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How to Make an Ice Rink on Your Pond – Part 1 | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

How to Make an Ice Rink on Your Pond - Part 1

How to Make an Ice Rink on Your Pond

Part 1: Understanding How Ice Forms

One of the joys of having a pond on your property is being able to create a winter-sports wonderland. Whether you’re an ice skater or a hockey player, curling competitor or broomball aficionado, it’s sure nice to simply walk out to your ice rink, slip on your skates and play.

But before you groom your pond for ice sports, it’s important to understand how to safely create a sturdy ice sheet and what red flags to look for while the ice is forming. In this first part of our three-part series on how to make a rink on your pond, we begin with the basics.

From a Liquid to a Solid

Ever wonder exactly how ice forms? Here’s a quick lesson for you.

When the air temperature cools in the late fall and early winter, the water on the surface of your lake or pond loses its heat and becomes heavier. This cold, heavy water sinks to the bottom while the warmer water from the bottom rises to the top and cools. The cycling process continues until the overall water temperature reaches 39º Fahrenheit (or about 4º Celsius).

Before long, the water on top cools enough to freeze. As it does so, the liquid molecules transform into solid ice crystals—and those things expand and space themselves out when they form, which is why ice floats and why it takes up more room than liquid. When given enough time to form, the ice layer created by this crystallized frozen water thickens to the point where it is strong enough to support animals, humans and even vehicles.

Creating Good Ice

Since your goal is to create an ice rink, you’ll need to grow a sheet of ice that’s thick, solid, strong and dense. Water movement affects the integrity of the forming ice – in fact, just a little bit of movement on the water surface can create uneven, porous ice that’s not suitable for walking or skating. So it’s important to turn off and remove your water-moving Aeration System from the lake before the ice starts to build on your lake’s surface.

The winterizing process starts with unplugging your aeration system and shutting it down completely. Leave the airline and diffuser plates in the pond, but cover the airline ends to prevent debris from entering. Finally, store the compressor and cabinet indoors to keep them dry and rust-free.

The only movement your lake water should experience now will be from wind and waves – both of which are in Mother Nature’s control.

Beware of Red Flags

As the ice is forming, keep an eye on it. Do you see any weak or soft spots? Are there any areas with running or pooling water? These could be signs telling you to abandon your ice rink plans. Here are some more red flags to watch for:

  • Flowing water near or at the edges of the ice can cause soft spots that appear gray, dark or porous.
  • Flowing springs under the ice in spring-fed ponds and lakes can cause areas to not freeze.
  • Water flows in and/or out of the iced-over water body. Stream inlets and outlets can erode ice, making it highly variable in thickness.
  • Areas with cracks, breaks or holes are obivous danger zones.
  • Ice that appears to have thawed and refrozen. These fluctuations can cause weak spots in the ice.
  • Abnormal surfaces that you have not seen before, like pressure ridges caused by currents or winds.

Ice is generally strongest where it is hard and blue or clear. If you’re unsure of whether your ice is forming well, check with your local government officials (like your department of natural resources) about safety suggestions.

Next week, we’ll discuss how to make sure your newly formed ice is thick and safe enough for winter sports, and how to create a pristine winter wonderland with ice primed for fun.

Always Promote Pond Safety

Will my fountain be enough to keep my fish safe this winter?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q:Will my fountain be enough to keep my fish safe this winter?

Q: Will my fountain be enough to keep my fish safe this winter?

Holly – Gorham, ME

A: If your pond freezes over in the winter, a fountain won’t do you or your fish much good. It’s not designed to be run or left in the pond during icy conditions. The ice can damage the float or create a barrier that prevents water from passing through the spray nozzle. That could cause the motor to run dry and stop working. And that’s not good.

Instead, we recommend completely removing your fountain and a run a bottom diffused aeration system instead.

Before the Ice Forms

Autumn is the perfect time to remove the fountain from your pond before the ice forms. When unplugging the motor and pulling it ashore; inspect the cords, motor and lights for any damage. After sitting in a pond all summer, chances are you will have to clean the fountain and lenses from any algae, build up or debris. Once your fountain is ready to be stored, place it in doors until spring.

Below the Surface

Now that you have removed the fountain from the pond, it is a good idea to protect both your fish and boating dock from ice damage by adding an aeration system. Aeration keeps the oxygen levels up and the water circulating. Depending on how close the diffuser plates are to the surface or dock, aeration can also keep a hole open for gas exchange, and provide a place for ducks to gather when everything else is frozen over.

Keep your fish safe and happy this winter by giving them surface and subsurface aeration. They’ll appreciate it more than just your fountain!

Pond Talk: How much aeration do you have in your pond or lake during the winter?

Shade & Prevent Damage From Winter Ice - Airmax (r) Shallow Series (t) Aeration Systems

If I run my waterfall pump for a few hours a day during winter, will my fish be OK?| Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: If I run my waterfall pump for a few hours a day during winter, will my fish be OK?

