Pond-hoppers tour

In a poll conducted recently by lifestyle and how-to publisher Taunton Press, adding a "water feature" took the top slot as the improvement homeowners would most like to make to their yards. Only "adding a deck" received an equal response (16 percent).

Water creates an eye-pleasing feature and an ear-pleasing sound to any outdoor corner, and brings a little "feng shui" into the environment. The splashing water adds tranquil background sounds or masks the noise of traffic. Garden Pond Mould

Pond-hoppers tour

This news is common knowledge for the 40 members of the Gainesville Koi and Water Garden Club, nicknamed the Pondhoppers, as well as the Nature's Coast Koi and Water Garden Club, which meets in the Old Town area (many are members of both). These groups meet monthly to discuss water plants, their many different kinds of fish, problems with filtration and general planting and design tips for their backyard ponds.

On Saturday, some of their work will be opened to the public in a self-guided tour of 17 ponds in the Gainesville area. The tour, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature ponds that range from 300 to 15,000 gallons, from shallow puddles to a large system that encompasses indoor and outdoor spaces, from a business with an 8-foot waterfall to a condominium pond. The ponds are scattered from Newnans Lake to west of Newberry. Fish, plants and supplies will be offered for sale - some at wholesale prices - to pond tour participants at several locations.

The event comes at a time when ponds and water gardens are becoming more environmentally friendly. Studies have shown that ecologically-balanced installed ponds, which basically recycle the same water through a biological filter, actually use less water per square yard than a comparable area planted in a traditional green lawn.

The secret to a low-maintenance pond is creating a naturally-balanced ecosystem, where nature does the heavy lifting. It can become a chemical dependent, high-maintenance mess. But with the proper combination of fish, plants and oxygenators, no chemicals are needed to balance the pond.

Plus, according to the North American Water Gardening Society, evidence does not support that backyard ponds contribute to the problem of West Nile-infected mosquitoes. A well-maintained pond has moving water that mosquitoes don't normally breed in. Also, this kind of pond usually attracts other kinds of wildlife, such as toads and frogs that eat mosquitoes.

Maps, directions and descriptions can be picked up at the first house on the tour, 3505 NW 47th Terr., in Kimberly Woods off NW 51st Street near 39th Avenue.

Tickets are $5, children under 12 are free. You can go to as many or as few ponds as you like; they are scattered from Newnans Lake to west of Newberry. Fish, plants and supplies will be offered for sale - some at wholesale prices - to pond tour participants at several locations.

The 5,000-gallon water feature taking up a goodly portion of the backyard of Dori and Dave Pereyra is not the first one they have, but it might be the last. At least at this house.

The Pereyras - she's a nurse, he a respiratory therapist - got hooked after they saw a pond at a doctor's house when they were living in South Florida. Their house was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew and the one they built after that had a small 18-inch-deep water garden in a screened room. "But we wanted to go bigger and deeper," she said. When they moved to Gainesville they did just that, excavating their back yard to accommodate the huge pond that begins at 3 feet and gradually ends up at 5 feet deep.

The kidney-shaped pool is filled with huge koi, colorful fish that are likened to "living jewels." There are currently two dozen in there, which is twice as many as Dori wants to keep because it is getting crowded. Two are 11 years old, and four or five are the result of successful breeding four years ago which produced 60 koi.

An almost complete water change last week has cleared the water from the green it had become, partly because the cool spring turned into hot summer in such a short period of time.

The filtration system uses mechanical filters and plants to clean the water. The water is piped from the pond through a mechanical filter which is filled with beads to remove larger matter, and then to an holding tank and a finer filter that removes the smaller debris. It then flows along a 35-foot-long "stream" in which papyrus and elephant ears grow, with their roots removing the nitrates remaining in the water. Any sediment remaining in the water settles to the bottom of this stream, and is cleaned out each spring. The filters are backwashed every week to clean them.

She chooses the hard-working bog plants because they can grow in up to 4 to 5 percent salt concentration in the water. Pereyra keeps her pond water at 3 percent salinity.

The addition of salt to pond water is good for koi health, since salt is a factor in algae growth, detoxifies nitrites and eliminates many parasites. In addition, koi maintain a concentration (about 15 ppt) of salt in their body fluids, which is higher than that of their liquid environment. Osmosis causes water to transfer from the usually lower salinity of pond water into the tissues of the fish. This additional water build up must be eliminated by the kidneys.

