Here's how and why to build a Permaculture, Ecological, Wildlife Pond.During our April 2011 Permablitz we started to work on a pond for our permaculture garden. Our objectives were to provide a place of beauty and tranquility, an aquatic habitat for a diverse range of flora and fauna, some food production in way of plants and fish and a water catchment and storage facility. Here you will find a step by step account of our project with plenty of information on ecological pond design, maintenance, planting schemes and how to keep your neighbours happy :)
So lets start with why?
Why build a pond ?
A pond can serve multi- functions, examples of which are: a water reservoir, swimming pool, aquaculture site , fish production, provider of beauty, duck rearing, wildlife attraction, biodiversity enhancer , home for beneficial animals such as amphibians, a great provider of biomass for mulch, chicken fodder and even fuel production. It is certainly good to have a clear idea why you personally want to build a pond as this will be crucial for the successful design.
Here are our main objectives:
A cross section of a ecological pond
If you want to build a pond on a slope then you will need a wall on the lower side, this kind of pond building, especially if it is a larger pond, requires some expertise and it is recommended to seek advice.
Peat soils have special problems, since they are usually very acidic in nature and need sufficient liming, while the organic matter decomposition may lead to dissolved oxygen deficiency. Soils rich in limestone also create special problems, since the excessive lime content tends to precipitate phosphate and iron. Such ponds would then have little plankton population and macrophytes and would be relatively sterile. This can be overcome by adding sufficient organic matter such as cowdung, poultry manure, etc.
A general and convenient field test for the soil quality is to take a handful of moist soil from the test holes made at the proposed site and to compress it into a firm ball. If the ball does not crumble after a little handling, it indicates that it contains sufficient clay for the purpose of pond construction. Several test holes should be made across the site and soil samples may be collected vertically from every 0.5 m of depth reaching up to a level of 1 m in a test hole. You can see our test holes on the first two pictures in the above slide show. Although our soil had some clay content it was not enough to retain water.
Designing the pond
The 4 types of plants : note that each requires a different a habitat as you can see from the diagram below
Further variation will only increase diversity and these can come in the form of a beach area , an island, marshy area, peninsula forms or chinampas.
You should start by sketching out how your pond should look on paper and work out the dimensions. A useful aid when laying out your pond in the garden is a piece of rope which can be used to mark the shoreline. It helps to visualize where the water will be and observe how it might interact with the surroundings and overall garden design.
Its best to site your pond on level ground but if you do not have this privilege than use the earth from excavation to mound up the lower side to prevent any over spill. When doing this you need to compact the soil very well layer by layer and sow a cover crop in soon as possible to prevent erosion.
traditionally a technique for sealing ponds and dams, there is potential for the process to be adapted for human-made structures.
The Russian-devised version for dams uses a slurry of animal waste (pig manure) applied over the inner base and walls of the dam in multiple, thin layers, which is then itself covered with vegetable organic matter such as grass, leaves, waste paper, cardboard, etc. This is all then given a final layer of soil which is tamped down and the mixture is left for several weeks to allow the (anaerobic) bacteria to complete their task, at which time the dam is ready for flooding.
Unlike bentonite clay, gley materials are virtually cost-free and are comprised of 'wastes' which would normally be discarded in the normal course of operations. Also, plastic and rubber dam liners may actually be dependent on the same anaerobic process for their own continued effectiveness rather than their lack of holes or punctures i.e, it is the anaerobic layer created below them rather than their own membranous qualities which prevent water seepage in the long term.
"Liner is constructed out of a tightly woven inner core of high quality LDPE sandwiched between two laminated layers of rot-proof and UV resistant coating. This manufacturing process makes our liners extremely tough and durable yet lighter to handle and move into position when pond building. Liners are approximately 0.3mm thick with a minimum weight of 200 grammes per square metre." click here for a link to the website.
