Half Barrel Pond Issues-Long

lola6964(5)June 17, 2013

I'm new to all of this and could really use some advice. I've had two half-whiskey barrel ponds for years. I set one a little higher than the other and pump water from the bottom one to the top and then water runs over a copper spout back into the lower pond.

This year I decided I wanted fish. In my ignorance, I went to Wal-Mart and bought some feeder goldfish, three for each barrel. One died within a week. I did some reading online and figured out I needed plants. Part of the problem is the closest place to buy anything pond related is 2 hours away. I mail ordered the plants and before they got here, another fish died. I think there wasn't enough oxygen in the water because he wound up on the copper spout like he had been gasping for air.

Now the plants are in the ponds, but there is green algae all over everything, and the plants don't even look that great. I bought 2 bunches of anacharis, a frogbit, a very small hardy lily, lemon bacopa, an arrow aurum and a dwarf papyrus. Yesterday I added a large water hyacinth to each barrel. The surface of the water is still mostly open, 80% at least.

The ponds are in shade except for the late afternoon when they get 2-4 hours of sun. Now another fish is hanging out near the water surface and I'm afraid he isn't get enough oxygen either. I do have a few large rocks on the bottom of each barrel that we collected from the riverbank near me-just something for the fish to hide under until the plants arrived. I've tested the ph-it's on the alkaline side. I'm using fleece and quilt batting (alternating) in the Wal-mart filter we bought to try to help clean up the green water.

Any help and suggestions would be appreciated before I lose anymore fish. I know they're just fish, but I like the little guys!

Thanks in advance!

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Forgot to add that I also just put two japanese trapdoor snails in each barrel to hopefully help with the algae.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 8:48PM
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Get rid of the copper! Copper Sulfate is lethal to fish (and to some plants).

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 9:43PM
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rsingley(z6a NJ)

It's not the copper spout. Probably lack of oxygen, Ph fluctuation, temp fluctuation or ammonia. You need to test and monitor each.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 10:09PM
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The temp. is about 68-70. How do I test/monitor the ammonia...is that something special for a pond? Unless it's a test kit that Wal-Mart carries for aquariums, I'm looking at mail ordering. The ph as I said is high. Adjust for that or not?

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 10:34PM
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PKponder TX(7b)

Maybe get air stones and pump at Wal Mart? You can get a dual output and run an air stone to each tank. Wal Mart fish aren't overly healthy to start with, so don't beat yourself up too much.
You can get a test kit at Wal Mart too.

I have also heard that fish cannot tolerate copper.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 8:42AM
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Following is some infomation on copper and it's effect on fish. The article speaks of koi but also applies equally to goldfish as they are of the same family.

Copper is toxic to Koi yet I know a lot of Koi keepers who have copper plumbing in their homes and don't seem to have any problems.

The LC50, which is used for aquatic life, stands for a lethal concentration of 50%. This means the concentration (in the water) that has a 50% chance of causing death. A lower LC50 means the substance is more toxic.

The LC50's for copper to freshwater fish are generally less than 0.5 parts per million (ppm), and can be as low as 0.006 ppm.

Exposure to chronic/sub-lethal levels (0.02 - 0.2 ppm) of copper reduces survival, growth, and rate of reproduction in a variety of fish species. The most sensitive species to copper are flathead minnows and golden shiners. In some studies they are 30 times more sensitive than other species. Koi, being members of the Carp species, are very closely related to flathead minnows and golden shiners, and are very sensitive to copper.

After Mercury, Copper is one of the most toxic metals to Koi. Copper ions precipitate gill secretions, causing death by asphyxiation. Gills of adult freshwater fish, which typically make up 50% of the total body surface area, are more thin and delicate than the skin epidermis. The gill surface may also have a substantial net negative charge, therefore having a high affinity for cationic metals.

Notice that the copper causes death by asphyxiation, which will make them appear to be oxygen deprived (in fact they are).

That being said I do agree with some of the others, Walmart fish are generally not in great shape. Adding air is always beneficial to your pond.

With respect to the algae, If it is attached to the rocks and other material it is most likely string algae. If you have green water then it will be one of many types of single cell algae. When you have fish in the pond they will generally graze on the sting algae and keep it in control. It will however collect on areas the fish can't get to. It is not harmful, just looks bad to some people.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 10:05AM
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kashka_kat(z4 WI)

There's no such thing as "just fish" on this forum - they are our pets! I have some so-called "feeders" who have grown into large handsome, all red fish and are the spunkiest, most energetic ones. The three of them spot me coming from a mile away and outrace the other ones to get to the food every time. Guess if they can survive such harsh beginnings they must have a pretty good strong immune system!

