Pond / Watergarden Science




About: I teach computer science and I do graphic design for printed bags, clothing, housewares, and much more. (http://www.BagChemistry.com, http://PaperTownToys.com and http://www.redbubble.com/people/bagchemistr...

Would you like to exert god-like control over an environment and its resources? Well, you should get a pond.

By adding even a small watergarden to your property, you can learn lots about the fragile balance of a vital ecosystem. To ensure a healthy biodiversity, you will need to monitor and manage many different variables.

Over time you will also develop positive personality traits like humility and patience, since nature works on its own timetable and to its own set of priorities.

Owning a pond can be a lot of work, but extremely rewarding.

Step 1: Lesson 1 - Biodiversity / Pond Residents

Once you add a pond or water feature to your property, you will be amazed at how quickly you become the popular neighborhood hot spot for critters. Everybody loves water.

However, with great gifts comes great responsibility. If you invite all of these creatures to your house, you'd better be ready to be a good host.

Step 2: Lesson 2 - Lifecycle / Spotlight on Fish

One pond resident that will take up the most of your attention is your fish.

For relatively small animals, they are needy, needy, needy. From day one, they demand your attention and care. Here are some considerations for the health and comfort of your fish.

FOOD - Pond fish are luckier than their aquarium brethren. There are lots of interesting things to eat just floating around: algae, plants, insect larva, etc. But you probably want your fish to have a better quality of nutrition. Also, a well-fed and healthy fish will be more resistant to disease, temperature changes and other natural hazards.

OXYGEN - Fish get oxygen from two sources: the surface and vegetation. If your fish are always at the surface "sipping" air, you need to put in more plants.

SHELTER - On the one hand, outdoor fish are particularly vulnerable to predation. On the other hand, a natural environment makes them frisky so that they breed. You need to give your fish some shelter for both reasons. Floating plants will provide shade and concealment from birds and fish-eating mammals, like raccoons. Submerged plants will give the fish somewhere to spawn and also protect the fry from being eaten by other pond residents.

SPACE - Fish will regulate their body temperature by finding warm and cool spots in your pond. If your pond is deep enough they can go to the bottom to hibernate through winter (here in zone 5, that's about 30-36" deep).

Oh, and one more thing about spaces. Think about the margins of your pond. Wading birds, like heron and egrets, love nice gentle sloping shorelines. They will stand ankle-deep and spear your pretty white and gold fish and thank you for making dinner so easy.

Step 3: Lesson 3 - Chemistry / Circle of Life

Your pond is like a petri-dish full of chemicals and critters-- all wound together in a tight cycle of interpendency.

You start the process when you toss your fish some food pellets.

They eat nearly all but some pellets drop to the bottom of your pond. The fish add their own droppings. Leaves blow in, and they sink to the bottom. Pretty soon the bottom of your pond is an icky mess of brown slurry.

Well, it looks bad to you but anaerobic bacteria think its yummy. They start converting all of the waste to ammonia compounds.

Wait. Is that a good thing? Does anyone like ammonia? Yes, as a matter of fact, more (aerobic) bacteria come along and convert the ammonia to nitrites. And more bacteria convert the nitrites to nitrates.

Thank goodness for bacteria. Because now the plants can convert those nitrates to oxygen. Some of the oxygen is absorbed by the fish and some dissipates at the surface.

Step 4: Experiment 1: Keep One Pond Resident Alive for a Year

Pick your favorite lifeform - animal or vegetable (minerals don't count for this one).

Pick an individual from your prefered species. This might be tough for frogs and fish since they move and grow. Biologists like to put tags on things for this reason. I've found that my fish don't enjoy being tagged, and furthermore, I try not to interfere with my study subjects. Look for some distinguishing marks, like peculiar spots or deformities.

Keep records on your pond environment and the appearance of your selected study subject.

Step 5: Experiment 2: Breed Another Generation

One excellent indicator of the vitality of an ecosystem is whether it encourages reproduction of healthy offspring.

Frogs are fairly overt breeders and so make better study subjects for this activity. Here are some signs of breeding activity that you should be alert for.

BREEDING CALLS -- I always mark the start of spring from when I first hear the Peepers shrilly singing. A month later, the toads can be heard trilling. The bullfrogs are always the last to come to the party with their deep banjo-twanging and creaking.

