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Robyn's Pond Newsletter February 2003

Last Updated: 2/5/14 ==================================================
Introduction and Miscellaneous:

If you have something pond-related that you want to share (information, jokes, web sites, pond secrets and tidbits, something pond-related for sale), let me know, and I will add it to the next newsletter. What topics would you like me to cover? Do you have a question that I can answer or pose to others in the next newsletter?

It is time to order new lotus in February to arrive in late March for planting! I'm going to get a new one or two!

There are no pond tidbits this month. I have LOTS of ideas but have not written about them yet. I'm bursting with things to share but have no time. I'm so behind on everything!

Significantly Altered or New Pond Web Pages (explanations below, numbers match):

4. [Updated when the frog pages were moved.]
5. - (URL changed to a new directory in 2014)

Additions or Changes to Robyn's Pond Web Pages:

1. I finally put my pond book flyer on this page for anyone who wants to print them or read about things.

2. This is a new page for the 2003 pond newsletters.

3. I finally put on the pond installation page. What happened is that I had written a few pages and then my disks crashed. I had not put a copy of this new page on my home computer so I lost it. Now, I'm trying to remember what I wrote. There's not much on the page yet but I'm working on it!! There are two graphics of sample pond plans to start.

4. Under my African dwarf frog section (an aquatic aquarium frog, not for ponds), I have a short new section on frogs and salt as someone questioned the harm of adding salt to an aquarium with frogs. I use salt in both my ponds and aquariums and both have frogs, and they're all fine. Just don't use a lot.

5. I put on five new photos of the iced-over pond from 1/25/03 so you can tell what I'm talking about in the discussions below. Go to the winter pond photos to see the new photos. I labeled various things on the photos. To see the photos directly, type in ice1.jpg, ice2,jpg, ice3,jpg, ice4.jpg, and ice5.jpg after but my photos page has a description of them. They're also on my winterizing page.

6. I added a few things to my winterizing page like the above photos, a mention that salt can help open up a frozen pond somewhat, and that the Luft pump which I was told was no longer made is now being sold by in their aquarium section but without the outdoor cover. I really need to read through the winterizing page to update my experiences and beliefs.

Happenings at Robyn's Ponds:

1. On 1/5/03, the pond was partially frozen over, and the thermometer read 35 degrees F. The floss was getting a lot of algae but otherwise didn't look too bad despite the fact that it was overdue almost a month for a cleaning, I let it go. The falls were moving well. Then, the snow started. They had not forecast any. By the next day, we had 4.5 inches. Most of the ponds vanished as with the last two snowfalls we've had this winter. I've been telling people we were overdue for a real winter for many years now, and now it's come! Not too far north of us, they got two two-foot snowfalls in a row!

2. On 1/12/03, the pond was frozen except for the falls. I could not get in to clean the floss but did cut back the cotton grass at the edge which was the last tall marginal left. It had finally turned brown. The thermometer was frozen in. The 153 gallon was mostly open but I forgot to check the thermometer there. The next morning, I saw two male bluebirds drinking from the 1800 gallon waterfall overflow area where there still remains vast clumps of flattened water celery I'll need to remove soon (turning to mush).

3. The morning of 1/16/03, the pond was frozen except for about 2 inches out around the de-icer and the waterfall. The top of the biofilter (top of the falls) was mostly iced over so I had to bust the ice out because if ice forms all the way, the pond would pump out, and my nightmare would be a reality, and the pond would be dead. Anyway, of course, the ice moved fast after breaking and went down the falls to create a jam so I had to pull apart the rocks (luckily, they weren't frozen on with splash as usual) to get the ice pieces out. I had to do the ice work with bare hands because wet gloves aren't fun and grabbers, wet gloves, etc. just don't allow me to work as precisely and quickly as I need to (this whole procedure lasts a minute or two at most). I don't know what the water temperature but the air was 15 degrees F. When I do this, my hands didn't feel cold; they burned (sign of frostbite; later that month, I was used to the cold water, and my hands no longer hurt.). Still, it's not near the low my pond has endured of -10 degrees F a few years ago. The 153 gallon pond was half open which is amazing. Before I added the bubbler (air stone), the de-icer would only keep a few inches open when it didn't fail and freeze in. With the bubbles bouncing things around, the pond stays very open even when really cold. Many birds, deer, and animals I miss (while at work or after dark) come to drink from it.

