Rare winter algae envelopes author’s little pond

Pond Winter Algae 2020

Ugh. I have been staring at algae, scummy-looking algae, spreading across on my little Froggy Bottom pond, all winter.

This is the worst infestation of the slimy green goop I have seen overwinter in the 45-plus years that I have wrestled with what Someone calls “Steve’s Mud Hole.” It was a mild, wimpy winter, and maybe that had something to do with it. But this? What Gives? I asked Donnie Schooner.

“You’ve got winter algae, a cold-water species,” Schooner said. “As the weather warms up, it should dissipate and sink to the bottom. But it is a sign that the pond has too many nutrients.”

Indeed, too many nutrients are the bane of artificial back-forty pond-makers. I use no lawn or other chemicals or fertilizers on my place and the entire little “watershed” that drains into it is fertilizer- and chemical-free. But fallen leaves and decaying cattail fronds and other organic matter end up on the pond bottom – fine food for algae and other aquatic vegetation.

Schooner knows of which he speaks. For years he has operated Inspired by Nature, a pond-management business (and a whole lot else when it comes to ethical land use and food production) at Weston, Ohio. Last summer I invested in a couple of triploid (sterile) white amur, or grass carp, to eat the rooted pond weeds, known as “chara.”  Only one of the amur survived but it was chomping away and growing like Topsy through the summer and into fall.

At one time in the pond’s history, I had an amur that ate the pond down to mud; I finally had to cull it out so that vegetation could recover. It grew to more than 30 inches long and weighed probably 6 or 7 pounds when I removed it. Huge for a little pond. Didn’t want to do it, but there was no alternative.

The floating algae, and some filmy stuff hanging like wisps on other pond vegetation, is another matter. I refuse to use chemicals – I am inspired by nature, too. I enjoy seeing all the various kinds of pondlife – fish, turtles, snakes, crawdads, and myriad insects. The more complex the better. You do not get that with a sterile rock rip-rap shoreline and “clean” blue water, a much more simplistic system. But that’s just me. And it is my pond to play with.

So I asked Schooner about summer algae.

“Tilapia,” he said. “They love algae. A couple pounds of them should be plenty for your little pond.”

Ordered. I like using them because they do not compete with my largemouth bass and bluegills, and they are temperature-limited, easy to control. Natural enough.

I have stocked tilapia in summers past and they did a fine job, and come fall I would fish them out for tasty fish-fries. They will not survive in water temperatures below 45 degrees. I just grew a little slack about re-stocking them the last couple of years. Not this year.

My bet is on the amur, already at work, and the tilapia to come.

Categories: Ohio – Steve Pollick

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