and the living is easy. Catfish jumping and the Kale is high.
The grapes aren’t quite at the point of shielding the glass enough or cooling the air enough, so I put up the sheet again this year to keep the sun out of the greenhouse, maybe next year with a better trellis and more growth of the vines.
A couple days ago as I started misc tasks around the house, one of my trips past the fish tank I noticed all the Koi had died during the night.
I have had fish die before, but never so many so suddenly; and obviously, the buck had to stop with me, since there is no one else taking responsibility. I like to be casual with my projects, expecting everything to work out without getting too anal retentive about things, but I need to remember there are some things that need scrupulous care, and my normal “it can wait” attitude needs a little adjustment with some things, especially living systems that depend on artificial support.
Perhaps the issue will turn out to be some rare disease that I had no control over, but right now I’m operating under the assumption that the issue was warming water with warming temps in the greenhouse, and an algae bloom that consumed all the oxygen overnight. Something I was well aware of in theory, but really didn’t understand the practical implications.
The day before everything seemed fine, but I had noticed some murkiness to the water. The fish were doing their normal feeding, competing at the surface for the pellets as I dropped them in the water. The sudden deaths took me completely by surprise, and the shock was even greater when I started looking at replacements on ebay. The money loss was likely in the neighborhood of a couple hundred dollars.
And it all could have been avoided if I had just a little more experience and/or caution. I believe a water replacement of about 1/3 the day before would have avoided the disaster. An air pump would have avoided the disaster. A better filter would have avoided the disaster.
The fact is I got complacent and didn’t do everything I could have done to ensure their survival, and the only consolation is that these are still early days in my fish raising adventures, so I at least will have this failure to learn from. Going into the more expensive Koi I will be inspired to be more serious in protecting them.
I’m currently in the process of adding newer photos to update progressAt the top of the kitchen garden, this new pond is a salvage that I had to repair using plastic welding techniques. I tried to create a clay based pond in this place, but all last year it filled many times and never held water very long, even with lots of clay added to try and seal it. In general, I would never spend money on a Plastic prefabs, but when the price is low and I can repair it, the energy audit becomes much better! I’m also finding that for smaller ponds a liner of some sort is probably going to be the only way to go.
Low Gully Pond
Due to bad weather at the time of creation I was unable to finish building this dam with the rented backhoe,The water actually started to fill the pond from the bottom, and that water came in as a blue green color, but run off filled it most of the way, and that water was heavy with sediment then it took weeks of hand labor to get it the rest of the way to this height.
It overflowed during excessive Spring rain events. but drastically receded during the summer last year because of irrigation water use and being emptied to keep the goldfish pond filled. The dam holds water very well and I’m waiting to see if the summer gets dry enough to bring down the water level so I can move in the backhoe and complete the construction.
I’ve already started to build up the first part of the dam wall, but it’s tough to compact clay right at the water line
In another month, if the water is not down, I will drain it and then finish building the dam. (it’s great to swim in at this level) Once completed I plan to stock it with Koi.
PlanThis is an overview of the half of the property(red boundary). Difference in elevation is about 100′ from lower right to upper left and the two ponds at the bottom of the picture are all in the same gully that runs downhill from right to left. The small pond pictured just above those two
has never really held water yet, but it does show signs of improving it’s water retention. This may change over time with organic matter and better integration of the swale, but that requires completion of the Low Gully Dam.
At the very top of the plan drawing the pond touches a neighbors property and there needs to be some sort of written agreement to establish clear rights and responsibilities regarding it’s construction, use, and maintenance before beginning construction. At present the long connecting swale ends just before the pond location, and if no arrangement is reached that swale will be extended up along the property line to collect more water that would otherwise flow off the property.
This picture was taken at a very low water level, and believe it or not there are
catfish that survived the winter at this water level (only a couple feet deep). This year they are over a foot long!
