Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ponds spring to life

Spring sprang while I wasn't paying attention. While the tiny red tips of my peony shoots fought their way through the fall leaves I hadn't yet removed, I realized it was time to fix the pond pumps I broke last fall when I tried to hoist them out of the ponds without getting my knees dirty. There's no way to properly care for a pond without getting dirty. I snapped the rod that's attached to the pump's impeller when I tried to lift the heavy bucket holding the filters by yanking on the pump. Then I broke the pump in my second pump when I tried to carry it to storage without taking it apart. The plastic tubing leading into the filter case cracked off in the cold. I was sure it was going to cost me a fortune to fix everything. But I went to Webb's Water Gardens in Fallston and was surprised to learn that I could simply replace the impeller on my one pump. My other pump could be fixed by buying a new filter unit. Today, I got everything back together and into the ponds. When the water finally started burbling forth again, it was particularly satisfying. Check out the video below to share in my zen moment.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Taking the water garden a little less seriously

Don't believe anyone who tells you a backyard pond or water garden is maintenance-free. I once wrote a magazine story about high-end water features and heard many landscape architects tell me that once their ponds and waterfalls were installed, they would take very little maintenance. As the "maintainer" of two backyard water features I inherited from my home's former owner, I challenged each of them. In the five years I've had these ponds, I've learned the hard way that ponds take a lot of work, but they are also amazingly resilient. Now I let nature to the mothering and expect the survival of the fittest. Here are a few things I learned from my misadventures in water gardening:

1.) Don't feed the fish.
I used to feed the goldfish in my two little ponds. It took me a while to realize that was the reason they were reproducing so fast that my filters couldn't handle their waste and I was forced to rinse out the gunky pads weekly. I stopped the feeding, added a water plant and made sure not to clean the ponds so that there are always plenty of microorganisms to sustain them.

2.) Just use a plain old hose to clean out the filters.
My ponds' former owner was diligent about maintaining a healthy environment for her goldfish. She told me to be sure rinse the filters in water taken from the pond so that I wouldn't upset the pH balance and disturb the fish. This made filter-cleaning messier and more cumbersome than it needed to be. I can't seem to kill my fish even if I try. They've survived winter freeze-overs, food withholding and a great blue heron with the patience of Job. Now I just haul out the filters, flop them on my deck and spray them with a hose until I don't see any more black water pouring out. I put them back in the fountains, turn them on and the water flows freely.

3.) If it's more convenient, just turn off the fountains.
I used to agonize over the need to keep the fountains running for the health of the fish. When I'd go away, I'd line up neighbors are relatives to pop by and make sure the fountains were still running and I'd give them a number to reach me so that I could tell them what to do if they were not. Now I just turn the things off when I have to be away. I figure it's going to be more trouble to replace a $100 fountain motor that burns out because the filters grew too clogged than it would be to replace a few goldfish. And quite frankly, those fish don't seem too bothered by the occasional shut downs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Great tip for keeping outdoor stairwell free of leaves

My neighbor gave me a great tip for keeping my basement stairwell free of leaves. I haven't tried this yet, but I will as soon as we get another heavy rainstorm. Many of us here in the neighborhood have these outdoor stairwells with a tiny drain in the center of the bottom concrete slab, set almost flush with our basement doors. If those drains get clogged with leaves and debris, rainwater backs up and can seep into the house under those doors. I've outfitted my drain with one of those wire caps that look like bakers' hats and are designed to attach to the ends of downspouts. I poked its spokes through a traditional metal hole-filled drain strainer and set it atop my drain. It does a pretty good job of letting the water through but not the leaves. Yet, leaves still collect on that bottom slab. My neighbor suggested placing an old screen door over that bottom slab, but up on a higher step so that it forms a kind of mesh bridge over the drain. I thought it sounded like a great idea. When I get a chance to do it, I'll blog again about how well it worked.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007