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I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better?

Q: I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better?

Dana – Altadena, CA

A: The media you use in your filtration system matters. Just think about its purpose: To house billions of beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms that keep your pond alive, crystal clear and algae-free. Thanks to their ample surface area, both lava rock and bioballs will work, but bioballs have some benefits over the rock. Read on to learn more.

Lava Rock’s Limitations

Lava rock – that igneous rock that’s formed as an erupting volcano’s molten lava cools and hardens – is very porous. When chunks of it live in your filtration system, you’re providing a lot of surface area for those beneficial bacteria to colonize and grow. That’s what makes it such a great filter media.

It does, however, have its drawbacks.

  • Clogged Holes: Over time, the porous rock can become easily clogged with muck and debris. Once the holes and pockets are clogged, they can become very difficult to clean out – which ultimately creates less overall surface area.
  • Hard Water: Lava rock naturally contains a variety of minerals, including iron and magnesium, that could affect your water’s pH, making it harder. Hard water could make it more difficult to treat algae that forms.
  • It’s Heavy!: They may be porous chunks of rock, but hefting bags of it takes some strength – particularly when its wet and full of gunk.

Benefits of BioBalls

Bioballs, like The Pond Guy® BioBalls™ filter media, are plastic spheres made up of dozens of thin rods that provide plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria to thrive. Two hundred of the bioballs in a mesh bag will filter about 1,000 gallons of water in a pond with minimal fish.

Compared to lava rock, bioballs have some definite benefits.

  • Easy to Clean: Bioballs can also become clogged, by they’re easy to clean. Just rinse them off with water from your pond and you’ll be good to go.
  • Indefinite Lifetime: Because they’re made from long-lasting material, bioballs will not degrade and will function equally well year after year.
  • Shape Shifters: The bioballs’ round shape allows them to more easily conform to any filter, no matter its shape.
  • Lightweight, Easy to Handle: Each one of these tiny, 1 1/2-inch plastic spheres weighs a scant 0.3 ounces; 200 of them weigh a whopping 3 1/2 pounds. They’re easy to deposit and remove from your filter thanks to a mesh filter bag.

Consider making the switch from lava rock to bioballs. You’ll see better results and you’ll need to do less maintenance. What’s better than that?

Pond Talk: Why do you prefer bioballs over lava rock?

Lightweight & Easy to Clean - The Pond Guy® BioBalls™

What does it mean when you say a pond must “cycle” before adding fish? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: What does it mean when you say a pond must “cycle” before adding fish?

Q: What does it mean when you say a pond must “cycle” before adding fish?

Sherry – Raleigh, NC

A: The term “cycle” refers to the nitrogen cycle – and it’s an important process to understand if you plan to keep fish in your pond. The nitrogen cycle provides the biological filtration in the water, which keeps the water free from toxic compounds created by decaying organic matter. The process is a complicated one, so here are the basics.

Nitrogen Cycle 101

Before we discuss cycling a new pond, let’s dive into how the nitrogen cycle looks in an established, mature pond. As organic material – like uneaten food, dead plant matter and fish waste – decay, the bacteria that break it down release ammonia, which is toxic to living organisms. One particular microorganism called nitrosomonas, however, loves ammonia. It feeds on ammonia and oxygen, and releases a chemical called nitrite.

Nitrites are also dangerous to fish and aquatic critters, and so another group of microorganisms – nitrobacter – enters the nitrogen cycle picture. These bacteria transform nitrites into relatively harmless nitrates, which are then absorbed by algae and plants or reduced by water changes.

New Pond, New Bacteria

A new pond doesn’t have healthy populations of nitrosomonas and nitrobacter yet, and so the pond must be “cycled.” This refers to establishing and maturing your pond’s biological filtration system so that it’s able to turn ammonia into nitrates. To do so, you need to start the process with an ammonia source (a few hardy fish) and seed the pond with these beneficial bacteria, which can be found in Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense® and in Microbe-Lift® PL Gel.

Nurturing Nitrosomonas

In the early spring when established ponds are waking up after a long winter, a similar cycling process will take place. Some nitrosomonas and nitrobacter will survive in your filtration media and gravel and begin to colonize, but it’s a good idea to give them a boost. Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense® is formulated for use in cooler temperatures – making it perfect for early spring applications. Since those microorganisms live in your filtration media, avoid washing it when you’re doing your spring cleaning.

Cycled and Ready for Fish

The cycling process can take four to six weeks, though in the warmer spring and summer this time may be reduced. Keep an eye on your ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels with a test kit, like our PondCare® Master Liquid Test Kit. Once it indicates that nitrates are present, your pond is considered cycled. Add only a few fish at a time to prevent ammonia levels from spiking again.

Keep in mind that this ammonia-nitrite-nitrate cycle is always occurring, so test your pond regularly to ensure the health and wellbeing of your finned friends.

Pond Talk: What has been your experience in “cycling” a pond?

Keep Pond Water Safe for Fish - PondCare® Master Liquid Test Kit

I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go?

Q: I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go?

