A DIY (or Do It Yourself) pond can become the best feature in your backyard, your favorite hangout, a project you’ll be proud of for years. But if you don’t plan for the maintenance up front, many ponds become just another source of chores and frustration.
Most backyard fish ponds are small and built with liners to simplify construction. While it's very possible to construct a fish pond of any size that will blend into the surrounding landscape without using any liner, however, that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.
A small garden pond should be located where it can get four to six hours of sunlight. This will help to keep the pond healthy and clean. Avoid placing the pond where runoff from rain will run into the water. This may wash debris in and a small pond simply will not be able to function correctly with too much foreign matter. The site should also be away from trees which shed leaves.
When building small ponds, the ponds will need to be at least 2 feet (or 60 cm) deep. How wide it will be depends on the space you have in your garden. At a minimum, a little pond should be 3 feet (or nearly 1 metre) across, but 5 feet (that's about 1.5 metres) or more would be better. However, because I purchased a tarpaulin material that's 3.2 metres wide and 7.2 metres long, it means I can only have a pond that's not bigger than 1.5 metres wide and 5 metres long. Later in this tutorial I will explain how to calculate the dimensions to determine the size of your intended fish pond.
Always remember that fish ponds in cooler temperatures need to have a deep end and a shallow end. In fact this is the best way to construct a fish pond. In the morning when temperatures are very low, as soon as the sun rises, fish will flood the shallow end. During the day when temperatures rise and the water gets too warm for their liking, they return to the deep end. Towards evening at sunset when temperatures begin to drop again, the fish will swim to the shallow end again where warm water can be found. Unfortunately, I'm not going to make such a pond this time because in my country of residence the weather is generally neither too hot nor too cold throughout the year and it's just a minimalistic pond so it won't have many features that a standard fish pond is recommended to have. Nonetheless, the pond will work perfectly fine as you shall see later in this tutorial.
While you can use various materials to make your fish pond, materials such as dam liners are generally less durable and not strong enough that in 6 to 12 months they would have torn up so badly. Tarpaulin pond liner is an excellent option for those who want to do fish farming on a small to medium scale. Tarpaulin materials can also be used for backyard duck ponds, artificial dams, simple swimming pools, garden ponds and water harvesting.
Tarpaulins are also used in various other situations and to achieve several objectives such as protecting people and belongings against wind, rain, and sunlight. So a tarpaulin fish pond is definitely strong enough to keep your fish pond intact for several years.
Many tarpaulins are claimed to be waterproof. However, some materials such as canvas and jute that are used to make some cheap quality tarpaulins are not really waterproof. Instead, these tarpaulins will be given a coating, such as wax coating, to give them some level of water-resistant properties.
I must, however, mention that the average lifespan of a plastic tarpaulin exposed to sunlight is not great – generally three to five years. Even when they look like they are strong and durable, the material deteriorates daily at a small pace, making them more prone to leaks and tears as they age. However, this is way better than using a dam liner, which is the most common pond liner in Africa. A dam liner at its best will go for 18 months, otherwise most dam liners will tear off within the first 6 months of installing them in a fish pond.
Clean the area and throw away the weeds. Mark the actual pond area using rods and a twine or any other thread. Excavate the marked area to the required depth. Dump the excavated soil nearby.
You need some sort of edging around the top of the pond to hold down the pond liner, as well as to prevent the earth from falling down into the pond.
You can use concrete or a water-proof material as a pond liner. If you go for concreting the entire pond, allow a curing period and change the water before adding any plant or fish.
Get your pond prepared for the liner making sure the inside of the pond is free of debris, rocks, and roots and such that may tear your liner. Add sand to help smooth out the soil and protect the liner from damage.
HOW DO YOU DIG A SMALL POND BY HAND.
You have to place the tip to the ground, push the shovel in with your foot, pull up a load of dirt, and then throw the load 20 or 30 feet to the pond's edge. Then you have to do it again – tip to the ground, push it in, pull it up, throw the dirt. After you do this about 50,000 times or so , you have an average-size pond.
