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The Science Behind Barley Straw – Water Garden & Feature Q & A

Picture of Barley Straw.

Water Gardens & Features Q & A

Q: How does barley straw work to control algae? – Emma of Michigan

A: Barley straw is no magic bullet to rid your decorative pond of algae. But when used as a preventive measure, barley straw offers pond owners an attractive option to chemical products to manage those dreaded green blooms.

The Science Behind Barley: Barley straw has been widely used for decades to control algae blooms in many bodies of water, including large reservoirs and canals. Researchers have yet to precisely pinpoint how it works, but generally, it’s believed that the straw may alter the nutrient balance in the water, starving the algae to death, or the straw’s decomposition may be produce compounds toxic to algae.

Experts usually consider barley straw to be algistatic, or an algae preventive, rather than an algaecide, or an algae killer. It has not been found to harm fish, water fowl or pond inhabitants in any way and, in fact, some studies suggest the straw benefits fish health.

Using It In Your Pond: Science aside, what’s important to pond keepers is how to use it in their ponds. Currently, hobbyists can choose from three different types of barley products: barley straw in bale form, barley pellets and barley extract. When used correctly, each will work to suppress algae blooms in the pond.

Barley Straw Bales: Typically available loose in a mesh bag, bales of barley straw should be placed in the pond several months before bloom conditions are expected to occur (around March or April, depending on your climate) as the straw must start to decompose before it releases it’s algae-suppressing substances. One pound of barley straw will treat a 100-square foot pond for approximately four-to-six months. Be sure to keep the straw well-aerated, floating it near your water fall or stream or in shallow water, if possible. Besides the length of time it takes for bales to decompose another downside is that they can be counter productive if left in the pond for too long. They can eventually become a nutrient source for algae as well.

Barley Pellets: Compressed into a compact form, the barley pellets also contain all the beneficial algae-suppressing substances found in barley straw without the unsightly look of bales, pillows or pads. They’re designed to break down quickly, and produce phosphate-combating humic substances that suppress algae growth. The pellets may also buffer pH and control alkalinity in your pond. A 6-pound bag will treat an 800-gallon pond for up to six months; while a 12-pound bag will treat a 1,600-gallon pond for up to six months.

Barley Extract: Offering the benefits of barley straw without the mess or unsightly bale floating in your pond, barley extract contains the algae-suppressing substances in liquid form. Because you don’t have to wait for the barley straw to decompose, it starts to work on contact. An 8-ounce container treats up to 4,000 gallons for three months; a 16-ounce bottle treats up to 8,000 gallons for three months.

POND TALK: Have you found barley straw to effectively control algae in your decorative pond?

Building Fish Habitat for Ponds – Pond & Lake Q & A

Picture of a Porcupine Fish Attractor Fish Habitat.

Pond & Lake Q & A

Q: What types of things can you put in your pond to create more fish habitats for a better population of fish? – Jacob of Texas

A: Fish habitats offer more than just a cozy home for schools of bass in your pond or lake. They also create an ideal spawning habitat, a spot of refuge and shade for young fry, a safe haven from swooping predators, and a breeding ground for algae and plankton to attract bait fish and lure larger fish to favorite fishing spots.

Though fish habitats range from inexpensive (or free!) items laying around the yard to high-tech store-bought devices, here are just a few artificial and natural underwater structures you can use:

Artificial Reefs: Artificial habitats have been shown to attract just as much plankton and provide just as much protection from prey as evergreen alternatives. Some come manufactured and ready to install, like the Porcupine® Fish Attractor. Others, like bundled pipes, can be put together yourself by bundling lengths of 10- to 12-inch pipe (PVC, clay or concrete) with or without one end plugged, anchoring with cinder block and submerging. You could also drop a barrel and turn it on its side. Regardless of your artificial reef type, simply place them in lines extending out from the shore in depths of 6 to 25 feet; the steeper the slope, the less structure is needed.

Boulder Clusters and Rock Piles: Piles of boulders or concrete blocks placed individually or in clusters can attract a variety of fish, not to mention providing a healthy medium for beneficial bacteria and tasty string algae to flourish. Use large boulders (more than 2 feet in diameter) and place them away from the shoreline. Boulders can be useful if you have small streams or rivers leading to your lake or pond, too, as they can break fast-moving currents and provide a resting place for fish.

Root Wads, Brush Bundles and Submerged Logs: Stumps, lengthwise-sawed logs, root wads, brush bundles — and even last year’s Christmas tree — can provide important habitat. Simply gather the materials, attach a weight (like a cinder block), and sink them in the shallow waters of streams or in the near-shore areas of lakes and ponds. Create three or four groups of these bundles per acre, and place them in 6 to 10 feet of water, no farther than 30 feet from shore. Keep in mind that these “natural” habitats will introduce nutrients to the lake and cause unsightly algae blooms, which can be controlled using Algae Defense®.

POND TALK: What do you use to create fish habitats in your pond or lake?

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