Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Koi Pond Cleanup

Our 10 year old koi pond was way overdue for a serious cleaning.  The beach was totally overgrow and the entire pond was mired in muck.

The current mess is mild compared to the overgrown elephants ears and umbrella sedge we dealt with last spring.  The bog plants had completely taken over the shallow end of our keyhole shaped pond.  Pond plants multiply at an amazing rate and it doesn't take long for things to get out of control.

The primary motivation in this most recent pond cleanup was the elimination of pond minnows.  Without any natural predators, the minnow population was totally out of control.  The water was thick with them and we had a strong suspicion that the minnows were eating our fish eggs and keeping our goldfish and koi from reproducing.

The weekend before the big cleanup, we prepared a 6 foot round stock tank as a temporary holding tank to house all the goldfish and koi. 

In order to eradicate the minnows, we would have to completely drain the pond.  We used a dirty water sump pump to suck out the water.

We used the cleanest water to top off the stock tank and then filled every container we could find with the pond water.  Some of the pond water was used to provide a temporary home to pond plants.

Some of the pond plants were just a tangled mess and were not worth saving.  Interestingly, these milk crates were used to support the pond's pump and pre-filtration unit.  They were not intended to be used as planters.

We pulled an unbelievable quantity of muck out of the pond.  It's amazing the fish had space to swim.

The sump pump continued to empty the pond until almost all the water was gone.  When the pump couldn't continue, we switched to a wet/dry vac for the last bits of water and gunk.

During the clean up, we temporarily displaced some of the native pond inhabitants.  All the frogs and turtles received temporary homes and waited patiently until we could get the pond refilled.

Re-potting the plants was the next phase in the cleanup.  The parrots feather looked so good growing up on the beach, but it had to go.  Later when the beach was rebuilt, I was glad we cleared it out.

Some parrots feather was saved and re-potted. 

After the parrots feather was removed, we realized the beach was in very bad shape and decided to completely remove all the rocks and rebuild it.

The final product was well worth the effort.

Hopefully, we can go another 10 years or more before the next major pond cleaning.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Industrial Strength

I once had a rustic, handcrafted wisteria arbor that my husband and I built from raw cedar logs collected on our land.  The arbor stood for about 15 years before time and the wisteria tore it asunder.  

When it came time to rebuild the arbor, I wanted it to be industrial strength.  The new arbor needed to be bigger and stronger, so the second time around I had a metal arbor built.  This arbor is solid.  I sometimes mentally taunt the wisteria that lives on the arbor.  Ha! Tear that one down.  I dare you.

This well-mannered climbing rose named Felicia would be fine without a support, but I love the look of obelisks.  This metal obelisk was built by local metal craftsman, Bob Pool.  Bob is also a blogger at Gardening at Draco.  Another example of Bob's work, a steel wall planter, can be seen on Pam Penick's blog Digging.

An obelisk isn't necessarily industrial strength, but it can be.  Look at this huge obelisk also built by Bob Pool.  This beauty has prongs that sink far into the dirt, which is a good thing because the tiny little rose in this photo is Peggy Martin.  I started this rose from a cutting, but it will someday grow up to 15 feet tall. 
I think even temporary plant supports, like tomato cages, should be industrial strength.  I first started growing tomatoes using the typical tomato cage about 20 years ago.  This type of cage is so frustrating to me.  The prongs that stick into the ground always seem to bend the wrong way and the little wires snap over time.  

Inevitably, whatever I have growing in traditional cages, be it tomatoes or peppers, finally sends the cage toppling over, forcing me to stake the cage with rebar.  Then, there’s storage.  Try storing any number of these cages and you’ll definitely start to wonder if there’s a better way.

This silly cage is even frustrating to photograph.  No matter where I put it, the cage disappeared into the scenery.  This shot looks a bit like a tomato cage lineup photo, but somehow that seems fitting to me.

In my efforts to think bigger and stronger, I switched over to homemade cages made out of fencing formed into a circle and secured with wire.  These cages are certainly more industrial strength then the wimpy store bought cages.  The fencing-made cage is strong and tall, but since it has no means of its own to stand up, the cage has to be secured with rebar woven through the fence holes.  

These cages are severely limiting when it comes to storage. There’s just no good way to make these look organized or to stack them neatly, so I lay them down in a big pile at the back of our property and try to ignore them.  What a mess.

This year I’m going hard core.  Queue the Tim Taylor grunting noises and prepare to see industrial strength on steroids.  Tomatoes I laugh in your face.  Try; just try to knock these supports over!  These fence panels are heavy gauge wire, 5 feet tall, and held in place by ½ inch stout rebar, pounded a full foot into the soil.  I may never get them out, but whatever.  I’m happy for now.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Passion for Plants

The East Austin Garden Fair is a fabulous event.  For the price of "absolutely free", you'll find knowledgeable and experienced gardeners ready to share their wealth of knowledge with you.  This year's fair will no doubt be bigger and better than even.

There will be plenty of activities for the kids and did I mention free plants.  That's right!  We'll have free plants grown by the Master Gardeners while supplies last.  What a deal!

Here's a list of some of the fair exhibit topics you can expect see:

  • Beekeeping
  • Backyard Chickens
  • Citrus and Fruit
  • Composting
  • Insects
  • Grow Boxes
  • Rainwater Harvesting
  • Butterfly Gardening
  • Firewise Landscaping
  • Raised Bed Gardening
  • Vegetable and Herb Gardening
  • School Gardens

Come out and visit me at the backyard chicken table.  I'll have some adorable chickens and plenty of knowledgeable chicken folks available to answer your questions.  We'll have a demonstration coop and several hens of various breeds for you to view up close. 

Master Gardener Debbie Hyde will be bringing her Delaware hen (shown below) along with her coop mate, a Rhode Island Red.  I will be bringing some of my cuties from the Chick Inn.  I'm hoping my little 8 month old pullet, Abby, looks her best for the big day.  Abby is preparing for her first molt and a chicken in molt is not an attractive site.  Hopefully, her molt will hold off so I can bring her.  She's a real sweetie pie.  

Photo by Austin Neal
Here are some pictures from last year's event, which included bird house construction,  
Photo by Austin Neal

worm composting, also known as vermiculture, 
Photo by Austin Neal

cool bugs (I hope my chickens don't get a look at those tasty cockroaches), 
Photo by Austin Neal

and plenty of other interesting stuff to keep the kiddos entertained.
Photo by Austin Neal

I hope I see you at the East Austin Garden Fair!