Q: If I run my waterfall pump for a few hours a day during winter, will my fish be OK?

Lenny – Waggoner, IL

A: While it may be beautiful to run your waterfall during winter, it is not always recommended. A waterfall pump moves and circulates oxygenated water through the water column, but if you run it for just a few hours each day, your fish – and your pocketbook – may suffer. Here’s why.

  • Oxygen Starved: First of all, your fish need plenty of fresh oxygen, even when they’re semi-dormant in the wintertime. A few hours of circulation from a waterfall pump won’t keep a hole in the ice or infuse enough oxygen into the water, so the lack of fresh air will stress out your finned pals and put them at risk for disease.
  • Ice Dams: If you run your waterfall pump in northern climates during near- or sub-freezing temperatures, ice dams can develop and grow in size, diverting water from the pond. For this reason, you’d need to keep an eye on your water level – particularly if you have a longer stream. When the water level gets too low, your pump could become damaged, which means you’ll need to fork out some cash to replace it.
  • Overstressed Pump: Speaking of replacing a pump, take a look at your pump’s manual. Does it say that your pump is it designed for use in freezing temperatures? Generally speaking, pumps should be at least 2,000 GPH to operate in the winter.
  • Big Energy Bill: The cost of running a waterfall pump can easily top $100 a month. The cost of running a de-icer alone to keep a hole in the ice for gas exchange can cost up to $75 a month. Those aren’t cheap options! An aerator; however, is a cost-effective solution that’ll only cost you around $1.70 a month. In addition, you can use aerators throughout the year.

Because of the risk of damaging the waterfall pump and not providing enough oxygen to your fish – along with the high cost of running it all the time – we recommend removing the pump this winter and replacing it with an aerator.

Stowing the Pump

When you remove your pump, submerge it in a 5-gallon bucket of water to keep all its seals lubricated and store it indoors in a place that won’t freeze. Blow out the water and debris in your tubing with an air compressor and cap it off. Drain the skimmer boxes below the weir door. And spray your filter media off with a hose, pump out any water in the filter box and give it a good scrubbing.

Installing Aeration

Once your pump is removed and stored for the season, install an aeration system that’s sized right for your pond. KoiAir™ Aeration Kits, are designed for ponds up to four feet deep and 16,000 gallons, includes a compressor, airline and a diffuser plate. PondAir™ Aeration Kits are suited for ponds up to two feet deep and 2,000 gallons, includes a compressor, airline, check valves and air stones. Simply connect the diffuser plate or air stones to the compressor, submerge the plate/stones and plug it in, and you’re good to go!

You’ll be delivering oxygen to your fish, keeping a hole in the ice and preserving your waterfall pump – and saving a bunch of your hard-earned money.

Pond Talk: What tricks do you have to save money on pond expenses?

Save On Energy This Winter - Airmax (r) KoiAir(t) Aeration Kits

We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q:We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Dylan- Garner, IA

A: Ponds and lakes get plenty of visitors – including different species of snakes that linger around water. Some of the more common varieties that call the northern states home include the Black Rat Snake, Corn Snake, Garter Snake and the Northern Water Snake.

Water snakes live wherever there’s water, like near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers and canals. During the spring, summer and fall, when the weather is warm, you probably see these snakes slithering in and around your pond and in the grassy fields, looking for food and for places to sun themselves. But during the winter, they disappear. Where do they go? They’re holed up and hibernating.

Summer Home, Winter Home

Snakes are ectothermic, which means they use the environment to regulate their body temperature. When it’s warm, they’re warm – and they ensure that by basking on rocks, stumps or brush in the full sunshine. In fair weather, rocks, aquatic plants, muskrat houses and beaver lodges are good places to find water snakes, which like to hide among the sticks and plant stems when they’re not sunning themselves.

But when it’s cold, they go on hiatus. These snakes are unable to generate their own internal body heat, so they rely on outside forces to keep their metabolisms churning. They need to overwinter in areas that will not freeze. The underground becomes their winter home, where they spend their time in temperature-stable burrows below the freezing line, and often share the space with other snakes.

Preferred Diet

In the spring, summer and fall, these slithering, mostly harmless critters are active day and night. During the day, water snakes hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

When the cold weather sets in; however, snakes go on a season-long diet. Their metabolism slows way down. Food supplies, like frogs and toads, dwindle. If snakes have undigested food in their bellies when they go into hibernation, they can die.

Friends and Foes

Water snakes have many predators, including birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes. Humans who mistake the harmless snake varieties for dangerous ones, like Copperheads and Water Moccasins, can affect the population, too.

For the most part, these guys are our friends. They may eat some fish and frogs and hunt some of the indigenous wildlife, but they also do damage to the rodent population – which everyone can appreciate. If you see a snake on your property and you’re not sure if it’s a safe or dangerous variety, contact your local university extension office and describe the snake’s size, color, scale pattern and where you found it. Never kill a snake without good reason, because they are important to our environment.

Pond Talk: What kinds of snakes do you have around your pond or lake?

