Pump, filter, equipment - FROG ponds?

crazydooker(6)June 3, 2010

Hi all. On the surface this will seem like the same question asked a hundred times but it's not; I've spent hours reading lots that you all have posted about pond equipment... and I keep having the same concerns.

I built my first pond 3 years ago (about 450 gallons) for frogs, and I love it. I'm now building my second, larger pond (16 x 13 x 3.5 - approx 2900 gallon). This pond I will probably try a few goldfish (definitely NO koi), but my main love will always be for the frogs, that's just my thing. We've got green frogs and treefrogs (but I never see the treefrogs near the pond). An occasional toad (would love more, but I just rarely see them).

My small pond has a pump for the small waterfall and that's it. Plants, of course. No filter, no nonsense. Beautiful little pond. The water's not crystal clear but it's not green or murky - looks great to me.

This time around I want to do what's right by the fish, but not at the sacrifice of frogs. I'd love nice clear water, but aesthetics take a back seat to my froggies. Here are the concerns that I raised as I read through the many equipment posts here:

1. Pump. I've seen lots of talk about how great solids handling pumps are. They shove your debris up to 3/4" up to your filter. All I can think when I read that is that my little tadpoles will meet a horrible death. I'm currently thinking I'll get the Laguna MaxFlo2900 gph waterfall pump, but it says that it is debris handling. So I just can't bring myself to hit "add to cart" just yet... suggestions?

2. Prefilters. I'm going to guess that a pre-filter maybe can protect the little ones from getting sucked into the pump, but doesn't that completely defeat the purpose of a debris handling pump?? Soooo confused...

3. Skimmer. All this talk about how important skimmer is. All I can think is that my frogs, fish, and tadpoles will get trapped in there, or worse. I really don't intend to do a skimmer at all, but still wanted to ask the question. (plus, can anyone tell me - if you use a skimmer with the pump in it, doesn't it mean the pump is less effective than if it were installed at the bottom of the pond??)

4. Bottom drain. Lots of talk about how vital a bottom drain is for getting the muck off the bottom of your pond. But I don't want the muck gone! That's where my little froggies hibernate in the winter, and hide and do whatever frogs do in the summer. Sure, it gets kicked up if I pull the pump out, but it settles in a day. Again, the life of froggies trumps aesthetics (though of course I want both!). In my new pond I did not plan to remove the muck, just as I don't in my little pond (I'll clear out maybe a little of it every spring, but I will literally pick through it all to be sure there aren't any tadpoles in there, so it would just be too much work to clear it all out. Mostly I only clear out the area near the pump just to keep the pump safe.)

5. Bottom drain, part two: even if you could convince me muck is bad (which I am not convinced of), I can't see how a bottom drain isn't yet another violent death for baby fish, baby frogs, and tadpoles... ?

6. Rocks on the bottom of pond. Same concept as bottom drain question. I would think some rocks on the bottom would protect little ones from predators, heat, etc. But I read on this forum how you should NOT use them, they're harbors of bacteria. Isn't that good though if I'm filtering anyway? Plus, I thought that lava rock on the bottom actually served as a filter?

7. My big difficulty is in understanding why, if people think that natural ponds are so beautiful, so beautiful that we want to build our own in our back yards and have the wildlife that natural ponds have, but we do it entirely differently... natural ponds are all muck on the bottom, they have rocks and debris on the bottom, no filters or UV lights, they aren't drained every spring and cleaned out... and they do just fine. Now, I'm NOT going to attempt to do a completely eco-pond with no pump or filters at all, because well, yeah, I would like somewhat clean water and I want a watercourse/waterfall, but other than that, I really just planned to let nature do what nature does. I'd like to get just a simple submersible pump that pumps up to a pressurized filter (no UV) and from there to my waterfall and be done with it (assuming none of this will hurt the tadpoles).

