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Tom Giammarco, Jeonju, South Korea, June 11, 2011
Hello Larry, Years ago, I was inspired by some of the photos on the Aqualand site to make an indoor pond and I wrote up step by step how I did it when I eventualy started.  I have attached it to this email along with a couple of photos.  If you can use it on your site, that's ok..if not that is ok too--I know the article is quite long.  In any case, thanks for the inspiration!
 
TG

A:  Pretty neat pics.  I'll include them and your info on a separate page of their own.  I'll get the page done by tomorrow.  Thanks.  LA

Hello. Before I begin, I would like to apologize for the long letter. But quite a while ago I saw the pictures of the miniature ponds on the Aqualand site and wanted to let you know they really inspired me. I have always wanted an indoor pond and I eventually decided I would make one.

TG

Getting Started
I live in an apartment so the pond I wanted to make had to be indoors.  I have a space I call the ‘sun room’ though it is really more of an enclosed east-facing balcony.  It has tall, floor to ceiling windows that slide open and runs the entire width of my home. My houseplants love it in summer but it is not insulated or heated and can get quite cool in the winter although I do not believe it ever gets down to freezing temperatures there.  I knew that is where I would make the pond.
I looked online for ideas on how to start. In the section on mini-ponds on this site, you mentioned using a child’s swimming pool and I briefly thought about that but decided I would not like the way that would look. I wanted something that would look natural. There was another website that showed a man building a pond in his home. He built up the room with soil and stones and sunk a pool or tarp into that to make his pond. While I do own my apartment and can do what I want with it, this did not seem like a practical idea.  In February this year, maybe six months after considering and rejecting ideas (bathtub frames, troughs, wooden barrels…) I wandered into a local independent pet store for fish food and saw they had a faux stone mini-pond on display. I commented that I would like something like that for my home but bigger and the man said that the company selling them custom designs the forms. The pet store owner was happy to contact them for me and I ordered a pond roughly 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and 10 inches deep. It was ready to be picked up in two days and cost about 130 USD.

Initial Problems
Driving home with the fresh pond form in the car, I nearly suffocated. The smell of whatever chemical was used to seal it or make it was overwhelming. I let it air out in the sunroom for a few days, but the smell was still very strong. I tried washing it a few times, but I could not get rid of it.  Then I had an idea. I filled the pond with water but put in about five gallons of water siphoned from an established aquarium I have. I thought maybe whatever microbes or bacteria were in that water would be able to biologically process out any dangerous chemicals. After about a week or ten days of just letting the water sit, the smell went away. Instead I had a new problem. Algae…
It was not March, the days were longer and the weather was warmer. The pond in my house responded to that by producing a huge algae bloom. I wouldn’t have minded at all if it were just a coating of algae on the sides and bottom of the pond. I think that looks good and I welcome it. However, this was a bubbling green mess that would more commonly be called pond scum. Skimming it out didn’t help and the water quickly turned a pea green. I realized I needed something I was hoping to avoid. I needed a filter. I had not wanted one originally because I wanted floating plants and paradise fish. Neither of these really appreciates moving water. However, I bought a standard submersible, powerhead filter. I also used stones to break up and reduce the flow of the water. It worked. By directing the outflow into the maze of stones I made, the surface of the water remained relatively still while an attractive stream of bubbles came up out of the stones. Even more importantly, the water cleared up within 2 days.

Choosing the plants and fish
By April, it is consistently warm enough for my houseplants to go into the sunroom and local nurseries start selling plants outside. I wanted some marginal plants and bought some dwarf papyrus Cyperus papyrus, a tatting fern Athyrium filix-femina and peacock moss Selaginella uncinata and arranged these to rest with their pots in the water. By the end of April, after the water had aged for two and a half months, I felt ready to add fish and submerged/floating plants. I know of one website that sells both local and tropical fish and plants. I wanted mostly local things so I would not have to worry about the temperature.  I did order two kinds of tropical plants water hyacinth Eichonria crassipes and water lettuce Pistia stratiotes. The rest of the plants were local: water poppies Hydrocleys nymphoides, frogbit Hydrocharis dubia, giant salvinia Salvinia molesta and hornwort Ceratophyllum spp.  Any one of these plants could easily overrun the pond if I am not careful, but everything I have been reading about paradise fish in the wild indicates they love shallow, overgrown ditches and ponds, so I thought they would be perfect—I would just have to keep up with weeding.
I chose paradise fish, Macropodus opercularis, because they are local and thus able to stand the daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations. The website I ordered them from sold them in batches of 5. On the one hand, I was happy with that because I thought it would ensure I would have both sexes in the pond. However, I was also worried about the aggression I have seen these fish possess when I once raised them in an aquarium, especially before and after laying eggs. I crossed my fingers and hoped the pond was big enough where they can avoid each other if they wished. The fish and the plants arrived on May 4. They were about an inch and a half long—not yet full-sized. While I set to work potting up the water poppies, I let the fish adjust to the temperature of the water. When I released them into the pond, they all made a beeline for the water lettuce and hid en masse beneath it.