George – Price, UT

A: Koi aficionados call their fish “living jewels” for a reason. With their rich red, brilliant white, velvety black and shimmering metallic scales, these swimming beauties resemble vibrant precious stones that glisten and glimmer as they glide through the water.

Colorful, Dynamic

Thanks to generations of careful breeding practices, koi hobbyists have developed more than 20 varieties of nishikigoi (brocaded carp) that differ by their scale color and pattern. Some of the stand-out types include:

  • Kohaku: White body topped with large red markings.
  • Sanke (Taisho Sanke): Similar to the Kohaku but with the addition of small black markings called sumi.
  • Showa (Showa Sanke): Black body topped with red (hi) and white (shiroji) markings.
  • Ogon: Metallic scales in one solid color, usually orange, white, silver or gold.

A koi’s color pattern is dynamic through its entire life; the colors and markings change as the fish grows in size and loses and regrows its scales. For instance, a black spot on your Sanke’s back may seem to shrink or disappear beneath its red markings – only to return a year later in a morphed size or shape.

Bring Out the Brilliance

Though it’s part of a koi’s DNA to change its spots, environmental factors can cause modifications as well. Poor water quality, parasites and fungal infections, for example, may fade scale color. Insufficient sun exposure during the winter months, too, may cause colors to wane. But once the water quality is back up to par and sunless sky gives way to bright sunshine, those brilliant colors will return.

On the flip side, some external factors can actually enhance a koi’s color. Fresh vegetables and citrus fruits, like green peas, oranges and grapefruit, can bring out the vibrant red and orange tones, brighten the whites and deepen the blacks. You can also find commercial diets that are packed with ingredients, like vitamin C and spirulina, formulated to boost color.

Summer Color

As warmer weather approaches and your fish start to get hungry again, start them off with an easy-to-digest wheat germ diet, like The Pond Guy Spring & Fall Fish Food, followed by a higher protein, color-enhancing diet, like The Pond Guy Growth & Vibrance Fish Food. Also test your water quality and do what’s necessary to make sure it’s the best it can be. In time, you’ll likely see your koi’s black markings return – or change into something completely different!

Pond Talk: What changes have you seen in your koi’s color and markings?

Perfect for Cool Weather Feeding - The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food

How can I tell if I have male or female koi? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How can I tell if I have male or female koi?

Q: How can I tell if I have male or female koi?

Ann Marie – Casselberry, FL

A: If only koi were as easy to sex as a pair of peacocks! Like those fanciful birds, koi are sexually dimorphic – meaning the males and females look and behave differently – but it’s not an easy distinction to discern. They grow to roughly the same size and they both have colorful scales, yet there are subtle differences if you know where to look. With these clues, you’ll know whether to name your finned friends Fred or Frieda.

Clue #1: Age

Koi are easier to tell apart when they’re mature, and so your first clue will be age – which is related to their length. They’re considered mature (3 years old) when they’re about 10 inches long. If they’re between 3 and 10 inches, they’re still juveniles and may be difficult to sex.

Clue #2: Body Shape

Immobilize your koi by capturing it in your Collapsible Fish Net and take a look at it from above. A mature male koi will have a slender looking body, while a female koi will have a rounded body, particularly when it’s spawning season and she’s carrying a nest full of eggs!

Clue #3: Fin Shape

Next, examine your koi’s fins. A male koi’s pectoral fins, the ones near his head, will appear pointed and solid in color. In addition, the first ray of his pectoral fin may be more substantial when compared to his female counterpart, which will display rounder fins.

Clue #4: Tubercles

During breeding season, you may see little white growths, called tubercles, on male koi’s heads and pectoral fins. They’re perfectly natural and will disappear once the fish have finished getting frisky. Females don’t develop these protrusions.

Clue #5: Behavior

One final – and obvious! – clue: amorous behavior. When they’re not mating, they behave very similarly, but during mating season, the male koi will chase the female, encouraging her (sometimes enthusiastically) to release her eggs so he can fertilize them. After all that frolicking, the happy pair will benefit from some Pond Logic® Stress Reducer Plus, which will help heal any damaged tissue.

It’s not easy to distinguish the male and female koi, but with these tips and clues, you’ll know your Freds from your Friedas in no time!

Pond Talk: Have you ever tried to determine the sex of your koi?

Safely Catch Your Fish - The Pond Guy® Collapsible Fish Net

What can I do to prevent string algae from growing in the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: What can I do to prevent string algae from growing in the winter?

Q: What can I do to prevent string algae from growing in the winter?

Laura – Hattiesburg, MS

A: Even in the cold of winter, string algae can grow in your water garden. All that green nuisance needs to thrive is the right amount of nutrients and sunlight. So what can you do to prevent it? You have three options in your pond management toolbox: Seasonal Defense, barley straw extract, and a three-in-one pond tool.

Boost Your Bacteria

First of all, you’ll need to control the nutrients – or the food that the algae eat – in your pond. Because the beneficial bacteria that break down those nutrients go dormant in the winter, now’s the time to add some Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense® (as long as your pond isn’t frozen over, of course). It contains bacteria that prefer cooler temperatures. They’ll accelerate the decomposition of leaves, scum and sediment that feed algae, reducing its growth to a minimum.