The deeper you can dig, the better the pond will look. It's tough to make a pond look natural when it's sitting 18 inches above the surrounding soil. … The easiest way to handle this problem is to dig the pond with a flat bottom, with the sides being as straight as possible.
Even the toughest pond liner or tarpaulin won’t stand up to sharp stones or roots. So when you’re done digging the pond hole, take a moment to pick out stones and cut back any exposed tree roots before you proceed with installing your pond liner. After making sure that all visible sharp objects have been removed from the hole, it's time to cushion the hole with some underlayment material. Any spongy synthetic fabric that helps protect against rocks, sticks and other items likely to punch holes such as growing roots, can be used as underlayment. In this case I'm using spent 50kg poultry feed packages.
Now, lay the liner over the pond and fit into the bottom. Dealing with a big sheet of tarpaulin can be a little bit tricky and requires some strategy. I found that using bricks to keep the edges of the tarpaulin intact as you install it on to your pond can be very handy. You want to start from one end and proceed until you have completely installed the whole tarpaulin.
Build up a ridge, about 3 inch or 10cm high, around your pond. If there’s an uphill slope next to the pond, dig a shallow ditch to channel water away.from your fish pond. This will help prevent water from flowing into your fish pond after some heavy rains.
Rainwater can carry soil, grass clippings and lawn chemicals into your pond. That means sludge buildup, algae growth, maybe even dead fish or pond plants. So measures to keep runoff out of pond water should be put in place. Make sure the rim of the hole is about 3 inch or 10 cm above the surrounding soil. If you’re building your fish pond in a low area where rainwater forms water puddles during heavy rains, then make the rim a bit higher.
Rough out the area the size you want your pond. A pond can be as large as you wish, but I chose to make mine approximately 1.5 metres wide by 5 metres long.
Lay some material in the bottom of the pond to cushion the liner against rocks, sticks and other items likely to punch holes.
HOW TO CALCULATE THE RIGHT SIZE FOR YOUR POND LINER.
Estimate the following measurements:
1. You need to know the proposed length of the pond.
2. You need to know the proposed width of the pond.
3. You need to know the proposed depth of the pond.
4. You have to add 2 feet or about half a metre extra for overlapping on both the width and the length. This means that if the length is going to be 5 metres long, then add 0.5 metres or 2 feet extra for overlapping and if the width is going to be 1.5 metres wide, then add 0.5 metres or 2 feet extra for overlapping. The 0.5 metres or 2 feet that you are adding for overlapping to the width is enough to cover both ends of the width and the 0.5 metres or 2 feet extra that you are adding to the length is also enough to cover the two ends of the length of your pond.
The calculations should be done in this way: Multiply your proposed pond depth by 2 then add the proposed length of your pond and lastly add 2 feet or 0.5 metres to the total – that is the length of your pond liner.
To get the perfect width for your pond liner, multiply your proposed pond depth by 2 then add the proposed width of your pond and lastly add 2 feet or 0.5 metres to the total – that is the length of your pond liner and it's perfect to accurately cover your fish pond.
Let's put this into practice. My fish pond will be 5 metres long and 1.5 metres wide and 0.8 metres deep. So, using our formula the tarpaulin length should be at least: Depth times 2 (that's 0.8 metres times 2, equals 1.6 metres). Add 5 metres length, equals 6.6 metres. Add 0.5 metres or 2 feet for overlapping, equals 7.1 metres. That's why my tarpaulin pond liner is 7.2 metres long.
As for the width of the tarpaulin: Depth times 2 (that's 0.8 metres times 2, equals 1.6 metres). Add 1.5 metres width, equals 3.1 metres. Add 0.5 metres or 2 feet for overlapping, equals 3.6 metres. That's why my tarpaulin pond liner is 3.6 metres wide. Therefore, this is how I got to have a tarpaulin pond liner that's 7.2 metres long and 3.6 metres wide.
DO YOU WANT YOUR FISH TO BREED.
Since I want to make this pond a breeding pond, where fish will breed and multiply, I will add river sand at the bottom of the pond. If you don't want your fish to breed and multiply, then don't put any river sand at the bottom of your pond.
