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How do fish go dormant? Are they really asleep? – Decorative Water Gardens Q & A

How do fish go dormant? Are they really asleep?

How do fish go dormant? Are they
really asleep?

Ryan – Falston, MD

With the warm days of summer now a distant memory and fall following in its footsteps your Koi are left with a few months of cold weather with nothing to do but relax. Since they don’t have miniature submerged Koi calendars to check what is it that tells your fish it is time to hibernate?

Koi are cold blooded creatures which means their body temperatures and activity levels are directly correlated with the ambient temperature. Koi are active and alert when their environment is warm and will start to slow down as the water temperature decreases. Once the water temperatures start to dip below 46°F your fish tend to stop eating and will retreat to the bottom of the pond. Your fish use the decrease in temperature along with the shortening day lengths as a trigger to prepare for winter. As the water begins to cool your fish will become less active as their bodily functions slow down. Less activity means a slower digestive process, less demand for food. It is this decrease in food digestion that warrants the use of wheat germ based foods like Pond Logic Spring & Fall Fish Food. These types of food are easier to digest that regular food reducing the risk of leaving undigested food to rot inside a dormant fish which can potentially be fatal.

As the temperatures continue to decline towards 40°F, the blood flow and respiratory rate of the fish will drop to an extremely low rate where their body is hardly functioning. You may hear people say that your Koi are sleeping in the winter and while fish do sleep this goes way beyond the standard drop in bodily functions associated with some much needed shut-eye. This extreme internal slow down ensure survival with even the most limited resources with cases of dormant fish lasting 150 days without food.

The whole over-wintering scenario sounds a little extreme to us but it is truly a natural and normal process for your fish. They do not require much attention in the winter but there are a few things you can do to ensure their winter break is a success. When a layer of ice begins to form over the pond, maintain an opening for gas exchange using your aerator or a de-icer. Also, make sure you feed with a cold weather formulated fish food as water temperatures approach 50° so your fish are able to safely digest it before hibernation begins. You can use a pond thermometer to keep track of the water temperature in your water garden.

Pond Talk: What do you do to help your fish through the winter season?

Get your fish ready for wither with Pond Logic Spring and Fall Fish Food!

What benefits are there for aeration during the winter? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A

What benefits are there for aeration during the winter?

What benefits are there for aerating during the winter?
Drew – Galata, MT

One of the best features of an aeration system is its ability to perform all season long. Your aeration system will play a major role in breaking down the leaves and debris that made its way into the pond during the fall which will promote a healthier pond throughout the winter and easier maintenance come spring. You’ve seen the benefits of aeration all summer long but what does your aeration system have to offer in the winter?

Even in cooler temperatures an aeration system will continue to circulate the contents of your pond and infuse oxygen into the water column. The cooler water will be able to hold more oxygen which is great for the overall health of the pond and its inhabitants. As the surface water cools in the pond it will start to sink towards the ponds bottom. This shift in water can potentially break the thermocline in your pond and force harmful water from the bottom of the pond to mix into the water column trapping your fish. This is referred to as a turnover and they can happen both in warm and cold temperatures in ponds that are not being aerated. You’ve also learned from our previous blogs that running your aeration system in the winter will keep holes open in the ice that allow an escape for toxic gasses and a hole for fresh air to enter the pond. You can also move your plates closer to the shoreline of your pond to keep water open and available for wildlife to drink and birds to swim. Encouraging wildlife to visit your yard is always nice in a season where your yard can sometimes seem bland and uneventful.

Although aeration is a simple and effective way to maintain your pond throughout the winter there are a couple scenarios that warrant a winter break. If you use your pond to skate or ice fish you will not want to run your aeration system as the constant friction not only opens holes in the ice above the plates but will also thin the ice in other areas.