VISIBLE MATING -- Like I said, overt. Toads will do it in broad daylight, and even let you take pictures and post them on the internet. Shameless.

EGGS -- Toad eggs come in strings, like in the picture. Frog eggs appear in masses.

TADPOLES -- Some shallow water is good for tadpoles, who like the warmth, the safety from swimming predators, and the availability of oxygen.

YOUNG -- One day all of the tadpoles disappear. They they don't call and they don't write. But if you look very carefully, you may notice very tiny creatures hopping around the margins of your pond. The ones in the picture are about the size of a housefly.

Step 6: Experiment 3 - Get Certified

The National Wildlife Federation (nwf) will help you learn more about how to establish a sustainable ecosystem in your backyard by providing food, water, and shelter for animals.

Step 7: Experiment 4 - Save the World

It seems like a lot of people (and governments) have a hard time with sustaining the environment. Ferilizer run-off from farms contaminates streams, top predators are hunted to extinction and we put concrete and glass on the top of our most fertile real estate.

Think about how hard it is to keep one small pond in complete ecological balance all the time. Too many fish lead to too much waste and too much ammonia and your fish all die. Or maybe there's too much nitrates and you get an algae bloom that turns all of your water cloudy and green. Is cloudy water a problem for the fish or does it just offend your aesthetic nature? You fix one problem and it creates another problem.

What is your local government doing that is helping or harming the ecosystem that you live in? How does that affect other neighborhoods?

This instructible is part of my personal 'Knowledge is Power' campaign. You can help get this information to more people by COMMENTING, RATING and VOTING now :-)

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    76 Discussions

    Duct tape 101

    3 years ago

    I have a pond that has 1000+ frogs


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Can any one help me out ,i need to know that as i have the turbine system (plant) which releases Co2 at the rate of 1932.3kg/hr and i need to consume that Co2 with the help of Algae in pond just like as the Raceway ponds do ...i have all the specific industrialized land area to construct the pond and to perform this task i just need to have the specific size of the pond system which can consume 1932.3kg/hr of Co2 so that i can perform it on the large scale project with minimum cost involved for example " http://www.ems.psu.edu/~elsworth/courses/egee580/Utilization_final_report.pdf " ...... you can take a look at that pdf file on page number 9 figure 2.1.4 ,i just need to have the minimum area to make that pond including the calculation of all the dimension and all including minimum cost ....but the main focus here is the calculation of the pond area , i just need to have the total area of pond (sizing and dimension) (length,width,depth and all)which can perform this task of consuming Co2 at rate of 1932.3kg/hr with the help of Algae.........i am in great confusion with my calculations and i need help can you please help me out in performing the calculation work and finding out the specific area needed......i wiil be really very thank full to you...........Have a Good Day


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I am the "Frog Whisperer", so my wife and daughter say! I have adopted a big "Green Frog" male. He croaks back to me when he hears my voice. I can get him to respond whenever I want. Its fun! Except now he has found our bedroom window and lets out small barking croaks all night ! Then in the morning I make coffee, then go out and scrape the wood chips in my Organic Garden and capture a few earthworms. He gobbles them up. Then meditates for a while, before croaking to me again. Pretty cool. I just hope he remember to hibernate this winter! He is living in a blue half of a 55 gallon drum I salvaged for tub gardens. Some I keep full of rain water to water the plants in the others that I filled with dirt. I have about eight with various herbs and plants in them.Peppermint, chinese squash vine, anise, pumpkins, irises, and more. Its fun and relaxing to water & weed. And the frog is more fun! I also have three Koi in one tub, with submerged planters filled with Cattails, irises, and Arrowroots (all scrounged from local lakes and swamps). See my instructable "Frog Whisperer" Yours is a Great instructable too! Thanks for enlightening newbees to the pond world. Enjoy, seek peace, Triumphman.


    11 years ago on Step 7

    you are clever and a joy to read...do you know if fish could survive the winter in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada that is...Thanks so much!!!

