Harvesting eggs is such an incredible opportunity for protein production in the backyard. There is a next level of proficiency that you achieve when you have something in your backyard that is providing you with a food as nutrient dense as the egg. What we often forget is that chickens are not the only winged …
Those of you who know me know I love to play outside in the rain … barefoot, preferably.
But there’s another reason rain draws me outside.
Beyond just irrigation, rainstorms serve another incredibly valuable purpose on the homestead: They show you where the water flows on your property—and where you might be having some problems.
In this new edition of Homesteading Basics, watch as I walk my property during a storm (after making sure all the hatches were battened down first, of course!) and glean some really valuable information—from clogged gutters to the best natural location for a new pond.
You’ll also see a little part of my property that’s almost magical. When my kids were young, we built a gabion with rocks and chicken wire to help slow the flow of water in an eroded spot. We never did anything else to that area, but we still had something pretty cool happen there. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you watch the video.
Then, I’d love to know: What’s your favorite way to slow the flow of water on your property? Share your tips in the comments!
A fish pond can be an attractive and rewarding addition to your land that helps to attract wildlife, stores water in times of drought, and provides a swimming hole for your kids — all while producing fish for your table.
Raising your own fish give you the peace and serenity of private access to your own fishing hole, and it also can provide a unique opportunity to encourage a fishing hobby in your children, since they’re much more likely to make a catch in a stocked private pond.
Whether you have a pond on your land already, or are considering constructing one, it’s important to consider that a pond will require maintenance to stay attractive, healthy and productive. To take proper care of a fish pond, you’ll need to maintain a depth, prevent chemical contamination, and minimize algae growth.
Pond Size and Depth
While it may be tempting to hand dig and stock a miniature pond in your backyard, ponds under half an acre of surface area have trouble supporting stocked fish in the long term. Below half an acre, the pond just doesn’t have enough space to keep a thriving population alive, and it is likely to dry out in the summer or freeze solid to the bottom in the winter.
Deep water ponds are the only type capable of reliably maintaining a stable ecosystem for your fish year-round. Ponds with 25 to 50 percent of their area at least 10 feet deep are considered “deep-water ponds.” Depending on your climate, your pond may need to be significantly deeper than 10 feet to prevent winter kill of fish, or to prevent summer overheating for cold water species such as trout. Different fish species have different temperature requirements.
Minimizing Sediment & Evaporation
To maintain depth in a stream-fed pond, include a small sediment settling pond to slow the water and allow fine sediment to drop out before the water enters the main pond. Water should flow slowly out of the sediment pond into the main pond, and if designed correctly, should enter the main pond clear.
Ponds not fed by a stream have less concerns about sediment, but are more likely to lose depth in times of drought. Minimize surface area where evaporation occurs by having a round or oval pond shape with relatively steeply sloping sides. An irregular pond edge means more surface area, but also more shallow edge space that encourages evaporation without providing deep habitat for fish.
Preventing Chemical Contamination
It’s important to prevent chemical contamination of your pond, because what goes into your fish pond will eventually land on your family’s table. Ideally, avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on your land, but if that’s not an option, do not use them within 100 feet of the pond or the stream that feeds the pond. Avoid mowing or excessively trimming vegetation within 100 feet of the pond, as well. This vegetation buffer zone helps to filter out contaminants and keeps your pond cleaner in the long run.
Preventing Algae Overgrowth
Excess algae growth in a pond can lower oxygen levels and suffocate fish, and certain types of algae can be toxic to both humans and fish. Algae blooms are caused by a number of complicated ecological factors, but the best way to prevent them is to limit or eliminate excess nutrients entering the pond. Abundant vegetation near the pond edge helps to absorb nutrients that would enter in run-off. Preventing runoff from agricultural areas, and keeping pets and livestock as far from the pond as possible, prevents their wastes from entering the pond to feed the algae.
Another way to prevent algae in a home pond is to add a small amount of hardwood ash to the pond. Hardwood ash promotes native vegetation by adding soluble minerals to the pond. When these minerals are lacking, algae can out-compete vegetation for the nutrients in fertilizer runoff. The minerals in hardwood ash help give vegetation a leg up over the algae and can prevent harmful algae blooms. It doesn’t take a lot to have a big impact, and it’s suggested that ash be added slowly, as too much can do more harm than good. The suggested rate of application is only 1 tablespoon per 1,000 gallons of water.
Choosing Fish Species
The type of fish will depend on your family’s tastes, your location and your pond’s specific ecosystem. Trout are a cold-water fish, and require deeper water (12 feet minimum) to stay cool in the summer months.
Other fish species, such as bass, thrive in warmer water, but require the addition of a prey species for food. With a predator and prey species in a pond, it’s important to maintain the right ratio of predator to prey to ensure the survival of the larger predator fish you intend to harvest.
To choose your fish species and stocking density, it’s important to talk to your local extension or to consult a fishery biologist, as pond ecology varies by region.
What advice would you add on maintaining a pond long-term? Share your tips in the section below:
A 77-year old Montana resident is facing 15 years in federal prison for building ponds on and hear his own property, charged by the federal government for discharging dredged and fill material.
