I’m not going too far out on a limb to say that 2020 has been a horrible year so far. Sickly, stressful, polarizing and divisive. Since March 13, 2020 I have worked from home and also had an opportunity to take temporary custody of my only grandchild, Hugo, who lives in NYC with his parents. There, at the epicenter of the pandemic, his parents felt their six and a half year old son might enjoy an extended visit in the southern Delaware countryside with “MiMa.” Both of us did our daily work virtually, and the extra time together concentrated on an outdoor classroom that included birdwatching and feeding, planting vegetables, planting and dividing flowers and learning about insects and pollinators. It was 11-weeks of that silver lining you hear so much about!
Working from home afforded me some extra time to water in the mornings, spend lunch time weeding, and when we were allowed to, visit some garden centers wearing masks.
My hydrangeas (currently 63 and counting) did not get the news 2020 was off to a poor start. I started seeing early indications that this would be a bumper year for hydrangeas. The best ever in my memory.
In my ever-shadier woodland backyard setting, I have lost the opportunity to flower garden. But this year, my husband and I took out three of our five concrete block raised beds (they worked but were unsightly) and used the area to create a pollinator garden. It is still a work in progress.
In the pollinator garden is an assortment of natives and non-natives. Echinacea, nepta (catmint) garden phlox “jeana”, various beebalm, senna, coreopsis, gaillardia, pink and purple Veronica speedwell, salvias, Shasta daisies, fennel, milkweed, butterfly weed (Asclepias), yarrow, false sea thrift (armería), stokesia, lavender, rosemary, cornflower, pokeweed, h.paniculata “Bobo”, solidago “Wichita Mountains”, drumstick alliums, and others.
When we bought our house, it was brand new. We had .75 acres and about half of that was the pie shaped back yard. In 2002, my husband began to map out a free-form outline for a future pond, which he began digging out during the summer and fall 2001. We estimate it to be about 5,000 gallons. We didn’t have one tree or shrub in our entire yard. We had no experience with ponds – knew nothing about filtration, liners, skimmers, etc. We figured it out all on our own.
A year later we added plants and bought four koi. Three of which still survive today. Figuring they were at least a year old when we got them, they are at least 12 years old! I also got the bright idea to buy some cheap goldfish, you know, the kind you win at a church carnival? Big mistake, for all they did was eat and poop. We also bought some other fish, none of which survived the year due to Blue Herons that would visit our pond, usually at dusk and dawn. Somehow, the koi knew how to avoid being served as dinner!
Later we added more plants. The only fish that reproduced were the goldfish. Goldfish and Koi, essentially both carps, are able to breed, but their offspring are rather muddy looking and sterile. We ended up giving away as many of these fish as we could.
In 2003 or 2004 we put stone from our deck to the ponds edge, so that we could have a patio.
We also carved out garden paths to the left and the right of the pond, which converged to a point at the garden shed.
A serious leak in 2009 forced us to drain the pond completely. We bought a kiddie pool to put the fish in, and it was a good time to weed out all the mutts. My husband put them in a cooler and took them to a natural pond nearby. I couldn’t bear to kill them. With fresh water, we decided to buy two more koi (after four years we had lost a white one due to natural causes). OhNo, a pretty yellow gold koi, stayed in the pond for about two months before a Blue Heron got to him. We found him alive, but floating on his side with a puncture wound.The other koi was a butterfly or fantail, almost white with some pale orange coloring around the head. We didn’t want to lose “Choucho” too! That is when we decided to get a net. We bought copper hooks and put them around the pond and their purpose is to hold the net taught.
Once we put the net up, we also bought a lot of water hyacynths and parrots feather. That year, the vegetation just went wild. We could hardly see our fish, but the water was very clear. And something else happened, we started seeing babies! Breeding koi is difficult because they tend to eat their own roe. The combination of the net, lots of roots floating on the surface and vegetation in the pond for roe to attach, plus perhaps the addition of OhNo and Choucho (Japanese for butterfly)provided an ideal habitat to make koi babies. More than a dozen survived. We’ve given a lot away, but kept eight to enjoy. We see many of the characteristics of our original koi in this second generation. One in particular, we dubbed Rising Sun, for his nice round orange spot on the top of his head. I also like the name because it is one of my favorite George Harrison songs. He’s very shy and quick and its hard to get a picture of him.
The pond net makes getting nice photographs difficult In the spring, the net catches various seed pods and leaves, and it can get kind of junky. We’ve got to figure out a way to vacuum this debris off. But it is necessary and acceptable if it means our koi are safe!
We changed the water in the pond this year (startling a mother mallard that nested at the pond’s edge and pump) and I made my husband take out most of the plants that had overgrown their pots, and which had also accepted many weeds. He removed them under duress, but we needed a fresh look. So we launched this spring with one pickerel plant, and plan to get some more. We need the plant life to fix the nitrogen and help shade the pond. Algae is a problem, though the fish don’t mind it.
As I was taking pictures, my husband ran out to Ace Hardware to get a bag of cracked corn. We figured she was hungry. The babies nibbled at the bread I was offering, but mostly the mother consumed the bread. She must have been starving, staying close to her clutch as they began to emerge.
Here’s a video:
After about 5 hours of this incredible show, the mother mallard climbed out of the pond, with her ducklings closely following. They exited out the back yard, went through a gap in our fence and traveled to points unknown. I did some reading about mallards, and it is common that they abandon their nest, but I wasn’t sure if that meant our pond too. I guess it did. There were a couple of things that might have factored in her decision to leave. 1. Our presence. 2. Our net. This net had confused her as she would always fly in from wherever she visited to feed. She’d bounce on the net for a while before figuring out how to return to her nest. 3. The koi. She might not have appreciated sharing the pond, though I doubt she would have that privacy in nature. 4. No pond plants. She seemed to really like perching on the pickerel, but there wasn’t enough room for the duckling dozen.
I have heard that mallards will return to the location of a successful nesting, so we hope to see her again soon!
In 2002, my husband hand dug a large pond, approximately 5,000 gallons. We bought four koi, and have since enjoyed many days and nights in front of the pond. In coastal Delaware, we are often visited by Blue Herons and as a result of their many visits, we’ve had to put up a net. I purchased 3 ft tall copper hooks (about eight) and placed them around the perimeter of the ponds edge, and we suspend the net on the hooks. This allows for the net to sit up approximately 18 inches from the water, so that frogs can come and go! We drain the pond approximately every two years or so, and once, we had to replace the liner. In early April, while my husband was draining the pond and moving things around, he startled a mother Mallard duck. And she him! She squawked and dove into the water. My husband saw her nest, and counted 12 eggs!
We left her alone and on Friday, May 10, we saw her swimming in the pond and talking to her babies, encouraging each to take their first plunge in our fresh water! I’ll post more about this later!