Sunday, June 22, 2014

Further Adventures With Water

                                               by Laura Crum

            This one is for those who wanted to hear about how my pool worked out over time. Those who are not interested in my little pond/natural swimming pool project had better click on the “X.” For those who haven’t read the back story, the first post is here and the second post is here.
            So it’s been almost two months since we completed the pool. And it’s been quite the saga. We had an initial couple of weeks of lovely play in the water. We even bought floating pool toys. They do not look very zen, but they are much fun to float on. As below.

            I saw a few mosquito wigglers, so bought a dozen mosquito fish and released them in the pool. Dragonflies showed up almost immediately. We began planting water plants. It was all pretty idyllic.

Eventually we managed to get the last of the water plants planted and at exactly that point the pool had its first algae bloom. Within 48 hours it went from clear and bright to murky, pea soup green. I do not exaggerate.
            Of course, we’d been warned that this would probably happen. It’s very common for new pools/ponds to experience this sort of thing before they get “in balance.” I was prepared, I thought. But it turns out that I wasn’t. Because seeing my brand new pool become a murky green swamp was very upsetting.
            The worst thing about this is there’s no simple, clear cut solution. Especially if one is not going to go the sterile, chlorinated route. Part of the reason is that there are several theories about  “algae bloom.” So I am now going to go into a rather boring discussion about algae, which will be complicated by the fact that I am no expert on the subject. But here goes.
            The kind of algae bloom that turns the water murky green is caused by single cell plankton type algae. It’s very common in a new pool, and is not the result of too much nitrate/nitrite/ammonia in the water, which is a problem that tends to happen later in the life of a pool, particularly if there are fish. These one cell plankton things proliferate early on, and the thinking seems to be that it takes awhile for the zooplankton (I think of these two as plant plankton and animal plankton) to establish themselves. Once the zooplankton become established they eat the plant plankton and the water clears. But sometimes the zooplankton die off and the water gets murky again. Nobody seems to really know why. There are many theories, and they often contradict each other.
            There are also lots of ways of dealing with an algae bloom. There are algaecides that will kill the algae and not hurt fish or water plants. But if you are trying to get a pool to be in balance, you don’t want to put poisons in it. Because the poisons would kill the water striders and the beneficial bacteria (and the zooplankton). You have to (gasp) wait patiently. It takes time. And this waiting is hard to do when the water is pea soup green.
            I tried the things that are said to be benign. Barley straw, adding beneficial bacteria, aerating the water, adding water from my established fish pond. I’m not sure if any of them helped. So I’m trying to be patient.

            Anyway, we now had murky green water, and we knew that it would take awhile to get in balance and (hopefully) be relatively clear again. Though probably never the pristine straight-from-the-tap clarity of its earliest moments.
            There was still much to enjoy about the pool—green though it was. The reflection of the full moon, for instance.

            The water lilies began to bloom. This is Splendida.

            This is Commanche.

            Several people asked about the landscaping that I planned to do around the pool, and I was hesitant to answer because, in fact, I don’t intend to do any landscaping. The pool is meant to look a bit stark, like a reservoir, or a pool in a quarry. It sits in the middle of my graveled courtyard, and I intended the edges to be bare stone. The softening plants are just the water plants—reeds, rushes, cat tails, iris and water lilies, which are planted in the plant area of the pond. I like the way it looks--sort of the middle ground between formal and natural approaches.