This “high gully dam” is in it’s second year. It overflowed once,
filled two or three times, but is still filling the “back country”. Dams are meant to hydrate the landscape, and the process generally takes about seven years. Currently this dam is the focus of most backhoe energy, while it may not be obvious in the picture, the dam has been holding back the flood with a wall thickness of only 2 feet or less at the top but as this picture shows, the added mass will more than double the width of the dam wall, and the actual compaction will also be much better.
and a great deal of mass has been added to the dam wall, as well as clearing much more of the area to the left and top of the picture to prepare for further excavation.
Goldfish pond (not shown on plan), a bit murky after a rainA close in snapshot of the gold fish pond. This was created when the driveway was put in about 15 years ago, and has boasted hundreds of fish, all descended from a few 38 cent babies from Walmart. There have also been crayfish, herons, and one huge snapping turtle that have all visited the pond at different points. Needless to say I try to discourage the heron(s) and snapping turtles with varying degrees of success.
Last year the fish in this pond suffered with dry weather throught the fall and winter, and the fish population was cut in half. Some of my favorite older fish disappeared and many smaller ones as well. But this year they are making a comeback and water levels are doing pretty good, so with luck they will continue to increase populations again.
Finally a morning where things are a bit quieter, no deeds to do or promises I have to keep. So of course I was out on the backhoe. started going around exhausting a tube of grease on the fittings, and I think I know why the new tube isn’t quite working yet, but I went ahead and did a bit of work anyway, starting it up and pulling a few small stumps, testing the power, and generally getting some preliminary work done on the high dam. The clean up stage always takes the most time, saving topsoil, sorting out bigger rocks, etc etc.
Then as a change of pace I went to the lower green house where the figs are complaining about the more intense sunlight outside (leaves turning white), but figs are whiners anyway, drama queens that drop their leaves at the slightest change. I gave them a big drink of water, and told them to suck it up and make me some figs.
most of them are going to stay outside once I have the new mini climate set up for them. With a pond in front, and heat retaining wall behind them they should enjoy their new location.
I noticed there are lots of raspberries on the vines I planted two years ago, of course I may be away when they actually ripen.
I put some walmart goldfish in the lotus pond last night, they were dying in their tank at walmart, so if they survive it will be a miracle, but at least they will die free.
I’m also going around putting in tomatoes and peppers and have plans for multiple varieties of squash and cucumbers. I’m also close to having the potato beds ready for planting.
Just another day in paradise.
Here we are approaching the last frost (assuming there might still be one or two left) and I am just barely ready to start planting.
A few nominal efforts to weed the strawberries, and I am more convinced than ever to start replanting them using a sheet mulch and fresh weed free soil on top, as if it were a brand new garden.
It is time to seriously consider the next backhoe rental or purchase, and also time to get really busy clearing the path for swale development.
The goldfish managed to survive in the main goldfish pond in greatly reduced numbers. perhaps losing as many as two thirds of their numbers.
In the upper pond their are about 5 of the 25 catfish I stocked last year. To bew honest however I’m surprised any fish survived in the green yellow mud puddle the upper pond had dwindled down to by the end of the summer.
The real issue with fish survival I believe was the lack of rain through the fall. To be sure the heron took a toll during the summer, but the main killer was simply the climate.
This year there will be several new gardens starting in different places, and some of the planting sites from last year will be developed further and become more productive, but the main focus will still be the ongoing water main frame development.
I continue to read and reread the masters, Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison for hints as to how to proceed, and at present continue to return to the idea that the main frame is a priority in the macro sense, while the close in gardens are the priority in the micro development.
I have started to put in some more perennials blueberry, yellow raspberry, mulberry, etc trying to over stack my plantings with diversity. The kitchen garden structure also got a fair amount of attention this winter with clearing out some of the remaining trees and briars.
I purchased my first thornless blackberry plant which will be going in at the bottom of the garden and I’m anxious to see how well the native blackberry presence indicates success with the more productive cultivars.
So many different projects call for attention, with so many aspects of ongoing development depending on the water main frame and how well it does its job. I’m fairly confident, but as with so many things, the key will be patience and timing.
Yes, the heron has returned.
I surprised the heron last night–or it surprised me, or neither surprised either, depending on how one perceives it. But the heron was at the fish pond and the fish went into hiding again.
