twice as much as the older #2. Some people really love the newer #3 but this was my experience with it. Whichever brand you choose, don’t expect it to be easy. It’s a lot of work vacuuming out your pond, especially if it’s deep or large.
I know you don’t want to think about fall treatments at the beginning of the season but since we’re on the subject already, we may as well touch on it. In the fall the product that I recommend hands down is Microbe-Lift Autumn/Winter Prep. This product is formulated for cold water and is one of the only products on the market that is still actively working even under ice. It’s similar in nature to the spring/summer one but comes with super concentrated water soluble pouches (as well as the liquid) that you toss in as per the instructions. This helps digest debris, improve oxygen levels and help keep your water balanced over winter. I strongly believe that if your fish go into winter healthy and are in healthy water, they will come out of winter in great shape. I think it’s an inexpensive way to help your fish survive the cold and if it lessens your spring clean up…all the better!
With any product or treatment, it is critical to its success that you accurately dose the product. You can only do that if you know the volume of your pond water. Guessing can be dangerous for your fish and not give you the results you desire on the product you’re using. We use a flow meter when filling a pond for the first time so we know every gallon that’s in there. Baring that, break your pond down into sections and measuring each section then total the figures to get as close as possible to accurate as you can get. Length X width X depth X 7.5 = US gallons (X 6.25 = Imperial gallons) Most treatments come with instructions for US gallons eg: 10’ wide X 12’ long X 4’ deep = 3600 US gallons.
*** UP-DATE...This article was written for a magazine and unfortunatly I wasn't allowed to tell you about the product we love for string algae because it isn't a string algae product (illegal in Canada) it just so happens to kick the crap out of the stuff. It's called D-SOLV and we LOVE IT!!!
*UPDATE* You need to ask us about what we are using for 2013..we are officially algae free..ask me how!