But before you do that, you need to protect the pond liner from sharp stones and other objects that the river sand may be carrying. So we need to repeat the process we did before installing the pond liner, only that this time we will be laying the protective material on the base of the pond, not right up to the surface or ground level. Again, I am using spent 50kg poultry feed packaging material to achieve this goal.
The river sand will cover about 20cm or 8 of the bottom of the pond. In my next lesson where I will be teaching everything about fish farming from start to finish, I will explain in great detail about breeding fish and how to do it. This lesson is only meant to teach you how to construct a backyard fish pond using tarpaulin or an alternative material.
Now you can add water to the pond. Make sure to add borehole water or well water or water free from chlorine and any other water-treating chemicals.
I am not going to use any aeration device such as an oxygen pump or any filtration because on a weekly basis I'm going to drain 10% to 20% of the pond water, use it to water the garden and my fruit trees then fill up the fish pond with fresh water to replace the drained water. I will also use ducks to aerate the pond should the fish show signs of lacking oxygen in the water.
It is a good idea to put a water outlet pipe, which helps you prevent rainwater from filling your fish pond to the brim. You need to install the outlet pipe about 15 to 20cm below the ground level. Unfortunately I'm not going to use a water outlet pipe on this pond, because I don't want to temper with my tarpaulin at all. So, for that reason, when it's rainy season, as is the case right now, I will make sure that the pond is not filled with water, but instead, there is about a 20cm leeway for accommodating rainwater, should we receive incessant rains.
It also means that soon after raining, or the next day after receiving rains I have to drain some water from the pond and use it to water the garden or my fruit trees.
I also don't want to use electricity or any water pump to drain water from the pond. So I am going to use a hosepipe and make use of a siphon method to drain the water. When filling the pond with water I also am not going to use a water pump to do that, my water tank is high enough above the ground to create a good water pressure due to the force of gravity, so that will take care of filling my fish pond whenever I need to add more water.
You need to hide the edges of the tarpaulin pond liner with rocks. If you have access to flagstone at a cheaper price, then you can use that flagstone. If you can't get any sizable rocks at all, then use bricks or building blocks. Just a layer of brick or rocks edging over the pond liner around the circumference is enough to get the job done.
I have some unused small quarry stones, so I will use quarry stones to surround the rocks that are laid above the edges of the tarpaulin pond liner. The quarry stones will beautify the pond and also help protect the pond liner against displacement and also help in preventing soil and runoff from falling into the pond.
You can add plants and accessories around the pond to make it a welcoming place for all your visitors!
FERTILIZE THE POND.
After filling up your newly constructed fish pond with water, it doesn't mean that it's time to put the fish right away. You still have about 5 to 7 days before it's time to add fish to your pond. We need to fertilize the pond first. We will use animal manure to achieve this. Chicken manure, pig manure, goat manure and duck manure are excellent organic matter to fertilize your fish pond. You can also use cow manure and compost, but chicken manure, duck manure and pig manure are the best.
You need to calculate the surface area of your fish pond to determine how much manure you need to fertilize your pond. Per every square metre or 10 square feet you need 40 to 50 grams of chicken manure or duck manure or 50 grams of pig manure or sheep manure, or goat manure, or rabbit manure. If you are going to use cow manure or compost then per every square metre of your pond area you need 70 grams of cow manure or 70 grams of organic compost.
Since my pond is 1.5 metres wide by 5 metres long, the surface area is, 1.5 times 5, equals 7.5 square metres. Since I raise both chickens and ducks, I am going to use chicken manure to fertilize my pond. So 50 grams per square metre times 7.5 square metres, equals 375 grams. I will just round it off to 400 grams. Therefore, I'm going to put 400g of chicken manure into a sack, tie the sack with a twine, then put the sack in the fish pond for 5 or so days. This is how we fertilize a fish pond. You must never throw animal manure into the pond because at some point you will need to remove the animal manure from the fish pond to avoid over-fertilizing your pond, which results in too much ammonia building up and lack of oxygen prevailing in your fish pond.
