Sunday, February 28, 2010

We've All Been Brainwashed to Some Extent

I just read something that made me a little sad. A couple had wanted to turn their toxic pool into a natural water garden/pond. They gave up. They took out the pool and filled in the spot and turned it into lawn. They were overwhelmed with the cost and heavy machinery required to create a pond! As my readers know, that is overkill for most people. If the only way to turn a pool into a pond was to hire backhoes and dig up the entire yard, then I wouldn't have done it.  I simply let the pool revert naturally and helped it along with small fish and many plants.

Companies that make money from us buying their products need us to buy into their marketing and have stifled us by doing so. When I first stopped all my pest control subscriptions I was very concerned that I would soon be overwhelmed with "natural Florida"! Bugs, snakes, poisonous spiders and more! EEK! I thought it would be awful! But to my surprise, instead of critters that would torment me, I got tons of new birds eating the new bugs! And several varieties of frogs eating more! Then I took the Florida Master Naturalist Program and learned that rarely are these critters, snakes, spiders, etc. ever poisonous! Moreover, I saw my first native black racer snake, famous for eating all those nasty Norwegian river rats that have always been an issue here. Now that I know my snakes, instead of being frightened, I can welcome him! With all the frogs, dragonflies, bats and birds, I have no mosquitoes! I don't want to kill all the mosquitoes, they are an important food source for these beneficial critters.

But the Chemical companies would have us believe we need all these toxins for our health! And the pond industry would have you believe you need to start from scratch to have a pond where you now have a pool! They also advocate regular water changes! How absurd is that! If you work to get all those beneficial microbes and insects into your pond, why would you destroy them all with powerful (and expensive) filters and water changes! Now I'm not saying there is no maintenance required. Just that the prudent stewardship that comes with actual knowledge will do the trick. And surprise! It doesn't require all the products that Madison Avenue would have you think it does!

I wish I had seen this couple's post sooner.  Taking the initiative to step out and learn something new is scary. But believing what the companies that want to sell you a product have to say is how the Earth got into this mess in the first place. I say step out, step up and learn the facts for yourself. There is no greater step in fulfillment of your own personal journey on this Earth.

Some starting points:
  • Master Naturalist Programs, many states have them now! Google this: Master Naturalist Programs
  • Native Plant Societies: again, most states have them!
  • Master Gardener Programs - as mandated by the US Congress, each state has an Agricultural Extension Service associated with a major university and a Master Gardener Program! Find yours!
  • Yards and Neighborhoods programs are now in many states! Usually advocating friendly planting and water wise gardening.
Another good blogspot to read through:
Happy Ponding!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Step 2 – Pool to Pea Soup?

So, you’ve turned off your pool filter and stopped using the chemicals. You’re waiting for the chlorine to completely leach out of the pool walls. You’ll know this has happened when plant life begins to flourish. But that plant life isn’t exactly what you want. It’s a pea soup of algae. (For more about algae check out this site: Smithsonian Institute Botany Projects )

The first thing I did after I got the green soup bowl was start to add a couple small fish and a few plants. That process takes a long time to clean up the algae. Since then I’ve found that adding certain plants can clear the water within a couple weeks! In FL, there is an invasive plant called Elodea (the native version of the highly invasive exotic hydrilla) Hydrilla is a plant on our exotic eradication list, so if you do use something like it and you’re unsure, just be sure not to release it into the waterways or sewers. I pull mine out when it gets to be too much and I bake it in the sun for a day and then use it as mulch.
I purchased the elodea at a pet store in the aquarium department. This is why you can never be sure of what you’re getting. Submersed plants will clear up the algae the fastest. The potted plants are important for long term care since they compete for the nutrients. Algae are plants that need sunlight, oxygen and nutrients just like any other plant. So by covering your pond surface space with at least 65% vegetation, algae cannot survive. It will still grow on the sides, but so many things eat it that it hasn’t become an issue for me or any of the other ponds I work with. Photo on the right is elodea in bloom in April. Right after this I pull about half of it out to use as mulch.