I'm now opening myself up for people to tell me why this is wrong (or right!). Really open to any opinions, but hoping I won't have anyone nasty or make me feel stupid :)

Thank you all for any thoughts/help/suggestions/enlightenment!

Here is a link that might be useful:

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I don't have answers to your questions except to say that I have a pondmaster pump with a pre-filter. I would think that would prevent tadpoles from being sucked up.

I do like your pond. I'm sure the frogs are happy there.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2010 at 2:42PM
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ccoombs1(7B SC)

1. You cant have it both ways. If you get a "solids handling pump", you are going to suck up tadpoles. No way around that. So get a pump that has a good pre-filter on it, like the Matala EZ-bio. Those things are great!

2. see answer above regarding the prefilter.

3. skimmers get stuff that hits the top of the pond before it gets to the bottom, making maintenance less work. But they are not very frog friendly unless the pump inlet is protected with a prefilter of some sort.

4. Bottom drains are not appropriate if tadpoles are your major focus. Now if the bottom drain gravity flows to a settling tank, it's not a problem. Any critter going down the drain will end up in the settling tank or filter box where he is still safe. If the bottom drain hooks up directly to a pump, then little fish and tadpoles are toast.

5. see answer 4. Even though the gap between the drain cover and the floor is only around ½", they are still not appropriate for ponds where tadpoles are the main focus.

6. the rocks in the bottom of the pond offer no filtration at all, other than the very fine coating of beneficial bacteria that covers the exposed surface. The other bacteria that lives down under the rocks is bad stuff, capable of killing fish and other animals in the pond. Hydrogen sulphide gas is produces in that decaying matter and it is deadly to animals. Also, of all the rocks you can use in a pond, lava rocks are the worst. First of all, they are VERY sharp and can damage any creature that swims against it. Also, itÂs not really lava rock. ItÂs really slag, a by-product of metals manufacture. It is totally unregulated and can contain lots of heavy metals. It is really not a good thing to use in a pond or filter for that reason. Yeah, I knowÂ.the bag SAYS lava rock, but it is not.

7. A liner pond can be made to LOOK natural, but it is lacking a couple of things that a natural pond has. In nature, the stocking levels in a pond might be one fish per 20,000 gallons. In a liner pond, the stocking levels are closer to one fish per 50 gallons. Also, in nature, there is a constant never-ending exchange of water going on. I mean constantly. In our liner ponds, we usually do a maximum of 10% a week, with some ponds never getting water exchanges at all. So because we cannot duplicate nature, we have to take measures to maintain a healthy environment for the creatures and this means keeping things clean. Forcing creatures to live in their own decaying waste and rotting food is not a healthy thing to do.

Hope that answers some of your questions.


    Bookmark   June 3, 2010 at 3:49PM
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I have had a pond/stream for 2.5 years and have not worried about cleaning out my pond. I only have a Laguna pump and a Skippy filter. And three small goldfish. Pond is clear and fish and tadpoles, frogs, toads are all fine. Of course if they all curl up one day, I will have to change my tune.

From looking at my pump I would think it could damage tadpoles. However, I'm not so sure that the tadpoles are normally free swimming. I mainly see them safely in the stream staying in place even in significent flow. In the pond, they stay at the edge near the waterfall. If you really plan to have fish you will be horrified to watch most of the pond tadpoles ending up as lunch.
I am hoping that much of my pond muck is getting stired up when I yank out excess plants. The newly free floating muck then gets tangled up in more stream plants (that also get removed eventually).
Since you plan a fairly large pond, you probably have room to include a stream. I highly recomend it and the frogs etc. will love it too.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2010 at 9:44PM
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Thanks so much for the responses - exactly what I need, some differing opinions regarding my (apparently somewhat unique) situation.

Cindy - you did nail it by saying "you can't have it both ways" which of course I do realize, but man, trying to find the balance is just becoming so mind-boggling. I also very much appreciate your take on why our backyard ponds differ from natural ones - very good point and well taken.

