Pond work for November

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14th Feb 2014. Updated from a series written by Alec and Val Scaresbrook for Koi, Ponds and Gardens magazine.

Cold, wind or both can cause damage to plants and fish, so here is what pond work to do in November to prepare for the worst.

Plant of the month: Skimmia
Project: create a quarantine pond
Project: make a pond cover
Pond equipment – protect from frost
Fish care – assemble a koi first aid kit

Plant of the month: Skimmia

Berrying shrubs are superb at this time of year. Among the evergreens, Skimmia japonica ‘Bowles Dwarf Female’ makes a good choice because of its compact growth habit; as a mature plant it only reaches about 1m/3ft high, perhaps more across. Also plant a male variety to aid pollination and the formation of fruit. Although male plants won’t produce berries, their flowers are generally much showier than the females, so are attractive in their own right. Plant them in pots or the ground, and give them plenty of fertiliser during the growing season. They grow best in some shade in rich, moist soil.

Also think ahead to late winter and early spring by planting bulbs in containers or the ground now. Consider winter aconites, one of 200 different types of snowdrop, crocuses, and dainty species daffodils. View the range from Crocus and our online shop.

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Project: Fish care – create a quarantine pond>

To keep your fish and pond healthy you should have a quarantine area to hold any new fish that you decide to buy. In an emergency the quarantine area can then also double up as a hospital tank if necessary.

The quarantine area needn’t take up vast amounts of space if you use a tall tank with a small footprint. A large aquarium, exhibition vat or pre-formed pond liner are all possibilities. Whatever you choose though it is best raised so that you can easily inspect your fish, and partly shaded. Because you’ll need to inspect the fish daily and make frequent water quality checks, an indoor setting, such as an outbuilding or garage with a power supply for good lighting, aeration and filtration equipment, is both more practical and comfortable.

Be sure to keep the tank solely for fish, with no plants at all. Also, don’t forget to fit a suitable cover to stop fish leaping out and predators helping themselves. Ensure you have test chemicals to hand, and keep a set of equipment for sole use with the quarantine pond; using the same equipment for the main pond will defeat the purpose of quarantine by spreading parasites.

If you decide to use biological filters, keep a few fish in the tank permanently to maintain bacterial levels. The unit will then always be ready to use for surprise gifts, impulse buys and considered purchases. Once you’ve got one you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

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Project: Make a pond cover

A winter cover for your pond prevents heat loss which can occur due to strong cold winds and low temperatures. It can also stop an unheated pond freezing over, and will keep any pond-heating bills as low as possible.

Whatever your design, try to incorporate access to the pond at all times so that you can easily check on your fish. There are several ways of doing this. You can make the whole cover easy to remove, or make it in several sections; include a hinged flap; or even build a more substantial walk-in structure such as a plastic-covered tunnel.

A framework of 5in x 2in wooden battens which extend over the whole pond with cross-pieces for added strength is an easy design to recreate. Fit bubble plastic or twin-walled polycarbonate sheeting over the frame to provide the cover. These materials trap air between their layers while trapping air above the pond reducing heat loss. The framework is usually heavy enough to stay in place but you can always devise an anchoring method if the site is vulnerable to strong gusts of wind. However, snow can be more of a problem. Either make the cover sloping for ease of sweeping, or make the sections small enough to easily lift up for tipping off the snow.

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Protect equipment from frost

If your setup’s already insulated against frost, check that nothing has been dislodged to expose a vulnerable pipe or pump. If you have yet to insulate then now is the time to act.

Pipes are easy to insulate with wraparound lagging, pre-formed foam tubes or bubble-plastic insulation sold for greenhouses held in place with waterproof tape. More awkward shapes are easier to protect by insulating their surroundings, rather than trying to wrap material around them. Pumps can be insulated from the cold ground below with a polystyrene tile or bubble-plastic, and pump chambers and their lids can also be lined with similar insulating material to protect the contents.

When insulating your equipment be careful not to wrap things too well. Be sure not to block essential ventilation of equipment otherwise it will overheat. Overheating can either trip the overload switch, which will protect any motor but not your precious Koi, or damage equipment irreparably. Either way, if you don’t realise what has happened quickly it could be too late for your Koi.

Even during the depths of winter you need to be checking equipment functions, water quality and your fish to be sure that everything is running as it should be.

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Koi first aid kit

Be prepared for every eventuality and always keep a first aid kit to hand:

  • A lockable cabinet
  • The volume(s) of your pond(s), including quarantine pond(s) for working out doses
  • A note book and pen to jot down symptoms, treatments, dates and doses
  • Disposable latex gloves for handling Koi and chemicals
  • Accurate scales (digital) for dry weights
  • Suitable measuring cylinders for liquids, containers and implements (for example a spoon for stirring) kept only for mixing/applying medications
  • Cotton buds, cotton towels or nappies, paper towels
  • Some plastic bags for sealing contaminated towels and materials for disposal in the dustbin
  • A bath or bowl used only for dosing individual Koi
  • Contact details of a trustworthy Koi keeper (dealer or a Koi club member, perhaps)
  • Contact details for a vet specialising in fish
  • Note: Only keep small amounts of medication and store as instructed. Never keep medication in your household refrigerator.
    Always check the use-by dates and ask your vet about safe disposal of chemicals.

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