Exploring the Magical Microcosm: Unconventional Ways for Children to Interact with a Living Ecosystem Pond
Nature has a way of captivating young minds with its wonders. Ecosystem ponds, teeming with life, provide a fantastic opportunity for children to connect with the natural world right in their own backyards or local parks. While observing and learning about fish, frogs, and plants are typical activities, there are unconventional and creative ways for children to engage with living ecosystem ponds that can spark their curiosity and foster a lifelong love for nature. In this blog, we'll explore some unique ideas to make the experience of interacting with a pond even more magical.
SCREEN VS. NATURE
Kids won’t remember their best day in front of a TV, keyboard, or sitting through a lecture. Kids under 15 struggle to sit still in a classroom setting. Instead, imagine their teacher taking the students out to a wildlife habitat with a pond, and how much more involved the student could be in the lesson. If that teacher were to assign small teams to determine the surface area of the pond and stream, the volume, or the circumference, what would be the increase in number of students that would understand and retain these skills? There’s math. A similar case can also be made for art, statistics, biology, life sciences, philosophy, and more. And that’s just a few ideas based on a standard curriculum. Here are some more unconventional ways that a living ecosystem water feature could be used to enhance a child’s learning.
pond poetry corner
Encourage your children to create poetry inspired by the pond's ecosystem. Have them sit by the water, observe the movements of aquatic life, and let their imagination flow. Poetry can be a wonderful way for children to express their observations, emotions, and connections to nature. You might be surprised by the depth and creativity that emerges from their verses.
UNDERWATER ART GALLERY
Combine art with science by giving your children a waterproof sketchbook and some underwater drawing materials. Encourage them to explore the underwater world, sketch the fish, plants, and even the play of sunlight on the water's surface. These sketches can serve as a personal record of their pond adventures.
Create a storytelling circle by the pond where your children can share their own or each other's imaginative stories about the pond's inhabitants. Encourage them to give each creature a name and a unique personality. This activity not only enhances their creativity but also deepens their understanding of the ecosystem's interconnectedness.
aquatic nature scavenger hunt
Design a scavenger hunt with clues that lead your children to different aspects of the pond ecosystem. Include tasks like finding a water beetle, observing a frog's croak, or identifying a specific aquatic plant. This activity makes learning about the pond's inhabitants an exciting adventure.
SOUNDSCAPES OF THE POND
Help your children create an audio recording of the pond's soundscape. Use a simple audio recorder or even a smartphone to capture the sounds of birds, frogs, and the gentle spill of the waterfall or babble of the brook. Later, you can listen to the recordings together and discuss the different sounds and what they mean for the ecosystem.
BUILD A MINIATURE ECOSYSTEM
Take a creative twist on the traditional terrarium by building a miniature pond ecosystem in a clear glass container. Your child can learn about the delicate balance of aquatic life and the importance of maintaining it while having a hands-on experience. Add small aquatic plants and microorganisms to replicate a self-sustaining ecosystem.
POND THEATER PRODUCTIONS
Encourage your children to stage their own mini-plays or puppet shows based on pond life. They can create their own costumes and props, and even write a script that incorporates facts about the ecosystem. This not only fosters creativity but also helps them retain knowledge about the pond's inhabitants.
Interacting with a living ecosystem pond can be a magical and educational experience for children. By incorporating these unconventional ideas into their pond adventures, you can inspire a deeper appreciation for nature and foster their creativity. Whether they're composing poetry, sketching underwater scenes, or staging pond-inspired plays, these activities will help children form a unique bond with their local pond, igniting their curiosity and nurturing their connection to the natural world. So, go ahead and explore the endless possibilities of engaging with a living ecosystem pond!
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Waterlilies are fascinating pond plants for their delicate beauty and the joy they bring to the water garden. But did you know this treasured flower also carries spiritual history and significance? Often called the jewels of the water garden, waterlilies hold special meaning in Buddhism and Hinduism. In both of these religions, waterlilies symbolize resurrection because the flowers close at night and reopen in the morning. This act is symbolic of spiritual rebirth. Buddhists also feel that the waterlily represents enlightenment because the beautiful flowers rise from the mud.
But that’s not the only historic or spiritual reference to the beautiful blooms. The root word for waterlily is Nymphaea, a Greek word that can be translated as nymph, or a feminine soul that lives in nature. Ancient Egypt prized waterlilies and believed they warded off dangerous spirits. In Christianity, the interlocking petals of the waterlily represent unity and life energy.