The man, disabled veteran Joseph Robertson, also could be fined around $750,000.
“I’m facing 15 years and three-quarters of a million in fines,” Robertson told the Billings Gazette. “What they’re doing to me, the feds, they shouldn’t have the ability to.”
Robertson is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on July 20, charged with polluting “waters of the United States” and for violating the Clean Water Act.
He says he built the ponds — nine total — to water his horses and protect his property from fire.
The EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers contend Robertson violated the Act by building the ponds, which sit near a wetland. The government argues that the water should be regulated because it flows into Cataract Creek, and then into the Boulder River, and finally into the Jefferson River, which is about 60 miles away from his property.
A federal jury, upon hearing from EPA and Corps experts, found Robertson guilty on April 7, the newspaper reported.
“This verdict sends a message that the United States will not stand by and allow streams and wetlands of the United States to be polluted, or National Forest lands to be injured,” Mike Cotter, the US Attorney for the District of Montana, said.
Robertson’s land borders a national forest.
“The ponds resulted in the discharge of dredged and fill material into a tributary stream and adjacent wetlands and caused widespread damage to both properties,” a press release from the US attorney’s office says.
Robertson’s troubles began in 2013, when special agents from the EPA and the US Forest Service visited his property.
What Is EPA’s Motive?
The agents told Robertson he had no legal right to build the ponds. They also said he didn’t own the land. When he ignored them, he was charged with polluting headwaters and wetlands.
The jury heard from experts on both sides.
“In our opinion, there were no measurable or quantitative adverse impacts to the aquatic ecosystem,” Ray Kagel Jr., a former wetlands regulator for the Corps of Engineer, said on Robertson’s behalf. Kagel spent 12 years with the Corps and now runs Kagel Environmental in Rigby, Idaho. Kagel also worked as a project manager for the EPA.
Kagel believes the EPA and the US attorney are simply trying to make an example of Robertson to justify their enforcement efforts.
“It’s kind of like a feather in the cap showing, ‘Wow, what a great job we are doing as an agency based on all these enforcement actions we’ve taken,’” Kagel said, according to The Gazette.
Kagel contends that Robertson did not violate the act because water flows underground for a mile from the ponds to Cataract Creek.
Robertson is only one of a number of property owners who have faced fines and charges because of the Clean Water Act. Beaver, Wyoming, rancher Andy Johnson faced up to $16 million in fines for building a stock pond without a permit. The EPA eventually settled with Johnson, allowing to keep his pond.
What is your reaction to this story? Share your thoughts in the section below:
A Wyoming farmer and his attorneys have won a significant victory against the EPA.
In a settlement, the agency has backed off in its threat to fine Andy Johnson tens of millions of dollars because he built a stock pond on his own property.
“Importantly, under the settlement, the Johnson family’s pond will remain; they won’t pay any fines; they don’t concede any federal jurisdiction to regulate their pond; and the government won’t pursue any further enforcement actions based on the pond’s construction,” a press release from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented Johnson, states.
The EPA contended that Johnson violated the Clean Water Act by building a stock pond without a permit. The agency threatened him with $37,500-a-day in fines that added up to $16 million.
“This settlement is a win for the Johnson family, and a win for the environment,” Jonathan Wood, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, said. “Under it, the Johnsons will pay no fine. They will not lose their property. They will not have to agree to federal jurisdiction or a federal permit, which would have surely entailed onerous conditions. In effect, the government will treat the pond as an exempt stock pond, in exchange for Andy further improving on the environmental benefits he has already created.”
Johnson’s troubles began in 2012 when he built a small stock on his property near Beaver, Wyoming. Even though Johnson had a state permit, the EPA tried to claim he violated the Clean Water Act and ordered him to remove the pond.
“You can imagine how terrifying it must be to receive such an order,” Wood said. “In an instant, Andy Johnson’s future, and that of his children, was thrown into turmoil. Would he be prosecuted? Would he be assessed large fines that, being an ordinary person, would cause his family’s financial ruin? Would the government essentially take control over his property, which was also his home?”
Under the settlement, the EPA will drop the fines if Johnson plants some willow trees and fences part of the pond off from livestock, Wood said. The EPA had contended Johnson was damaging the environment by building the pond.
Johnson’s attorneys noted the pond drained into an irrigation ditch. They also claimed that Johnson helped the environment and animals by creating a pond and wetlands.
“This is a huge victory for us as well as private property owners across the country,” Johnson said. “The next family that finds itself in our situation, facing ominous threats from EPA, can take heart in knowing that many of these threats will not come to pass. If, like us, you stand up to the overreaching bureaucrats, they may very well back down.”
What is your reaction to this story? Share your thoughts in the section below:
Warm weather has arrived, and along with the sunny weather often comes a to-do list of projects. If you have been looking for a project to work on this year, why not build a pond?
We will get to the “how-to” in a moment, but first let’s explore the many benefits of a pond. Beauty, after all, isn’t the only benefit of a pond.