Chas - nice to hear that your pond is doing OK with just the pump and filter, I still haven't decided on what kind of pump to go with but I think I'm going to skip the drain. It's a tough decision because I know it's not something I can just change my mind about later... but I really think for me, having a drain isn't the right way to go. I will keep in mind though that I have to keep the pond healthy for whatever wildlife I choose to have in there...

I'm now just really, really debating the fish idea. I knew that Koi were not going to work for me - as plants are a major priority for me, and I knew they'd be too big for the frogs, and well they're a lot more work. Plus I just like the little guys. I actually REALLY wanted to do minnows! I thought a nice school of minnows would be so fun, but then I read that "wild" fish really don't do well in garden ponds - wah!!

Chas - yes, I definitely have the room for a stream. The original plan was for a pretty long stream, till I realized that no submersible pumps were going to handle the distance I planned to do. So then I planned just a waterfall, but from what you said I'm thinking now I'll do as long of a stream as the pump will allow (the entire site is on a pretty sloped hill, so not only is distance a factor but the head height). I'll go with the biggest pump that my filter will handle (or maybe just do 2 pumps...)

I'd love to see a photo of your pond/stream, if you'd like to share?

I also was thinking the same thing you said - that tadpoles might not really hang around the pump, so while some might pull a Nemo stunt, most might hopefully stay away. In my current pond, the pump is only about 1 foot below water surface, it pumps the water directly to the waterfall (no catch basin or filter) and I have never, ever seen a tadpole do the cannonball over the waterfall, so if they're staying away in that pond, I'm hoping most will avoid it in the big pond.

Now I just have to decide about fish... darn it... I really want both. Maybe I need to think about having a separate "holding pond" for tadpoles?? Hmmmm...

Really appreciate the responses, and welcome any and all other thoughts! I'm glad I found this forum.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2010 at 11:24PM
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The stream I mentioned is 24 feet long. Perhaps that is short to you? It gives a lot of room for plants and tadpoles etc. However, I don't see any relation between stream length and pump volume (or pressure for that matter unless you are going up a cliff). Your stream could be 5 or 500 feet (OK, pushing the arguement a bit) with the same pump because the flow rate is the same. Admittedly, a big stream will increase total volume, but by a far smaller amount than the planned big pond. The one problem with a big stream is that a power interuption will cause much of that water to drain to the pond and overflow it. But I just think of it as a partial water change.
I also have to admit that I am lucky that my dogs don't wallow in; and only drink from the stream. I don't seem to get racoons or big birds in my fenced yard. The stream might be an excellant entry point for predators.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 9:24AM
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Hi Chas -

I could be mistaken, but as I understand it, the "max head" rating for pumps is not just for vertical head but also horizontal. I had learned that for every 10 feet of horizontal distance your pump moves water is equivalent to 1 foot of height; So, if your pump has a max head of 10' then you can move your water either 100' horizontally, or 90' horizontally and 1 foot up, 80' horizontally and 2 feet up, etc. And, if you move it to the max, the flow rate is reduced to whatever the head rating at that height is, so the farther the distance, the less water is moved.

In my case, it's not just the horizontal distance though. This entire area is on a pretty decent hill, so not only would the length of the stream matter but every foot of stream length is also going to be a significant rise as well. The original plan was for a 40' stream (it was going to wrap around a gazebo) - so that would have already equaled 4' of head, but considering the slope this area is on it would have ended up being about 14' above the pump. So that's now an 18' head, most of the pumps I saw were rated for max head of 10-14' and on top of it the flow rate by the time you get to the max head is pretty weak (at least according to these charts). AND I planned on passing through a pressurized filter, which would have further reduced flow...