The makeup of city water also has to be countered. Gainesville's water system adds chlorine to make it safe to drink. State regulations require it to maintain a 0.2 parts-per-million concentration. This can be toxic to fish if poured directly into a pond, even though chlorine's effects are weakened when it comes in contact with organic material such as pond sediment.

So each time water is added, she adds sodium thiosulfate crystals to remove all the chlorine.

Her fish are not a casual hobby. Besides weekly filter flushing and routine caring for the water and plants surrounding the pond there's the feeding of the fish to do. In the summer they are fed a little bit three to four times a day to keep them from overfeeding. In the winter, she feeds them Cheerios, some floating fruits like watermelon, and vegetables such as peas and spinach.

The fish can be trained to eat out of her hand, but "since their brains are so tiny, I have to retrain them each spring," she laughs. They are also curious and visually aware of visitors. "I have seen them come nose to nose with my two Dobermans."

Since she is a nurse, she has also doctored her sick or injured fish. She has given them injections and has even anesthetized them while she cleaned out wounds and packed them with antibiotics. In serious cases, she calls on Allen Riggs, who was formerly with the University of Florida's Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, to diagnose and treat fish ailments.

In fact, having experts in this area has enhanced her enjoyment of pond-keeping.

"Just having the resource of a club has helped the two of us so much. There is just so much information available when everyone puts their heads together. You get an idea, and then you discuss it. So much about ponds is trial and error, and it's mostly error. You think you know what you are doing, but it doesn't always work the way you think it should. You don't have a crystal ball."

Another stop on the tour is the home of Helen and Ralph Rothschild in Buck Bay.

When the Rothschilds bought their house 10 years ago, there was a small preformed pool already in their back yard and they discovered they enjoyed having fish and a water garden. When it developed a non-repairable leak, they had it replaced with a Butyl rubber-lined, 500-gallon pond enhanced by a waterfall built of limerock salvaged from a construction site at Haile Plantation. Over the years the rocks became aged and developed a lovely covering of moss. "Moss just happens," Helen explains when asked how it started to grow. Small ferns dot the waterfall area which also includes plantings of taro, dwarf pentas, climbing Confederate jasmine, swamp hibiscus, irises and coleus.

There are no plants in or on the pond, but it is surrounded by Sedum acre, which the seven fish - six huge koi and a comet - occasionally nibble.

The pond water is pumped through a skimmer and filtered through a mesh bag filled with biological filter media and two layers of biological filter cloth. They use no chemicals.

Not happy with just one pond, the Rothschilds built a second smaller one three years ago using a kit they purchased from a home improvement store. The plastic liner of the 4-by-6-foot pond is installed over a base of old carpeting and held in place by flagstones. The pond is 2 feet deep "because that's as deep as we felt like digging it," Helen laughs.

This pond is currently home to four young goldfish, one young koi and six young shubunkin, even though it - and the original pond - used to contain many more. A visit by a hungry heron completely wiped out the denizens of the smaller pond, and did damage to the population other. To thwart future attacks, the Rothschild's wrapped fishing line about 18 inches high around the four uprights of the pergola, which made it difficult for the heron to reach the water's surface.

This pond's water is cleaned of bacteria and nitrates from fish waste via a biological filter box and an ultraviolet lamp, which actually disinfects the water as it slowly moves past.

The pond system at the home of Pam and Bill Krause is a three-year labor of love. And it was a concept building in their heads and on paper four years before that. "We have vivid imaginations," Pam Krause admits.

Pam Krause is co-owner of the Aquarium Connection and used all the information and resources garnered there to help build a turtle pond, koi pond and watergarden. Their partially indoor system was designed to go under a deck into the sunroom that has a smoky-clear Lexan roof. A window allows them to view their ponds while also enjoying their Jacuzzi indoors.

An above-ground turtle pond - which is inside the porch - sends water over a falls into a 9-by-9-foot bog pond, which cleans turtle waste from the water. It then flows over a stone dam to a stream entering the 14-by-19-foot koi pond and a beach/fountain area. It then flows through the skimmer and back to the waterfall. There are more than 30 fish in the koi pond. The Krauses use well water, which needs no treatment.

The pump recirculates the 5,000 gallons water in a little over an hour. The pump runs continually, and adds maybe $30 a month to the electricity bill, "But it is more than worth it, for the enjoyment. We don't need to go to a movie, or anywhere else. We spend all our free time enjoying the ponds. . . . We had friends stay here and they told us they felt like they were at a resort."

The depth of the pond varies greatly. From the silica sand beach area it goes to 12 inches, then there is a layer of river graven, then it drops another 6 inches. At its deepest, it is 3 feet. They used a total 5 tons of river gravel and 400 pounds of coarse sand, which would not clog the filtration system.

