If you’re a pond owner, you probably know that it’s important to include a good balance of aquatic plants and fish in your water garden. You may also know that a little basic maintenance can go a long way too – like removing decaying leaves in the fall or cleaning the pond in the spring. But you may not fully understand why these things are important to maintain water quality and clarity. Fortunately, you don’t need a degree in environmental science to understand the cycles of nature that influence the health of your pond.
Of all of the miraculous systems Mother Nature has created to maintain harmony and balance, the nitrogen cycle might be one of the most important cycles on earth because it’s the building block of all organic life forms. The more you learn about the nitrogen cycle, the better equipped you will be to understand the changes that occur in your pond and how they relate to the health of your fish and plants.
The nitrification process, or nitrogen cycle, is a biological process that changes ammonia (NH3) to nitrite (NO2) which are both toxic to fish and plants, and then from nitrite to nitrate (NO3). The amazing thing about this cycle is that it can start at multiple points and it has the ability to go backward and forward, allowing for a variety of complex biological processes to occur.
It has been said that the more you learn about any scientific subject, the more you realize you don’t understand about said subject. The goal of this article is NOT to help you defend a doctoral thesis in aquaculture. The aim is to provide you with just enough information so that you have a working knowledge of the science that keeps you pond clean and healthy. Just like the famous little yellow book for computer amateurs, call this article “Water Gardening Biochemistry For Dummies”, if you will.
But, be careful, because even a little learning can get you into trouble. With new found knowledge, some new pond owners start to worry about the water chemistry in their water garden, and begin adding products in hopes of creating the perfect aquatic environment or ecosystem. Note that if your pond is designed and built properly and you clean the debris out of your skimmer on a regular basis, add bacteria, and trim dead aquatic plants, Mother Nature will balance the chemistry in your pond and clean it for you, even if you don’t understand how it works. Think of it this way. Most people really can’t grasp how a computer works; they just enjoy the benefit of owning one. Water gardens are the same way.
Nitrate Producer – The Air, the Rain, the Pond
Basic nitrogen gas (N 2 ) makes up approximately 78 percent of our atmosphere. This form of nitrogen is inert and cannot be used by plants and animals. It makes its way into the pond via the rainwater and takes a great deal of energy to convert it to a form that is usable to plants. Nitrogen gas returns to the atmosphere when it leaves the pond through the evaporation of pond water.
Ammonia Eater – Ammonia Nitrification
The large amount of surface area both on the surface of the biological filter media, as well as the rocks and gravel inside the pond, allows for the colonization of nitrosomona & nitrobacter beneficial bacteria that are responsible for the nitrification process, changing ammonia to less toxic forms of nitrite and the usable form of nitrate. Regular addition of beneficial bacteria such as Aquascape Beneficial Bacteria for ponds helps support the reduction of ammonia.
Nitrate Eater – Aquatic Plants
Nitrate is either absorbed by aquatic plants or, in anaerobic conditions, it goes through the process of de-nitrification, which changes the nitrate back to nitrogen gas. Although uncommon in ornamental ponds, nitrate can also be removed by small frequent water changes if unusually high levels are detected in the water.
Nitrate Producer – Rain and Lightning
Nitrates can also be added to your pond by way of atmospheric fixation. This occurs during lightning storms when nitrogen gas is broken up, allowing it to combine with oxygen-forming nitrogen oxide which is dissolved in rainwater. This is why our lawns become so green following a lightning a storm – it not only receives water, but also a burst of nitrate (fertilizer). This is also why ponds can turn murky or have an algae bloom after a storm. If you add some liquid bacteria such as Aquascape Beneficial Bacteria for ponds immediately after the storm, you can counteract the influx of nutrients.
Ammonia Producer – Fertilizer Runoff
Be conscious of the amount of fertilizer you use around your pond. During a heavy rain or a cycle of over-irrigation, the fertilizer, which is made of ammonia and phosphorus, can wash into your pond creating an algae bloom, water quality problems, or even killing fish and invertebrates.
Ammonia Producer – Dead Plant and Animal Debris
Organic debris like leaves, lawn clippings, and dead fish or insects will break down, forming ammonia as a by-product, starting the cycle of de-nitrification again. Reduce the amount of plant debris in your pond by using a skimmer filtration system which removes plant leaves and debris before it enters the pond. The use of protective netting also helps reduce leaf litter from entering the pond in the fall.
Ammonia Producer – Fish Food and the Resulting Waste
Most of our ponds have fish in them. When the fish are fed, the result is a combination of un-eaten fish food and fish waste. Both contribute to the ammonia level in the pond. Don’t feed your fish more than they can eat in a few minutes. A high-quality fish food is also very important. Aquascape premium fish foods contain probiotics that help fish utilize more food, thereby reducing fish waste and actually help break down waste and other organics found normally in the pond environment.
