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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™

Why do koi have barbels? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Janice – Clear Creek, KY

A:  Koi have been growing trendy whiskers way before the hipsters made it cool! Those whiskers—or barbels—are a defining characteristic of the fish. Here’s what they are, what they do, and why the popular pond fish has them.

Super-Sensing Organ
Barbels are sensory organs not unlike whiskers in mammals. Rather than being used for tactile sensing, however, a fish’s barbels are used for taste. Koi, along with catfish, goatfish, hagfish, sturgeon, zebrafish, some species of shark and other carp, have barbels. They use these taste bud-covered organs to search for food in murky water.

Tasting Without Ingesting
Koi and other carp have four barbels, with two on each side of the koi’s mouth (termed “maxillary barbels”). The top two appear shorter than the lower two, but they all serve the same purpose: taste debris without actually ingesting it. Being omnivorous scavengers that forage along murky pond and river bottoms, it’s a good survival skill to have.

Weird Appendages
As spring approaches and you start feeding your finned pals some Spring and Fall Fish Food, take a closer look at these weird appendages. Most koi (except those with mutations) have barbels—even koi fry have them! So go grab a pond net, catch a koi or fingerling, and look closely to see them.

As with hipsters and their whiskers, they probably won’t like you playing with their barbels. But they’re still fun to look at!

Pond Talk: Are some of your koi’s barbels bigger than others?

Easy to Digest in Cooler Water - 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 The Pond Guy® 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

My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it?

Q: My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it?

Richard – Avon, IN

A:  A UV bulb is one of your best weapons in the battle against discolored water. When those ultra-fine particles are exposed to the bulb’s ultraviolet rays the tiny particles clump together, and those clumps are then removed by your mechanical filtration system.

What’s left behind is clean, clear water – as long as the bulb is working efficiently.

For your UV clarifier to work its best, it will need a new ultraviolet bulb every year. Even though the bulb still illuminates and appears to be working, its effectiveness decreases over time. Your best bet is to replace it when you do your annual spring cleanout, and plan to do so again year after year.

Spring Cleaning

In addition to switching out the bulb, take some time to check the quartz sleeve or glass tube that’s housing the bulb. Does it need a good cleaning? Debris can build up on the glass, preventing those powerful UV rays from penetrating the water as it passes through the filter. Use as soft cloth and a descaler (if needed) to scrub off the buildup.

Filter Check

While you’re at it, check your biological filter media and mechanical filter components, like the skimmer, pump sock and prefilters. Do they need to be cleaned or replaced? Even though your ultraviolet clarifier is tackling most of the discolored water, your filtration system is still responsible for removing the debris. Make sure they’re in good working order before the algae blooms in the spring.

Maintain a Balanced Pond

UV clarifiers do a great job at clearing water, but an even better solution is to maintain a balanced pond the first place. Reduce excessive nutrients by reducing the number of fish in your pond, minimizing the amount of food you feed them and cleaning up the waste they produce, as well as regularly removing the built-up detritus.

Pond Talk: How often do you replace your UV bulb?

Eliminate Discolored Water - The Pond Guy® PowerUV™

My pond froze over. How do I get it open again? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My pond froze over. How do I get it open again?

Q: My pond froze over. How do I get it open again?

Janet – Minneapolis, MN

A:  Brrrr. Jack Frost, Elsa and the rest of the cold-weather crew sure have been busy lately, haven’t they? Despite the use of a de-icer, aeration system and other ice-prevention tactics, long bouts of frigid temperatures and wind-whipped nights can cause ponds to freeze over. And that’s not good news for your fish.

So what can you do? When considering your hibernating finned pals, time is critical. Too long without an open area in the ice for gas exchange could mean dangerous conditions for your koi, goldfish and other pond fish.

Overnight, No Problem

If the pond has been frozen over since last night, your fish should be just fine. Cold, windy nights often cause extra layers of ice to form on the pond’s surface. If your de-icer and aeration are on and functioning properly, some of the ice should melt on its own. Meanwhile, your fish will have plenty of dissolved oxygen in the water to tide them over.

A Week or More, Get Busy

If it’s been a week or longer with no hole in the ice, it’s time to take some action. Without a hole, ammonia and other noxious gases are unable to escape into the atmosphere, and your fish will have no access to fresh oxygen. Here’s what to do when ice overtakes your pond.

  1. Melt It: First, melt a hole back open in the ice by pouring a bucket of hot water onto the frozen stuff near your de-icer or aerator’s airstones. Do not drill through the ice or bang on it with a hammer as this will stress your fish, which are probably already stressed out.
  2. Systems Check: Once a hole is open, check to be sure your de-icer and aeration systems are still running and functioning properly. If not, repair the damage or replace the unit altogether. The PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo, which is an all-in-one aerator and de-icer, works to keep a vent open in ponds up to 2,000 gallons. See the video below for tips on installing the PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo.
  3. Reposition Airstones: Finally, if your airstones are positioned at the bottom of your pond, relocate them. Put them in a shallower area that’s closer to the water surface. This will create more movement – and that means a bigger hole.