In addition to its spiritual symbolism, waterlilies are wonderful flowers that are a favorite plant in ponds and lakes around the world. Waterlilies are available in both hardy and tropical types. Hardy waterlilies are perennials that can survive winter in gardening zones as low as 4 or 5. Tropical waterlilies will only survive year-round in warm and tropical zones. Most waterlilies bloom during the day; however, there are a few night-blooming tropical waterlilies that are truly magnificent.
Hardy waterlilies are mildly fragrant, day-blooming plants characterized by floating flowers and leaves. You’ll find them in shades of red, pink, yellow, peach, white, and changeable. A changeable waterlily generally starts out yellow, and over the next few days of blooming, slowly changes to a peach or light rose color, such as the Sioux waterlily. The vast majority of waterlilies in North America are hardy.
Choosing the Right Waterlily
First, decide if you want a small, medium, or large plant. This not only refers to the size of leaves and flowers but also to the pond surface area taken up by a mature plant. For example, if you desire a red waterlily that’s medium in size, be sure the one you choose will do well in your climate. This is a factor with many deep red lilies such as ‘Almost Black’ which can “burn” in extreme southern summers and even turn black. The probable cause for this is its wild, red European ancestor that is not acclimated to southern heat. Safe red choices include ‘Laydekeri Fulgens,’ ‘Sultan,’ or ‘Perry’s Baby Red.’
These gorgeous lilies are referred to as “tropicals” because they cannot survive northern winter weather. They’re basically the annuals in a northern water garden and will grace it with their beauty all summer and into the early fall season. In Phoenix, they may or may not survive the winter. If the water temperature drops below 40 degrees, this is usually fatal. Tropical waterlilies are desirably unique in several ways.
These are just some of the reasons why water gardeners opt for tropical waterlilies in their ponds. Choose a color and whether you want a day or night-blooming flower. Next year, you can enjoy a different variety.
Keep in mind that night-bloomers tend to run considerably larger than their day-blooming counterparts, are rarely fragrant, and have limited colors from which to choose. Their main advantage is their flowering schedule which is perfect for people who work 9 to 5. Consider choosing both a day and night-blooming waterlily to keep constant color in your pond.
Low Maintenance Charmers
Maintenance of waterlilies – hardy or tropical – is minimal if you keep a few things in mind. First, waterlilies are voracious eaters and need plenty of fertilizer throughout the season if you want them to look their best. Choose fertilizer specific to pond plants and follow the package instructions. Don’t over-fertilize or you will end up with water quality issues. Once you have an established ecosystem, the fish waste generated should be enough to keep your waterlilies thriving, as long as the lilies are planted in the substrate of the pond and not contained in pots -- we haven't been able to figure out a way to train a koi to back up to a pot to poo.
Next, waterlilies do not like moving water or water from a fountain or waterfall splashing on their leaves. Keep them at a slight distance from the waterfall and they should be fine. Also, protect their roots from your finned friends by placing 3-5” river rocks on top of the soil to deter the fish from rooting around at its base. Be sure to keep your koi properly fed so they don’t go looking for a snack from your lily.
Finally, trim back dying leaves and faded blooms. Decaying leaves can add unnecessary nutrients to your pond water. By plucking faded blooms, the plant will put all its energy into new blooms instead of wasting energy on spent flowers.
New waterlilies continue to be hybridized so keep your eyes open for new varieties that you might want to add to your water garden. The International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society holds an annual waterlily contest each year to encourage more research and experimentation with these stunning plants. Your waterlily options are almost endless.
A terrific local resource for aquatic plants of all kinds is Arizona Water Garden Oasis in Tolleson, Arizona. Victoria Helton will hook you up!
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One of the most confusing and intimidating aspects of caring for pond fish is the science of water quality and the pond nitrogen cycle. You may have heard horror stories about the constant monitoring of pond water just to make sure that the fish stay healthy. Unfortunately, these stories unnecessarily frighten people away from the joy of keeping fish.
While pond water quality is important to the health of your fish, it doesn’t have to be complicated or scary. You don’t need to become obsessive with testing water quality, constantly adding chemicals, and doing things to make sure the water is pristine and perfect. There truly can be too much messing around with water. Keep it simple and your fish will thank you.