If you do not yet have an aeration system installed in your pond, but would like to install one before the winter, it is best to have your aerator introduced before the ice begins to form. If your pond is not already aerated it is important that you run the system in short increments at first to prevent your own man-made turnover. Start by running it for about 30 minutes the day you install it and double the run time each day after. If you follow this method you should be running your aerator 1 hour the 2nd day, 2 hours the next, 4 hours on the 4th day and should be running the aeration system continuously by the end of the week. Browse over to our Airmax Aeration page for help selecting an aeration system that fits your pond. If you need additional help or have questions you can also feel free to contact one of our Pond Guys or Gals or post a comment on our blog page.

Pond Talk: Do you notice a healthier pond in the spring as a result of running your aeration system in the winter?

Keep your pond healthy all winter long!

What happens to the frogs and toads during the winter? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A

When should I remove the fountain from my pond?

What happens to the frogs and toads during the winter?
Dustin – Huntsville, UT

As the temperatures continue to drop you will begin to notice that your pond, once full of life, is now starting to look like abandoned arctic tundra. Gone are the cool summer nights spent on your patio and deck watching fireflies tastefully illuminate your lawn while being serenaded by a choir of frogs and crickets.

While you are inside cuddled under blankets for the season where do your web-footed friends spend their winter? The winter retreat of choice will depend on the type of frog you have hanging around your pond. You will commonly find either some variety of frog frequenting the shallow areas or shoreline of your pond and toads farther inland rummaging about your gardens or front lawn. Both are very similar but can usually be identified by a few visual characteristics. Frogs tend to have smooth glossy skin that feels slimy to the touch while toads have dry lumpy skin. The eyes of a frog tend to protrude further from its head than those of a toad. A toad will usually have poison sacks located behind their eyes which help prevent them from becoming a snack for larger predators.

As frogs are cold blooded they will begin to slow down as their body temperatures drop. When winter arrives they will go into a state of dormancy and wait out the cold weather. The hibernation strategy varies between species of frogs. Toads tend to bury themselves in leaves or mud while frogs can pass the winter at the bottom of your pond below the ice. Frogs produce a type of glucose in their bodies that will allow them to freeze solid and still be able to survive. As the temperatures begin to rise in the spring their hearts will begin to beat again and they will begin to thaw. When they are once again mobile they will actively search for a place to mate.

Since frogs have an arsenal of survival skills to get them through the winter there is not much you have to do to help them survive the cooler months. Instead focus on keeping yourself warm and healthy and try your best to enjoy the snow and beautiful landscapes this winter brings

POND TALK: Do frogs frequent your pond? How do they adapt to the changing season in your area?

Should I use a heater or aerator in my water garden? – Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

When should I remove the fountain from my pond?

Should I use a heater or aerator in my water garden?
Lindsay – Pittsfield, ME

So you already know that it is important to keep a hole open in the ice that forms over your water garden during the winter months. This provides an outlet for harmful gases and an inlet for new oxygen-rich air. The question now is which device do you choose to get the job done. The good news is if you have already made your purchase for the season either one will perform excellently. Both a heater and aerator will maintain a hole in the ice but unlike a pond heater, this is only one of many tasks an aeration system performs for your water garden.

When we talk about pond heaters we are referencing units like the Pondmaster Floating Pond De-Icer which does not heat the water in the pond but instead keeps a ring of water open allowing gas to escape through the vent in the top of the unit. Since most ponds deeper than 18” do not freeze solid this is all that is needed to allow oxygen exchange while the fish are dormant. When running a pond heater periodically check in on the pond to make sure ice does not form over the vent hole. To reduce electrical expense most pond heaters are thermostatically controlled to run only during a given temperature range, but they are measuring water temperature instead of air temperature. This means it is unlikely that the water temperature will raise enough to ever shut off the heater. To save some extra money on energy bills use a Thermo Cube in tandem with your pond heater as it will determine when your pond heater should run based on the ambient air temperature.