The Krauses spent so much time planning the project because "we didn't want to do it again. And we wanted to do it right. It took four years to finalize it and figure out the quirks," she recalls. The ponds were built the same time as the porch addition. They had a contractor do the building, while they did the pond-digging and lining.

While she did a general plan on the now-lush landscaping, Pam Krause didn't realize the plants "would get as big or full as they are."

And why the turtle pond? "I love turtles. And at the shop, we often get turtles that have grown too large for people to take care of them. But now I've got some that have outgrown my pond." She keeps the turtles from escaping by blocking all routes, including the waterfall, which really flows through clear tubes under a board the reptiles use for sunning.

This has been the Krauses' home for 30 years, and they plan on staying.

Any plans to expand the pond? "No," she laughs, "this is a completed project. But," she adds almost immediately, "there's vacant property behind us, and I hope they eventually sell, and there's plenty of space for another larger pond. . ."

Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or

While installing a garden pond looks complicated, it really isn't. But there are a few factors you should consider carefully.

Even if you simply have a whisky barrel water garden on your deck, you'll want to place it where leaves and needles from nearby trees don't fall in and decompose. You can place screening above the water, but this would need to be cleaned often and certainly doesn't add to the aesthetics.

If you plan on growing lilies and other tropicals, the pond should get at least 5 hours of sun a day. If you plan on keeping fish, you should situation the pond where they get shade during the hottest time of day, in order to keep the water cool. (You can't successfully have both lilies and koi in the same pond, but goldfish, shubunkin and other smaller fish won't eat the lilies.)

Situate the pond where you can see it from your favorite places, both indoors and outdoors - from a deck or patio and from indoor seating areas.

The area should be level. You can build waterfalls and other terrains after installation.

There are many choices of pond building materials - they can be as simple as a kiddie pool buried into the ground and as elaborate as a multileveled pond that wraps around your back yard.

Preformed plastic or hard-rubber pools are the simplest to install. Place them in the hole about an inch or two above ground level. fill with water and then wash builder's sand underneath to settle it, then bring the surround soil up to the edge.

If you use a flexible liner (either PVC or rubber) apply a barrier between the liner and the soil to prevent rocks or roots from making puncture holes. Old pieces of carpeting work well. Liners cost about $1 a square foot.

It's also a good idea to line a barrel or tub with flexible PVC or plastic.

Edge with rocks, brick or slate to create a natural look.

Fish like 10 inches of water minimum; deeper is better. Water lilies usually like it 18 inches.

You'll need oxygenating plants (plants that grow under water and produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis) to prevent the growth of algae in the pool. These plants will consume the carbon dioxide created by decaying plant matter and, if you have fish, fish waste.

Unless you have a filter system, a pool needs two bunches of oxygenating grasses for every square yard of water surface to keep it healthy.

Ponds with fish and plants need 50 percent surface coverage by mid-summer to cool their waters. Water lilies that float and bloom on the surface are a pretty choice.

It may take two months for a pond to settle and algae-free.

Once the pool is balanced, don't drain it; just add a little water at a time to compensate for evaporation. To add a little ``life'' to the pool, add snails and fish - inexpensive feeder goldfish or expensive koi.

If you don't use fish, be sure to add mosquito dunks or other tablets to prevent these insects from propagating. These products contain a strain of Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural bacteria that kills the larvae.

There is no question that backyard ponds and water gardens are popular items, but pinning down how many there are in the Gainesville area is anyone's guess.

When asked if he had an estimate, longtime Gainesville Koi, Goldfish and Watergarden Club member Ed Kellar replied: "I've counted over 300 ponds in the area over time, and at Kanapaha Spring Garden Festival 2004 we (at the club's booth) talked and handed flyers to about 100 pond-owners or people doing one we were not aware of.

"There are at least another 30 to 50 built by contractors like Alex Chambers (of Visionscapes), Don Hellard (club member who breeds and shows kois nationally) and others. Anna Boone services at least 20 to 30 ponds and builds more. James Greenewald (Angel Gardens) has built two nice "public ponds," one at The Center for Balance on NW 6th Street and another at the India Cultural and Educational Center on SW 13th Street.

"Hellard and I are doing a large `pondless waterfall' project in front of the new LifeSouth Blood Center entrance on University Avenue in August.

Pond-hoppers tour

Aquaculture Geomembrane "I'm always amazed at the volume of pre-formed pond kits and supplies flying out of Sam's, Walmart and Lowe's."