Let’s look at the basic cycle of pond water and how it can affect your fish.
The Importance of the Pond Nitrogen Cycle
The nitrogen cycle is a natural process in which different types of beneficial bacteria break down compounds like ammonia and nitrite, reducing them to less harmful compounds like nitrate. This process occurs across three steps, from ammonia, to nitrite, to the final conversion into nitrate.
The first process involves the accumulation of ammonia due to fish waste and decomposing material. As ammonia increases, Nitrosomonas bacteria start to consume it and break it down into nitrite. Once nitrite starts to accumulate, denitrifying bacteria break them down into nitrates. Nitrates are then removed from the system by plants, algae, or water changes.
Because so many biological processes are required, it generally takes six to eight weeks for a pond system to run through the complete nitrogen cycle.
Ammonia in the Pond
Ammonia is the main nitrogen waste from your fish, turtles, and other aquatic creatures, and functions as the start of nature’s nitrogen cycle. Did you know that ammonia is excreted partly by the fish’s kidneys, but mostly by the gills? This is relevant because it calls to mind the fact that if there is damage to a fish’s gills, the fish suffer more than just difficulty breathing. They could have trouble expelling their ammonia too. Constipation in any creature is not a happy place to be.
High ammonia levels indicate that there are not enough beneficial nitrogen-reducing bacteria living in the pond yet. These bacteria proliferate over time, so ammonia problems are most common during the first six to eight weeks of a pond’s break-in period. Later, ammonia levels can climb again if the filter gets clogged up or a fish dies and starts decaying in the pond. You might see your fish “jumping” out of the pond when ammonia levels get high. This isn’t the only reason that fish jump, but it can be an indicator to just check for any issues.
Control of ammonia involves reduced or suspended fish feedings, feeding low-protein food (33 percent or less), and/or upgrading your pond’s filtration. While water changes are the single best remedy for ammonia accumulations that threaten your fish, you can also use Ammonia Neutralizer.
How Nitrite Affects Pond Fish
Nitrite is produced from ammonia in the water by beneficial nitrogen-reducing bacteria. These bacteria cleave off ammonia’s hydrogen ions and replace them with oxygen. The pH of the water is then decreased by the release of these hydrogen ions.
Your fish absorbs nitrites through the skin and gills. Inside the fish, nitrites bind the red blood cells, changing them from red to brown. Brown blood disease results from nitrite accumulations in the system. Nitrite is poisonous at levels as low as 0.1 ppm (parts per million), and fish that die from nitrite poisoning will commonly have flared gill covers.
Nitrate: The Final Product
Nitrate is the final product in the nitrogen cycle. Nitrites are broken down by another beneficial nitrogen-reducing bacteria and become nitrates.
Plants and algae use nitrates, along with phosphates and iron, for cellular growth. When the nitrogen cycle is finished, you will see a sudden bloom of algae on the pond floor, or a green water explosion that obscures your view of the fish.
This completion of the nitrogen cycle is typically a non-issue for fish health because fish aren’t harmed by acute or sudden exposure. However, with chronic, high levels of nitrate, you may notice weaker fish, slower growth, and increased illness overall. This is because high nitrate levels represent inferior water quality and this causes stress, making fish more vulnerable to disease.
Nitrates should always be less than 80 ppm in an ornamental pond. To reduce nitrates, plants can be added, water changes can be performed, or algae growth can be encouraged. There are tremendous health benefits to a carpet of emerald-green algae on the pond bottom, the greatest of which is nutrition for the fish. This is why we always say that a little bit of algae is a good thing. Here at The Pond Gnome, we call it Pond Patina.
Testing the pH of Your Pond
In Arizona, this will drive you crazier than being put in a round room and told to sit in the corner. Our pH is very high, and oftentimes comes out of the tap at 9.0! Yep, we have very hard water here. Honestly, we don’t recommend worrying about or trying to affect the pH in your pond. But if you must…
Testing water pH is simply a measurement of the free hydrogen ions (H+) in the pond. It is measured on a scale of one to fourteen with anything below seven being acidic and anything above seven being alkaline. The pH required for aquatic life ranges between 5.5 and 8.0. Koi and goldfish can tolerate a very high pH measurement.