TG
Indoor pond May 19, 2011.

The living pond
The pond plants, as expected, grew quite quickly. The water poppies wasted no time putting up floating leaves and the water hyacinth and salvinia multiplied rapidly. However, the water lettuce is the clear winner in how fast it spreads. I went from four semi-mature plants to over four dozen in the space of four weeks. They spread via runners like strawberries making beautiful floating patterns on the surface of the water. The fish did well too. The non-aggression they were showing each other gave way to slightly territorial behavior. However, it was nothing serious…until May 19 when one of the males built a nest. He became more aggressive but, with the growing number of hiding places among roots, rocks and hornwort, I did not notice even one torn fin. I photographed the nest but did not think very much about it. Although the fish seemed bigger than when I first put them in, even though just a few weeks had passed, I thought they were too young to breed.
The leaves of the water poppy last about three weeks but there are always new one coming out. On May 24, I went to remove a couple of dead leaves.  But, when I lifted the leaf up, I was startled by a burst of movement in all directions. Baby fish were hiding under the leaves and, upon closer inspection I could see them swimming among the hornwort as well. I could not view all of them at once, but given the small size of the original nest, I did not think there could be many—maybe a dozen.  I had not known they were there and thus not offering them any special food, but regardless of that, they were doing quite well and were very active. The adult fish seem to be ignoring them completely. I have since started to add very fine powdered food to supplement the fries’ diet, and they eat side by side with the adults without any incidents. When they do feel threatened by the adults, the baby fish ‘hop’ away from them…jumping out of the water three or four times until they are far enough away.

TG
Male paradise fish with bubble nest.

As I write this, there are now swarms of baby paradise fish. The same day I found the babies, I saw another, larger, nest had been built near the tatting fern. I estimate this produced about 30 fry which are about half the size of their older cousins. The plants have grown even more and this has reduced aggression considerably.  I think this has to do with the reduced visibility that the floating leaves, roots and stems afford. This morning, June 11, I went to remove a mass of alga among the papyrus that reminded me of the earlier pond scum—green and bubbly. As soon as my hand entered the water, I was attacked by one of the male paradise fish who bit me four times in rapid succession. Fortunately, their mouths and teeth are small, so it was more like bumping into me rapidly.  I quickly removed my hand and watched as he started rebuilding his nest I accidentally destroyed. Unlike the other nests where were only bubbles, this male had incorporated algae he was pulling off the plant stems into the nest. He is still working on it and it is currently about half an inch high and four inches long. I photographed him while he worked and noticed eggs were already present in the nest. As a side note, I have never had to remove the females and all have survived all three spawnings I am aware of without injury and, judging by their body size, are ready to spawn again. Books here in Korea list the natural breeding time for paradise fish as June and July. If their actions do date are any indication, the same individuals produce numerous spawn during that time period.

TG

The water poppies have started blooming as well. They were frustrating because although there were blooms every day of the week, they only were blooming in the day when I was at work and the flowers only last one day each. However, today is Saturday and I was finally able to see them open and take a picture.
My indoor pond has proven to be very satisfying, rewarding and relaxing. The changes that take place in it are visible on a day to day basis as the plants grow so quickly. I am looking forward to seeing if the frogbit and the water hyacinth will flower in the heat of summer. I also look forward to watching the paradise fish daily… they are much more interesting in this setting than when I kept them in an aquarium.  Tom


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