4. The morning of 1/18/03, the air was at 5 degrees F. The top of the biofilter/waterfall was frozen thick. I really had to bash it to get it apart. I started using my pond net (stick end) to bash the ice, and the net end to try to grab it. I found that the net sometimes works but nothing does what you want to do as correctly as bare hands. You shouldn't bash ice but this is at the top of the waterfall so down in the pond, the fish probably felt very little from it. A lot of the falls now run under sheets of ice. I began pouring scalding water down the falls often and bashing the ice around the falls with the end of the net. Oops, I think I killed another net this way (done it before). They weren't meant to be used as battering rams and pick up heavy ice. But, they work pretty well! Needless to say, unless I could constrict myself to about 5 inches wide and jump down the falls and swim under the ice, I wasn't going to be cleaning any floss under that ice when Sunday came! I wrote on the powder snow on top of the ice, "Dead fish." I saw a few live ones through the tiny openings but I think this winter may be one where some fish die. When it thaws, I'll find out.

5. On 1/18/03, I also changed the sand in which the three tropical lily "nuts" are resting in the basement for winter. After a few months, the sand starts to stink and turn black so I wash off the tubers and put them in a fresh ziploc with fresh sterile sand. At least one "nut" (like walnut) had sprouts.

6. I had put the new barley straw pellets they sell in a mesh filter bag in the top of my biofilter a few months ago. I do not like them. Besides the fact that the bag keeps moving and blocking the water flow (it floats), the pellets have developed a disgusting slime (like slug juice or vomit) all over the outside of the bag that is hard to remove, and the inside is a brown mush. I think I'll stick to good old barley straw in the future.

7. The cold kept coming. The mornings of 1/22/03 to 1/24/03, the temperatures were 10 degrees F or below. I developed the idea of putting disposable plastic gloves over my driving gloves and using those to grab the ice off the filter after I bashed it with either the end of my pond net or the end of the flashlight when it was after dark. The problem is that ice is sharp and most of the time, the bags got cut, my gloves got soaked, and I lost feeling in my hand(s). The waterfall never stopped going but iced over more and more. It began icing totally over but still flowed under the ice sheets. I poured half a dozen scalding buckets of water down the falls every day in an attempt to keep it going. About 30 gallons a day I would guess began flowing in the wrong place and up over top of the ice, freezing there. While the water was still in the pond, the ice got thicker, and an air space developed between the ice and the water underneath it. The rock work has shifted so badly, I can no longer cover the lip of the biofilter as the ground under it that used to be flush has now collapsed half a foot. I have an immense dislike for the men who built my pond to be a failure after a few years. I'm sure you've wondered why I haven't turned off the waterfall. I've gotten close. If I ever do, the hibernating pickerel frogs in the biofilter will die, the good bacteria will die (they are alive, just dormant in winter unless they dry out and freeze in an empty filter), the hoses could freeze (they do drain sort of), the watercress and water celery would die when they dried out and froze, the pond would have less "ventilation," and many other reasons I mention on my winterizing page. I have ordered a new pump at least so I have that spare. I hadn't done so yet as my pump costs $333 at the best price. But, having the nightmare that WILL happen soon when the pump fails (it's now 6 years old) of not having another one right at hand and having to wait a week, is not worth it. I thought of getting a cheaper pump but even that would cost $200 so why not get the one I really need when this one dies. I hope your pond wasn't designed like mine! When I got home on 1/23/03, the pond was the most frozen in ever. The biofilter was totally frozen but water still ran under it and over the lip so I'm not worried about that. The water down the falls was mostly frozen over with water running under it. The problem was that where the water goes over the falls, it splashes some and a huge ice mountain formed over top of the ice and threatened to pump the pond out over the ice. I bailed 8 buckets of scalding water into the falls. Bashing the ice was fruitless. I got up at 1:44 am and put in 3 buckets of scalding water. Then, I couldn't fall asleep until 4 am (and got up at 6 am, putting in 4 buckets at 6:30 am). I had nightmares. The temperature was only 10 degrees F that night. My hands aren't as sensitive to the water anymore. I use my bare hands again but only as the last step before going back inside the house. The water actually freezes onto my hands! I dip them in the scalding water which by then is not so hot. It's supposed to go above freezing in a few days. I can't wait! I am used to the cold enough to go in shorts and short sleeves if it's 32 degrees F! I'm perpetually numb (and dumb!).