Aeration keeps a hole in the ice during the winter by producing bubbles and water motion to slow the ice from forming. This allows for the same gas exchange created by a pond heater, however your Aeration System will circulate the entire pond volume and infuse it with dissolved oxygen making it more efficient at oxygen/gas transfer. People will sometimes run pumps beneath the ice trying to create this same effect but it is the tiny air bubbles that boost dissolved oxygen levels and create the friction that prevents ice from forming. Your pond benefits from aeration year round making an aeration system a helpful and highly functional tool regardless of the season. The installation process is simple and straightforward and aeration systems are available in various sizes and shapes allowing you to select a system that best fits your pond. When selecting a system make sure you purchase a unit that is rated for your ponds volume in order to provide enough outlet for proper gas exchange.

The performance of both pond heaters and aeration systems vary depending on how cold it gets in your area. Even when vented properly, layers of ice appear may over when temperatures dip well below freezing. If this only occurs temporarily, and is short in duration while the coldest temperatures and wind are present, there should not be any cause for concern, as a calm or sunny day will give the pond the help it needs to re-open the hole in the ice. If it is necessary to manually reopen the air vent do not try to break through it by hitting it with hammers or heavy objects as this creates vibrations that can harm your fish. If necessary pour a bucket of warm water over the vent hole to melt it back open.

Whichever unit you choose to use will perform to keep your fish safe for the winter months and ensure that they will be healthy, happy and ready to go in the spring.

POND TALK: Which type of system have you found to work better in your pond? Do you still notice some ice formation?

Keep your pond healthy all winter long!

When should I remove the fountain from my pond? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A

When should I remove the fountain from my pond?

When should I remove the fountain
from my pond?
Cameron – Clarksville, VA

While we’re not particularly anxious for winter to arrive it is in our best interest to start preparing for the cold that will inevitably come. Since you are working not only outdoors but in the water as well you may want to get a jump start on removing your fountain from your pond before you start feeling the full effects of Winter.

Convenience aside, you can leave your fountain in the pond until ice starts to form. Surface forming ice may damage the float or other parts of your fountain and can potentially prevent water passing through the spray nozzle from returning back into the pond. This ice barrier can cause the fountain to run dry destroying your fountain’s motor.

Removing your fountain and preparing it for storage is a fairly simple process. Most fountains have a quick disconnect at the motor that lets you separate the fountain from the main power cord. Make sure you turn off the power to the fountain and pull your fountain ashore. Wash down the fountain and float assembly to remove any algae or debris that may have accumulated over the season, a pressure washer makes short work of even the dirtiest fountains. Inspect electrical cables for signs of wear or damage and, if your fountain has lights, check for burnt out or damaged bulbs and lenses.

Since the fountain is out of the pond and won’t be used for a few months, now is the perfect time to send it to a licensed repair facility for any routine maintenance it my require such as oil changes or seal replacements. Once your fountain is cleaned and inspected store it in an upright position in a climate controlled location like a heated pole barn or garage. Since there are many different types of fountains, it is very important that you read through your users manual for special instructions and maintenance plans to keep your fountain running at its very best.

If you are feeling adventurous and want to run your fountain throughout the winter you can minimize the risk of damaging your equipment by selecting a more suitable spray nozzle and regularly monitoring the environment. Choose a spray nozzle that throws heavier streams of water instead of a misty pattern. Water moving at a higher volume in a dense pattern is less likely to freeze than water sprayed in a finer pattern. Periodically check the fountain to make sure the spray nozzle is unobstructed and that the water can return back into the pond. If you are going to run your fountain in temperatures below freezing you will have to run it continuously or the water in the fountain head will freeze when switched off. Keep in mind that parts damaged by winter operation may not be covered under your manufacturer’s warranty.

If your fountain is your primary source of aeration you have a few alternatives to get you through the winter. Try to keep a hole open through the surface ice in your pond. This will allow toxic gasses formed by decomposing organic debris to exit the pond and let fresh air in. Since cold water holds oxygen easier and your fish are less active in cold water you may not need additional aeration. If you are concerned however, you can install a bottom plate aeration system which can be run year round even when ice forms on the pond.