How many gallons is that - in addition to oxygen (and I think I would replace that copper ASAP) you'll be needing to do frequent partial water changes (not difficult with a small containter) and also get some sort of nitrification cycle going (fish poop converts to ammonia, to nitrite, to nitrate - which is then used by the plants). Also your new friends will be growing - in a few yrs can reach 6-10 inches so they may eventually outgrow their accomodations.

This post was edited by kashka_kat on Tue, Jun 18, 13 at 12:20

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 12:19PM
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I will try to figure out a way of replacing the copper spout. I forgot that part of the line that goes from the pump into the top barrel is also copper.

What is an "air rock"?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 1:30PM
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Do you have any kind of filtration system that beneficial bacteria can build up on? It could be ammonia building up in the water.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 2:34PM
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I bought a Tetra filter system. It's for a large aquarium. It's the Whisper, either 20i or 40i, can't tell now that the box is gone. We've changed the filters and also used quilt batting in the filter box. We alternate putting the filter in the top and bottom barrel. I saw that WM has Tetra and Jungle brand beneficial bacteria-but again-it's for aquariums. Should I add some?

What can I do to improve oxygenation??

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 2:58PM
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Lola, you can get an air pump at Walmart (if yours has a pet dept.) or any pet store. Also get a few feet of air hose and two air stones. For you application the small ones used extensively in aquariums will do fine. If the pump you get only has one air outlet you can also get a "Y" so you can put some air in both the tanks.

About the filters, especially cleaning them. Do not use any city water for this, it usually contains chlorine which is deadly to fish AND it will kill all the beneficial bacteria that grows on the media. Changing the media and letting the unit you take out dry out will also kill the bacteria.

A well balanced pond will have fish, plants, water circulation, a bio media to handle the conversion of the ammonia that fish create (deadly to fish) to nitrites and then to nitrates, and a mechanical filter to collect some of the "stuff" that gets into the water.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 6:53PM
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Your fish sound like they are having trouble breathing (gasping) and there are a few possible reasons..

Copper is one. You say your pH is high but you don't say what it is.. Copper is pretty stable at a neutral pH and should not be a problem for your fish when in the ideal range but the farther away from 6.8 - 7.2 you get in either direction copper becomes more of an issue. Copper is also much more a problem when zinc is present ,, which is why pennies are such a problem.

Water Temperature.. hot water does not hold as much oxygen. Your temperatures look fine, and with only a few hours of direct sunlight it is unlikely that you are getting to hot to hold Oxygen.

Air exchange, still water does not absorb much oxygen or off gas much CO2, methane and the other by products. The water running over the spout even if it is copper should provide enough oxygen for your fish load. 6 feeders is a very light fish load for two half barrels even without the running water. If you are concerned about oxygenation you may want to add an air pump as mentioned above, it is a cheap and easy thing to do and can't hurt.

Chlorine Poisoning, Chlorine is used as a water purifier by many municipalities is poisonous to your fish, it disappears in a matter of days and since you say the ponds have been running for some time I doubt this is the problem.

I'm inclined to think you have an ammonia issue, ammonia is a bi-product of decomposition, both from fish waste and from plants. It sometimes shows up as fertilizer that may have been used to "perk up" the aquatic plants you just bought. It may even be present in your tap water if your municipality uses Chloramine instead of chlorine.

Walmart should have a test kit. There are lots of products sold to get rid of Ammonia (and chlorine) Walmart or your pet supply store will sell one of them. Ammo-Rid, Ammo Lock or even Sodium Thiosulphate (sp?)all work to one extent or another. I'm told PRIME from Seachem works wonders with little chance of adverse side effects.

The Whisper are pretty decent filters, I would leave it in the lower barrel since you are moving water between barrels anyway. I don't have any faith in the bacteria in a bottle sold to speed up the filters cycle just give it some time. (Just about anything you can use in an Aquarium you can use in a pond.) If you get your filtration right ammonia stops being an issue, there are lots of posts here on the nitrogen cycle that can give you a good guide to the process.

Unfortunatly cycling you new filter will take some time and we need to destress the fish right away. If it was not for the fact that we can't know what chemical your city uses and how much I would recomend large water changes right away. Since we don't know, try changing 10 to 15% now and the same again in 2 or 3 days until you get a test kit. You will want a kit that will test ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as well as the pH kit you have. Let us know the values you get.

