Correcting Total Alkalinity

Baking Soda makes a safe cost effective alkalinity booster.

WHY: Total Alkalinity is a measure of the carbonates in the pond.  They are essential to creating an environment where beneficial bacteria flourish and fish stay healthy and grow rapidly.  Many people are blessed with high natural total alkalinity, some are not.  Those who live out on the plains, the desert south west, California, in limestone valleys, or otherwise hard water are generally among the blessed.  Those of us who live in the mountains, or near the top of a ridge, on the east coast, or otherwise have soft water, not so much.

TESTING:  It easy to find out your total Alkalinity using our Microbelift 5 in 1 Test Kit. The goal for Total Alkalinity is 100 mg/l.  If you have more, great.  If you have a little less, it’s not terrible.  If your readings are down in the 20s, 30s, 40s, you really need a fix.

RULE OF THUMB: For backyard ponds, add 1 pond of Arm and Hammer Baking Powder, yes the kind you use for baking, to raise the total alkalinity of 3300 gallons of water by 20 mg/l.  If you need to raise it more than 20mg/l, add this quantity every day until to get to the desired level.

EXAMPLE:  If you have a 3300 gallon pond and it tests at 20 mg/l and you want to take it to 100 mg/l, add 1 pound of baking soda a day for 4 days.

RULE OF THUMB: For farm ponds, add 1 ton of crushed limestone for each surface acre of pond.  For a more exact dosing recommendation, consult your local Agriculture Extension Agent in your County for directions to have the pond water or its sediments tested. For small earthen ponds with a limited flow through, you can also use Arm and Hammer Bulk Sodium Bicarbonate (ag grade baking soda), in the same quantities as you would use crushed limestone.  Unlike crushed limestone, it will dissolve immediately and give an instant boost to your carbonate.  As with backyard pond applications, if you are raising the total alkalinity more than 20 mg/l do not add more than will change the water by 20 mg/l per day so to not to shock the aquatic life.

Should I overwinter pond barley straw?

Overwinter pond barley straw below the ice.

Another question I get a lot during the winter months is this: If I leave my barley straw in my pond over the winter, will it still be good in the spring?

Yes! The bacterial cultures that make Barley straw effective will again become active as soon as the water warms up to above 40 or 50 degrees. Like all other processes in the pond, biological activity that occurs with barley straw slows down in the winter and regains efficiency with the coming of spring.

However, there’s a catch. With the increase in temperature, sometimes algae can grow faster than Barley Straw is able to keep up with. So although it may seem like your over-wintered straw is losing its functionality, it is really just being overwhelmed by a temporary algal growth. But this is not entirely a bad thing. Many fish and other aquatic creatures rely upon this initial flush of vegetation as their first post-hibernation food source, like a spring tonic. Unfortunately, as the season progresses, they will abandon this source in favor of better, more nutritious food. Finally, once water temperatures regularly exceed 50 degrees, bacterial growth will begin to take over and the algae will once again remain in submission.

Red worms in my pond biofilter!

Red worms in my pond biofilter!

I have received many an alarmed email from clients all over the country, all concerning the same thing:  a species of small red worms that like to take up residence in filter boxes during the warm season. What are these things? Are they koi parasites? Are they harmful to my fish or my plants? Are they harmful to me? Should I get rid of them? How can I make them leave? One client even freaked out and put their filter material in the microwave oven to nuke the little beasts to be sure they were all killed.  (Bet that smelled good!)

Fortunately, there is no need to panic. They are not fish parasites, they are not harmful to your plants, and they are not harmful to you.

They have a name, albeit a rather unsavory one – sewage worms. Sewage worms thrive wherever there is a plentitude of organic waste; in this case, a pond filter. Typically, they are found in waste water treatment plants, digesting aquatic waste matter as an earthworm digests solid waste matter. If you have these little guys in your filter, it is probably an indication that there is too much organic debris on the material. In this way, they are actually beneficial to your system because they are getting rid of excessive waste. However, if you find them disturbing, a good hosing-down of the filter material will dispose of them; or, simply wash them separate from the organic debris and dump them in the pond where they can make a tasty, high-protein treat for your fish. To discourage re-infestation, make sure your filter is cleaned regularly. Like stray cats, if you do not feed them, they will not come.

Finally, never nuke (microwave) your filter material! Besides killing the red worms, it will also kill the beneficial bacteria that make the filter effective.

Algae is growing ON my barley straw. What’s wrong?

If there is algae growing ON your barley straw, something is amiss.

Barley straw is added to ponds to retard the growth of algae.  So, it definitely should not be growing ON the barley straw.  What gives?

I get a few of these inquiries each spring. Barley straw that is well colonized by beneficial bacteria will greatly retard the growth of algae in the water surrounding the straw and there should be no algae growing on the straw itself.  If there is, something is definitely out of whack.

What can cause this failure?