The water gets clearer and then murkier from time to time right now. I never really know why. But I continue to get in the pool on hot days. The green water doesn’t scare me. I honestly prefer it as is to chlorinated pool water. Overall, the clarity steadily improves. At times I can even see the floor again. Still, it has a green cast at all times. But then so do most lakes that I have known.
            There is always something new. Last week we heard (and eventually saw) a frog who has taken up residence. I have no idea how he got there.
            On a less pleasant note, I discovered that one of the water lilies I planted had leeches in its pot. But I’ve been told mosquito fish will eat leeches. So here’s hoping they do, and will.
            The mosquito fish themselves are proliferating at an alarming rate. I am going to have to import something that eats mosquito fish.
            It’s all a big experiment, as I said to begin with. I would strongly encourage anyone who wishes to attempt such a project to be sure that you want a project. The pool is rather like training a horse. There’s something new to deal with every day…sometimes delightful, sometimes less so. It’s a living thing—it’s always changing.
            I love sitting by the pool on warm afternoons. I bought a little sun umbrella and I sit under it and listen to the water trickling from the fountain and find that I feel completely at peace. Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I just sit. When I get warm enough I go in the water, which cools me right off. And then I get on the floating lounge chair and float around for awhile. It’s amazingly relaxing. That is, it’s relaxing until my husband sneaks up behind me and does a cannon ball. He’s caught both our boy and me many times when we aren’t looking. We’re getting used to it now, but initially there was always a moment of shock when we were bombed.

            And then it’s funny afterward.

            My husband makes BIG splash when he cannonballs.

            I am really enjoying the pool, but I think that a person who imagines that it is like a regular swimming pool, minus the chlorine and with a few plants added in, would be sorely disappointed in the reality. It’s more like having a farm pond. Every morning I go out and skim leaves and dead bugs off the surface and peer into the pool curiously. There’s always something to see, whether it is a new water lily (or a new bug), water that is clearer (or murkier) than the day before, or clouds whose reflections are far more intense than their actual forms in the sky. I find it very engaging in much the same way that I find the horses engaging.

            And speaking of horses, we continue to ride a couple of times a week and are also enjoying the summer with our horses. Here Sunny and Henry are ready to go…isn’t Sunny’s mane a thing of beauty?

            I love riding in the woods in the summertime. Happy Midsummer's Eve, everyone--a day late.


Allenspark Lodge said...

"I honestly prefer it as is to chlorinated pool water."

Smart lady. In "The War To End All Wars", thousands of soldiers were killed by chlorine gas. Never heard of any being killed with algae.

(And I just realized that I have no idea how to spell algie.)


Laura Crum said...

Yep, Bill. Chlorine is a poison. Algae is only a problem under rare circumstances (certain sorts of algae blooms are harmful to people and animals). There are more and more studies showing the dangers in regular exposure to chlorinated pool water. And I had a hard time spelling algae, too (!)

Anonymous said...

As long as you don't turn your hair green with algae, it's a good thing. And it's good that frogs and other wild life can get in your pool safely.

Linda Benson said...

Thanks for sharing your journey with the pond, Laura. I've actually been inspired to add a small water feature to part of our yard, too. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Funder said...

Ahhh, I still love the pool. It sounds like a water garden that one can swim in, and yeah, they go through phases. The more you learn about the biology, the more fascinating it is.

Happy summer!

Funder said...

(Also, Bill: - algae can be really, really nasty. But not the usual green kind; I'd swim in Laura's pool!)

Laura Crum said...

redhorse--I like the way its becoming its own little ecosystem.

Linda--You'll have to let us all know how your water feature works out for you.

Funder--Yep--it's really fascinating. Even when it's frustrating, it's fascinating. And once I get in, the greenish water feels just fine. I've gotten in many a lake/ creek water hole that was equally green. I did look up algae blooms, and like you say, this usual green kind is quite benign and pretty much ubiquitous in garden ponds/pools. It's getting clearer every day right now, so that's fun. We shall see what happens next.

Val said...

I don't think you have to worry about a dinoflagellate bloom in fresh water. Those are the algae that cause red tides.

Frogs are a sign of good health for a water source. Can you introduce zooplankton some how?

Laura Crum said...

Val--I've been adding some water every day from my fifteen year old fish pond, which is quite clear. I'm hoping the zooplankton are in there. And the pool IS getting clearer every day right now, so that is a good sign.