Tag Archives: Nature

Winterizing the pond

While I was working in the garden last week, I decided to do some cleanup work around the yard and start getting the pond ready for winter.

Sometimes winterizing includes a water change. Sometimes it involves skimming out fallen leaves. But it always involves removing floating plants and bringing a few inside before they freeze. Too many times, I’ve neglected to do that in a timely fashion, and I’ve found myself scooping slimy, dead, decaying water hyacinths and sludgy remnants of what used to be water lettuce out of the pond in the spring because fall turned to winter faster than I expected, and I didn’t get the plants out before they froze.

Gross.

Not this year. Last weekend, I used a pitchfork to scoop most of the plants out of the pond, leaving just a few lonely specimens floating on the surface to provide cover for the goldfish until it gets cold enough for them to go dormant.

If you look closely, you can see some of the fish under the water.

When I removed the plants, I was delighted to discover all six of the feeder goldfish I’d dumped out there this summer were alive and well.

I moved a few plants into a bucket of water and stuck it in a sunny corner just outside a south-facing window, where it should stay above freezing all winter.

Hedging my bets, I also half-filled a miniature washtub with water, threw a hyacinth, a clump of water lettuce, and a few stray bits of duckweed in there, and parked it in the living-room window, where it should make a nice centerpiece for the next few months.

With nothing but fish and algae to muck up the water, the pond doesn’t really need the elaborate, multi-stage filtration system I designed for it last spring, so I disassembled the whole setup and replaced it with a variant on the biofilter I had on my pond in Cape. I upgraded the original design by placing the pump inside a half-gallon sherbet tub with 3/8-inch holes drilled in it, wedging chunks of old memory foam around it, and setting the whole thing inside a one-gallon ice-cream tub with 1/4-inch holes drilled in it. I slipped a layer of Scotch-Brite pads between the tubs, providing additional filtration, and anchored the lid with a bungee cord.

After I put away the excess filter components, I was left with a stack of cinderblocks just right for another project I’d been considering for several months. I’ll show you that one tomorrow.

Emily

Squiggly friend

Look at my new squiggly friend! I met him in the garden this afternoon.

Isn't he pretty? I think he's a garter snake.
Isn’t he pretty? I think he’s a garter snake. He’s about two feet long and about as big around as a penny.

I love his little red tongue.
I love his little red tongue.

I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.

I would like the record to show that I was a very good girl and did not try to pick up my slithery new friend or pet him, even though I really, really wanted to.

I showed my pictures to people at work today, but nobody there likes snakes. I don’t know why. I think he’s cute. I like his racing stripes and his pretty brown eyes and his flickery little tongue. I was pretty excited to find him in the garden, partly because I’ve never seen a snake in my yard before and partly because cold-blooded animals are a sure sign of spring.

Emily

Pond maintenance

pond1
See my goldfish? Six for a dollar. Comets, man. You can’t beat ’em.

Today was warm enough that I finally had a chance to clean out the pond. It desperately needed it; that cold snap we had a few weeks ago came on so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to rescue the floating plants, so I ended up with a thick layer of decaying vegetation floating on top of the pond. Yecch.

I’d been planning to wait until spring to change the water, but once I’d scooped out most of the dead plants, I could see how nasty it was, and I was a little concerned the decaying organic material would compromise the oxygen level in the water — endangering the goldfish — if I left it all winter, especially when it gets cold enough to warrant shutting off the pump, so I went ahead and swapped out about 30 gallons of water, which Ron poured onto the garden.

I also hosed off the top of my homemade filter, which had gotten clogged with roots from the dead plants, and used a quarter-inch drill bit to enlarge the holes, which instantly improved the flow rate on the pump.

Water lettuce and water hyacinths are pretty, and they definitely kept the algae down this year, but those long roots kept clogging the fountain this summer, and I suspect they were responsible for its premature demise. I’ll swap them for duckweed next spring. It’s just as good at preventing algae bloom, but its roots are shorter and less likely to clog up the equipment.

I am pleased to report that my goldfish are thriving. I found the body of one very small fish caught in the roots of a rotting hyacinth, but I couldn’t determine the cause of death; it might have frozen, but given its size in relation to the other fish, I suspect it simply succumbed to the law of natural selection. The dead fish was only two inches long, and the three survivors are all four or five inches long, so I’m guessing they just out-competed the little one.

BTW, there is no need to spend ridiculous money on fancy goldfish for your pond unless you just have your heart set on a particular breed. Koi are fine as far as they go, but they’re expensive ($12 to $150 or more) and require more space and better water conditions than plain old feeder goldfish — a.k.a. comets — which are cheaper (25 cents or less), tougher (I’m pretty sure these guys could thrive in a mud puddle), and IMHO, just as pretty as their fancier counterparts. They’re just as smart, too; I’ve heard koi owners brag about how their fish come right up to the edge of the pond to greet them when they come outside, as if that’s some amazing feat of intelligence. I’ve kept comets on and off for years, and I’ve yet to see one that wouldn’t swim to the surface and beg when it saw me walk outside. These guys know a gravy train when they see one.

Bonus: Because comet goldfish are marketed as food for larger species, when you buy one to live in your pond, you’re saving a life.

Yeah. Comets. Getchu some.

pond3
I love it when the water is clear. The pump is aerating the pond nicely, as you can see from the bubbles.

One happy side effect of getting the flow rate up on the pump is that it’s aerating the water better. The fish spent a lot of time playing in the ripples near the surface this afternoon, so I’m assuming they liked it, too.

pond2
Don’t forget to install artificial landing strips for pollinators when vegetation is scarce. Wine corks are ideal for this purpose.