Shade & Protect Your Pond All Year Long - Pond Logic (r) Pond Dye

For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?

Q: For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?

Chuck- Tipton, IN

A: Diffusers – and the oxygen they pump into your pond or lake – ensure the health and well being of your fish. Year-round aeration circulates the water column and fills the pond with oxygen. If your pond freezes over during the cold months of the year, an aeration system will can also help maintain a hole in the ice to allow harmful gases to escape.

Move Your Diffusers:

As part of your winter-prep chores, you will need to move the diffuser plates to a shallower spot in your pond or lake. Why? Give your fish a place to safely overwinter in deeper, warmer water. When the plates are closer to the surface, they will also help to keep a hole open in the ice.

Close the Valves:

In addition to relocating your diffuser plates, you can also close about 50 percent of the valves (unless you have the PS10 or LS10 models of Airmax® Aeration Systems, in which case you leave the valve open). You won’t be mixing as much water, but you will be adding enough oxygen to the pond and allowing for gas exchange at the surface.

Stay Safe:

Because you’re aerating your pond over the winter, consider putting up a “Thin Ice” sign near the shoreline. Air pockets form in ice sheets created on aerated ponds, and they make the surface unsound and not safe to walk or skate on. Warn would-be hockey players and figure skaters of the danger before they get into trouble.

While you’re thinking about safety, make sure you have a Life Ring, first aid kit and blanket stowed lakeside in a weatherproof bin just in case someone does fall through the ice.

Pond Talk: How spectacular are the fall colors around your pond or lake right now?

Aerate Your Pond in All Seasons - Airmax (r) Pond Series (t) Aeration Systems

When should I stop using PondClear™ and MuckAway™?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: When should I stop using PondClear™ and MuckAway™?

Q: When should I stop using PondClear™ and MuckAway™?

Alfred- Belmont, NH

A: PondClear™ and MuckAway™ contain colonies of beneficial bacteria that will eat through suspended and bottom-of-the-pond muck – but those microorganisms work best in warmer water temperatures. When the pond thermometer drops below 50° F, stop using the PondClear™ and MuckAway™ as their bacteria lose effectiveness.

Speaking of cooler temperatures, here are some things you can do to prepare your pond for the fall season:

Around-the-Pond-Cleanup:

Take a walk around your pond or lake and clean up any strewn debris like sticks or brush on the shoreline. While you’re at it, rake out the inlets and/or outlets to be sure they’re cleared and ready to handle the coming precipitation.

Treat Algae & Weeds:

To ensure your pond or lake is algae- and weed-free going into the colder season, add a final dose of algaecide and herbicide, like Hydrothol-191 Granular Aquatic Algaecide and Herbicide. Once the foliage turns brown and dies, remove it with your Pond & Beach Rake to prevent muck from accumulating during the winter.

Treat with Beneficial Bacteria:

Treat your pond with muck-devouring bacteria one last time before water temperatures drop to 50° F.

Once spring returns and water temperatures rise above 50° F, start using those microorganisms in PondClear™ and MuckAway™ again! PondClear™ attacks debris suspended in the water column, while MuckAway™ battles built-up debris on the bottom of the pond. They’re sold individually and as part of the Pond Logic® ClearPAC® PLUS Pond Care Package.

Pond Talk: What advice can you share with this new pond owner?

Remove Excess Nutrients & Odor - Pond Logic (r) PondClear (t) Natural Bacteria

I have a deicer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do?

Q: I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do?

Maggie – Carlisle, PA

A: Sounds like your pond fell victim to the 2014 Polar Vortex! When frigid weather persists for days on end – like those way-below-zero temperatures endured by a large swath of the country earlier this month – a pond can completely freeze over, even if a higher-watt de-icer and aerator are used. The ice-melting combination works great in most scenarios, but it just can’t keep up in extreme conditions.

If your pond has been totally frozen over for a day or so, your fish will be fine. But if it has been more than a few days, your pond pals could be at risk of oxygen deprivation or overexposure to dangerous gases trapped beneath the ice.

So what do you do?

Let’s start with what not to do – and that’s to try to smash the ice with a chisel or blunt object. The sound and vibration of that pounding on the ice amplify underwater, which can stress out your fish. They’re already unhappy, and so you certainly don’t want to make them endure more trauma!

Instead, use a pot of hot water to melt away the ice. If it’s particularly thick, you might need to repeat the process several times to open a complete hole in the frozen stuff. While the temperatures remain frigid, check on the pond every few days to make sure the hole is still open; if it freezes over again, use hot water to open the hole back up.

With another two-plus months of winter ahead of us, it’s not too late to add a de-icer to your pond if you don’t already have one. Simply place a unit, like the K&H Thermo-Pond De-Icer, on the ice and turn it on. It will heat up and melt through the ice – as long as temperatures aren’t too extreme!

Pond Talk: How did your pond fare during these extreme frigid January temperatures?

The Ultimate in Winter Pond Protection - PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo

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