Certain biological processes must occur before a pond is fully seeded and balanced. Nitrifying bacteria must be present and working in the pond’s ecosystem before the pond can promote a healthy environment for aquatic life. New ponds will have none of those necessary biological processes in place. This creates a “New Pond Syndrome” that can be frustrating if the new pond owner is not equipped with knowledge on how to deal with it. Giving the pond time to develop these processes is the most important step and there are things that we can do to hasten the development.
A new biological filter (no matter what kind it is) is sterile and void of any nitrifying bacteria when it is first placed on the system. Nitrifying bacteria begins to grow when the water temperature is around 62º so if the pond is built in winter no growth can be expected until spring when the pond water starts warming up. When it’s warm enough add commercially available enzymes to promote bacterial growth. Also, add a few fish — just a few.
If your system has a UV installed keep the UV turned off for the first month while building up bacteria in the biofilter. Ultraviolet water clarifiers also kill free-floating bacteria. When nitrifying bacteria is established the UV will not be a problem but until then it’s best to give the bacteria as much of a head start as possible.
A bead filter keeps the water extremely clean but nitrifying bacteria needs a little waste to get established. Hold off performing any backwashing for about a month on new ponds. Then start backwashing once a week as directed. By no means misconstrue this as instruction not to backwash the filter. Those same pollutants can produce colonies of dangerous bad bacteria if not flushed every week once the nitrifying bacteria is established.
Populating with Fish
A few fish will give bacteria the nutrients it needs to grow. Be careful not to over-populate the pond lest you overload the system and the fish begin dying off. We recommend that you start with only 2 or 3 fish. Many folks will tell you to buy a few feeder goldfish from the local pet store because they are cheap. We will never give you that piece of advice. Most pet stores do not quarantine or treat their fish for parasites, especially the feeder goldfish, because it takes more money to treat them than they are “worth”. Why take the chance of introducing parasites and/or diseases to your new, clean pond environment? Instead buy only from places you know quarantine and treat any new arrivals before they allow them to be sold — even if you have to pay more. We always have a batch or two under quarantine. If you’re not “allowed” to see quarantine tanks filled with fish — beware!
Decide whether you want only goldfish or koi or a mixture of both and stock your pond with only the fish you want. Goldfish are very prolific and will literally take over a pond that was originally meant for koi. We’re not slamming goldfish. We love them just as much as we do our koi. In fact, we have an 11,000 gallon pond built just for goldfish. This is just to give the new pond owner the choice (and consequences) of how to stock the pond.
Those of you who use city or county water must remove any chlorine from the tap water before releasing fish into the pond. This is done quite easily by adding a measured amount of de-chlorinator (available through us). De-chlorinator works instantly and there is no wait before the fish can be released. Chlorine dissipates whenever oxygen is introduced into the water (particularly when it is sprayed). Another method of de-chlorinating the water is to allow the waterfall or fountains to run for a week before adding the fish.
Get Ready for the Green
If you installed a UV on your system please feel free to skip this part. If not, expect to get thick, pea-soup green water when the water heats up, especially if your pond is in full sun. Without a UV the water must reach a balance before it will clear up and before that happens the water will get worse than you can ever imagine! The balance is obtained through the addition of plants that compete with green, microscopic, floating algae for nutrients in the water. Eventually maybe, and depending on factors such as the amount of sunlight and fertilizer in the water, your pond may become clear. Green water is something that biofilters will not clear up.
The Crucial Tests
Three test kits a pond owner (whether he/she is new to the hobby or not) should always have on hand is a reliable pH test, Ammonia test and a Nitrite test. New ponds should be tested for pH often each day until stable. Ammonia and nitrite testing should be done 3 times a week after the first fish are introduced.
Keep an Eye on the pH
pH affects all aquatic life, including plants. If it’s high — it’s alkaline or if the pH is low — it’s acidic. A stable pH of 6.8 to 8.0 is the best suited for pond fish. Concrete used in the waterfall or to hold rocks in place can leach into the water in new ponds for a month or so, causing the pH to rise above the high acceptable pH level of 8.0. It changes throughout the day so testing should be done about three times a day on a new pond until the stability of the pH has been established. If the pH is not staying within range there are commercially available products to change and stabilize the pH. Bob Grant, one of our favorite customers, told me that marble chips will work as a natural pH stabilizer and certainly worth a try.
Not All Algae Is Bad
I cringe whenever I hear that someone is scrubbing the sides of his/her pond. The green coat that forms on the liner on the sides and the bottom of the pond is beneficial to the seasoning of the pond itself. The jelly-like substance is algae that is packed with nitrifying bacteria. This coating is a sure sign that the pond is seeding and should be preserved — not scrubbed away. If one feels he must give the pond a thorough cleaning it’s best to attack the “crud” that builds up on the bottom where parasites and bad bacteria can and does form.