I’ve never been able to confirm who said it first, but I’m sure most of my legion of followers (allow me a little creative enhancement, please!) have heard the phrase,
“Diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to Hell in such a way that he’ll look forward to the trip.”
And then there’s the joke about the guy in Hell who doesn’t seem to mind the temperatures…even when the devilish superintendents keep jacking it up. When asked why it didn’t bother him, he replied, “Oh, I’m from Texas…that ain’t nothin’.”
Now, a lot of people know that I’m averse to heat and I get, “Then why do you live in Texas?” My standard answer until very recently has been, “My wife lives here and I want to be with her.” To my amazement, after living in Texas since 2007, my dear wife Andrea managed to find a way for me to stop complaining about the heat. I’ve come to realize in my 27 years of being married to this wonderful woman that radical life changing ideas often start with, “Please don’t be annoyed with me, but I’ve been thinking about…..”
This time, she finished with, “… changing our pool into a pond.”
This calls for a little back story. Our pool, while quite nice, is a little under-sized for our now monster teen-aged younger sons who like to jump, splash, splash, swim and splash. And despite the fact that it is a pool and the summers are hot, we’ve hardly used it the last few years.
When the pool water feels like bathwater…it’s less inviting. So, I was looking at yet another summer of maintaining, but not using very much.
Over the winter, the booster pump for our Polaris (automatic pool cleaner) seized. I had put off replacing it because of the $300 price tag and after several years of band-aiding the Polaris, I was also looking at having to rebuild that ($180). Reluctant to shell out $500, I procrastinated. And the pool went sour. So, come Spring (January 3-5th in North Texas), I set about turning it back into a usable pool. Okay, I really started in March, but it took me five weeks and a lot of shock, chlorine, manual vacuuming and multiple filter cleanings to turn it blue.
Once I accepted the change, I stopped putting chlorine in the system, mourned surprisingly not a bit for all the lost time and $$ to get it clear and watched the algae return. And return it did…quite green…and quite a familiar memory that I had spent so much time and effort to eradicate. While we figured out non-chemical ways to clear the water, Andrea got some blue dye to actually go the opposite direction and darken the pool to cut off the sunlight to the algae. So, less pea green and more inky black, but it did work.
Populating the pond with flora
In order to make this body of primordial soup something worth looking at and swimming in (more on that…), we had to start getting some more advanced life in it…plants and fish.
We started with some aquatic plants and cannas on the steps , though the cannas didn’t fare as well as expected and I pulled them later. We bought one big water lily from a pond store and a couple of small ones Andrea found on Craigslist and a friend gave us a huge one that I cut into smaller plants. Add some cattails and something I don’t know and we were on our way to having some really nice aquatic plants in our pond. But we couldn’t keep all the plants on our steps.
We needed to build shelves in the pond to have a place deep enough, yet not too deep, for the plants to thrive. Now, gunnite pools are pretty much all curves that people building ponds from scratch don’t have to deal with. Queue the brilliant idea… Andrea found bags on the internet and I got four yards of sand delivered and we set about building up the floor of the shallow end to hold plants.
So… we have shelves and there’s no way I’m doing that again in the deep end. I dove after the first placement and found a bag had slipped to the drains…took me 10 minutes to get that thing up and back to the shallow end! Hauling a 50 pound bag out from the depths isn’t an easy task and when I came up for air, the darn thing slid back down and away!
Oh, and I put two kinds of mint, a basil plant and some other kind of water plant I don’t know in our waterfall…aquaponics at work: the pond water flows over their roots and they are doing very well. (The mints are for mojitos…shhh!)
Populating with fauna
We didn’t just want a pond that was nice to look at. We wanted a pond we could swim in and fishes that we could swim with. We love snorkeling, but hopping off to Mexico whenever we got the urge is simply not an option. So we created a huge freshwater aquarium that we could swim in.
Andrea did the research and we decided we weren’t going to do koi. We weren’t even sure the idea would work and we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on fish that died because we didn’t have the balance right. So we got 50 comet goldfish from a pet store, which at $0.20 each is a rather inexpensive starter. About 15-20 died (a number of those probably because the store guy put all 50 in one bag) and after we had no more funerals, we added another 30. Only after we created our thriving community of comets did Andrea find out that in a “tank” as big as ours they could grow to as long as 13″.
The more expensive investment might actually turn out to be a business opportunity. We bought ten mosquitofish from the pond store to help keep the larva down. Andrea wanted more but the guy talked her out of it because they are quite the breeders. After seven weeks, we probably have 80-100 small fry swimming around with the goldfish.
And I’m having a lot of fun snorkeling with the little guys.
Catch and release
When we dove into this project, we had visions of a more complex ecosystem involving lots of critters: turtles, frogs, hopefully birds… And we knew we might attract some that we’d have to relocate – snakes come to mind.
A few nights ago, while watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, I kept hearing a hissing sound similar to breathing in a cup. I though it was Drew, but it turned out to be a toad establishing his territory. So, we’re thinking, “Cool!”, right?
The charm wore off the next night when the toad, now accompanied by a larger toad equally intent on establishing his territory (curiously enough, only two inches away from the first toad), set up a loud harmony outside our bedroom. At 1:00 a.m., I shooed them off outside the fence. Silly, foggy brained me wasn’t thinking they would come back not even an hour later.
So, sometime after 2:00 a.m., I caught the only one I could see and moved it to the front yard…which was as far as I was willing to go at the time, being that I was in my skivvies (trying working that word into everyday conversation!). And the front yard happens to be the side of the house where Drew’s bedroom is. Poor guy came down the next day claiming “they changed tactics and started flanking the front yard.” Mom and Dylan burst into laughter because Andrea had just told Dylan what I had done in the wee hours.
Sooooo…on the third night, they started early and Andrea and I took them to a more toad friendly area. We thought we had caught the two because on the way out with the first, Andrea saw a large toad in our neighbor’s yard. I toad-napped it and after thinking it was a job well done, Dylan called to say, “I caught the big toad.” Picture a pair of “What?!” exclamations and we made one more trip.
The welcome quiet night strengthened our new resolve that there be no frogs on purpose in our pond! And still, when feeding the fishies this morning, I discovered that we do have at least one frog, who unlike the toads was not oblivious to being caught. We’ll see what the night brings…
After a neighbor called the City of Rowlett concerned about West Nile virus, our friendly City Code Enforcement paid a visit. As soon as he saw the waterfall and the fish, he knew there was not going to be a mosquito problem. And when Andrea posted about the encounter on Facebook, the editor for the Dallas Morning News NeighborsGo section for the Rowlett/Rockwall area contacted her to do an interview. So, we got to be in the paper for our project! (“Rowlett couple uses Australian inspiration to turn pool into live ecosystem“)
More to come
I’m still using our pool pump and filter, but we’re going to add a more efficient pond pump and homemade pond filter soon. I also think I’m going to have to do something about circulation, because the natural silting settles nicely, but clouds when I’m snorkeling.
As for animals, we do want a turtle, but we have to make sure that what we add won’t chomp on the lilies.
Next update, I’ll include a lot of the links to information, but for now, you can go to Andrea’s Become website (http://www.andreadavis-become.com/) where she’s set up a blog on our progress and a gallery of photos. The blog is here and the gallery is here.
And here’s a pic of where we are as of mid-July: