Fish are hard to catch, and harder to keep temporarily contained while your pond is being drained, cleaned, and then refilled. And nothing is more depressing as a fish-lover than watching your beloved pets flounder around a tiny prison for an hour while you struggle to clean their home as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, as springtime approaches, you begin to realize that your pond is probably looking like a sad, dirty hole in the ground, and not the masterpiece that you left it in the fall. At this time of year, fish are just coming out of winter hibernation and their immune systems are the most fragile, so you don’t want to stress them out by going through the torturous catching ritual. Stressed fish frequently become sick fish, especially if they are koi.
Of course, not all fish are created equal. Goldfish are a very hearty breed and can easily survive a few hours in a bucket. I remember being in fourth grade and insisting that I walk the six blocks to school for Show and Tell day, goldfish in jar in hand. Halfway there, I clumsily dropped the jar on the sidewalk and it shattered, sending my beloved fish flopping on the ground. I quickly scooped him up and scurried the last two blocks to school to the little girl’s room where I put him in a sink full of water. He lived. Some kinds of fish are definitely better suited to a moving arrangement than other.
But is there a way to clean your pond without the trauma and drama of catching up the inhabitants and subjecting them to The Bucket? Can you clean around the fish?
Yes, there is! Here’s how:
1. Be patient: Wait until the morning temperature of the water is 50 degrees. The biological processes of your fish are so slow below this point that they are not effective. If you aren’t the patient type, consider doing this chore in the fall before it gets cold.
2. Restart your filter: Turn on the pump and the filter if they have been turned off. Clean the filter media with a hose if it was not done in the fall
3. Digest bottom sludge: If there is more than ½ an inch of “pudding” on the bottom of your pond, do a 5-week sludge digestion process with Microbe-Lift SludgeAway. To ensure that there is enough carbonate for the bacteria to be at their sludge-eating best, also add ½ of a cup of household baking soda for every 1,000 gallons of your pond every day of the first week. If you know for sure that your pond already has a total alkalinity of over 100 mg/l, you will not have to do this. This process breaks down the organic material into fine, floatable particles that can be removed by your mechanical filter. Therefore, check your filter often during this process and rinse off the excess accumulation as needed. The more sludge you digest, the more frequently you will need to flush the filter media.
4. Digest twigs and leaves: If your pond is also littered with twigs and leaves, try some Microbe-Lift Spring/Summer Cleaner dry enzyme pouches. These are the same pouches that come in the Microbe-Lift Autumn/Winter Cleaner Prep kits, so you can also substitute those.
5. Draw Down: At the end of five weeks, drain your pond until you can see the fins of your fish poking out of the water, but not below that. Stir the water a little to raise up any particles of gunk your filter has not removed so they can be washed down with the draw-down water, but be careful not to greatly disturb the occupants of the pond. This will also dispose of algae and water that has too many nutrients in it. When the walls of the pond are exposed, sprinkle Green Clean on them to kill any slimy scum that might be growing there. ¼ of a cup of Green Clean is enough to cover a surface 3 by 40 feet, so go lightly!
6. Refill: If you are going to refill with chlorinated public water, be sure to add Microbe-Lift Dechlor before you begin. If you are using well water, here are three important points to keep in mind.
a. Groundwater in most regions is 52 degrees, so add water slowly if your pondwater is a significantly above or below this number.
b. Groundwater contains little to no oxygen, so as you add the water, so use the nozzle on your hose to spray the water into the pond rather than simply letting it flow into the water.
c. Keep an eye on your pond as it fills. Because the water level is so low, your fish may be vulnerable to wandering herons and raccoons.
If you follow this procedure, the results will be a clean, healthy pond and happy, unstressed fish. To help keep it that way, I recommend Microbe-Lift PL to get a jumpstart on biological processes. To block the growth of algae until your biofilter’s bacteria cultures grow strong enough to do so, pour in a little Microbe-Lift Barley Straw Extract. As a final touch to your masterpiece, add one pound (two cups) of baking soda to every 660 gallons over a period of seven days if you have soft water or a low alkalinity. Don’t know your alkalinity? Try our easy-to-use 5-in-1 test strips.
Finally, sit back and enjoy your clean, beautiful pond for the season.