Preformed Pond

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In July 2004, realizing that another summer would pass without having time or money available to complete the big pond, I decided to invest in a 90-gallon preformed pond, just to try to ease the pond obsession. I had a perfect--and safe--place for the preformed, just off the back porch. I rationalized that I'd at least be able to get started with water gardening, maybe have time to put in a few goldfish, and be able to enjoy the sound of moving water from the porch.

Several people had recommended that I consider making the pond raised rather than in the ground, but I was so not intimidated at the thought of digging a little bitty hole in the ground, even though I knew that leveling it could be a problem. Also, with the plans I had for landscaping around the pond, I knew that it would look more natural in the ground, rather than above it.

And so I began!

The "perfect" location

Removing the sod

Starting to dig

Aside from running into some rocks, the digging was going well and I'd already started a small pile of dirt that would eventually become a waterfall. Things came to a screeching halt, however, when I uncovered some sort of wire! What?! I've had the back yard marked TWICE and this area was supposed to be clear!

While it may be an abandoned line of some sort, all digging has to be suspended until the utility companies spray paint my back yard AGAIN....sigh.....

August 2004: How many phone calls does it take to get utility companies to come identify an unmarked wire? Don't ask me, because I lost count! It did, however, take at least two weeks, and ultimately three men showed up in three separate trucks, all at the same time. Identification by committee? Well, surprise! The wire that I uncovered is my cable tv/internet wire and I was told that the cable company was "notoriously bad" about marking their lines and also bad about burying them deep enough. Well, yeah. So it would appear.

I shifted the location of the pond-to-be a couple of feet towards the house. Not exactly where I'd wanted it, but I knew I couldn't move too far south or west due to the cable and the distance to the outlet, and so the direction I moved seemed to be the only direction in which TO move. And finally, after a break of nearly 3 weeks, I started digging again.

Once more I removed the sod and then started digging the deepest area for the center of the preformed. Digging until I hit a rock. A BIG rock. A rock that spans at least the width of the hole that needs to be dug. A rock that I may not be able to remove.... I think the pond gods truly hate me.....

August 8, 2004: After assessing the rock in hole #2, I decided that I had no option but to turn the "hole" 90 degrees and move slightly east in order to avoid the rock in hole #2, the cable in hole #1 and still reach the electrical outlet on the back of the house.

One more time I situated the preformed pond and marked its perimeter. As I dug, I used the excavated dirt to fill holes #1 and #2 (sigh...).

After going just a bit deeper, I hit something hard. It was a rock. A BIG rock! Determination set in and I wrestled it out of the ground. And a minute later I hit another one that I was also able to remove. Both were approximately 15-20 pounds.

And then I hit an even bigger rock. Obviously it was a cousin or sibling of the rock in hole #2. And I realized that this rock in hole #3--just like the rock in hole #2--wasn't going anywhere.....

I guess a sane woman would have admitted defeat at this point. Three holes dug, and all of them were submerged-pond-unfriendly. I went inside to cool off for a while and to figure out my few remaining options.

As I sat on the porch, taking in the incredible mess that I'd created in a once rather nicely sodded stretch of lawn, it occurred to me that since I'd managed to dig hole #3 a little deeper than hole #2 before finding the rock, the preformed pond actually could be partially submerged.... Taking this a little further, I decided that if I couldn't dig a deep enough hole in the ground to submerge the pond, I'd simply raise the surrounding ground in order to submerge it!

Refreshed and with optimism restored (and/or with "pond madness" soaring like a kite in a strong wind--take your pick), I went back outside, calculated the slant of the rock in hole #3, and started adding dirt to the hole to cover the rock and to make a level surface. Once that was done, I added an old carpet and umpteen pounds of sand to cushion the bottom of the preformed pond and to make it perfectly level. This took some doing....but it was totally level. Amazing!! Something was going RIGHT for once! It remained level, even after I started adding water to the pond (filling it only about half way) and tamping down the dirt for support.

I soon started lamenting the fact, however, that countless cartloads of dirt had been irretrievably dumped over the side of the hill into the woods because now, of all things, I NEEDED dirt to support the sides of the preformed. I'd dumped most of the excavated dirt from holes #1 and #2 and had used most of the excavated dirt from hole #3 to fill holes #1 and #2... What to do, what to do...?

A few minutes later my son walked outside and caught me waist deep in the BIG (unfinished) pond digging up dirt and throwing it in the cart. I explained the situation and he summarized by saying, "'re "borrowing" dirt from this unfinished pond to try to finish the OTHER unfinished pond, right?"

