A Pond Revival – How To Start Your Pond Off Right In The Spring

As a pond owner, winter can be a long, desolate time.  Unless you make a point to keep your water open and flowing, it’s unlikely you’ll see much of your fish.  In fact many pond owners move their fish indoors and shut the pond down completely for the winter.  Others with enough depth, say 3 or 4 feet or more, may safely winter their fish over but you won’t see much activity out of them.  Afterall, the fish slow down, quit eating, and like you and I, simply wait patiently (or impatiently in my case) for spring.

When spring finally does arrive, the fish often come alive again with a pretty big appetite and other things like various forms of algae start to appear, not only to help provide some food and sustenance to the fish, but also to help balance the pond out by consuming some of the nutrients in the water.

The cold water of winter and early spring basically stops all biological activity in the pond.  This means that naturally occurring beneficial bacteria become dormant right along with the fish.  This is the same bacteria that helps to keep the water clearer by breaking down leaf debris and other material that are meant to naturally decompose once the weather warms up.

Once the water temperature hits about 55 degrees, the bio-activity begins to pick up again and most pond owners can begin feeding their fish a light, low-protein diet.  With Koi in particular, once they eat, within hours they begin releasing ammonia into the water.  Organic decay at the bottom also starts releasing ammonia as this material breaks down.  With this in mind, it can pay to keep an eye one ammonia levels in the pond since high levels can be toxic to fish.

There are many kinds of water testing kits on the market but the most simple variety is a dip strip, and as the name implies, you simply take a sample of the water and submerge a test strip in the water for a short time.  As the strip changes color you can compare this to a chart that’s provided to get a general reading on ammonia levels.

Usually you’ll want to track this for several weeks until the beneficial bacteria has built up enough to stabilize the pond.  To speed up this process it’s recommended to supplement or add additional bacteria at the start of the season to help things a long, and in particular if you’ve experienced seasonal algae blooms, then getting a head start on bacteria treatments can help keep the algae from forming.

The bacteria that’s targeted towards breaking down ammonia are called Nitrosomonas europea. As ammonia is broken down it is then turned into nitrites.  This, in turn, is broken down by another special bacteria that coverts nitrites into nitrates, which become a sort of fertilizer or food for your pond plants, and for algae when the levels are fairly high.  This process is known as the nitrogen cycle and it’s conversion can happen quite rapidly in areas of the country that warm rapidly in the spring.  In other parts of the country where the seasonal change is gradual, or in very deep and large ponds, the entire process can develop slowly over a month’s time.

Once you have the pond stabilized naturally, then ammonia levels should begin to balance out nicely and remain relatively low throughout the season.  However it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye of these through routine testing every few weeks throughout the season.  By doing this you ensure that your fish will remain healthy and happy and enjoy the summer just about as much as you do.

Product Note: Most experts suggest adding bacteria in the spring in small amounts, with a higher degree of frequency, rather than a large amount, only one or two times.  One of the reasons we have always preferred the Healthy Ponds system is that it add’s small amounts of beneficial bacteria, over and extended period of time.  Also, you can begin treating your pond right after ice out, or well before the normal 55 degree level where most bacteria actually begin to work.  Healthy Ponds has an operating range of 34 degrees up to 100 degrees plus.