8. On 1/26/03, the pond is frozen more than it ever has been. The ice is about 8 inches thick. That means my plants in the shallows have frozen solid so some may have died. I walked around that area, and the ice did not even creak. I thought I saw an orfe under the ice in the shallow area that wasn't moving but I'm not sure. I think some animals will not survive this abnormal winter. I may not either. It was 10 degrees F the next morning even though it was 32 and snowing when I went to bed 8 hours before that. It will take months for my pond to thaw it seems and how many casualties there are, I have no idea. By the de-icer, I sometimes see a red goldfish still alive down there. Most insects and frogs hibernate in the shallows so they're all dead. Luckily, my 153 gallon pond has frogs in the bottom to repopulate the other ponds with frozen tadpoles and frogs.

9. Nightmares do happen. Luckily, they're not that bad in reality. When I went to pour hot water down the falls at 9:45 pm on 1/27/03, as I approached the pond, I knew something was wrong. It was silent. The biofilter was drained. The falls were off. I could quickly see that nothing had pumped out, the pump was just off. I first unplugged it. Had I finally killed the pump once ice grew too thick? Then, I noticed the de-icer was frozen solid which meant no power. I went inside and found the circuit breaker was not tripped but turned it off and on anyway. Back outside, I remembered the reset within the outlet itself (GFI). I pushed the reset. I plugged in the pump. I heard that familiar whoop noise as the pump started. Just as the water got to the top of the biofilter after many minutes, the power cut off again. The de-icer was obviously at fault. I unplugged it, restarted the pump, and it kicked on and stayed on. My father said the de-icer must have a short in it (maybe from running non-stop in water with low salt concentrations.). It was frozen solid into the ice. I don't know how long the system was off. I last checked it at about 5:30 pm, and everything was fine. The pond had partially refrozen so in went more scalding water. The falls were coming off differently due to some shift from ice or whatever so some was splashing out over the ice. I decided a sledge hammer was the best course of action, and those few pieces came right off easily with that. It didn't hardly hit the ice mountain so no shock waves should have bothered any surviving fish. Three days before, I had sprinkled pond salt on the ice formations, and some in the water, trying to lower the freezing point, however little. Now, there is a definite air pocket between the unfrozen water and ice as when the pump went off, water pumped out of the de-icer hole and over the ice and froze. I don't have a check valve (couldn't find one the right size) which is very bad in summer (bacteria dry out) but very good in winter (pipes and filter drain so they won't freeze and burst). The frozen de-icer is in a thin layer of ice, followed by the air pocket, and then another layer of ice on top of the liquid water. The air pocket provides some insulation but at the same time, results in another layer of ice and not necessarily a better situation. I put a brand new de-icer in the top of the biofilter as that's the only open spot. It works better that way as I should have known from the past. I should just keep it there. The next morning, it was frozen in 80% of the way around except the 20% facing the falls. The moving water pulls the heat from the de-icer down the falls which helps keep them open and negate the effects of super-cooling from the falls. The ice is so very thick. I just know some fish died, frogs perhaps, smaller animals for sure. Probably most of the marginals died (flag iris and sweetflag can freeze solid and should be okay but not the rest) including my newer and expensive ones. For the first time EVER, the pond is frozen deep enough that the lotus and lily pots are most likely frozen solid where the tubers are, and I probably lost them as well. I've nurtured those plants and painstakingly repotted them so many times. Now, I'll have to start from scratch with many plants I'm sure. My pond has always been the only place plants flourish. The deer have destroyed all land plants. They have actually torn up and eaten all my land lily rhizomes including about $40 of brand new ones I put in this fall. I doubt even one will survive. I don't know why I even bother anymore. Even those lilies in a fenced in area die too. It's going to warm up now (at least for a week) above freezing during the day. The pond will slowly thaw. I'm almost afraid to find out what's under there. I can't see a thing. Are my koi Maggie and Colin alive? My four orfe? My favorite goldfish, Jill and Bunky? We'll all have to wait to find out. As a final note, it's a good thing my two ponds are now on separate breakers so when one trips, both don't suffer. My 153 gallon pond used to trip all the time and turn off my big pond. They were on the same breaker and once both had de-icers, and they both kicked in, it overloaded. So, my father separated the lines.