Ammonia Eater – Oxygen
In the same way a bellows helps heat up the fire in a hearth, waterfalls & streams create the dissolved oxygen necessary to stimulate the nitrification process in your pond. This oxygen is also necessary for the survival of your fish.
The Nitrification Cycle
The chart below illustrates how the nitrification cycle forms a circle of life. In a water garden it takes between 4-6 weeks for the nitrification process to complete a cycle. So if you clean out your pond this spring, only to endure an algal bloom and green water a couple of weeks later don’t fret. If you’ve installed a properly sized biological filter, and you’re adding beneficial bacteria as directed on the package, then you’re only a short while away from crystal clear water.
If you have any further questions regarding pond water quality and chemistry, please feel free to speak with our retail store staff. They love talking about this stuff!
Beneficial Bacteria do naturally form in the pond, but some essential bacteria are slow to reproduce and combat problems and if left unchecked quickly become worse. Because a pond is an enclosed system, it’s easy to have a problem or abundance of nutrients making things quickly go from bad to worse. Adding Bacteria on a regular consistent basis helps to bring bacteria concentrations to where they can quickly take care of problems that may occur and also promotes a condition known as competitive exclusion. The competitive exclusion principle is that no two species can have stable coexistence if they occupy the same niche and compete for the same resources.
There are two possible outcomes of the competition:
One species is less capable and becomes extinct.
One species undergoes an evolutionary or behavioral shift towards a different ecological niche.
Both resulting in a balancing of the ecosystem, reduction of unsightly water conditions and crystal clear pond water.
Some studies show that Beneficial Bacteria in high concentrations can actually eliminate bad or dangerous bacteria.
Rain Water Harvesting
The Greeks and Romans first developed rain water harvesting over 3,000 years ago. They used to divert rain water off of rooftops into basins carved into bedrock so that it could be used later on during periods of drought. Modern rain barrels do essentially the same thing except that existing models create such an eyesore beneath downspouts; as a consequence few people have installed them – until now. The Pond Clinic has responded to your cry for aesthetically pleasing sustainable solutions by introducing the RainXchange Decorative Rain Barrel.
• Extra large 75-gallon capacity!
• 5-year warranty
• Requires no electricity
• Large safety overflow keeps water in the barrel or away from the house
• Lid can also be used as a planter
• Thick plastic walls are durable and will withstand extreme conditions
• Childproof lockable lid
• Brass spigot for garden hose connection
• It’s SIMPLE . The RainXchangeT Rain Barrel can be incorporated into existing gutter and drainage systems.
• It’s RESPONSIBLE . If every single family home in Ottawa installed a RainXchange Rain Barrel, every time it rained, over 12 million litres of polluted storm water would be prevented from flowing through our over burdened sewer system and into our rivers.
• It’s BENEFICIAL . Harvested rain water is better for plants than municipally treated water.
Rain Gardens and Bio-Swales are popular methods and they’re being promoted across Canada as an effective storm water micro-strategy. Mother Nature has been doing this since the beginning of time. You basically just need to slow the water down and give it a chance to soak into the ground.
Rain Gardens and Bio-Swales are very simple to create:
• Redirect your downspouts away from the storm sewer system, and allow the water to flow
over land to specially designed areas or depressions either natural or manmade.
• These depressions should be excavated to break up the compacted upper soil layers.
Mix sand and organic matter with the soil to keep it loose allowing for water infiltration.
• The area is then planted with a mixture of ornamental wetland plants that can handle both wet and dry conditions. The plants will aid in filtration by removing organic pollutants as they pass by the root zone, and some of the water will also be transpired by the plants back in to the atmosphere. Garden centers specializing in aquatic plants can assist you in choosing the appropriate varieties.
• The plants will provide the added benefit of habitat and food for a large variety of animal
and insect species by creating damp wetland areas which are in decline in the natural environment. Creating rain gardens helps protect the fragile biodiversity in your area.
AquaBlox French Drains
Although most people believe assume that the French drain originated in France, the concept was actually created and popularized by a Massachusetts lawyer named Henry French (1813-1885) in his book Farm Drainage . Original forms of French drains were simple ditches, pitched from a high area to a lower one and filled with ¾” clear drainage stone. Water would flow between the gaps between the drainage stone and eventually percolate back into the ground, recharging the surrounding water table. French’s own drains, made of sections of ordinary roofing tile, were laid with a 1/8″ gap left in between the sections to admit water. In 1967, Armtec Corporation introduced a flexible, perforated polyethylene drain pipe called Big ‘O’ and it has been the industry standard ever since.
