Last year we teamed up with the SATX Permaculture group to plan a Perma-blitz. A Perma-blitz is a way to work at a designated site to improve the area with permaculture design and inviting folks to participate in the building process to get hands on learning of how to implement these designs. We spent close to 6 months working on a overall layout of the full garden space and then focused on several small projects we could do that day. The group chose to work on a patio for the outdoor kitchen area, a berm and swale on the backside of the landscape and a pond. I'll be the first to admit I didn't know much about ponds let alone how to design and execute one here. Several members of the group had previous pond experience and helped guide this project through. It only took about 15-20 people, two days to hand dig the two foot deep pond. So with some guidance of online resources, those with experience, and help from friends, I feel like this project can be achievable for many folks interested in creating waterscapes in their spaces.
Allowing enough time to plan and design will help with potential problems down the road. Things to consider when designing are:
What are your needs? - What purpose does the pond serve for you in your design?
Style - Will have a bog filter, will it have a water fall, will it be for Koi fish?
Size - How wide and how deep?
Shape - Typical ponds are oval or round shaped but long streams, or unique curves can also work.
Materials - Do you want to buy a pre formed plastic pond tub, or rubber pond liner? How big of a pump, or piping do you need?
Budget - are you buying plants, and rocks or are you scavenging them?
Work Time - how long will it take to build, and will you use people or equipment power?
What are your needs?
For us, the pond served multiple needs, as it should in a permaculture design.
Wildlife Habitat - We wanted to have a water source for birds, frogs, dragonflies, fish, and many other natural visitors to our area. Even providing water for rats, or squirrels that were starting to chew through our irrigation lines was a need for us.
Nutrient Rich Irrigation - We wanted a alternative watering source instead of watering with a garden hose that uses municipal city water with chlorine and other chemical agents, we can now pump pond water full of nutrients into the garden.
Micro-Climate and Temperature control - Its know question that it gets hot in the summer here, so having a water source near can help cool the surrounding air and in the winter months it can help keep some things warm, like bananas! If the pond is located in full sun you will need to provide shade for it as the summer heat can evaporate the water at a astonishing rate.
Personal Connections to Water - This is probably the most important role the pond plays at the Roots of Change Garden. Since some of the campaign work we do revolves around water as a vital substance for our communities, its important to try to stay connected and in touch with it. The sounds of the waterfall and flow of water can help us meditate and listen in on deeper connections with our ancestors
Style and shape
We chose a circular shape with a natural bog filter and a waterfall. Because of the cost of Koi and increased water maintenance we decided to just use goldfish. The bog was a easy choice because we wanted to showcase how water is filtered naturally through rocks, sediment, and plant roots. We also sometime use the bog area to hold plants seedlings like in a aquaponic setting. We also didn’t want to be responsible for cleaning multiple filters throughout the season, as the bog will only need to be cleaned out every couple of years. The waterfall came as part of the bog design since the bog sits at a higher elevation above the pond, allowing the water to fall over the bog wall into the pond below. The waterfall serves as a aeration and keeps the water flowing and moving. Water flow and fish are key to keeping mosquitoes out of the system, as well as add oxygen to the water for the fish and plants, although plants can offer some oxygen on their own. It’s important to remember to create a viewing area. For us the waterfall was the main feature so we wanted to be able to view it from across the pond. Keep in mind where you will be approaching your pond and viewing it from as part of the design.
We chose to go larger for our pond. It ended up costing us more in materials, but we really wanted to have enough space for plants to fill in, but not deep enough for potential drowning of anyone falling in. 2 feet deep is the max recommended depth before its advised of putting a fence around it to prevent potential falls.
Materials & Budget
We decided to go with a durable 45 mil rubber EPDM pond liner. Molded plastic containers can break down quicker and have a shorter life than a well cared for pond liner. We bought rocks to fill in the edges to allow a more natural look but also to allow spaces for animals and bugs but also to protect the pond liner from UV sun exposure, which will slowly break down the liner. To save money you can collect rocks and boulders, but we didn’t have that time so we spent most of our budget on buying rocks. We wanted smooth rocks that wouldn’t puncture the liner, and varied in size from 1 to 3 inches, to larger border rocks (moss rocks) for the pond edges and waterfall. The pond liner rocks and pump took up most of our budget. We spoke with Water Garden Gems about pond pump sizes. Since our pond was so large and pumping up through a bog, and potential irrigation, we decided to go with the larger pump. We also purchased a pump skimmer box. This allows the pump to sit on the side of the pond in its own box with a pre-filter instead of at the bottom of the pond where it could collect too much debris and be hard to remove to clean. To save on the last part of our budget we had most of our pond plants donated from friends who were dividing plants from their pond projects or from local water sources.
Construction of the pond only took two days with the help of over 10-15 hard working volunteers that attended our permablitz. The main task was to dig out the pond basin. The pond was designed with three levels along the edges to host various depths of plants.
Mark Your Area On The Ground– its important to mark on the ground where the pond will be and the size of the hole you will be digging. You can use a water hose, stakes, or spray paint.