10. On 1/30/03, I saw one small native fish in my 153 gallon pond, just hovering there. I'm not sure but it may have been a bluntnose minnow. The morning of 2/1/03, the 1800 gallon pond was melted out over the deep end leaving an opening about 1 foot wide by 6 feet long. It had been raining and about 35-40 degrees F overnight, and that area had the thinnest ice. I was hoping to see the status of my fish but only saw four fish and one green frog. One orfe cruised by like everything was normal, but slower. One 5 inch or so red comet was laying on the bottom, and his eyes looked weird (not stuck out but the wrong color or something). My orange and red sarassa comet, who has one side only enlarged (kidney malfunction?) so it looks like a golf ball is attached, was laying on its side, and I thought it was dead (it's been abnormal for 2 years). Both goldfish moved when I touched them though. Another white goldfish came by quickly and left. The green frog had its eyes shut and also moved when I touched it. I could not see my 2 koi, 3 other orfe, or 50 some other goldfish and no minnows either. They apparently avoid the opening in the ice as it makes them feel vulnerable (whereas those two goldfish were sick and in the open). Since this was the deepest spot and the most likely place bodies would end up, I feel better that my fish may yet be okay. Without my keeping the falls open and thus the water aerated though, that many fish would have suffocated.

Web Sites of Interest:

1. If you go to they have ratings and reviews for most of the web sites out there. You can enter in Robyn's Pond Page for example and review it for me or go to your own site and review it or one that you like. Conversely, you can tell them about sites you dislike too.

2. See the article at l for a story about a man arrested for converting his pool to a pond for frogs. They said his stagnant water was a public health hazard. If they had bothered to look, they would see that there were no mosquitoes in there! These days, if you do something good to help species other than humans, the humans may come after you!

3. Justin Morgan who set up a new pond FAQ a few months ago has now started another pond newsletter using Yahoo Groups as well. Unlike my newsletter, you can post onto this "newsletter" as well as just viewing what he writes every month. So, in some ways, it's more like a forum or regular group. The URL is / (note, my URL is the same but without the "letter"). You can never join too many pond newsletters! You can join too many groups though if they overload your e-mail with too many messages. I got stuck in a MSN pond community and now cannot unsubscribe because I cannot remember my user name (need that before the password) which is strange because I always use the same one for everything (I think they must have assigned me some name like M7$he8 or something, and they keep saying I have to be a MSN member which I'm not.). I cannot post messages either. With 10-50 pages a day from that in my in-box taking up limited sapce, I don't have time to do anything but delete! At least I got daily messages instead of individual ones. Anyway, you'll just get this one e-mail a month from my newsletter!

What's your favorite pond-related web site(s)?
Do you have a web site you want me to mention here?

Pond Survey Results:

Only one person sent me some information about their pond but wasn't really answering the survey. So, there are NO survey results (I told Susan no one would reply.)!

Ron in Florida has a 2000 gallon pond, 8' wide, 15' long, 34" deep with a waterfall and 3 bass, 2 catfish, 4 sunfish, and 1 plecostomus along with bait minnows (I wonder if they are my buddies the fathead minnows or another minnow?). Ron also asked if anyone in the list knows the best way(s) to send out live fish and also live plants to a neighboring state. If you have done this and have any input, I will put it in the next newsletter.

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