Well, yeah, right. But I THINK this just might work!

August 9-14, 2004: Busy week. Add in Hurricanes Bonnie and Charley. Just a rain event here, but enough rain to make harvesting dirt from the big unfinished pond impossible. It's full of muddy water!

August 17, 2004:
Bad Decision #1: Overloaded a large, square-ish trash barrel thingy on wheels, making it top heavy and very difficult to maneuver.

Bad Decision #2: When it started to tip forward, I tried to stop it. When it fell over anyhow, I was too dumb to let go.

Result? Nothing broken, but doctor-ordered RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation....sigh

August 21, 2004:
Last night, despite heat, humidity and a still somewhat sore knee, I started digging in the big pond again to get dirt to build up the grade around the preformed. Deciding enough was enough (at least for the moment)--and desperate to actually see this as a bonafide pond--I came in and got the pump and spitter that I'd planned to use. I placed the pump on a brick in the center of the pond, all the while complaining that the cord shouldn't be on the BOTTOM of the pump--how stupid was that? It wasn't level! Then when I plugged it in, it made this really bad sucking sound while sporadically shooting water out of a tube on its side!!

I'm embarrassed to say that it actually took me several minutes to figure out that the cord comes out of the SIDE of the pump (not the bottom), it IS level (when placed on its bottom and not its side), and if the intake is IN the pond rather than above the water level, it DOES work and does NOT make a really bad sucking sound....

I didn't have the right connector for the spitter so I took that out. The "bell fountain head" wasn't acting the way it was supposed to (I'll concede that there's probably a simple adjustment to make), but I started adding more water, bringing it up to the new level of the supporting dirt.

As the water flowed into the pond, I noticed a problem: it was no longer level! While it WAS level before the rains from Hurricanes Bonnie and Charley, apparently it had settled some as a result. I hadn't bothered to check it again after getting it level the FIRST time, and so the water level at the "front" of the pond is now about an inch lower than the water level at the "back" of the pond.

It was almost dark, I was sweaty, dirty and MUDDY, and I decided to call a temporary retreat (yes, rhymes with "defeat," but we're not going there yet). I came inside to consider the new set of options: I could let it go and just live with a difference in water level OR I could drain it, pull all the dirt away from it, and try to get it level again.

This morning when I let the dogs out, I looked at my erratically bubbling cauldron protruding from the mound of red clay in my back yard. From the porch it doesn't look all THAT unlevel and given that it's raining, working on it today probably isn't going to be an option.

But then I noticed something in the pond. Oh for goodness sake! A TOAD was swimming around and around and trying--unsuccessfully--to climb out! With the water level still several inches below the edge of the pond, it couldn't make it up and over the slick sides.

Still in my nightgown--but having the presence of mind to put on a pair of jeans and grab my camera--I embarked on a Toad Rescue Mission. (Do normal people go out in their nightgowns in the rain to rescue toads from erratically bubbling cauldrons?)

I'm happy to report that the toad was successfully delivered from its plight, but it's shown me that for the pond to be safe for whatever might hop or fall in, it needs to be filled more. And that brings me back to the quandry of whether or not to drain, try to re-level and refill OR simply fill and ignore the fact that it's not completely level.

August 22, 2004:
Late yesterday afternoon I made several decisions. One was that, for now, the pond is level enough. Not perfectly level as it was for one fleeting moment, but level enough, given that I don't have time to try to undo and redo it. And so, in addition to building up more dirt around it (this is going to take a lot of dirt...sigh) I decided that in order for it to be an official pond, it needed to have some water plants in it.

Well. Apparently most places around here consider watergardening to be a spring and early summer activity. I bought one little water lettuce at a local nursery but opted not to buy more, as they just didn't look that great. The aquatic plants at the other places I checked looked even worse.

I decided to go to one of the larger grocery stores to look about water cress. I'd heard that you could float a bunch of that in a pond (as long as it had roots) so I went to the produce aisle. Lots of water cress, but NOT much with roots on it. I finally found one bunch, but then I wondered if there were other vegetables that might do okay in a pond....

That's when I saw a big plastic container with boston lettuce in it. HYDROPONIC boston lettuce, with a very impressive stalk and lots of roots. Well, what the hey? It was a lot bigger than the water lettuce that I'd just bought (and less expensive), it had far more roots on it than the water cress, and so I figured it was worth a shot.