As days pass after fertilising the pond, algae will begin building up in the pond and as the water turns from being clear to a greenish colour, it means it's time to stock your pond with fish. This usually happens at around day 5 to day 7 after fertilizing your fish pond.
STOCKING THE POND WITH FISH.
First things first. You want to avoid stocking your pond with wild fish or fish from unreliable farmers' ponds, lest you start your project on a spoiled foundation. Fish from other farmers may be diseased, and you wouldn't want to start your fish farming project with sick fingerlings. The best place to buy your fingerlings from is your professional and reputable local fish hatchery company. You may also find out such companies by simply approaching your regular poultry feed suppliers, they usually know where you can find fish fingerlings from.
Some of the most common fish breeds raised for fish farming are carp, catfish, salmon, koi and tilapia. However, Koi fish, tilapia and catfish are the most common ones when it comes to backyard fish stocking. In my country of residence tilapia is the most common fish type and, therefore, I will be stocking my pond with tilapia fish.
When you buy your fish fingerlings, they are usually put in a polythene bag where 33% of the bag is water and 66% is oxygen. Some hatcheries pack in batches of 500 fingerlings per bag while others pack in batches of 1,000 per bag. If you are going to travel a longer distance with the baby fish then 500-batch bags are better. If space within your vehicle is limited, then bags carrying 1,000 fingerlings are your best option. For that reason I opted for a single bag carrying 1,000 fish. By the way, I got my fingerlings bag at around 12pm during the day, but I had to visit another farmer whose farm is 200km away from where I live, and where I collected the baby fish is about 100km away from where I live and also 100km away from this other farmer's place of residence. So I ended up stocking my pond 12 hours after receiving the fish – at around 12 midnight – and the fingerlings had to endure a 300km journey while bundled up in a polythene bag. This goes on to prove that, although it's not recommended, fingerlings can go for over 12 hours in a plastic bag filled with oxygen (66%) and water (33%) before they start suffocating. Other sources, however, claim that you can actually go for 24 to 48 hours, but I will only speak on what I personally experienced and witnessed – my fingerlings survived a 12-hour journey and not even a single fingerling died. Even 48 hours after stocking the pond I had still maintained a clean 0% mortality rate.
When you get home, you need to acclimatize your fish fingerlings before introducing them to the pond, otherwise some or most of your baby fish will succumb to stress. To acclimatize the stocking bag, you simply place the bag carrying your fingerlings on the pond water for 20 to 30 minutes – the longer the time span the better – so that water in the bag gradually changes temperature to match the temperature of the water in your pond. After about 30 minutes, open the bag and let the water in the bag mix gradually with the water in the pond. Let the fish eventually swim from the bag to the pond on their own, without literally emptying the bag and its contents into the fish pond. This is how we stock our fish pond, you need to exercise a lot of patience and diligence when stocking your pond. If done correctly, all your fish will survive. However, usually from day 3 or day 4 you may find some dead fish floating on top of the water. This may be experienced on a daily basis from plus or minus 7 days, but after 7 to 10 days after stocking your pond you will eventually stop experiencing any mortalities.
FEEDING THE FISH.
The next stage after stocking your fish is to feed them. This is the reason why it is important to fertilize your pond 5 to 7 days before stocking the pond with fingerlings – so that when you introduce the baby fish to the pond, they find food in the form of algae to graze on, already waiting for them. Therefore, those who fertilize their ponds can go for up to 3 days without feeding their fingerlings at all. It is also strongly recommended not to feed the fish within the first 24 hours of introducing them to the pond.
You can buy fish feed for fingerlings at your nearest poultry feed shop, or they will direct you to other places where you can buy fish feed. You need to feed your fish after every two hours within the first 3 to 4 weeks, starting from 7am up to about 5pm, subject to weather and fish response to feed. If the fish are not eating then stop feeding them. We will learn more about feeding fish and how to make our home-made fish feed in the following fish farming or aquaculture lessons.
DRAINING WATER WATER FROM THE POND.