1. They benefit the local wildlife
Various species of wildlife benefit from ponds, even a small one. Ponds attract beneficial insects, serve as a water source for different animals, and can act as a haven for various amphibians and small reptiles. Birds love to have a clean source of bathing water, especially if you have a tempting waterfall feature.
Many species of amphibians are declining in population, especially in urban areas where pollutants containment water sources. You can help support these animals and offer a place for them to reproduce, even in a small pond.
2. Insect pest populations will reduce
Visit any pond and you will see various flying insects around, such as damselflies and dragonflies. These insects, as well as many others, will help control pest insects like mosquitoes. It’s somewhat of a misconception that ponds equal mosquito problems. Rather, it’s poorly managed ponds that are a problem. Take measures to prevent mosquitoes in your pond and your predatory insect friends will help control the rest.
Mosquito larvae will be eaten by the larvae of these beneficial predatory insects. And don’t forget that having a pond will attract frogs and toads, both of which will further keep mosquito populations down.
3. Ponds can function as an emergency water source
Ponds are ideal as a source of water in an emergency. You will need to properly sterilize the water prior to drinking and, depending on the size and type of your pond, it may not be a permanent source of water. But it will still help in an emergency/survival situation.
4. Ponds support additional food sources
You can increase the variety of foods on your table with a pond. Raising fish is often the most popular choice, naturally. The type of fish you can raise will depend on your location. For example, warm climates could raise tilapia while those in cool climates will be better off with bass or crappies.
Aside from fish, you also can grow edibles like rice, watercress, water chestnuts and cattails. The majority of these edibles will grow very well in a healthy pond without requiring any labor from you.
5. You will get free fertilizer for your garden
Fertilizer from your pond can come in the form of green fertilizer and liquid fertilizer. Natural algae and other plants often work very well as a green manure, much like how you’d use cover crops. You can use the water from a large pond that has a healthy population of fish and plants to fertilize your garden beds and potted plants.
What Type of Pond Should I Build?
There are a few different ways of creating a pond, but when it comes to a backyard pond there are two main options: pre-formed plastic pond liners and flexible pond linings.
Pre-formed pond liners are a rigid piece of plastic – think of a kiddie pool – which you set into the ground or use above ground. You can order these liners online or find them at construction stores. Pre-formed liners are easy to use but you are limited in terms of shape, length and width.
Flexible plastic lining comes in large rolls and various sizes in thickness, depending on what the pond will be used for. The great thing about using flexible lining is that you have virtually no limits for the shape and size of the pond. These liners are also less expensive but will require someone else or multiple people helping you.
Overall, flexible plastic lining is the ideal choice for large ponds or those who have a very specific shape of pond in mind. Pre-formed pond liners are a good choice for someone who wants a micro- to small-sized pond.
There are alternatives to pre-formed liners and plastic linings. For example, if you only want a small pond, you can sink a stock tank into the ground. Some people who have a heavy clay soil may be able to get away with not using a pond liner at all. Similarly, if you have good soil just adding more clay can help.
Where Should the Pond Be Located?
Before you start digging, you need to carefully decide where the best location for the pond will be. When you select an area, ask yourself:
- How much sun will the pond get? Ideally, a pond will get partial sun — roughly eight hours a day.
- Is the ground flat or sloped? Either works, but a pond on a slope will give you the best opportunity to do features.
- Do you want to add water features like a cascade? Take these into account and whether you’ll need/want pumps to move water.
- What is the soil like in the area? Even if you’re using pond lining, a heavier soil with a lot of clay will keep the shape better than sandy soil.
- For large ponds in rural areas, do you have to worry about large mammals walking in the pond? Moose, deer, elk and livestock like cattle may walk through the pond and tear/puncture the pond lining. Be sure to choose the heaviest lining possible.
- How deep do you need the pond to be? Any pond should be an absolute minimum of 18 inches deep. Keep in mind that if you plan to overwinter fish you will need more depth, especially if you’re in a cold climate where the water will freeze. If you experience freezing temperatures, you will need a minimum depth of 3 feet just for medium-sized koi to survive.
How to Dig Out the Pond
Digging out a pond is done either by hand or with earth-moving equipment. If you are planning on digging it by hand, be forewarned that it’s probably going to be much more difficult than you think. If you’re planning a small pond that isn’t very deep and you’re in good shape, go ahead and use a shovel. There is something very rewarding about digging a pond by hand. Deep ponds that are medium or large in nature will require earth-moving equipment.
If you have experience, you can rent a CAT or similar equipment. If you have no experience, it is best to hire someone – especially if you are planning a very deep pond. You also need to take into account where all that dirt is going to go. For large ponds, you will need to use a backhoe to move the dirt.
Be careful if you happen to live in an area that requires permits to build a pond or if you plan to divert a local creek into your pond. Always check your local laws just to be sure.
Where to Go From Here
If you are planning a large pond, I highly recommend checking out these websites and books for more information. These resources also will be useful for those who are building a small pond in their city backyard, though some of the content may not apply to your exact situation.
Feel free to write your experiences with building ponds, or simply share your own ideas for your future pond in the section below!