The bees — who were very active today, thanks to the warm weather — were none too pleased with me for messing with their water source and taking away their landing strips, but I’ve been saving wine corks to serve as replacement perches, and I threw a few out there today.

In other news, the quail have quit laying. I could use artificial lights to get them going again, but the whole point of raising my own birds was to ensure they weren’t subjected to the kind of evil crap that goes on in factory farms, so I’ll just trust Mother Nature and let them set their own schedule. If they need the winter off, they can have it.

Hope you had a productive Sunday, wherever you are. I think I’m going to wind mine down by bottling some pinon-infused beer we started a couple of weeks ago and racking a batch of cider. (Homemade hard cider will be an Eco-Saturday one of these days if I ever remember to take pictures of all the steps. It’s a little time-consuming but very easy to make, and the end product is magnificent.)

Emily

Winter. Dammit.

The view from my front porch this evening. Completely unacceptable. It's not even Thanksgiving yet, winter. GO HOME.
The view from my front porch this evening. Completely unacceptable. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, winter. GO HOME.

The sundial on my deck. No sun. Just cold, dark nastiness.
The sundial on my deck. No sun. Just cold, dark nastiness.

Poor little lizard. Looks kind of like he did the day I bought him at Little Tin Barn.
Poor little lizard. Looks kind of like he did the day I bought him at Little Tin Barn.

Come to think of it, the mermaid looks a lot like she did the day I met her, too.
Come to think of it, the mermaid looks a lot like she did the day I met her, too.

And know we know why Weeping Angels cover their eyes. They don't want to look at this crap, either.
And know we know why Weeping Angels cover their eyes. They don’t want to look at this crap, either.

Y’all know how much I hate winter. I spent most of today trying to ignore it: making avocado-and-quail-egg sandwiches for brunch, starting a batch of yogurt in the Crock-Pot, picking up a couple of gallons of sweet cider at Rendleman’s Orchard, sanitizing the keg to ferment the cider (I will have a post on the glory of homemade hard cider in the not-too-distant future), installing plastic over the windows, finishing up the second Roman shade for the living room, and having dinner at the Pilot House, which we’d never been to before, and which we really enjoyed.

We’re fond of stopping at promising-looking roadhouses when we travel, and the Pilot House, which is tucked next to a little creek on one of the back roads to Jackson, was a nice find. It might be all of five miles from home, but it felt like the sort of place we’d stop on 66 or 61 or maybe the Lincoln Highway — sort of like the Elbow Inn or the Luna Cafe or that crazy place we found out near Middlegate, Nevada, on the Loneliest Road where they serve the “Monster Burger” with olives for eyes. They’ve got the wheel from a riverboat mounted on the ceiling above the bar, and the bar itself is covered with pennies embedded in resin or something. I had a ribeye sandwich that tasted exactly like a ribeye sandwich from a bar is supposed to taste, and Ron had a barbecue sandwich that I will almost certainly order next time we’re there.

They also had Stag on tap, which is invariably a good sign. Stag on tap at a roadhouse is like sweet tea at a barbecue joint or horchata at a taqueria: If they have it, you can safely assume you’re in good hands.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Darwin gardening

darwin8

In the Southwest, xeriscaping is popular, as it involves planting only native and/or drought-tolerant species in your garden so you don’t end up draining every aquifer west of Amarillo in a misguided effort to keep some delicate green thing alive.

Here in the Midwest, I practice a variant I developed by accident, which I call “Darwin gardening.”

Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.
Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.

The original Darwin Garden was located in our backyard in Belleville, Illinois, and it happened by accident: I started with a neat garden divided into four-foot squares delineated with old bricks I’d found in the garage, with neat mulched paths between them, and by the time we left, my laziness and absolute refusal to coddle weak plants left me with an unruly but outrageously productive tangle of perennials and vigorous self-seeding annuals that included echinacea, parsley, Roman chamomile, chives, dill, sage, spinach, cilantro, mint, marjoram, oregano, carrots, blackberries, and waist-high collards that thought they were perennials.

The Darwin Garden wasn’t neatly manicured, but it was healthy, low-maintenance, and completely organic. When you let natural selection dictate your landscaping design, you don’t need pesticides, heavy watering or other environmentally questionable practices to keep your garden thriving. You also don’t need huge blocks of time to take care of your garden, because your plants will be sturdy enough to survive without constant coddling.

Arugula -- a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt -- has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.
Arugula — a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt — has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.

We have a similar garden here. When we moved in last year, I planted a small garden, watered it occasionally, and otherwise ignored it, knowing the fastest way to find out which plants were suited to the local growing conditions was to neglect them and see whether they survived.

That's not a yellow Easter egg. It's an overripe cucumber I'm leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.
That’s not a yellow Easter egg. It’s an overripe cucumber I’m leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.

A year into that experiment, I’ve got sage, strawberries, mint, basil and Shasta daisies that came up with no help from me, and next year’s arugula and cucumbers have already planted themselves.

Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I've had any luck growing it.
Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I’ve had any luck growing it.

If you’re a little bit concerned about the environment and a lot lazy, consider planting your own Darwin Garden. If you can tolerate the frustrations of that first year, you’ll find it pays big dividends in subsequent seasons.

Emily

Sprouts

We have 16 tomato sprouts coming up in the flat I planted the other night. I expect the rest will be up shortly.It’s been cold and gray out today, but I found a good way to cope with the lousy weather: I spent part of the afternoon at Green Country Feed and Seed up at Turley. Great little place … Maybe even a suitable replacement for the late, great Country Store.Hope your day was good.Emily