Nitrogen Cycle

 

 

 

 

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The secret to maintenance-free ponds is in developing a healthy, balanced ecosystem that virtually takes care of itself.

Ponds, like aquariums, need a little help to get started. Unlike aquariums, it is easier to develop the care-free ecosystem in a large volume of water than in a small tank.

Begin by understanding the cycling process. (See the nitrogen cycle image above)

Filling the pond with water (or even topping it off as it evaporates) introduces dangerous chemicals into the water. Chlorine and Chloramines are toxic to fish and not healthful for plant growth. Some water even contains heavy metals. Always treat new water with toxin-neutralizing products.

Now that you have clean, toxin-free water, you need to start some beneficial bacteria growing in the pond and in the filter. Anaerobic (oxygen loving) bacteria literally eat and digest organic waste products, turning them into nitrates and fertilizers for plants.

There will be plenty of waste to de-toxify. Fish eliminate in the water and plant material and excess fish food fall to the bottom and decompose. If not properly turned into beneficial products, your pond will putrify and die.

Several products contain beneficial bacteria with which to seed the pond as well as enzymes to speed the decomposition process. (enzyme and sludge-removing products will be used regularly to enhance the natural cleaning of your pond)

bulletBacteria cling to rocks, stones, fixtures and to your filter media. They need a large surface area over which the water (carrying its pollutants) can pass. Your filter contains a pre-filter pad that traps large particulates and debris (which you should clean frequently). The filter also contains other materials on which the bacteria grow. Do NOT clean this portion of the filter unless absolutely necessary, and never clean it with chlorinated water, use pond water. Tap water kills the bacteria you have worked so hard to establish.
bulletNow that you have introduced bacteria, you must give the bacteria something to eat so that they can "live long and prosper". Begin to add small fish and plants.
bulletThe water may be cloudy at first because of already-present bacteria death. The particulates and bacteria that make your water cloudy can be removed by adding water clarifiers that will "clump" the cloudy molecules together and allow them to sink to the bottom or get trapped in the pre-filter. Beneficial bacteria feed on the decomposing molecules of cloudy water and turn them into beneficial products.
bulletDuring the first few weeks, before the bacteria has become settled and multiplied, you'll need to test your pond's water quality frequently. Too much organic decay and too little bacteria can lead to a high ammonia level which is very toxic to fish. A good all-around water test kit for ponds or aquariums will be needed. (do not use a swimming pool or hot tub kit)

Ammonia "burn" damages fish gills and scales. Several products may be added to the water during the "cycling" process (or any time you suspect high ammonia or stress) to help prevent damage to the fish from ammonia build-up. They are a good maintenance treatment any time you are adding water or otherwise adjusting your pond's water quality.

bulletAdjusting the pH of the water is also important. Pond fish generally thrive in neutral to soft water - water whose pH is at 7. Your test kit will allow you to see the pH. 
bulletFish also need electrolytes - especially when they are under stress as when being introduced into a new pond or waking from a long winter's hybernation. Adding Pond Salt will give them a Springtime boost. (If you have water plants, you may skip the salt as some plants do not do well in salted water.)
bulletIf the water begins to turn green, algae may be blooming in your new ecosystem. Too much sunlight, too much fertilizer, too few plants. Adjust these factors or add a UV filter to the system. 
bulletAs your pond settles into its cycle, it will become more and more stable and care-free. The most important maintenance procedure that should be preformed routinely is cleaning the pre-filter and dragging any debris or sludge from the bottom. Plant materials, leaves, lawn clipings etc blow into a pond over time. Use sludge-removers to speed the decomposition, and manually dredge the pond once or twice a year to remove the majority of the build-up.