Add Barley Straw

If you have a small water garden, like a koi pond that’s less than 10,000 gallons, Pond Logic® Barley Extract provides an all-natural solution for maintaining clean, clear water throughout the winter. Available in bales, pellets and as an extract, it works by releasing compounds that improve water clarity, leaving you a clean and healthy pond. Read more about how barley extract works here. The extract form is easy to use: Pour directly into the water and repeat every few weeks.

Manually Remove It

Should string algae form, you can manually remove it by wrapping it around an algae brush, like the one included in the The Pond Guy® 3-in-1 Interchangeable Pond Tool, and yanking it out of the water. The telescoping handle will add 5 feet to your reach, allowing you to reach those hard-to-access patches of weeds.

Unfortunately, if ice is covering your pond, there’s not much you can do to remove that string algae. Plan on removing it during your spring clean-out process. The sun will return soon enough!

Pond Talk: How do you prevent string algae from growing in the winter?

Naturally Clear Pond Water - Pond Logic® Barley Extract

I was out at my pond today and it is still partially covered with ice. I have a de-icer and aeration – isn’t that enough to keep the ice off my pond? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I was out at my pond today and it is still partially covered with ice. I have a de-icer and aeration – isn’t that enough to keep the ice off my pond?

Q: I was out at my pond today and it is still partially covered with ice. I have a de-icer and aeration – isn’t that enough to keep the ice off my pond?

Mark – Buffalo, NY

A: During these frigid months of the year, a hole in the ice means the difference between life and death for your pond fish. That opening allows oxygen to flow into the liquid water while it dissipates harmful gases caused by decaying debris and fish waste into the air.

Bubblers and de-icers both keep a hole open in the ice, but they go about it differently.

  • Bubblers, like the ones found in Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration Kits, are designed to gently and quietly move the water surface, and that action keeps a hole open in the ice. The aerator also delivers oxygen to the lower levels in your pond while bringing harmful gases to the surface to be released.
  • De-icers, such as the Thermo-Pond De-icer, melt surface-forming ice and create a gas exchange vent in the ice. While effective, during cold windy nights they may not be be enough to keep a hole open on their own.
  • Bubbler-De-icer Combos, like Airmax® PondAir™/Thermo-Pond De-icer Combo, is an energy-efficient option. Because the aerator will bring harmful gases to the surface and your de-icer helps to keep the hole melted, you’ll be sure to keep the ice vent open.

The bubblers, de-icers and combos are not designed to warm the water or keep the entire pond surface ice free. They’re meant to keep an opening for gas exchange, which is all that’s needed for the fish in your pond.

As long as the equipment you have in the pond is sized correctly (see your manual for details on what yours can effectively handle), you won’t need a larger hole. Your fish are less active, not eating and producing less waste, and so they won’t have the gas exchange requirements they do in the warmer months.

If your vent does freeze over during extra cold temperatures, simply pour hot water on the ice where the hole once was. It’ll melt the hole back open – and your fish can breathe a sigh of relief!

Pond Talk: How do you keep a hole in the ice in your water garden?

Keep Your Fish Safe - Airmax® PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond 3.0 De-Icer Combo

We’ve been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: We've been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals?

Q: We’ve been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals?

Shiela – Norton, VA

A: No doubt your finned friends are enjoying the cozy indoors during the chilly winter season. With your tank’s filtration system turned on, you’re mechanically cleaning the fishes’ aquatic abode – which is a great first step – but there are a few more things you can do to make their stay inside a pleasant one. Here’s what we recommend.

No Chemicals Necessary

Unless your holding tank receives a lot of sunlight, you won’t need chemical treatments, like algaecides or water clarifiers. They’re not necessary, particularly if you use beneficial bacteria, stress reducer and an aeration system.

Boost Your Bacteria

Natural beneficial bacteria, like those found in Pond Logic® Liquid Clear™, will keep your tank water clean (and give your mechanical filtration system a break!), so pour some into the tank. The tiny microbes activate as soon as they hit the water, multiplying every 20 to 40 minutes and digesting dead organics in the water. The result: crystal clear water and happy fish.

Condition the Water

A stress reducer, like Pond Logic® Stress Reducer PLUS, will help your fish enjoy their indoor stay, too. The water conditioner fortifies your fish’s slime coat, which is the natural slime secretion that’s lost when its stressed. It also removes heavy metals, chlorine and chloramines from tap water, making it safe for underwater living.

Aerate and Circulate

In addition to beneficial bacteria and stress reducer, you should also drop in some air stones into the tank and connect them to your aeration system. Because your fish are living in a smaller space, they’ll need even more oxygen than they did in your pond. Our PondAir™ Aeration Kits will infuse the water with plenty of fresh O2 for your fish until spring arrives again!

Pond Talk: Where do you overwinter your pond fish?

Promote A Healthy Ecosystem - Pond Logic® LiquidClear™

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