Finally there are a number of possible bactrial and parasite causes as well, sadly the conditions in most Big Box pet departments are so poor that this can never be truely ruled out.

This got really long .. hopefully some of it was helpful.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 6:58PM
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Wow, long and helpful! Our tiny (174 residents) town uses no chlorine, or any chemicals to treat our water. It's from an underground aquifer-limestone I think. It's hard water, but not treated.

I'll check the Wal-Mart pet department for another test kit. As far as the ph one I got there, it is a color strip, and reads 8.4 on that color. I'll also look for the filter/air rock stuff. I did let the Tetra filter dry out when I was using the quilt batting, so I won't do that again. How do I know when to change the filter?

I have been adding some fresh water to the bottom pond the last couple of days. Just letting it run over for a few minutes so it's kind of hard to know exactly how much I've added. The fish that was spending so much time on top of the water yesterday isn't doing that today. He seems to be just swimming around normally. The other fish in that barrel-the top one-was swimming around in circles like a little maniac. Don't know what that's all about.

The water is clearing some, whether it's due to the addition of the snails, or filtering the water through the fleece/quilt batting, or both, I don't know. But it looks better.

Thank you all for your help. I'll keep you posted after I get a new test kit etc.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 7:35PM
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I love trap door snails but I think it is the fleece/batteing that is clearing the water..

8.4 is the high end of the alkali range and could be exacerbating if not causing the respiratory problems. One of the recommended ways to reduce both pH and hardness naturally is to add peat moss to your filter. The only time I’ve ever used it I bought aquarium specific pellets from (I think) Sera and put them in my filter in place of the carbon insert. I suppose it would be OK to add garden center peat to your plant pots or your filter but I would be worried about what chemicals could be added to the garden center stuff. There are chemical solutions as well but I don’t like chemicals and can’t speak to how effective they may be.

The filter you have a type that is referred to as a three-stage filter. There is a mechanical filter to remove solid particles, an active carbon insert to remove or neutralize chemical pollutants and a media for the good bacteria to grow. Tetra builds the mechanical filter and carbon into one piece for many of their filters. For what it is worth I would not worry about changing the cartridges at all. Your water is unlikely to require a carbon filter and until the mechanical portion gets clogged beyond use the carbon material can be used to house extra good bacteria.

To clean the filter take a quart or two of water right from the pond and use that water to rinse the cartridges. Vigorously rinse the mechanical / carbon insert and lightly rinse the biological insert. It should take about 10 minutes every two weeks or so (unless you have a lot of particulate for the mechanical to handle)

Do you have a foam filter on your pump?

If you do decide to add peat putting some in an old nylon sock and attaching that to the outlet of the pump might be the easiest way of doing so.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 9:45PM
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PKponder TX(7b)

I don't want to step on any toes, but in areas (like where I live) with high PH tapwater, it's better to just acclimate the fish. If she bought them locally and they were in local water for any period of time, they are already acclimated to high PH water.

Adding peat moss will turn the water brown like tea.

FYI, the 'air stones' are sold near the tubing and actually weigh down the tubing to hold it under water and disperse the air in smaller bubbles. Bubble bars work similarly but have more surface area to disperse the air. Think of it as the air outlet that goes into the water. You'll see them in the fish supply section and I get them at Wal Mart all of the time.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 5:53AM
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pH 8.4 is completely fine for pond water, period!! The majority of ponds are at this pH because bicarbonate carbonate salts buffer out at a pH of 8.3. The chance that copper is an issue is very low. For many years, most plumbing was copper and therefore the water was in contact with thousands of times more surface area than your little spillway. I suppose that lack of bubblers could be an issue but I had a secondary big pond with no aeration and originally no plants. It is now saturated with underwater plants and small fish and no problems. I am no expert on ammonia, but I thought it required a high fish load. Any ammonia is dangerous but it sounds unlikely to me.

This leaves originally sick fish and acclimation problems. "Experts" commonly state that new fish should be acclimated to the new conditions by leaving them floating in their original water for some period and then add some of the new pond water and finally release. I have no idea if this is really needed, but it sounds plausible.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 8:14AM
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The fish seem like they're doing better. Not spending time on the surface much, and the water is a lot clearer, whatever the reason.

I added a small bubble stone to each barrel. I would think that 2 small fish in each barrel wouldn't create an ammonia problem, but what do I know? That's why I'm here asking questions. Hubby not thrilled with the amount I've spent on all this for .28 cent goldfish. sigh...

Ammonia testing is next on the list of to-do's.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 6:25PM
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