Came home and installed my new "pond" plants and stepped back to admire my handiwork. In that moment I realized that instead of creating a beautiful and natural-looking water feature after all these weeks of frustration and hard work, I've just succeeded in creating a butt-ugly bubbling SALAD BAR....!

August 27, 2004:
I am sorry to report that the S.S. Hydroponic Boston Lettuce sank in turbulent seas sometime last night. There were no survivors, with the exception of a slug which was found in the rotting root mass (which had separated from the leaves). So much for THAT idea!

On the other hand, the one yellow, sickly little water lettuce that I bought has nearly doubled in size in a week (wow!) and looks much better.

Two more cartloads of dirt have been added to the west side of the pond (slowly but surely it's being built up....) and an armada of new floating pond plants (pennywort and parrot's feather) will be arriving soon. (Thanks, Jeff!)

August 28, 2004:
With yesterday's arrival of the official pond plants--pennywort and parrot's feather--I no longer have a bubbling salad bar but an official pond! Whoo-hoo! The plants are all in a bit of a tangle right now, so I plan to pot some of them to put on the shelves and then let the rest float around to provide coverage. The water lettuce has gotten even larger--just in 24 hours!

Given that there's been water in the pond for quite some time, as well as a pump and filter--and since I've used dechlorinator--I decided it would be safe to introduce 4 small goldfish.

I went to the best of the local fish places planning to get two comets and a couple of shubunkins, but it appears that fish--like water plants--are kind of "seasonal" items. I bought one nice orange and black comet (about 3" long), but there were no shubunkins to be had.

I asked if they had "feeder fish" and the guy with the net said they were in the "back room." I thought he meant in another area of the store where there were other tanks with fish on display, but he literally meant "the back room."

He took me to an unfinished part of the store that was pretty dismal. There were several large tanks full of fish with none of the pretty accessories; no sunken pirate ships or plastic plants for these guys....

As I understand it, "feeder fish" are kind of 2nd string goldfish that are usually destined to become somebody's dinner. Kind of a shame, in that they're often just as pretty as their chums out in the NICER tanks in the store--just not as fortunate.

The sign on the feeder fish tanks said "No Choosing, 5 for $1". Or maybe it said 10 for $1; can't remember--just knew I only wanted 3. He said there would still a minimum charge of $1, but added that he'd let me choose them.

And thus began the Goldfish Rescue effort! I looked for active, healthy-looking fish--meaning the more evasive they were towards the guy's attempts to catch them, probably the better. I chose another black and gold one (marked a little differently from the bigger black and gold one), a regular solid orange comet and a white and orange one. I wanted to make sure that I'd be able to tell them apart--they become "individuals" that way.

I brought them home, floated them in their bags in the pond for about 15-20 minutes and then slipped them into the water--where they immediately vanished under the plants and went to the bottom. Great. Finally have fish and I can't see them!

I waited around and literally within minutes they all were checking out their new digs--nibbling at the plants, swimming from one end of the pond to the other, and apparently enjoying the ability to swim freely and see new things.

I went out at 11 p.m. with a flashlight to check on the new finned kids and while I only saw 3 of the 4 (kind of hard to see dark fish in a black preformed pond at night...) I'm assuming they're all okay. At least there were no floaters!

August 29, 2004:
The four little fish were surprisingly hungry this morning--which allowed me to get this "family portrait." The orange and black one towards the bottom of the picture came out of the "nice" tank, and the rest are my feeder fish "rescues."

I would have thought that they'd have eaten their fill of plant stuff, insects or whatever else might be in the pond (most of what you see in the picture is floating plant material), but they seemed to be very interested in the flake goldfish food.

Must mean they're city fish....

UPDATE: Summer 2005-Spring 2006:

The pondlette did well during the summer of 2005, but during the winter the (2nd) pump failed and I had to bring the fish inside. They've happily adjusted to being aquarium fish.

In May 2006 when I started pricing (better) pumps and assessing how things, in general, have changed during the last couple of years (regarding time & money or the lack thereof), I made a rather impulsive decision after cleaning the pondlette, and decided to close up shop.

As difficult as it was to get it into the ground, it was surprisingly easy to get it out. I used some of the dirt and potting soil that I'd built up around it to fill the hole. I planned to put a birdbath fountain in the spot, surrounded by a small flowerbed, but that proved to be a totally unexpected challenge, too, as I've documented in "An Accursed Piece of Ground".

But guess what? It's possible that the pondlette might reappear in another location in the back yard as an above-ground pond. I mean, how hard could that be? And I have the perfect spot for it, too! ;-)

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