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Lessons Learned: Building a Koi Pond in My Backyard

Semi-retired is what I now call myself, but that does not mean idle. I have a myriad of "honey-do" projects to do, as well as some of my own

As evening looms...

As evening looms...

First things first...

Our new home has a good sized back yard, with almost nothing in it beyond a 70 plus year old former chicken house turned garden shed. Fencing on both sides but none in the front or rear means we have to plan a fence and everything else we want to do in the yard moving forward. One of the things I have most desired is a fair sized koi pond that I can tend and watch some fish in as I continue to age. And after my surgery to remove my cancerous prostate, I thought that would be the perfect time to do this.

I am stupid.

Three weeks post surgery, I began to plan. I felt pretty good and was able to move about in a semblance of my former self so I set out to create a dream pond. I sat down and designed the pond's width, length and depth on my laptop, watched countless Youtube videos on ponds, researched pond liner sizes and costs, estimated the pond's gallon size and pump I would need. Then came the filter needs, waterfalls, and such. I arrived at a liner size of 13' x 20' to have a pond that would be 6' wide, 3.5' deep, and spanning 13' in length that would max out at 1,000 gallons.

Then, I contacted 1-800 Dig Right to confirm there were no gas, water, sewer or electric lines in the area I desired to dig the pond in. They arrived two days later and confirmed I was good to go.

My trusty assistant digging our pond.

My trusty assistant digging our pond.

Time to dig!

I laid out a rope in the approximate design I wanted, rearranged it several times, then asked my better-half to come out and give her thoughts. She did, so I started over, changing the flow direction to reflect what she preferred (which was better than what I had come up with) and set the rope out once more. Then, it was time to dig.

"Picked up my shovel and walked to the mine, I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal and the straw boss said well bless my soul..."

Sorry, singing Tennessee Ernie Ford's hit as I worked. My son and I began by digging the deepest portion of the pond first before digging what I termed the plant shelves, shallower lips around the outside of the pond. to place shallow water plants on. Then we began to dig towards the location I would put the waterfalls. As we dug, we placed the dirt that we removed into the area I planned for the upper pond, which was where I planned the water to flow in at.

As we dug, I realized I would not have sufficient height to allow for my original plan of two small waterfalls leading down to the main pond. So, I redesigned in midstream (no pun intended) and only did one waterfall, while lengthening my stream portion of the pond.

Then came the compressing of the dirt area at the top of the pond area, creating the sides to hold the water in place, and defining the rest of the pond's edges.

Let me tell you, my reality was not what my mind designed, but at least it was close.

My son spreading out the liner as I supervise

My son spreading out the liner as I supervise

Differences between design and reality

Firstly, even though my ground seemed rock free, once we got down about a foot or so, we ran into rocks. Not solid nor tremendously numerous, still they were sufficient to create an issue digging deep enough to give me the 3.5' I set out for. Instead, after getting between 2.5 and 3', we ran out of energy to continue to fight the hard clay and rocks to gain another inch of depth. So, we stopped there and worked on the sides to create the shelves.

And there I ran into another issue with the ground. Namely, the way it crumbled as I attempted to dig and shape the sides. It refused to hold together like I had seen in all the videos I had watched on Youtube. And so rather than a smooth and simple shelf I ended up with a broken path around the interior of the pond. Well, hell.

I did the best that I could then laid out the liner in place. A few tugs and pulls here and there, then I added water to fill it and put the liner in place. I filled it about a third full then halted the water flow. I got in and walked around it barefoot to make sure there were no issues, then continued to fill the pond.

Once almost full, I shut the water off once more and went around the pond leveling the edges in order to maximize the area of the pond and only have two places where overflow would exit the pond in the direction I desired. Then it was time to dig the filter hole and run the pond pump; build the waterfall; create the area where the water would flow into the upper pond; and begin to place the surrounding rocks and landscape plants.

My wife added the crane statue and it fits perfectly while deterring any other predators from seeking our fish.

My wife added the crane statue and it fits perfectly while deterring any other predators from seeking our fish.

Electrical, water line, landscape plants and such

I purchased a plastic waterfall and built up the area I wanted it to be at the head of the pond. Then after running the water lines from pump to filter to waterfall and burying them or hiding them as I could before I ran my electrical.

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I gave this a lot of thought, as I have no outside electrical in my 100 year old house. My alternatives were to run a new line; add another electrical box; or go solar. After some more research, I settled on solar as I read that a 100 watt panel would produce sufficient power to run the pump I had purchased.

Reality proved otherwise. My panel, with controller and a lithium battery and an converter to go from DC to AC proved it would not run more than six hours on a full charge. I tried using the solar to charge my boat trolling motor batteries and use them, but could not improve on the max of six hours. So for a while, I used my boat batteries and while one charged on my regular charger the other was being used and charging on the solar cell. It required a daily changing out of these batteries until I decided enough was enough. I went back to trying to find a way to run an electrical cord out to the pond.

