Pond Perseverance

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So, we broke our dry streak this summer and still, our little pond held! The “rain” we did get on August 12th was 0.02″. That’s all we’ve had and it’s now the end of August and believe me, none of the gardens would be alive without intense watering. It’s a different story around the pond. Not only are the fish alive and well under the surface, but plants and other fauna abound in this critical micro climate created during our earthworks project.

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After the initial dig, I spend the winter carefully raking the disturbed soil and sewing cover crop seed around the earthworks to prevent erosion from rain. Happily, most of the crops sprouted and formed a blanket of green fodder for the goats and chickens. People have also been harvesting from the cover crop, most notably purple clover Trifolium pratense flowers. I harvest them and dry the flowers for tea, but do not drink it myself due to its effect on estrogen receptors. This means if you have a family history of breast cancer, you should not drink the tea often. Always do your research before taking an herbal remedy. What works for one body may not be good for another.

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Purple Clover around outflow pipe (far right)

Other plants have been shoving their way into the moisture of our pond. Phalaris arundinacea is aggressively stealing the limelight in the picture below. Reed Canary Grass was brought into Western Washington as a fodder for cattle. It would grow in standing water and made pastures more productive. Well, because it loved water, it found its way into all the wetlands along the coast and is now moving inland. There were already stands of this grass established on the land when I arrived and I have to work diligently to keep it in check by cutting it back by hand and making sure the animals brows it down before seeding can happen.

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One native friend, Salix luscida, or, Pacific Willow, is a welcome plant volunteering all around the rim of winter water mark. I’ve been uprooting these baby trees and setting them in my western fence line hedge. They will be a great pollinator in early spring, then creating the matted growth which is perfect for keeping livestock in. They can brows the fence and not put a dent in established willow stands. While it’s nice to have a native willow on the land, I’m not so excited about letting it establish in the pond. The pond was designed to be accessible. Allowing the willow to grow here would crowd out other smaller species and make it hard to walk down to the water’s edge. Rooted trees in the pond banks would also compromise the berm holding the water in and eventually leech out all the water on down the hill. That’s an important detail in your pond planning!

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There are bulrushes in the pond now, but I’m not sure what kind. Scirpus microcarpus might be a good candidate. There’s a great up close of the Pacific Willow in the picture above, along with the bulrush and our old red cedar Thuja plicata stump sits high in the water. This habitat is usually completely submerged through the wet months of fall, winter, and early spring. If you look extra hard in the photo above, you’ll see two bullfrogs Lithobates catesbeianus enjoying the pond. I am still working to keep them out of the pond, but my travels this summer left a window for them to flourish. I’m looking forward to delicious frog legs!

It’s been 4 years now, and the pond is still holding water, though not as much as the design allows for with proper sealing. Though I have been adamant about not using plastic or clay to finish the job, there are other options, and I will keep researching opportunities. It takes mother nature thousands of years to establish wetlands, so I’m not rushing this transition. However, it would be nice to have a full pond through the summer months, and with all these 90 degree days, swimming would be a real treat.

We’re looking at taking on some pigs this fall to help out a friend who can no longer have animals. If the young pigs come, I’m going to try them out on the pond as a natural sealer. Their wallowing compresses the pond edges, while the fecal matter mixed in with the clay creates a sort of plaster which helps hold the seal. It was a technique used back in my home state of Oklahoma, where clay was abundant in the soil. It is here too, but the glacial till consisting of large pebbles acts like a sieve. The next big addition to our pond will be a few small floating islands of vegetation to create shade for the fish.

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