Some pond owners spend a lot of time trying to bring down the pH level, but this is unnecessary unless there is also ammonia accumulation in the pond. The toxicity of ammonia is influenced by pH, so at higher pH values, ammonia is more toxic. Below a pH of 7.2, most ammonia is ionized to ammonium and is far less toxic.
The pH level in ponds impacts fish in several ways. First, if it is too low, a condition inside the fish called acidosis results. Symptoms are a loss of appetite and then production of excess slime, as well as isolation and resting on the bottom of the pond. This is followed by a streaking of the fins, and then death.
If the pH is too high (over 10.0), the fish will produce excess slime and gasp at the surface of the water. This condition, called alkalosis, is hard to rapidly reverse once it occurs.
A Word About Chlorine and Chloramine
Chlorine and chloramines are generally added to tap water by municipal water suppliers to make it safe to drink. However, these same compounds are toxic to fish and bacteria and can kill them if exposed for too long. Basically, the chlorine and chloramines burn and destroy the gills of the fish. De-chlorinators such as Pond Detoxifier remove and neutralize these chemicals and should be used whenever more than 10 to 15 percent of the pond’s total water volume is being added.
The good news is that these chemicals evaporate out of the water fairly quickly on their own.
The Final Verdict
The only way to know for sure what your pond is up to is to test the water for harmful compounds or changing parameters. There is no need to perform regular testing, however, especially if your fish level is low. We recommend stocking your pond with no more than one inch of fish per 10 gallons of water. You might want to test the water if you see your fish behaving or looking differently. A quick test can help you identify your next steps for encouraging a healthy environment for your finned friends.
Granted, it may seem intimidating at first, but once you understand how to measure and control pond water factors, it becomes easy and starts to feel like second nature. The bottom line – healthy water equals healthy fish.
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Who doesn’t love Koi in their pond? They’re beautiful and friendly, providing glimmers of color as they weave their way beneath and between the lily pads. Certainly, they deserve their rightful place in a tranquil water garden. But what about other options? An array of pond fish is just waiting to call your pond their home.
Fantail Goldfish are perfect for your pond: resilient and able to handle all different kinds of water. For the newbie pond owner, goldfish are a great choice for getting started with fish-keeping. Several varieties of goldfish are available, from comets (plain orange and white) to the exotics like ranchus and bubble-eyes.
Included in this showy category are lion heads, telescopes, black moors, orandas, ranchus, and ryukins. The single most distinguishing characteristic of this group as a whole, is their round, bulbous abdomens.
With this exotic group, extra caution should be taken if they are going to be placed outdoors. They’re not as hardy as some of the other goldfish. This is especially true of the adults of these varieties.
The shubunkin is a type of single-tailed, long-bodied goldfish that originated in China. There are two different types of shubunkins. One has a long tail fin, with broad tail fin lobes that are rounded on the end. The other one looks more like a common goldfish, with a short tail fin. Bred mainly for their coloring, shubunkins often have a red, black, and sky-blue coloring, sort of like a calico.
The most valuable of the shubunkins are mostly blue with strong accents of white and red, and the overall pattern sparingly flecked with black. In fact, when blessed with a white, black, and orange pattern, some may resemble baby Koi but are far from it. They are different in size and markings. Most notably, they lack barbells (whiskers of sorts) that are found on Koi. Shubunkins are hardy fish that can survive sweltering summers and can grow up to 14 inches in a minimum 180-gallon pond.
Sarassas are very similar to shubunkins in that they both have a similar body shape; however, they do not quite reach the same size as their larger shubunkin counterparts. The sarassa features a white base color and brilliant red highlights. It is believed that they came from a cross between the red cap oranda and the comet goldfish and are sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Koi.
Amazingly, the brilliant red of the true sarassa is a lifelong proposition and the fish are very enjoyable. Uncontrolled breeding of the sarassa will yield more and more brown fish until the pond population has returned to unselected comet and brown goldfish ancestry.
There are also some fish, which you may have never heard of, that would make great pond fish. Orfes, for example, call many a backyard pond home. In its native habitat, the Danube River, the golden orfe is a dark silvery color, but received its golden color when bred in Europe. The bright orange color is very attractive, especially since they characteristically swim near the surface of most ponds with the rest of their group. This is helpful because their presence near the top of the pond can also encourage Koi and other goldfish to visit the surface of the water as well.