The number one reason for this in the spring time is that the water has just warmed to the 40 to 45 degrees range, warm enough for the algae to start growing but not warm enough for the bacteria to develop sufficiently to block growth.  This problem will take care of itself once the water temperatures stabilize over 50 degrees.  So, patience here is the best cure.

The second most common reason is that the water does not have enough carbonate to support a thriving population of the beneficial bacteria.  The water is too ‘soft’.   This is a common problem on the East Coast and up in mountainous regions.  This is easy to check for and easy to fix.  If you suspect this is the problem, test your pond water for ‘Total Alkalinity’ using our Microbe-lift 5 in 1 Test Kits. If the level is below 100 mg/l, supplemental total alkalinity is needed.  See my blog on correcting Total Alkalinity if this is the issue.

The third most common reason in small backyard ponds is that the water has been allowed to concentrate nitrate to such a degree that no amount barley straw will work.  To check this, use either our Microbe-lift 5 in 1 Test Kit or our Microbe-lift Nitrate Test Kit. Test in the morning and afternoon over a period of several days. If your levels are consistently over 5 mg/l, you really need to lower your nitrate level.  This can most easily be done by doing one or more water changes.

The last possibility is that the pond has been dosed with chemicals that have killed off the beneficial bacteria which need to colonize the straw (as well as your bio filter).  Review your pond management practices and stop using chemicals.

Salt in Ponds

Salt as a pond Medicinal

Sal: Nature's Own Medicinal

Grandma’s salty chicken soup helped you get over your cold. Gargling with salt water cures your sore throat. Salt sprays clear up your sinus infection. So why not use the healing power of salt as a therapeutic for your pond? Salt can be used many ways, and in both tanks and large ponds.  Its benefits include reducing fish stress, reducing nitrites, and treating pond parasites.

Some Tips about Salt:

•             Caution: Whenever used, salt should be dissolved in a bucket of pond water, and not added directly – undissolved salt can irritate fish gills and lead to injury or death

•             Iodized salt should never be used, as iodine is toxic to fish.

•             Be careful when adding any kind of salt to an aquatic tank, as it can have detrimental effect on plant life

•             Before adding salt to a tank, make sure to remove all zeolite products

•             After using a salt treatment, test the water for ammonia spikes with Microbe-Lift Ammonia Test Strips, as fish tend to excrete high levels of ammonia after exposure to salt.

•             Dosing:

o             Small tank: ½ cup of salt per 10 gallons of pond water

o             Large tank: 5 cups of salt per 100 gallons of pond water

o             Stress reduction: 2 and 1/2 cups per 100 gallons of pond water

•             As a topical treatment for sick fish:

o             Mix salt with tank water until it reaches a thick paste consistency

o             Use a new basting brush to apply to affected areas such as excessive slime or reddened spots on the head, back, or underbelly

o             Take caution applying around the eyes and gills

o             Dispose of or sterilize the basting brush when finished to avoid cross-contamination

•             Salt does not evaporate from tanks and must be removed by water changes.

Remember this and you’ll always be a step closer to a healthy, happy pond with healthy, happy fish.

Winter is a good time to lime your frozen pond

Frozen ponds are an opportunity to lime

If your pond freezes enough in winter you can spread your lime right over the ice

If you own a pond, you know the importance of liming. And if you own a pond in the far north, you know the nuisance of seeing your pond turn into a Popsicle. However, your pond-turned-ice-skating-rink has a special benefit that no other region does: You can lime it without the hassle of distribution.

If you live up north, and your water has been acidic (below a pH of 7.5) or you have a low Total Alkalinity (below 100 ml/g), right now is the ideal time to lime.  Fostering overall pond and fish health, liming definitely supplies the “biggest bang for your buck” for any pond practice. (And I don’t even sell it, so I’m not just trying to sell you lime)

Crushed limestone is cheaper than dirt. It can be purchased in 40 – 50 lb. bags from your nearby farm supply store for about $3 or $4 a bag, and even less if bought in bulk (ideal for large ponds).  Buy crushed or pulverized limestone, not hydrated lime (hydrated lime can kill your fish)

What prevents most people from liming is:

  • Weight:

o   You will need approximately one ton per acre (but check with your local Ag Extension Agent for the exact amount required for the soil under your pond)

o   If you have an acre pond, you can’t use your trusty ½ ton pickup truck, so you’ll need it delivered

o   One ton = 40 – 50 bags

  • Distribution:

o   Lime can’t be dumped all in one spot. That’d be too easy. It must be distributed evenly throughout the bottom of your pond, just like you would lime a garden.

o   A small boat or barge (a kayak or canoe is not the boat for this!) will suffice for this task, if the weather is warmer, however…

o   If you live up north, you can simply walk across the ice, distributing as you go.  All you have to do is wait for the ice to melt and the lime to sink for the process to begin.  Easy as pie.

So, for all you northerners, your job has been made drastically easier. Finally, a good liming will last for several years.  And whoever thought you’d benefit from that big old ice cube on top your pond?