Problem was, it was 25' or more from the house and no external outlets existed. But remember, "Necessity is the mother of invention". We ended up running a heavy duty extension cord outside through the dryer vent, cutting off one end and creating an underground PVC pipe to the pump filter hole, reattaching the proper plug end and then plugging in the pump. Eureka!

View from our new sliding glass doors

View from our new sliding glass doors

Landscaping and such

Then it was time to "pretify" the area. As it was July and had been 100 degrees daily for a few weeks, the local home improvement stores were beginning to sell their plants, trees and bushes at a reduced price. So, I purchased a total of 20 plants of various types and sizes and set to making the pond area look nice. Some Butterfly Bushes; a few Azaleas, Hydrangeas, and Boxwood bushes; a Rose of Sharon; Cranapple tree; and some ground cover plants completed my dream.

Rocks were in place, both in and around the pond; smaller rocks for the bottom and around with larger ones creating the boundary between them and at the waterfall areas. This took quite a bit more than I had envisioned, forcing me to go back to the rock yard three times.

Then came plants for the pond itself. There is a place nearby that sells koi and plants, so a few visits there supplied me with a Pickerel plant, some Hardy Water Lilies,Water Lettuce and Water Hyacinths. A trip to a nearby spring fed creek saw us add some Water Cress, and I plan to add some Cattails in the spring. As a final touch, we added some landscape lights around it and on a couple of shepherd hooks for accent.

For our fish, we have purchased several koi in different sizes. None large, but in the three to six inch range. They are Bumblebee (yellow and black); Shadow (dark grey over silver); Casper (white); Dolly (the largest one, white with orange and some black. This one is a Butterfly Koi, hence the name Dolly as in Dolly Parsons); and our last one Spot (white with an orange spot on its head).

We also have some goldfish. Orange and Julius, two orange ones who are together constantly; Two Face, an orange over white one; two Shubunkin Goldfish (multi colored) who I named Thing 1 and Thing 2; and one white goldfish named Moby Dick. In the upper pool live four regular goldfish who have divided the pool in half. Two live on one side, two on the other. Fred and Wilma, and Barney and Betty. I purchased four algae eaters but they disappeared in the crevices of the rocks immediately and I haven't seen them since.

Dusk has fallen and the lights are on

Dusk has fallen and the lights are on

So, what lessons have I learned?

By having a plan, I felt good about what I was doing; however, I was forced to change direction several times. Lesson: be flexible as you design and build.

The electrical was a problem as well. Lesson: make sure you have access to everything you need before digging the pond.

I thought a ton of rocks would be sufficient; it wasn't. (Literally, I bought a ton, 2,000 pounds, of rocks the first time) Lesson: no matter what you think, you will spend more than you think to complete your pond.

A month in, algae began to bloom. So I did more research online and on Youtube and found new ponds often have this. You can either A) remove it with an algaecide, which might harm your fish or plants; B) ignore it and it could balance out on its own, or C) add a bog filter to assist the normal filter. Lesson: research, research research! If you've watched a dozen videos, watch two dozen. There is so much information there you can't believe it and you will learn something every single time.

In the end, it is beautiful to us. We sit out in the evenings and feed the fish, watching them make their way around the pond nibbling here and there on the food. Insects and birds love it too. We have various birds using it for a birdbath each morning. Dragonflies of various sizes and colors sit on the stalks of bamboo we placed into a couple of lilies in the corners. Mud dauber wasps come and steal our water to mix with dirt for their homes, sometimes twenty or more at a time. And just yesterday, a water strider showed up on it. I have no idea how or where it came from, but there it was!

All in all, it is a wonderful addition to our home, one we will enjoy for years to come. And with my wife purchasing a sliding glass door at the local home improvement store on serious sale ($60 per door for ones that originally went for over $500) and having them installed in the dining room, it allows us to sit at our dining table and look out over this pond, day or night. Just beautiful!

Water Strider

Water Strider

I had estimated about $1,000 and spent almost twice that. I ended up exhausting myself doing this, and did too much that soon after the surgery. It set me back in my rehab and I am paying the price now with pains in my nether regions. Of course, I did some other projects like siding the south side of our house, moving our gazebo around into a better position, finishing off the carport turned garage and insulating it, and deciding to move the solar panel onto the metal carport in front of the garage while running the lines inside the garage where we added an LED light there. There are no outlets or lights in the garage either.

All in all, it has been quite a summer, with surgery, pond and projects and such. More projects await, but will not be attempted until I heal fully.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Mr Archer

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