One thing to keep in mind is that golden orfe grow extremely fast. A 2 to 3-inch golden orfe can quickly reach sizes of 2 to 2½ feet! While golden orfe feed mostly on insect larvae, worms, and fallen insects, they are derived from the predatory side (in their original silver color) and could pose a risk to the rest of the aquatic life, although it is unlikely. Orfe are highly sensitive to fish medications of most kinds, and extreme care must be taken.
Catfish are another popular fish seen in the water garden. They are commonly sold as scavengers to help clean up the pond, but they really don’t do that much of it. Caution should be taken with these fish because they can become quite large in a short period of time. When they become large, they can cause trouble because they may start eating whatever they can fit in their mouth – including other fish!
Learning about Fish
Getting to know the background of the pond fish you plan to keep as pets is vital to their survival and your sanity. By knowing their defining characteristics, you will have a thorough understanding of how the fish will interact in your pond with other fish, plants, and aquatic life.
Other Fish You May Want to Research:
So, who is ready to “dive” into the wonderful world of pond fish beyond Koi? Don’t have a pond yet? We can help with that!
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There's something truly captivating about a beautiful pond that draws us into its tranquil embrace. Whether nestled in a garden or gracing a grand estate, these shimmering water bodies have an inherent allure that seems to enchant us effortlessly. But have you ever wondered what creates this magical ambiance? Delving into the world of ponds, we discover that the secret lies in the art of design and the delicate balance of an ecosystem. Join us on a journey to unravel the mystique of a stunning pond, guided by the expertise and insights shared by The Pond Gnome, a premier Arizona resource for all things aquatic.
The Art of Pond Design
The Pond Gnome emphasizes that the magic of a beautiful pond originates from a well-thought-out design. Just like an artist's canvas, every pond presents an opportunity to create a unique masterpiece. From the shape and size to the positioning and materials used, every element plays a vital role in sculpting the final outcome.
The shape of the pond is crucial, with curves to mimic the organic flow of nature. A naturalistic design allows for a more harmonious integration with the surrounding environment, enabling the pond to blend seamlessly into its surroundings.
Elements of a Balanced Ecosystem
A visually stunning pond extends beyond aesthetics; it nurtures a thriving ecosystem supporting diverse aquatic life. The Pond Gnome highlights the significance of establishing a balanced ecosystem, ensuring the longevity and health of the pond's inhabitants.
Water quality stands as the cornerstone of a thriving ecosystem. Proper filtration systems, such as biological and mechanical filters, are employed to achieve this. These mechanisms, together with natural water treatments, work together to eliminate debris, excess nutrients, and harmful substances, resulting in crystal-clear water.
Aquatic plants are another vital component. They provide oxygen, compete with algae for nutrients, and offer shelter for fish and other aquatic organisms. By selecting a mix of floating, submerged, and marginal plants, the pond gains a harmonious balance of oxygenation and visual appeal.
The Role of Fish and Wildlife
The inclusion of fish in a pond adds a captivating dimension and completes the overall ecosystem. Koi and goldfish are popular choices due to their vibrant colors and graceful movements. Fish contribute to the ecological balance by consuming algae and insect larvae, thus reducing the risk of imbalances within the pond.
Additionally, attracting and supporting wildlife in and around the pond further enriches the ecosystem, not to mention establishing integrated pest management. Dragonflies, frogs, turtles, and birds create a dynamic environment, adding life and intrigue to the pond. Many creatures attracted to a pond also contribute to maintaining a balanced insect population, fostering a natural harmony within the ecosystem.
Maintenance and Care
To maintain the enchantment of a beautiful pond, regular maintenance and care are essential. The Pond Gnome advises routine tasks such as removing excess debris, checking and cleaning filters, and ensuring proper water levels. Careful monitoring of water quality parameters, such as ammonia content, is vital to prevent imbalances that could harm the ecosystem.
A beautiful pond is not merely a visual delight but a testament to the symbiotic relationship between design and ecosystem. The Pond Gnome's expertise reveals that every aspect, from the initial design to the nurturing of a balanced ecosystem, contributes to the allure and longevity of a stunning water feature. By appreciating the magic that arises from a good design and ecosystem balance, we gain a deeper understanding and admiration for the artistry of ponds. So, let the beauty of a well-crafted pond inspire you to have The Pond Gnome create your own aquatic masterpiece, merging art and nature in perfect harmony.
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