    8 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Step 7

    I am ashamed to admit that I had never even heard of Regina, SK until now. Looking at a map, I see that you're pretty far north. The important thing is to keep the water from freezing completely. The fish can live in very cold water, if it's liquid. You can achieve this by a) making the pond so deep that it can't freeze solid, and b) using a heater or bubbler to keep a portion of the surface ice-free.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 7

    Another trick that works: Build a form out of blue insulation styrofoam that matches the shape of your pond or is slightly bigger (really only works for small ponds) and make it thick enough to insulate well. If done right, this will keep it from freezing as well, especially if you have fish. In the winter most fish either don't need food or only need it once a week or so anyway, so make sure you have a way to get to your pond in the winter.

    That's how a friend does it here in Alaska. :)


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 7

    do you know what kind of fish, i don't want frogs because i run a daycare, thanks!


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 7

    I love the idea of little kids learning about nature from your pond. Be sure that you never let them near it unsupervised though, especially since it's going to be pretty deep to keep from freezing solid in the winter. It might be hard to keep frogs OUT of your pond. They tend to just show up wherever there's water. I don't know how they do it. It's sort of amazing. Anyway, you can buy any kind of cheap (comet) goldfish they sell. They cost $.20-$.60 a piece here in Ohio, depending on where you get them. If you manage to keep them alive for a whole year, you can invest a little more by getting shubunkins or sarasa (a fancier type of goldfish). If you keep those alive, you can try koi. Even small koi are $15 here, so don't buy 'em unless you're pretty sure that you won't kill them. :-)


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    where do you get your Koi? i live in columbus and a friend of mine has expressed and interest in getting some.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    There are lots of places around Columbus to get cheap and/or quality koi.  I recommend Aquarium Adventure, because they have a nice selection in every price range.

    But if you are northeast, try the Sunbury Garden Center.  They even have tadpoles!


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 7

    I just bought some 12 cent comet goldfish from pet smart in Watchung, NJ and brought them up to PA. I have them in 5 gallon buckets with watercress in my greenhouse. I doubt the water will freeze inside. It would seem that the plants will love their fish buddies.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    What if you located the pond over your sewer line? A hot shower and some dishwashing every day, in addition to heat from decomposition, might keep the pond warm enough.


    8 years ago on Step 5

    Great frog photos. :) We put a pond in last summer and the frogs alone are great entertainment. lol


    9 years ago on Step 5

     Oh my God, this is so interesting. You must be so proud. I am slowly building a pond myself, will definitely want to have something like this. Thanks for sharing this.


    9 years ago on Step 7

    We builted a backyard pond before at Washington state, and suddenly we have frogs in our backyard pond. We even hear them croaking at night.

    Hi again.With regards the ponds mentioned - the smaller one is only about 6 - 8 inches deep in places. In the summer it evaporates quickly (especially when we are not there although someone tops it up for us). We were thinking of building some sort of decking over the top of part of it which would shelter the fish and also (hopefully) stop some evaporation. Don't want to plant trees 'cos as Babair said, leaves will cause build up & we have enough of that now. This seemed the better option. Does anyone know if this will help?

    Hi. Found this site and wanted to join as you guys seem to know your stuff. Bought a house in South West France and inherited 2 ponds (one converted from a huge round pool - must be about 6 feet deep). Frogs by the dozen (really noisy in spring) although great 'guard frogs'!! And fish.... can't stop them breeding. Must have around 300 last years babies in the big pond. I put some weed from the smaller pond into the bigger one - BIG mistake as it gave the babes somewhere to hide. I guess the pond will only sustain what it can. Does anyone know where I could re-home some fish though (near Cordes-sur-ciel SW France) Thanks.


    9 years ago on Introduction

     AMAZING! Your pond is huge, to begin with. And did you have to add frogs, or did they just appear? Great instructable, five stars!

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction


    The pond is approximately 20'x20' . I hired a fellow with a backhoe to excavate it.  The deepest part is about 3' deep, and there are a couple of shallower shelves for marginal plants.  The edges are designed to discourage herons and raccoons from fishing.

    No, I didn't have to "add frogs".  It was sort of amazing the way that they just showed up as soon as I put water in the hole.  Before I put in rocks, or plants or fish, the frogs were there.  The next closest body of water is a tiny creek about 200 feet away, so I guess that they migrated from there.  But that seems like a pretty long (and dangerous) pilgrimage for a frog.



    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     Hahah, that sounds like quite an adventure for a frog!