One more tip for this soupy stage: hydrogen peroxide. You may have heard that barley straw can eliminate algae. The by-product of barley straw decomposing is hydrogen peroxide. It’s safe for all the good plants and all the critters, although at this stage you probably don’t have many to worry about. In the 22,000 gallon pool I used 16 32 oz. bottles. Get them at discount stores for about $1.50 or less per bottle. It really helps to jump-start the algae killing process. It’s good to have some small filter at this point as the algae dies off and leaves decaying plant material in its stead.

Now here’s my story about filtration. I was so afraid of it going wrong when I started that I purchased an inline bio filter made for ponds. It was way too strong and started to suck all the tadpoles and beneficial insects, dragonfly larva, etc. into the skimmers. So finally I turned it off and disconnected it. Lesson learned. There are lots of wonderful and inexpensive filters that worked just fine to clean out dead algae and other debris. This is one of my favorites. I also tried the UV filters that were recommended to me only to find that they kill the good stuff with the bad and now I reserve them for the day I have a pathogen or other issue. It’s been 8 years and I’ve never had any issues.

These little filters also are convenient since you can move them around. I like to use their fountains for oxygenation of the water, but not around lily pads since they don’t like water movement or too much water on their pads. They breathe through their pads. These have filter pads that are simple to clean and reuse.

Fish and plants will keep the pond balanced. The fish eat mosquito larva as do the dragonfly larva and tadpoles and lots of other neat bugs. The adult dragonflies and frogs eat the adult mosquitoes! The filtration, minor, is to clean out dead algae. I turned the spa into a bio-filter by lining the seats with plants and using a submersed filter just like the one above, only attached to a hose (instead of the fountain piece) that comes up out of the main pond and into the spa, the water goes through the roots and out the waterfall, adding oxygen. I find you can never have too much oxygen. In the summer here (very hot) oxygen escapes faster so in the hot summer days, I turn the fountains off during the day and on all night. In the winter I do the opposite, and this year I only turned on the fountains during warm days for extra heat in this unusually cold winter.

Just toss in some elodea. You’ll be amazed at how fast it grows and takes down the algae. It doesn’t like the cold though, so up here I’d say wait until March 1 just to be safe. You might be warmer. Here's how to test  the water quality , use very small, young fish since they adapt faster. The older the goldfish, the more difficult it is for them to adapt. (And I recommend goldfish since they are hardy and cheap) I let my pool go in August, so it got really bad with the high heat. I think I tired two or three small goldfish in September, but they didn’t survive until the spring. It may have had more to do with the lack of oxygen than the chlorine issue since I hadn’t found the elodea solution yet and that many algae leaves little oxygen for the fish.

So those tips should do it! The main thing is to trust nature. It’s amazing how brain-washed I had become by the whole pest control mentality. When I stopped using all chemicals in my yard and home I was sure I’d be overrun with critters! It has never happened. Lizards, frogs, birds, they all eat each other and they ALL eat bugs! I can’t wait to hear of your progress and see your photos!

Happy ponding!

Filter links:
The Pondmaster Filter at Foster & Smith
Tetra above ground filter at Foster & Smith
I am not endorsing any particular vendor, info only for information purposes.
And special thanks to Janet for the questions that led to this article! Keep 'em coming!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Teach Every Child about Food: Jamie Oliver's TED Prize Wish!

This is something every human, and especially every US human should consider. It reminds me a little of the UK television show "You Are What You Eat". But it all comes back to toxicity. Chemicals are ingested where they need not be. As one person put it, "If it came from a plant, eat it! If it's MADE in a plant DON'T!" We Americans need to use some form of chemical control on everything from our food to our yards to our medications. We really took the 1950's slogan "Better living through chemistry" to heart. And we are now an obese, heart & kidney disease-ridden population. The idea that our children will live lives 10 years shorter than ours just because we've drugged them with sugar, fat and salt is pathetic. We have brains! We can do better.

This video is 21 minutes long, but the time passes too fast. Please watch it and pass it on. Consider it every time you start to plan your grocery shopping or a meal.