I’m hoping the problem was that i had moved both scarecrows back a bit further from the pond. last night i moved one of the scarecrows right to the spot I saw the heron flying up from, and it had not returned this morning, although I did see it at the upper gully pond.
I have decided to let the upper gully pond be a fishing ground for the bird as much as possible. The bird will need to have someplace to hunt, and if the pressure is too extreme it may start to directly challenge the scarecrows rather than avoid them. It is unreasonable to expect the heron to leave forever, and guiding it away from a more valuable area to another place is always going to be more effective in the long term than simply trying to deny access altogether.
It is possible to set up complete exclusion zones, but one of the goals should also be to balance energy with payoff.
I know that my goldfish pond is out of balance, and I have been willing to sacrifice some energy through the summer to creating and moving scarecrows around. But I’m not willing to extend that energy to the other ponds, and with luck the heron may decide that looking for catfish is easier than taking a chance looking for goldfish.
September 6, 2017
Walking back from the fish pond in the rain, I had this new sense of well being, and not just because of the relief from drought and hot temperatures. Of course this time of year there is always the possibility of monsoons, or hurricanes dropping large amounts of water all at once, but today I documented the rise of about two feet in the level of the fish pond.
This was not due to rain, but because of a decision to start the waterfall by draining the remainder of water behind the Low Gully Dam. I could have done this sooner, but decided to hold onto the water there until I felt fairly sure we had turned the corner on water supply to the garden. Because of the steady rain, I felt safe enough in the garden requirements and the filling cistern to go ahead and release the impounded water.
Although they don’t say much, I’m sure the goldfish are quite grateful for the extra oxygenated water being continuously fed into their pond down below, which, because of the other dams recently constructed, has been receiving less water than before during the rains. But even with the rains, in years past, this time of year still sees that pond 3-4 feet below the high water mark. So my feeling of well being was really due to the ability to release on demand water for the fish pond. In future, the simple turning of a valve can save a pond full of fish if there is an extended dry spell.
P.A. Yeoman would say that ponds on a farm should be empty at the start of the rainy season, and it was tantamount to greed to try and hold onto that water when it could/should be sent to fields or places that might be able to use some extra. Also of course, that way the ponds can be cleaned, dams inspected and repaired, and generally made ready to hold their full capacity when the rains start all over again. In this case the water went to the fish, not gardens, but in future the High Gully Dam will likely have some excess water for gardens during the dry season.
Harvey, the hurricane, just dropped several feet of water down in Huston, and even the best prepared water design systems might be overwhelmed by that sort of exceptional stress, although a really good design still allows a way out when everything else is full to overflowing. In this case, there was the fear that aqueducts might break under the flood, causing even more damage to those in the valley below.
This can be a reminder that there is always the possibility of extremes even the best planners can’t foresee. While larger dams may be without secondary outlets, swales can take water away from the valley/gully where one would expect the worst accumulations of water, and as it spills over the swale at an intentional low spot on the swale, the water must find a new path back to the gully and more and more of it’s destructive erosive force can be lessened. At each dam the water is stopped and taken again and again out of the valley to the areas that normally would get less water and need it most.
While large well engineered dams can be magnificent, more,smaller dams can do a better job at the task of stop, spread, and soak. With fresh water becoming scarce, anything that can keep more of that fresh water from running out to sea is a welcome detour.
As trees disappear and the normal water cycle becomes interrupted, small dams and swales are recognized as the answer to these sudden events, and properly implemented, the swales (which are a tree growing system) can even help lead the landscape into a more naturally balanced water cycle with bands of trees on contour controlling the flood.
So while my swales are not yet fully developed, and my dams are still somewhat at the mercy of the rain, at least they are stopping most of the water that used to run directly to the creek and off the property. And this year enough of that water remained to substantially raise the water level in the fish pond when it otherwise might be stagnant.
As the ground becomes better hydrated each year I would expect to have more and more water, until there is a natural subterranean flow that automatically keeps all the ponds full, and all the swales growing trees.
It is easy to speculate how far hydration may take a basically dry landscape, but it is enough for me to feel good by being able to turn a valve and fill a pond with water that might have been long gone many months ago.