Traditional French drains do have one significant shortfall, however. Storm water from surrounding landscapes and rooftops tends to bring along with it debris, soil and sand which can clog up the ¾” clear drainage stone layer and plastic inflow pipes. They also tend to have very low water holding capacity.
In 2008, Aquascape Inc. introduced two new products and an innovative, cost-effective way to manage residential storm water run-off:
• RainXchange Downspout Filter – Installed in the ground and out of sight at the base of the eavestrough downspout ready to capture & remove a variety of debris & pollutants that may be flushed into the French drain during a rain events and spring run-off. Incoming water is passed through a series of mechanical filters that remove leaves, twigs, seeds, and small sediment that accumulate on the surface of roof tops and impermeable surfaces between rain events. Clear storm water can then flow freely from the RainXchange Downspout Filter without the risk of clogging the layer of clear drainage stone in the French drain.
• AquaBlox Water Matrix -. Aquablox are plastic, cage-like modular tanks that create a catchment system designed to replace the ¾” clear drainage stone used in traditional French drains. They are both lightweight and strong enough to be installed beneath permeable paver patios & driveways. Aquablox French Drains also hold 3.5 times more water than traditional French drain systems. They also require less excavation, less labour, and allow storm water to percolate back into the ground at a much faster rate.
We’re HereTo Help You
So you’ve decided that you want to do your part to reduce urban run-off and you’re ready for action, but you don’t know where to start. No worries! Our helpful retail store staff at The Pond Clinic can help you design a Rain Garden or an Aquablox French Drain System; and they can also supply you with all the products and coaching needed to install it right.
For clarity issues, Aquascape’s Rapid Clear, a flocculent that is 100% safe for fish, plants or wildlife, can be used. This product is a fast acting treatment that can solve cloudy water in just a few hours by physically causing the particulates floating in the water to clump together into larger particles that can be filter out.
There are several other effective products that you can use to help clarify the water. A combination of our Beneficial Bacteria, EcoBlast and SAB is the ultimate way to have perfectly balanced, clear water. The Beneficial Bacteria for Ponds/Dry and SAB both help consume excess nutrients in the water, break down decaying organics and reduce sludge and odor issues. SAB also includes a powerful phosphate binder that locks up this nuisance nutrient. These two products can be used as often as once a week.
EcoBlast is mainly used to eliminate that pesky string algae that generates from the waterfalls, streams and the pond itself. Anytime there is an issue with string algae, this product works best. EcoBlast is an “on-contact” treatment and may cause a foamy/cloudy color to your water, but not to worry, once the treatment has worked the water will be clear.
For brown, or “tea-colored” water, we have Activated Pond Carbon. Brown water can be caused by leaves and other debris within the vicinity of the pond. Activated Pond Carbon is designed to clear the water from the extra nutrients that are introduced to the pond through the surrounding debris and conditions. For effective results, the carbon treatment should be changed about every 2 weeks.
There are many other factors that may be the cause to these water clarity issues. Temperature (Has the temperature fluctuated in your area lately?), the location of the pond (direct sunlight/shaded) and the surrounding environment (mulch, trees, plantlife, etc.). If you continue to experience problems with your water, please feel free to call!
Algae Control – Ionization
Aquascape has released the second generation of its IonGen™ System, an electronic water clarifier solution for ponds, Pondless® Waterfalls and decorative water features.
The new IonGen™ G2 is simple to install, safe for fish and plants, not toxic to any animals that may drink from the water feature, and eliminates unsightly water conditions without the use of chemicals.
The IonGen™ G2 automatic control panel sends signals that slowly dissolve a replaceable, copper probe. This unique combination of metal ions released into the water improves water quality, clarity and drastically reduces the need for traditional pond chemicals.
IonGen™ G2 improvements include:
• Easier-to-read digital display panel.
• Greater ability to withstand outdoor elements.
• Enhanced design of the flow chamber and probe which reduces the chance of the probe bars clogging, thereby lowering maintenance.
• Tool-free probe installation.
• Keyed slot inside the flow chamber for easy, accurate installation of the probe.
“We’ve taken performance feedback from customers to make improvements on an already great product,” states Dave Kelly, vice president of product development for Aquascape. “The original IonGen™ can be easily upgraded to the new G2 control panel using the IonGen™ conversion probe wire, allowing the IonGen™ G2 panel to connect to the original style probe.”
The Pond Clinic owners, Nicholas Bott and Catherine Neville, installed the G2 into their own pond this year, with incredible success! “Not a single strand of string algae, in the entire 57,000 gallons! IT’s absolutely unbelievable!!!” gushes Nick.