Should frigid temperatures and a solid ice sheet persist, take a daily trip to your pond to check on the gas exchange hole. Your aerator and de-icer should do the trick, but be ready to melt through the ice if needed.

Pond Talk: How often does your pond freeze over in the winter?

Vent Ponds Up To 2,000 Gallons - PondAir™ &;amp Thermo-Pond 3.0 De-Icer Combo

I have a small pondless fountain that’s cloudy and slimy. What can I use to clean it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I have a small pondless fountain that’s cloudy and slimy. What can I use to clean it?

Q: I have a small pondless fountain that’s cloudy and slimy. What can I use to clean it?

Stephanie – Covington, GA

A:  Pondless, fishless water features are known for being low maintenance – but even they get slimy and scummy and in need of some attention. Dust and debris blow into the water, leaves and twigs somehow find their way into the basin, and algae starts to grow on the surfaces. As all that stuff builds up and breaks down, you’re left with a mess.

Good thing it’s an easy problem to manage. Because you have no pond and no resident fish to consider, there’s no need to worry about de-chlorinators, test kits, filtration systems and all that nonsense (although adding a filter always helps, even in a fishless feature). Here’s what you’ll need to do to keep your fountain clean and clear:

  1. Give It a Good Scrub-Down: First, give your feature a thorough cleaning. Shut down the pump, empty the water basin and use a cleaner like Oxy-Lift™ Defense® to break down debris and speed cleaning. Once you’re done scrubbing and rinsing, refill the reservoir with fresh water.
  2. Move It Out of the Sun: Full sunlight will encourage the growth of gunk so, if possible, move your feature to a sun-free spot or shade it from the UV rays with an umbrella or covering. Doing so will keep the fountain cleaner for a longer span of time. Which leads us to No. 3 …
  3. Keep It Clean: Finally, once it’s scrubbed and moved to a protected spot, keep it clean! We recommend our FeatureFix™ & FeatureClear™ Combo. It includes FeatureClear™, which contains concentrated beneficial bacteria that digest organic debris; and FeatureFix™, which eliminates discolored water with a fast-acting formula designed for pondless features. It’s easy to use: Simply remove excess debris from the feature, shake the FeatureFix™ or FeatureClear™ well, and pour into the water. FeatureClear™ works best when temperatures are above 50°F, but FeatureFix™ works no matter the temperature.

Easy-to-maintain pondless water features, birdbaths and fountains allow you to enjoy the aesthetics of flowing water with minimal work, but these simple steps will ensure your water stays clear and your fountain remains slime-free.

Pond Talk: Do you keep your pondless water feature running all year long?

Keep Water Features Crystal Clear - FeatureClear™ & FeatureFix™ Combo

6 Ways you can Enjoy Your Pond this Season

6 Ways you can enjoy your pond this season

6 Ways to Enjoy Your Pond this Season

If you were one of the many pond owners battling algae, muck, excessive weeds or green water last year, it may be difficult to remember why you wanted that pond in the first place. The beginning of the new pond season is the perfect time to do a little research, evaluate and tweak your pond maintenance practices. Getting a head start will allow you to make this years resolution to spend more time enjoying your pond, lake or water feature. Here are just some of the many benefits they offer.

  1. Gives you a nice place to sit and relax: Imagine lounging in a hammock alongside your pond, swaying in the cool breeze. Picture yourself enjoying a cool glass of lemonade while sitting on your dock and watching your fountain cast rainbows against a blue sky. There is a reason why folks vacation at their favorite lake house! You could have one of your own in your back yard.
  2. An investment in your home: Many of us today are trading vacations for “staycations,” and we’re looking at ways to build on our biggest investment, our homes. Landscaping with decorative water features and creating functional outdoor living areas adds value to a home. Plus, it’s fun to add personalized décor to turn the space into your own oasis.
  3. It’s a hobby that’ll grow with you: Keeping a decorative pond will definitely be a learning experience, and as you learn more about the technical aspects of maintaining water quality, keeping koi or aquatic plants, and managing the pump and filter, your pond will look better and better, and bring you more satisfaction as a hobbyist.
  4. Provides water fun for everyone: From paddle boating and swimming in the summer to ice skating and ice fishing in the winter, a pond or lake will be sure to satisfy just about any outdoor adventure. But remember to always play safe, making sure you supervise children at all times and have a life ring and rope nearby.
  5. Creates a wildlife habitat: If you like the great outdoors and all the critters in it, you’ll appreciate the variety of wildlife a pond will bring. Animals of all sorts gravitate toward water. Depending on where you live, you can expect to see wild birds and water fowl, raccoons, turtles, frogs, butterflies and dragonflies, not to mention all the underwater life. These animals will call the pond and your property home, making it an entertaining ecosystem for your family and friends.
  6. Cheaper than therapy: More than one pond owner has told us about how therapeutic their water features are! After a long day at the office, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting alongside your pond with a cold drink in hand, feeding the koi and pond fish, or appreciating the water lilies in bloom.

Of course, these examples only scratch the surface of the benefits that a pond or water feature can bring to your yard. So take inventory of your supplies and make a plan so you can begin this pond season by relaxing.

Pond Talk: How do you plan on spending time by your pond this season?

Happy New Year From The Pond Guy®

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