POND TALK: Do you run your fountain in the winter? Send us some pictures of your fountain in action.

Keep your pond healthy all winter long!

How does winter affect my pond? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A

Winter PondQ:  How does winter affect my pond? – Steve in Michigan

A:  A Closer Look at Water in the Winter…

We field many questions about water and the way it works during the winter.  With such a range of questions, here is a quick course on the physical properties of water and how they relate to your pond.

Here’s a review on density.  On our planet, matter that is denser will always be pulled down (gravity) more strongly than matter of lesser density.  Density is temperature dependant in that warmer matter is always less dense than cooler matter.  A good example is a hot air balloon, which lifts up because the air inside the balloon is warmer than the air outside.

A water molecule (H20 – don’t worry that’s as technical as we’ll get) contracts as it gets colder, causing it to become more dense.  As water closes in on the freezing point, we run into one of nature’s great exceptions.  At 39ºF (4ºC) water actually starts becoming less dense as it prepares to shift from a liquid to a solid at the 32ºF mark.  Why is this so important?  This means that water at the bottom of your pond will always stay about 39ºF because it is the heaviest.  We refer to this as inverse stratification, where a pond has a thermocline that separates warmer water on the bottom from cooler water on top (FYI, normal stratification occurs during the warmer months of the year when the cooler water is at the bottom and the warmer water is at the top).

Winter PondHow does this apply to your fish?  Fish actually get quite sensitive to temperatures below 39ºF.  This warmer 39ºF pocket on the bottom of the pond is where they tend to hang out during the winter.  This is why it is recommended that an aeration system be installed a couple feet up from the bottom of the pond to keep the 39ºF water in tact. Should you worry if yours isn’t? No, not really, mortality due to water temperature is extremely rare and NOT aerating is way more risky. The more severe issue is the toxic gases under the ice. Continuing to aerate will vent these gasses while also infusing oxygen into the water keep your fish happy and healthy.

Do I really need a pond deicer? It costs a small fortune to run it. Are there any other options? – Water Garden & Features Q & A

The price of running a deicer can cost more then $75 per month!

Water Garden & Features Q & A

Q: Do I really need a pond deicer? It costs a small fortune to run it. Are there any other options? – Mary in Indiana

A: You’re right! Some pond deicers do cost a lot of money to run – but there is an alternative. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a climate that doesn’t freeze, your going to need some type of device to keep a hole open in the pond during winter months. When a pond develops a layer of ice, a deicer is used to melt a small hole in the ice allowing toxic gases to escape and oxygen to enter the pond. For years, this has been accomplished by just using a deicer.

Unfortunately, the deicer can also melt a hole in your wallet. Pond heaters use anywhere from 100 watts (for ponds up to 600 gallons) to 1,500 watts (for ponds up to1,000 gallons) of electricity. When you consider utilities charge from 8 to 15 cents per kilowatt hour (1,000 watts of electricity used in one hour) depending on the location, the price of running a deicer can cost more then $75 per month!

The good news is that an aeration system can also keep a hole in the ice – and do so for a lot less money. For instance, Water Garden Aeration Kits use a high-efficiency air compressor that operates with as little 12 watts (that’s 88–99% electricity savings!) of electricity to push air to the diffuser. The action created by the air causes the ice to weaken, eventually creating a hole. This aerator also helps to add oxygen and circulate the water below the surface.

To install an aeration kit in your decorative pond, place the compressor near your power source. Make sure the compressor is covered – a faux rock cover is perfect for this application. Attach one end of airline tubing to the compressor and the other end to the diffuser. Place the diffuser away from the deepest point of your pond and no more than 4 feet below the surface. Plug it in and you’re ready for the cold weather!

Another benefit to an aeration system is that they can be used all year long. Aeration works great in the summer, providing oxygen for your fish and keeping your pond free of muck and debris.

If you already have a pond deicer and plan to run it this winter, save money with the ThermoCube – it can cut your electrical cost in half!

POND TALK: What are some other ways to keep a hole in the ice?

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