Dig Out Pond Shape And Piping Area – start with your largest opening of the pond. This will be the highest elevated area, or shelf for plants. Our first area was 18 inches below surface level. Keep in mind and you remove the first layer of soil to deposit some on the outside rim to create a gently sloping berm that will not allow flooding outside water to run into the pond during heavy rains. This water can be dirty and cause too much material to enter the pond system. As you dig, keep working your way lower and lower allowing the shelves to form until you reach your bottom area. Our pond has three elevations on it to host Lilly pads at the base level and shallower plants on the middle and upper shelf. This is also the time to dig out the area for the pump box, and piping.
Add The Pond Liner – Once the pond shape has taken form, make sure rocks or sticks are removed from the surface areas. We added a underlayment of fabric felt to create an additional barrier to prevent things from poking through our liner. Some folks use sand under the liner, or other forms of fabrics. As the liner lays in, make sure to reduce the amount of folds as the flat liner takes shape into the pit. Don’t forget to install the pond box, pump, and piping outside and in the bog area.
Add The Rocks – Before adding the rocks, try to spray them down with water or clean them of debri to prevent it starting off in the system. To start, we laid in some of the boulders, or larger rocks along the vertical walls of the elevated shelves. They allow the ability to stack onto one of another going up the vertical surface. Next, fill the horizontal flat basin and shelves with the 1 to 3 inch rocks. Try to keep the surface flat so plants can sit safely on the bottom without tipping over. Our bog was filled with a mixture of smaller rocks to allow plant roots to move freely.
Add The Water - We used two hoses to fill the pond at a quicker rate. Keep in mind this water has chlorine and other chemical agents and will need to sit for a couple of days before adding fish. This also allows time for debri to settle, as it will be very foggy in the initial stages. Installing the pump and keeping it on will ensure the filtration process starts and continues.
Add The Plants – The plants in the bog will be left bare root so their roots can freely grow and consume the area and act as a proper filter, however the plants that go into the pond area should be kept in containers. When making the containers, we used plastic or paper or cardboard to cover the holes of the containers. This is all necessary to try to prevent the plants in the pond from rooting outside their containers and puncturing the liner or getting wedged under rocks and boulders. The soil mix for the pond plant containers can usually be simply clay soil. Don’t use potting soil as it has too many nutrients and is often to soft and light and can float out of the container. A heavy rock is placed at the bottom of the container for weight and to prevent floating, and smaller rocks are placed at the top to prevent clay soil and materials from floating away. Every half year, or year you’ll need to separate overgrown root bound plants into more containers.
Add The Fish – There are a lot of options of fish to choose from but trying to stay within your local regional fish will help protect them from different seasonal temperature swings. We used goldfish because of their durability and commonplace at stores. Store bought minnows died in the brief transportation from the store to the pond as quick temperatures changed in the vehicle killing the sensitive fish. Often the best fish can be local fish from other water sources in your area so look around!
Evolution Of The Pond
Algae Growth and Control – In the first year it’s common for algae to overwhelm the system. This bloom or burst of algae is caused by an excess of nutrients in the water as plant material decays and plant roots are not yet established enough to adequately filter. We also add a weekly beneficial bacteria that is made to compete with resources that the algae needs to survive. The most direct and immediate way we dealt with it in the first several months was to remove the algae by hand, until other parts of the system started to stabilize and growth was more manageable. Also, adding a shade cloth to take away the algae’s light source will help with overall care.
Here Comes The Wildlife! - Within two days of the water being added we saw dragonflies and damselflies come in. Next we added the fish and started to notice their growth in numbers over the year as the environment became more pleasing for them. Birds would stop in on their flight for a bath in the shallow bog right around sunset each evening until more plants grew in. After a large rain that left behind various puddles in the garden, we saw frogs. They stayed in the pond area and flourished at night with their croaking and later tadpoles! The tadpoles relied on the algae as a suitable environment for their growth.
Summer Heat and Evaporation - In the middle of our summer we were almost losing a inch of water a day. We we’re having to fill the pond every three days or less before it evaporates below the level of the pump box entrance. To solve this we installed a 90% shade cloth over the pond, showing instant results. Now the water will have to be filled every two weeks or longer.
Clogged Pump and Filter Issues – We had installed a backflow preventer in between the bog and the pump to prevent water from flowing out of the pond when the pump is off. Although we designed the pump, piping, and bog all to handle larger debris the back flow preventer only allowed a small area of water to pass through. This small area eventually got clogged with wood mulch going through the system. I had to dig, cut, and remove the backflow preventer and just attach piping instead. Other various pump issues that came up were easily handled by basic troubleshooting, like cleaning the filter, or turning the pump off to allow water to back flow through the pump and push out any material clogged in the pump itself. The main key is try to not let the water level get low in the pump box otherwise the pump will run hot without the addition of cooling water around it, eventually burning the pump up.
Thanks to Water Garden Gems for some of their donations and advice along the way. You can visit or attend one of their free pond classes to help get inspired and gain confidence.
Free Pond Classes Every 1st Saturday Of The Month @ 9:30 AM @ Water Garden Gems
WATER GARDEN GEMS
3230 Bolton Rd
Marion Texas, 78124
Contact Us: 210-659-5841
Also, Special thanks to the SATX Permaculture Group for their continuous energy, help, and pursuit to share information, you can find them online at: