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No. No. I’m not by any means advocating any child build a backyard wildlife pond all on their own or even that they should. As always, parents and guardians are responsible for what they deem is safe and appropriate for the children under their care. What I am saying is that my child researched, designed, and constructed a pond in our backyard several years ago. With appropriate supervision and support from myself.
Before I moved to a new state last year, I posted a lot of recipes that used ingredients fresh from my son’s grilling garden. Yes, my then thirteen-year-old was so into grilling that he had his own grill (used with supervision) and a garden he had assembled entirely himself full of herbs, vegetables, and fruits he could grill. A garden he put together entirely by himself…with supervision.
We used to spend our Saturday mornings (I had Saturdays off thank goodness) involved weeding his garden together, chopping up weeds for the compost pile, and spreading new organic compost over the disturbed ground left from out weeding. Every summer afternoon there was something for him and his cousin to harvest either for salad or grilling. After they harvested their bounty they would then water the garden.
The dedication and hard work my son put into his garden went a long way toward him later convincing me he was ready for the responsibility of pets. First his fish in a tank, then a pond, then his bunny, then his dog, and finally the most high maintenance of all, cats. My son started his garden the first month we moved into our house back in 2015. He was nine at the time and he built the entire thing himself. Read my post about our garden to find out how he kept our home in fresh fruits and vegetables most of the summer every year for four years. But the garden was a bit of an afterthought. First came the pond.
Read on to see how he built it all on his own (while being supervised by a responsible adult).
Attracting Pollinators and Money
My son had been begging for goldfish for several years by the time he had access to a yard for making his pond and gardening in. But I had made him research online and through books from the library how to care for goldfish and what they required. After reading about regular goldfish and the requirements of carp (which goldfish are), he had determined that goldfish shouldn’t be kept in fish tanks and that we needed a pond if we were going to own goldfish.
I thought that was going to be the end of it because we lived in an apartment at the time. Two years later, the second we moved into our house he was surveying our property for an appropriate place to dig his goldfish pond. He finally found a semi-shady spot in the back yard and immediately got to work outlining and digging his goldfish pond; three feet deep, four feet wide, with a bog level, a mid-depth shelf, and the deep area for the different types of plants he intended to put in it.
Also, there was an area he called turtle beach which was where he expected his future turtles to be able to exit the pond and sun themselves. As you may have inferred, he also wanted turtles. The bog was destroyed by a nosy trespasser stepping in it one day while no one was home. They left behind a massive boot print on top of my son’s carnivorous plants and a puncture in the bottom of the liner. All pictures of the pond are of the rebuilt pond with only a quarter of the original bog area.
How might have this child paid for his pond? Because between you and me, starting a pond the legal way is a pricy proposition for the average child. There are regulations in most states against disturbing wetlands to harvest plants and laws against moving aquatic species from one area to another. So everything he wanted in his pond had to be purchased. My kid, being the entrepreneur that he is, negotiated a new allowance with new responsibilities and an “educational enrichment fund matching contribution” from his mom. I was impressed enough with his passion that I let him persuade me into giving him more chores.
My nine-year-old was now in charge of food inventory, menu planning, shopping-list making, and grocery shopping according to his list of things we needed to make the food he wanted to eat over the course of the week. (Of course, I was there to help him and provided a calculator so he could tally the grocery total as we shopped.) This saved me time and also solved the problem of cooking meals that included foods he wasn’t interested in. In addition, he had to clean the living room every Saturday and sort his laundry for me to wash (he was too small to actually get his clothes into the washer but he sure as heck would put them into the front-loading dryer after I removed them from the washer for him). For these duties, he got ten dollars a week and every dollar he spent on his pond project I would match so that he could spend up to twenty dollars a week on his pond. Or save it up to make bigger purchases.
By the end of the summer, he had a complete pond with goldfish, mosquito fish, dozens of plants, dragonfly larvae, a real peat bog, and a freshwater sponge. Now, because my son had learned that peat harvested from bogs was bad for the environment, he created a base of “straw peat” with a blanket of living peat from an amphibian supply company. He filled his bog and pond with carnivorous plants indigenous to California. The fish was the only thing in his pond that wasn’t native.
Long before he considered his pond “complete” native pollinators were frequenting our backyard all day long to drink from a readily accessible source of freshwater. With so many bees and butterflies abounding, my son decided they needed food. I have an aversion to plants which I can’t eat in our landscaping. So, the garden started. More about that in a future post.
My son spent years, literally, researching the pond environment he wanted to create for his goldfish.
If a nine-year-old child can build a pond almost entirely on his own, any healthy average person can probably plan one on their own. Depending on the plans for the pond and it’s size, digging a pond can be strenuous work and shouldn’t be done if you have injuries or medical conditions that would be aggravated by vigorous physical labor. (I’m not a medical professional so you should always check with a medical professional to determine your healthy/safe level of activity before attempting new physical activities.)
Here is a list of the items my son used in the construction of his goldfish/wildlife pond.
Shovel – I had to get my son an appropriately sized shovel for him to use as full adult sized shovels are unwieldy to most children. Since my kid was kind of huge, I just needed to get him tools sized for women.
RPE (Reinforced Polyethelene) Pond Liner – One of the jobs I used to have involved selling pond liners so I was pretty familiar with this product. My kid chose the standard small size of 10 ft x 10 ft. When choosing a pond liner size you always will need enough liner material to cover the bottom and sides of the pond as well as several feet past the top of the sides to be weighted with stones/soil/gravel.
Water Conditioner – All water from a city tap will be treated to keep algae and microorganisms from growing in human drinking water. Those chemicals will kill fish and many aquatic plants. Follow the instructions on the bottle if you ever need to use one.
Plant ready aquarium substrate – While it isn’t necessary to use a plant substrate in a pond, my kid wanted to make sure that the plants he put in his pond for his fish were going to be well-nourished and provide good protective cover and food for his fish and their prey. I had suggested that he use aquatic soil (essentially hydrated pure clay since it would create an added layer of waterproofing) but my kiddo said that wasn’t what he wanted.
Straw Peat – A dried-peat-like substance made from shredded composted straw which functions pretty much exactly the same way that regular dried bagged peat works. But, you know, without undoing centuries of carbon sequestering. I’ve never seen this sold anywhere but Home Depot and I only found it the one time. Maybe it is regularly sold in more populous areas.
Oxygenating Plants – He used Hornwort, Vallisneria, and Elodea Canadensis. All three are cold hardy submerged oxygenating pond plants. This meant that they would survive the freezing winter temperatures in our mountain town so he wouldn’t have to buy them again the next year, they stayed primarily underwater anchored to/in the substrate, and they produce dissolved oxygen in the water through their photosynthesis. However, like above-water plants, submerged plants also respirate during the night using oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. Because of this, submerged plant populations should be strictly monitored and prevented from overrunning a pond. *Hint: Excess plants weeded from the pond make excellent compost because of all the nutrients they suck up.
Emergent Plants – My son chose pickerelweed, aquatic clover, and a pack of cold-hardy waterlilies from Home Depot.
Bog Plants – I’ve already mentioned that he created a peat bog and the carnivorous plants used in the bog. But in the second bog, he included dwarf cattail, variegated rushes, marsh marigold, and sedge which grew wild in our yard during the rainy season (before landscaping the yard flooded for most of winter even when the sump pump was working).
Floating Plants – The last type of plant he used in the pond were floating plants. Floating plants are plants that float on the surface of the water and will not root themselves into the substrate of a body of water. Water hyacinth went into his pond. Water hyacinth is considered highly invasive in any part of the united states where it doesn’t get cold enough over the winter to kill them. Luckily, where I lived was one of those places where it got cold enough to kill water hyacinth over the winter so they were stocked in my local garden store. Unfortunately, those hyacinths came with some pesky aquatic snails which infested the pond and our goldfish could not keep up with their rate of reproduction until they got a little larger. Most of the snails died during the winter free thank goodness. However, that infestation is why I started insisting that he grow plants from seed or from hydroponic facilities.
My son was able to find most of the hardware which we needed for his pond at our local Home Depot and other garden supply stores. However, if he’d felt comfortable with Amazon at the time he could have gotten it all there with one fell shopping swoop. If you are interested in the steps which go into building a pond check back for my next article.
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