Aquarium Life vs. Pond Life

Cyndie gave a presentation to the Colorado Aquarium Society a couple years ago. On the way to the presentation, we did some extra research. We figured they were the fish experts and their approach to things would be different than us, the pond people.

We had a number of aquariums in the house as our two daughters were growing up, and still have a 30-gallon hexagon tank with a large fancy goldfish, a clawed frog and a plecostomis. We don’t see him much, but he isn’t carrying his share of the aquarium maintenance, anyway.

What we found out during our research was interesting. Let’s begin with some items to just make you think a bit before you decide the main difference is that one container is inside, while the other is outside! You can have a water garden INSIDE, too, but that’s another topic for later.

When planning a water garden, the first thing an aquarium/fish person needs to consider is what kind of water garden to have. Nothing new here, but it’s not the way most fish people think. Your best bet is to build an entire habitat, not just the clear water pool to showcase the fish. This is also nothing new. In our opinion, the best water garden is a NATURAL water garden with ALL that nature provides, including plants, fish, insects, birds, small mammals and, yes, algae!

Many Koi owners spend hours in maintenance time and hundreds or thousands of dollars creating outdoor aquariums for their fish. If you pay several thousand for a fish, I guess you think that’s the best way to view it. First mistake is the loss of the natural feeling of the pond and its ability to support other life. Even the simple algae that seems to be such a bother feeds the zooplankton that feed the insects that feed the fish that feed the larger fish that feed the great blue heron that feed….

Think about this, too. When you view your aquarium pets, you’re looking from the side and see them in all their glory, FROM THE SIDE! It’s hard for some people to translate that to what the fish will look like from the TOP, as in the pond. Face it, some fish just don’t look good from either direction, so don’t sweat it here.

You won’t see a lot from the side in a pond anyway, because the water is only clear down to a depth of about 18 inches in even the clearest of pond water. That should be MINIMUM depth if you’re not in a tropical zone, just so the fish have a place to go and hibernate in the winter. If you have plants in your aquarium, you may rely on the fish to fertilize them. In a pond, the fertilizer helps to create the algae bloom that begins the life cycle in your garden. If you can see deeper than 18 inches, you’re under-fertilized!

To begin translating your aquarium experience into an enviable pond, stock it first with plants. The best time is in the Spring. Snails, tadpoles, turtles, frogs, etc. are all nice to have, but not totally necessary at this point.

As the pond progresses and the water begins to “season,” you will see the beginnings of an algae bloom. Don’t panic, just add more plants. Oddly enough, it’s almost impossible to have too many plants, regardless of the size of your pond.

Fish can be added AFTER the pond has seasoned a while and you’re sure everything is healthy. You’ll know, because you’ll begin to see birds, squirrels, and other wildlife you probably never noticed before. Then you can add the fish, but ONLY coldwater fish like goldfish, shubunkins and a few others. Our previous post on this blog dealt specifically with the three types of fish and which are best in ponds.

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