If you are using a Liner than you will need to know how much liner you will need for your proposed pond. You can simply type in length ,width and depth into a calculator to work this out. Click here for Liner Calculator
To line the pond you need to:
When digging the pond you can use the top soil for other areas in garden or store for later use as it is very valuable. The sub soil can also be used in the garden to create relief or perhaps mixed with compost a mound for a future herb spiral or some other landscaping. Have a plan for this before you start digging. We used the top soil for a potato hill which, in short, is an intensive method for growing potatoes where the soil is built up around the potato plants thereby stimulating the growth of potatoes all the way up the stem. We also used some of the topsoil to put back over the edges of the pond before we sowed white clover.
We can think of aquatic plants in 4 separate groups determined by their preferred habitat.
Or only partially submerged, such as Catails/ bullrushes latin name Typha
Fully Submerged/ Oxygenators
Water weeds like water milfoil Myriophyllum sp.
The leaves float on the surface, but the roots are anchored in soil beneath the water, plants such as Water -lily Nymphaea
The plants float on the surface and the roots are suspended free in the water, plants such as Duckweeds Lemna minor
Algae will be the most successful plant in your pond. It is the green sludgy stringy like substance. The alga thrive in warm sunlit conditions and are very fast consumers of nutrients. If you have high levels of organic matter (leaf shed, excrement) than the algae will consume it at an incredible rate.
Algae can cause considerable disturbance in the pond ecosytem by
Solution is the problem
Algae is very high in nutrients and can be used to make plant feeding brews can be added to make compost can be feed to animals including the human. If you see it building up than take it out and put it to use elsewhere. Also practice this if you see algae blooms around you.
You should research and base your selection of plants on those that are growing local to your site. Exercise caution against introducing foreign species of water weeds.
Plant interaction with Water
Chemistry of the Water
Photosynthesis: During sunny days plants are creating oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, when there is no sunlight this process reverses (respiration) and the plant exhales carbon dioxide and takes in oxygen. Aquatic plants act the same, but the exchange of carbon/oxygen takes place in the water body. It Is important to consider the levels of carbon and oxygen in the water and understand their implications in order to achieve a healthy and stable system.
During periods of cloudy weather the plants cannot photosynthesis and are in fact taking oxygen from the water and producing carbon dioxide. The balance of the pond's production of O relative to C is thrown off. When pond surface is covered by too much growth this also reduces the ability for the lower plants to photosytnthesise and reduces the area on the surface for the water to take in oxygen from the air.
The shedding of dead leaves, other organic matter falling into the pond and excrement from pond life also contribute to this relationship between C & O as the bacteria that decompose this material use oxygen further depleting levels.
Getting the Balance Right
So how do we get the balance right ???? Mimic nature :)
We have created a suitable habitat for a diversity of plants and animals. We have selected native plants that are already well adjusted to the local condition. Now we need to learn in what proportion we need these plants.
Plants : Choosing, Growing and Propagating
These are the plants we chose for our pond design, all of which we obtained from local waters.
Duck weed is a
great chicken and duck food and replicates very fast so can be used as a regular
supply of spring and summer food for them. It is also edible for us. Find below a list of other edible aquatic plants.
Edible Plants of
Shore line planting
Once the earth works were complete, we sowed clover seeds onto the surface which bind the soil preventing erosion, creating fertility and providing a good food for chickens once established.
White Clover Trifolium repens
We also planted Perennial herbs along the higher banks to bind the soil such as:
Mugwort Artemisia Vulgaris
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica
Growing and Propagating your Pond Plants
Domestic Carp Rearing
For small ponds the best fish you can consider keeping for food is carp. It is important that the depth is at least 1m so that they can survive in the winter months. The width and length can be as little as 3x3m. Do not let populations grow too high, as the pond ecosystem will suffer from oxygen depletion. The fish will find the majority of their food from within the pond, but as the ecosystem establishes itself you can feed them manure and grain.
You should stock your pond in the spring with baby carp. In around three years you will have plate-size fish which make a very presentable family supper. The best months to harvest them are November to February.
For successful breeding the spawn needs to separated until
they are big enough to not be eaten by the other fish.
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