Last month we wrote an article for Koi Carp Magazine. Here it is –
This winter has been warm! The average temperature in December was a balmy 8°C and January wasn’t much colder. Plants are blooming months earlier than they should and insects don’t know whether to hibernate or pollinate.. It’s almost as though the difference between the seasons are becoming indistinguishable. But what effect will this have on our pond’s biological balance when the ‘real’ spring arrives?
Let’s start from the top. Your pond is naturally full of organic matter. Whether it’s the twigs from overhanging trees, droppings from an unwelcome pigeon or your beloved koi’s own bodily functions, every pond is full of organic material that will decay. This process of decay introduces substances such as phosphorous, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide into the pond water. Small amounts are fine, in fact they’re normal, but too much and they can easily affect water quality and the health of your fish. We call this the “organic loading” of a pond. The more organics, the more decay, the more adverse effects on water quality.
This is the essence of most pond water problems. If the pond’s biological balance is out of kilter, you open the door for excessive amounts of ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, urea, faecal matter and dead organic waste. Therefore most owners use various pond treatments tackle this issue by introducing task-specific ‘good’ bacteria into the pond environment.
The reduction in these contaminants improves the quality of the water and that combats a wide range of aquatic pathogens and diseases such as: streptococcus, pseudomonas, aeromonas, vibrio and burkholderia. In essence ‘good’ bacteria tackle the ‘bad’ bacteria that are effectively feeding off the organic matter in the pond.
But surely a warm, mild winter is good for us and there will be less adverse effects in Spring?
This is where the answer gets a little muddy (pun very much intended). Organic matter decays as low as 6-7°C, which means in the very cold weeks of the year, the pond becomes almost dormant and you can almost leave it alone. However, this winter has been very different. As I said before, the average temperature for December was 8°C… an ideal temperature for organic matter to decay without any competition creating sludge that builds up into an anaerobic environment to emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulphide.
To add insult to injury, this winter’s been one of the wettest (and probably windiest) on record as well. Gale force winds have distributed a veritable smorgasbord of organic detritus around our gardens and some of it will have inevitably found a home in your pond. High levels of rainwater, which is packed full of nutrients such as sulphur (think acid rain) and minerals provides a readily available (and this year plentiful) supply of nutrients to help organic matter decay. Consider how much better your plants grow when fed with rain rather than tap water! Or how when you collect rainwater in a water butt, invariably there will be a layer of algae over the top. The ‘bad’ bacteria in the pond thrive off this free buffet of nutrients, which only speeds up the decaying process and helps generate sludge.
So we have in essence the makings of a ‘perfect storm’. Lots of organics and nutrients being added to the pond, mild temperatures of around 8°C aiding decay and the fact that almost all traditional pond treatments are only effective from above 10-12°C.
This is why you can expect to see some real problems when spring eventually starts.
There are a few tried and tested methods of reducing the impact of green water, sludge and other algae problems in spring –
- Physically removing as much sludge and organic matter from your pond – You can do this with a net, bucket or even with your bare hands but it’s not always practical.
- Keep your filters clean – so you can catch as much organics in the water column as possible
- Add plants – In a natural pond, plants will absorb a lot of the bad nutrients, but they can’t cure the issue and too many and you can’t see your fish!
- Add plenty of task specific bacteria at the start of spring – Providing the bacteria in question is safe in large amounts, add a double or triple dose for the first few times in spring. Bacteria grow logarithmically – 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8 – so the more you add the quicker the results.
- Avoid adding any materials that can act as a nutrient to the ‘bad’ bacteria – with the high organic loadings the last thing you want to do is add a nutrient.
Have pond treatments kept up with our evolving climate?
Bacteria can be genetically modified (although there are ethical and moral question marks with this) but it’s far more common that new strains are discovered in natural occurring environments. In many ways it’s a game of chance, thousands of strains can be examined without finding anything that can improve on the strains you already have. This means that when a new strain is discovered it can be a big deal.