If I'm mistaken in how to figure this stuff out do let me know... I've been wrong about a lot of stuff so far already! :)

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 12:20PM
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Unfortunately, I believe you are right. I didn't realize your plans really were so grand and your land so sloped. I tried to make my stream very realistic. It didn't come out from a fake mountain and while it has 7 little falls, they are all very short. After plants grow for awhile they take over parts of the stream and it becomes hidden, but that is actually more realistic. With your slope you could make a dramatic realistic stream. I guess you would have to go with outside primed pumps that I know nothing about. I was way too lazy to learn about them and skimmers and uv lights etc. So far have been able to get away with the stream doing most if not all of my filtration and cleaning. I recently had to repair my mini skippy filter and it was essentially free of gunk so I'm not sure that it was doing anything.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 5:02PM
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rsingley(z6a NJ)

There is a very simple and cheap way of not sucking up tadpoles... I have a Mag-18 running submersed and too avoid sucking up too much garbage and/or little creatures I wrapped the plastic intake cover with regular fiberglass screen and used zip-ties to hold it in place. I then put the whole pump in a plastic, mesh, pond pot and filled the pot with large Ammo-Rocks. The entire pump is covered by several inches of rocks. This keeps the tadpoles and baby fish far enough away from the high-flowing water intake and therefore safe.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2010 at 10:15PM
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Hi crazydooker, I calculate your pond 16 x 13 x 3.5 to be 5446 gallons. Important to know for water turn over rate. You have already been given some great advise. I just wanted to add two years ago when I built my system 1000 gallon frog pond connected by a short stream to a 7500 gallon mainly fish lily pond I had the same concerns. So here is what I did. No bottom drain per say, but skimmer which water flows through a leaf basket then through pre filter screen which keeps fish from getting to the 8000 gallon pump. I do have a bottom of the pond inlet to a lower port on the skimmer to draw in deep pond water. Submersible pump outlet water line has a three way divider so I can regulate the flow rate to the two filter falls on the opposite end of each of the two ponds.

Last year my two adult bullfrogs mated and I had no noticeable losses to the pumps or fish. In fact I have maybe 500 of the biggest tad poles I have ever seen in my life. Now that they are 5-6 inches long they regularly enter the skimmer and sit in the basket, returned to the pond no wore for the wear. I do know the most losses will come when they morph and prey on each other or drive the weaker to look for a new home. Such is nature.

I just wanted to let you know it can be done fish and frogs with a submersible pump and skimmer. Let us know how it all works out.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2010 at 11:19PM
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It's not exactly 10 ft pipe -> 1 ft head, there's more variables than that, specifically what kind of pipe you are using. The diameter is a particularly big factor, so 2' better than 1', etc. Anyhow, I asked for details on here a couple weeks ago, so re-sharing the link I was given because it was SO useful! I did find if I used 'pond calculators' on a variety of sites, I got totally different answers, but none of them let me specify pipe diameter, so that's probably why.

My calculation for my stream-and-pond went something like 5' height, plus 50' pipe, at 2' pipe sched 40 pipe, that's an additional 1.62 ft per 100 ft of pipe at 30 gpm (which is 1800 gph), plus fittings...comes out under 7' of head. Which gave me plenty of submersible pump choices.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 1:16PM
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Hi all - wow thank you for the input! For some reason a few of these comments never made it to me via email, so sorry for the delay in response.

CHAS: I think I'm going to just go with a shorter stream, which will cut down on the height a great deal. I will wrap it around the pond (instead of going straight up the sloped ground) - which will make the head height less and also keep the flow calmer for froggies. I also decided that I will focus the main pond on fish; and I'm going to put a little, shallower pond tucked along the creek which will be just for frogs - with a pump maybe, but no filter or anything (my current frog pond has just a pump/waterfall, no filter, and the frogs are very happy and healthy there). Hopefully the frogs will natuarlly choose the little pond instead of the bigger pond, and even if they lay eggs in the lower pond, I can just move them up to the froggie pond. I at least will feel like I've done my part to provide a safe haven for them :)

RSINGLEY: I had read a similar recommendation elsewhere of putting mesh and other media around the pump - I like the idea, though I do wonder what the negative effect of not filtering the larger particles will be? (seems silly to get a debris handling pump and then restrict the debris from getting in, but alas, the dilemma of tadpole lovers).

