Spring has arrived, but is your pond ready?
by Dayleen Van Ryswyk aka "The Koi Lady"
Springtime is probably the most challenging time for your pond fish. Temperatures are usually swinging pretty wildly, and it's that stress, that is the hardest on your fish. There's nothing more heartbreaking, than getting your fish to survive over winter, just to have them get sick, or die once the ice is gone.
Here is my tried and true check list, for a successful spring start-up. We will of course assume, that you did your winter shut down correctly
1) As soon as the ice is gone from the pond (not in February, but in spring) carefully, and slowly, lower a pump into the pond bottom. We don't want to scare the fish, so make all your movements as quiet and slow as you can. You can speak to them softly, so not to startle them. Don't worry if the neighbor thinks you're nuts, all Koi people talk to their fish
You want to remove about 20% - 25% of the pond water. Taking it from the bottom, helps get rid of some of the waste made over winter.
2) When you top the pond back up, use a dechlorinator. We prefer one that also removes chloramines. We got caught a few years back, when our water provider changed from chlorine to chloramine. Our Koi immediately started acting strange, piping at the surface at a 45 degree angle. We quickly located a bottle of dechlorinator that did both, and the Koi responded favourably, right away. We actually don't sell dechlorinators that don't do double duty, why bother? DON'T put the garden hose in the water. Rather, let it splash from the top. We don't want to stir up the water, or make too much current.
3) Once the fish are moving around, and the weather seems to be warming, you can hook up your filtration. This is critical, so please pay attention. Only start your filtration up, if you can do so, without disturbing the water too much. If your waterfall is rapid or your pump draws from the bottom, then don't do it. This is singly the biggest mistake people make. This mistake will cost you fish!
Why is this so critical? It's critical, because your fish's immunity is still compromised from winter. If you start churning up the pond too early, they don't have the strength to fight off bad bacteria and parasites that are already in full swing. Gentle, is the name of the game!
You can hang your pump from the side of the pond, no deeper than 1-2 feet. Bring the hose up to the filter, and return the water via a hose to the top of the pond. Not down a waterfall where that will cool the water off. This is also the perfect time to add your spring treatments, such as; MicrobeLift Spring Summer cleaner or our personal favorite (we speceial order these in) PondForce Cold Water Block's. Incidentally, we use these blocks ALL season, as they're effective in all temperature ranges.
4) Salt you water. Why do we salt fish ponds in the spring? The reason is very simple. Most fish parasites are susceptible to salt in the water. As soon as the water warms, even slightly, the parasites get moving. So while your fish are stressed from winter and laying on the bottom, they are getting chewed on by bugs. Not only that, but the bad bacteria that resides in every body of water, are also getting active. So while the parasites are nibbling, they are opening up the mucus coat on your fish. That's bad, because the mucus coat is your fish's protector against the bad stuff. That's how and why your fish get ulcers and Dropsy. Dropsy is a bacterial infection, usually brought on by parasites. They bloat up and resemble a pinecone. Salt helps with this, in several ways. 1) Salt kills off the bad bugs. 2) Salt kills off the bad bacteria. 3) Salt helps your fish through stressful situations, like temperature fluctuations.
What kind of salt will do? The salt needs to be pure, no YPS (yellow prussiate of soda) and no resins. Some water softener salts are okay, but you really need to be sure. You can usually Google the MSDS sheet and see the ingredients there. If you're not sure, call us first. We can tell you what we are using and we usually have some in stock. (We are using Windsor Pool salt, its 100% pure BUT their water softener salt has resins and is toxic..DO NOT USE IT!) Read that bag..very carefully..then read it again! Be sure
Dosing the salt. You need 3 pounds of salt to every 100 US gallons of pond water. See our calculator on the home page. Please, take the time to be accurate! Measure the pond, don't guess dimensions!
The formula is �length X width X depth X 7.5 = US gallons. So a pond 10 feet by 12 feet by 3 feet deep is (10'X12'X3'X7.5=2700 US gal) Adding the salt isn't complicated. Just dump it in. It will dissolve on its own; just don't dump it where the fish are laying. If they lay in it, it can burn their bellies, and we don't want that.
Bring us a water sample, and we can use our salt meter to test your level for you. We also sell digital salt meters, if you would like to get one. Well worth the money!
5) When should you feed your fish? This is the other biggest mistake you can make, and it will also cost you fish, if you do it wrong. Never feed your fish before the water temperature is 50F degrees or 10C degrees. Their best first food is algae! Algae provide all the good stuff they need to be healthy, and fight off disease. Not only that, but algae usually grows over winter, so there's usually an overabundance in the pond once the ice is off. Once the algae is chewed back, and the fish are active, (and over 50F or 10C) then you can give a small amount of wheat germ Koi food. Why wheat germ? Because it's a plant based carbohydrate, and is easiest on their system in spring. Plus, they can't yet assimilate high protein, animal based foods, because their digestive enzymes are still cold and slow. Not following this advice, you may see fish bloated with Dropsy, or just dying. Note; don't start feeding your fish, if you haven't started their filtration.
Feed small amounts, every other day. This is where "less" is more.
6) You can start up your filtration as normal, once the water temps are over 55F-60F (12C-15C) and you can change your feed to summer food once OVER 60F (15C) which is usually mid to end of May in Canada. If in doubt, call us and see if we are feeding, or what we are feeding.
7) NEVER drain the pond, put the fish in tubs and power wash the pond out..EVER!
Only do that, if you want dead fish or sick fish and a pond that's out of balance all summer. Not kidding! Unless your entire pond died, there is no need to do anything as drastic as dump your pond. At most, a 50% water change can be done once everyone is active. By active, I mean filters on and feeding, as per the above advice. Water changes are good. If you remind yourself, that they are swimming in their toilet bowl, and you need to flush it, then you'll understand how important they are. Please see the article on "Summer Maintenance' for in depth advice. Suffice to say, you should always backwash your filters weekly and do at least 10%-20% water change. Please recycle the water to your trees or garden. Its fantastic healthy water with fertilizer included
8) Water plants can be re-potted or divided at spring start-up. Lilies should be done early, to avoid disrupting their growing time. When you cut their roots or disturb them in a major way, they put their energy into re-rooting. This is why you may not see great growth after dividing them. Never divide lilies after July. All other plants can be split at any time. Water lilies shouldn't be deeper than 2 feet above their pot. In our deeper ponds (4') we put our lilies on dark coloured plastic patio tables. This gets them to the preferred growing depth and gives your fish a place to hide from predators. The best thing is that you can see your fish, so you know they are okay, and any bottom debris doesn't accumulate under the tables. This also means that any bottoms drains aren't being interfered with either, as there is full bottom current.
Always use a once a year fertilizer stick in your lilies (PT-910) or one of the smaller once a year sticks for your marginal plants (PT-911) Customers are blown away by the growth when they use these sticks. They are the only ones we use and recommend.
Well, that should get your season on the right track. As always, if you need help, please just ask.