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Keeping healthy fish

What is Spring Sickness and how can I avoid it and/or treat it?

Spring Sickness is a term that loosely describes poor health shown by some fish after the winter season. Spring Sickness is not a specific disease but an umbrella term for anything from excessive body slime or mucus production to Bacteraemia, also known as internal bacterial infections. Most cases of Spring Sickness will clear up on its own as spring progresses and the immune systems of the fish get going again.

The best way to avoid Spring Sickness is to make sure your fish go into winter in good health. Fish that come out of the winter season in a weakened state will have greater difficulty fighting Spring Sickness and are at a greater risk of dying and passing the sickness onto others. Spring cleaning not only applies to a cluttered garage but also to ponds that need a bit of TLC after the long winter months. Just keep in mind that slow and steady is the key. Treating your pond with an anti-bacterial mix while gradually increasing feeding as well as splitting and rearranging plants is a must as this will help keep down the stress level for your fish and encourage a lush water garden for summer.

Oxygen Depletion

Oxygen depletion can happen for various reasons from shutting off the pump to fish over-population to something as simple as a hot summer’s day. Why doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you can fix the problem or avoid it completely. Low oxygen levels can result in the sudden death of fish and ruin the effectiveness of bio-filters. If a problem arises, additional aeration should be provided immediately. A simple aquarium air pump with an air stone will work just fine for small ponds while a larger pond may require an electric air compressor.

If the pond has become over-populated with fish, be sure to relocate the extra fish and keep in mind that the recommended stocking rate is one inch of fish per every square foot of water surface area. The more fish, the more oxygen is required to digest food. During hot weather, feed fish during the cool of the morning or evening.

Hot weather, continuous cloudy days, strong winds and heavy rains can all lead to oxygen depletion or “turning” of the water. Because one of these scenarios is likely to be happening at any given time, it is a good idea to have some sort of aeration running at all times. Water fountains or a built-in water fall is an aesthetically pleasing option for any pond.

Be aware that chemical treatments for things such as algae can also seriously deplete oxygen levels so be extra careful in reading directions and moving plants and fish as needed while treating your pond.

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning; in most cases this brings up thoughts of garage sales, basement overhauls and sweating it out in your home while ridding of the grubbiness that crept in throughout the winter months. While all those things may need to be done, for pond owners it’s also a time to clean and refresh your pond to help in welcoming a warm, beautiful summer. Just don’t wear your Sunday best because this endeavor is a messy one.

Along with the satisfaction of cleaning your pond, this is also an opportunity to get up close and personal with your fish and to see how they have grown since the winter sent them into hibernation. Some sort of container will be needed to hold your fish during cleaning. Try to clean your pond just as spring is starting so it’s still cool enough to keep your fish as stress-free as possible. A kiddie-pool or a large livestock watering tank will suffice; just make sure it’s clean first.

Fill the holding tank with water from the pond, not from a hose. Cover the tank with netting because the fish will most likely try to jump out. If one does manage to get out, be sure to wet your hands before handling them. Once you’re ready to gather the fish, lower the water so it’s easier to catch them. After the koi are in the holding tank, empty the pond all the way in preparation to clean.

If you don’t have a bottom drain, use a sump pump to get all the water out. After that is done, give your bio-filter a good cleaning. Power spray systems work excellent for this. Then, if applicable, turn on the UV sterilizer and any fountains or waterfalls and then begin refilling the pond. As your pond is filling, add salt (follow directions by size and water for your pond). Use a de-chlorinator. Even if you used non-chlorinated water or well water, a good de-chlorinator will remove heavy metals. Test the water before re-introducing your fish because too much chlorine will kill your fish and plants.

At this time you can add bacteria to start up your bio-filter again. After that, you can re-introduce your fish back into the pond. Although your pond is all up and running and sparkling clean, your fish are not quite ready to go back in. You’ll have to introduce them into the pond the same way you did when you brought them home for the first time. This is not to be rushed. Your fish will be happy and stress-free which in turn should leave a sweet taste in your mouth as well. Now sit back, relax and enjoy your newly cleaned and improved pond.

Floating Plants

Because planting a floating plant involves nothing more than placing it in the water, the main concern is keeping their reproduction under control. Too many floating plants can lead to depletion of oxygen levels in no time. In shallow ponds, especially during summer, the plants can actually trap heat within the pond which will lead to the water temperature rising to dangerous levels. On the other hand, too much coverage during a rainy day or abrupt change in temperature can result in the upper layer of water which is also warmer and more oxygenated to mix with the lower layer of cooler and less oxygenated water. This is called turning and will prevent sufficient oxygen exchange and will stress out any fish that are present.

To avoid this, excess plants should be removed. Duckweed multiplies at an incredibly fast rate in early spring. Even though the surface coverage will discourage the growth of algae, it can easily overrun your pond. The common type of Duckweed, Lemna minor, is usually kept under control by the stomachs of your fish. However, larger Duckweed doesn’t seem to interest fish and should be kept or pulled out of the pond. You will notice less of this plant in the hot summer months but if it is still a nuisance to you, removing excess or all of this plant in the spring and fall will be in your best interest.

Another floating plant, Water Meal, is a tiny plant that looks like fine grit that hangs out in clumps along the pond’s surface. Like Duckweed, Water Meal can overtake your pond in the blink of an eye. If your fish are not up to the challenge of eating the Meal to keep it under control, a copper or simazine treatment may be necessary to get rid of the problem.

Frogbit reproduces by growing side-plantlets that break off to multiply on their own. Frogbit roots in shallow pots of marginal plants and will create matting around the pot. Luckily, excess plants can easily be pulled out by hand. Frogbit doesn’t generally make it through winter. You can attempt to bring in some Frogbit before the first frost and keep it alive indoors, but people who have done this have found that they don’t grow back as nice in the spring.

Water Lettuce and Water Hyacinth are both tropical floating plants. They multiply through plantlets that are sent out off of the sides. Hyacinths bloom a pretty purple flower that lasts only a day. Water Lettuce is a favorite among fish for a snack. These plants make great additions to the compost pile because they absorb minerals from the water. Any excess plants are easily removed by hands and can be grown indoors during the winter but success at this is dependant on how well they’re kept and can be expensive. Tossing them out at the first frost and purchasing new ones the following year may be your best bet.

Imitating Nature

As if planning and building a pond isn’t difficult enough, actually making it natural or as close to natural as possible can be even tougher. The best way to erect a believable copy-cat of nature is to do just that, imitate nature. Keep the following facts in mind when planning your backyard water garden to keep things simpler and more efficient.

Water, in rivers for example, flows constantly. Of course your stream will not be as big and as powerful as a river but you can still give the effect of water running in from one end and out from the other. Water could rise from a cluster of rocks for example or from under a large boulder or slab. This will give the impression of a buried stream and it will appear to run out of the garden in the same fashion.

Water streams generally cut into hillsides. Water won’t run over the top of soil. For a believable look, dig a channel into the landscape for the water to run through.

Waterfall cascades will equal the slope of the slopes surrounding it. If you have a minor slope with a major Niagara sized fall, the effect will be uneven looking and unbelievable. Consider a series of smaller falls that will be proportionate to the surrounding slopes. The cluster of falls will create enough water movement and noise to be a focal point.

Watercourses follow the lowest points of the land. Water naturally flows downhill, cutting a channel into the earth. To avoid the collection of leaves and pollution at the lowest point of your streams, position your streams in low spots but not at the lowest. Bog plants will be the most suitable in the lowest point of your garden.

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