FROGMAN4: You'd be right on the calculation but it's not all at a 3.5' depth, and it's an oval pond. If you picture an upside down oval wedding cake: the biggest layer is 16x13 but it's only about a half-foot deep (it's a rock shelf). The second layer is 14x11 and is 1 foot deep. The third layer is 11x8 and is 2 feet deep (so total depth at the bottom will be 3.5). I calculated each "layer" out as separate pond volumes; using the oval pond forumla of L x W x D x 6.7, the top layer is 696 gallons, 2nd layer is 1031, 3rd layer is 1179 = 2906 gallons. The third (bottom) layer will have sloped walls, too, which actually will cut down the gallons, but I'm fine with over-estimating.

I have wavered back and forth a hundred times about going with a skimmer filter as opposed to an external mechanical filter. I still haven't hit the "place order" button on my pump/filter order, but I made up my mind last night that I was going to go with a Laguna max flow pump (2000 gal), pressurized filter (3200), and also have a waterfall bio filter at the top. Holding off on the drain for now, but I saw some that I can add later if the need warrants. Chose the external filter instead of skimmer because I didn't want to have to do 2 pumps, and I just felt that not having the pump at the bottom (which it wouldn't be if I put the pump in the skimmer) wasn't the best idea... which was my deciding factor. I hope what I'm choosing will be sufficient... weeks of research got me here, and I'm ready to just install all this already! :)

MEGANMCA: Thanks for that link - it's very helpful! I did read that pipe diameter is important - I'm going to go with 1.5" and hope that's sufficient. My sister just installed the same pump/filter combo I'm using with 1.5" and it's a beatuful flow. Her waterfall is a little lower than mine, but I think it will suffice... If not, can add a 2nd pump but hoping I don't have to do that.

Thank you all so much for the input - and as always open to any other thoughts/suggestions!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 2:08PM
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I've got two prescreens in front of my solids pump. I'm pretty sure there are a bunch of tadpoles stuck to it.Oh well.. there are still many left I can see.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 12:10PM
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If I were thinking about doing what you want to do I would think about putting a skimmer and external pump on it. By doing this the net or basket in the skimmer is going to keep the tadpoles from getting to the pump intake. The tadpoles would have no problem living in the skimmer for days or weeks depending on the flow rate. On the intake to the external pump in the skimmer I would install a strainer on it. This will prevent any frogs that can climb past the net in the skimmer from being sucked up. Getting a pump that can handle the flow rates and head pressure would be no problem. It would be able to handle the filter also. The skimmer should be sized for the pump.
How many toad tadpoles do you want? Did you say 10,000? That is not a problem other then counting them. I have probably had that many climb out of the ponds all ready and the tadpole population is still very high and they are still laying eggs.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 4:15PM
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Hi there i have a problem hope you can help ,i have a pondmaster 1200gph pump attached to 21ft of hose,it's at the bottom with about 7 ft up to the cascade. the problem is when i turn it off even for a sec it loses all the water and will not start pumping again till i fill the hose,seems like it needs a checkvalve ,what do you know about it,,thanks for any suggestion

    Bookmark   June 21, 2013 at 6:34PM
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Hi wilf,
It would have been better if you had started a new thread since yours is really a completely new question and some readers won't read an old thread. Of course, I was fooled by the June date, and didn't notice that the thread was old. Perhaps you didn't either? I would still suggest that you copy your question to a new thread.

However, since I'm here; I have never heard of a submersable pump failing like that. I do see that the max head for this pump is 13 feet. Twenty feet of pipe is like two foot head. Then add the seven and you are getting toward the upper limit. Perhaps the pump filter is partially clogged or the impeller is tangled up with plant junk. BTW, it is probably wiser not to put the pump at the bottom of the pond where a major leak would pump the pond dry.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2013 at 7:22AM
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