An Aquascape Springtime

Preparation for Springtime For People With Aquascape Ponds

A successful Springtime is not an accident. If your fish had a tough winter, and your pond is not clean and maintained in time for Spring, poor health could be the result. In preparation for Springtime you should recognize poor water conditions and poor fish health. Early detection could be the key. Water tests for nitrogen may be useful to you. Making sure the pond is as clean as possible (not freshly scrubbed!) will help bring the fish into Springtime in the best possible health. I DO NOT recommend draining a pond and scrubbing the liner clean. Rocks, gravel, and an emerald green carpet of algae in the pond all contribute to the reduction of nitrogen and other fish wastes in the pond.

Is there a best time in terms of water or air temp for performing the spring cleanout?
Readers of this publication will appreciate that they have a pond which does not require very much in the way of tweaking or day-to-day management. Because Aquascape ponds are balanced ecosystems with fish, plants and plenty of space, biological processes take care of problems which others must use gadgets and gear. However, there is a “climax” for all natural ecosystems. All riverbeds and ponds eventually turn into swamps as organic solids accumulate, filling them in over the years. On a very microcosmic level, this happens in your pond, too.

So it has been recommended by the system engineers that the pond be “Cleaned Out” every year or so. I like this idea because it keeps the pond in the “new phase” with the best possible water quality where plants and fish can grow rapidly. So my pond gets a minor cleanout of leaves in the Fall after the last one releases its tree – and then a major manual cleanout every Spring.

The best time to do this Spring Cleaning is in the cool early months of Spring, which varies from latitude to latitude. For Georgia, this would be late March and early April. When water temperatures are in the very low fifties, you can safely hold fish in smallish facilities for a day or three with little trouble.

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If you endeavor the cleanout in the cold water of late winter, where water temperatures are in the low forties, this is stressful to the fish because they are “just surviving” in the cold. On the contrary, if you wait until early summer where water temperatures are in the high sixties or low seventies, you’ve put yourself squarely in front of oxygen and nitrogen issues in small holding facilities.

I do not recommend removing all fish and doing a cleanout when the pond is warm, over 70 DF. It can be done, and it can even be done very successfully but it does require that the fish handling crew be well experienced and prepared to handle issues with oxygen depletion and nitrogen accumulation.

So, for an Aquascape ecosystem, the best advice I can offer is when the pond is at or above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, I recommend that you have your pond maintenance people come out and do the Clean out.

The tank used for Cleanout holding should be smooth sided, round if possible, and covered with a net. The holding tank should be filled with pond water, instead of tap water. There should be an aggressive aerator regardless of tank temperature. The equipment should have been sterilized before it’s used on your fish to avoid carriage of a virus or bacteria to your fish. Sterilization of fish handling gear is simply achieved with a misting bottle of dilute Clorox 1:30 dilution, then a clear water rinse and air / sun drying.

Some pond crews have taken the professional step to procure complete fish handling gear for each customer and leave it on site for use only on their fish.

The fish should be harvested in order from your favorite to least favorite. This minimizes the “net chase” time for your best and favorite fish. Even better is a builder who can seine the fish to one end of the pond in order to minimize the distance and duration of the chase.

No fish should EVER be transported or carried from the pond to the holding facility in the net because they will shred their fins and remove scales and their protective skin slime. This is IMPERATIVE. Any fish of sentimental or dollar value should be apprehended in a net, then guided in the water to a tub for carriage to the holding tank.

I will repeat that the holding tank should be the largest practicable size, netted to prevent the fish from jumping out onto the landscape, and equipped with an aerator to maintain circulation and aeration for the fish.

If the water in the holding tank gets milky or develops a slight fish smell, there is a very serious problem (overage) with the density at which they are being held and a gentle but substantial water change with dechlorinator is mandatory. Even still, once the water gets milky or off-smelling, a price in terms of bacterial gill disease will be paid in a week or two, mark my words.

Again, after this process, or just because it’s Springtime, medicated food might stave off any problems which could show up from handling or the time of year.

When and what should they feed them?
The first food in the springtime should be easily digestible. Wheat germ based foods and Cheerios are popular and for good reason. The fish like them and they are good ‘first foods’ for Spring. Someone should invent a wheat germ based springtime medicated food containing medications to prevent bacterial infections. But no one has thought of that yet.

Food should first be offered when the water temperatures achieve 50-53 degrees Fahrenheit. Feeding should be sparing! If you load up the fish, they will load up the pond with fish wastes and the beneficial bacteria responsible for reducing the wastes will not be functioning optimally in cooler water. So feed sparingly, and use easily digestible, low residue foods. I like Cheerios until the water is 55 DF and then I switch to a combination of Sho Koi Impact Immune Support and Medicarps’ Yokozuna food. Any combination of two good quality foods would be commendable. I highly favor pelleted foods for their convenience. I highly doubt the errant, dire predictions that fish are dying in epidemic proportions due to the feeding of dry foods.

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