Although the core purpose of this lesson was to teach you how to construct your own DIY backyard fishpond, being a teacher at heart that I am, I could not end the lesson as soon as the pond was constructed. Instead, I decided to teach you how to stock and feed the fish. What's now left is to show you how to drain the water, why you should do so and how to manage your water quality and how to fill the pond with water after draining about a tenth or a fifth of the water in your pond.
I also need to clarify that the water in your pond should neither be too clear nor too green. So you should regularly do what we call an elbow water test to determine if your pond water quality is optimum for excellent fish growth. The elbow test is simply a matter of dipping your hand into the pond, up to the elbow level, then ascertain if you can clearly see your palm and the lines in your palm. If you can clearly see everything then there is lack of feed in your pond and you need to either fertilize your pond with animal manure, or if you have already done so, it means you should leave the sack carrying animal manure a little longer in the pond.
If you do an elbow test and your hand disappears as soon as it gets into the water, it means you have over-fertilized your pond and there is now too much algae in your pond. You need to remove the animal manure sack immediately, drain some water from the pond and replace it with fresh water so as to dilute the algae and organic content that's your fish pond. The organic manure sack will contain very nutritious contents, so you should not throw away the decomposed manure in the sack, but rather use it in your garden. You will enjoy the results of feeding your garden with such nutritious material.
Like I have said before, I do not want to use a water pump to drain water from the pond. Instead, I will be using a simple siphon system. With this method, all you need is a hosepipe and probably an empty container.
For easy explanation lets call our two ends of the hose the irrigating end and the draining end. The irrigating end is the one that irrigates the garden and the draining end is the one that drains water from the pond.
Make sure both ends of the hose pipe are raised well above the ground, then fill one end of the hosepipe with water until the water is spilling at one of the ends. This means that the hosepipe is filled with water from one end to the other.
For siphon method to work effectively, place the hose pipe's irrigating end on a lower surface level than the draining end that is going to be dipped into the pond, so that force of gravity helps you push water from the fish pond to the garden or anywhere else you want to water with the pond water during the draining process.
Once the whole hose pipe has been filled with water, put the irrigating end down so that water in the hose flows out through the irrigating end. As soon as water starts coming out, quickly dip the draining end into the fish pond, not deep into the fish pond, as we don't want our irrigating end to be on a higher level than the draining end. As the water that we used to fill the hosepipe flows out of the garden hose, it pulls water in the pond to follow it and that's how the siphon method will automatically drain your pond water without using any water pump or electricity.
Once you have drained enough water, simply remove the hose from the pond water to stop the flow. You can siphon about 1000 to 2000 litres of water per hour with a 20mm hose, making it a great way to quickly remove water from small to medium fish ponds. Please note that you only need to drain 10 to 20% of the water in your pond per week, so avoid emptying your pond as this may result in killing your fish.
FILLING THE POND WITH FRESH WATER.
After draining the pond water, the next step is to replace the drained water with fresh water. This is pretty simple and straightforward. Simply connect the hosepipe to your source of water, preferably borehole water or well water, not municipal water as it contains chlorine which is dangerous to fish. When putting freshwater into your pond, always have a waterfall-like setup where the mouth of the hose is at least 50 centimetres above water level so that when the water reaches the pond, it splashes and bubbles are created in the process. That's how we oxygenate borehole water when filling up a fish pond with borehole water.
In the event that you did not install an outlet pipe on your pond, then during rainy days be careful not to fill your fish pond to capacity, because you don't want your fishpond to spillover due to too much rainfall. If your pond doesn't have an outlet pipe to automatically drain pond water once the water reaches a certain level, it is therefore a good idea to drain some water from the pond the next morning after receiving some rains.
If you only have municipal tap water, which is not a good idea, then you need to buy and apply a dechlorinator to your pond. It is very safe to add your dechlorinator like Prime, Safe, or Stress Coat directly into your fishpond just before adding in your new tap water. Even if there are fish in the pond, most dechlorinators can be dosed up to 5 times the recommended amount. However, it should be noted that with some dechlorinators, water should sit for not less than 24 hours to dechlorinate. So, again, it's best to just avoid tap water if you don't want to experience unforeseen problems.