Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pond update

I have a reader with a particular interest in the status of our pond since she's interested in getting a pond dug on her property as well. So, since it's been a loooong time since I've addressed the issue of our pond, I thought it was a good time for an update.

Here's the situation. We live on the prairie with no surface water nearby, except for the occasional stock pond on other nearby properties. We have no streams, creeks, or springs. Since our well is 630 feet deep, a hand pump is out of the question.

Our well water is superb and abundant (30 gallons per minute), but we are held hostage to electricity since our well pump is electric. When the power goes out, we lose water. If the power went out permanently, our well would be useless.

This was a dilemma we wrestled with for years. We looked into every possible option we could think of -- windmills, solar, you name it. What it all came down to in the end was money. All the viable options for pulling water from such a deep well costs far more than we had.

Part of the problem is we don't just need water for ourselves (cooking, drinking, bathing, etc.). We also need water for our livestock, and water for the garden. Therefore, if the well was unavailable for use, we needed a means of harvesting and storing rain water.

To this end, we purchased a 1500 gallon water storage tank. This is an above-ground tank which we'll hook up to roof runoff from our barn after we build a shed to house and insulate it.

But while this much water would last (with care) for several months of household use, it wouldn't last long for watering a garden or watering livestock.

So after much discussion, we decided our most affordable option was to dig a pond.

Don's done a fair bit of geo-engineering in his time, so he did a careful study of our property to determine the best location for this pond. We needed it close enough to the house and garden to be easily accessible, but the primary determining factor was soil conditions. A hole in the ground won't hold water if the conditions are too porous. What we needed was a clay base.

Sadly, clay isn't hard to find on our land. That's one of the reasons my gardening attempts over these many years have been such resounding flops. Our clay soil, however, did have the redeeming factor that we could have the pond dug in the pasture immediately next to the garden for easy access to both watering plants and watering livestock.

So, on a momentous day in January 2012, a heavy-equipment operator came with his massive backhoe and broke ground.

The result, as we fondly called it, was the Great Big Hole in the Ground.

Now that we had the hole, we wondered how to fill it. We have a decent length of corrugated drain hose we could hook to eaves on the barn roof and use rainwater roof runoff to fill the pond. But we knew we wouldn't get around to installing eaves and pipes right away, so we were prepared to have that Great Big Hole in the Ground for quite some time.

But then a happy thing happened. We found we didn't need to hook up that drain hose after all. The pond filled all by itself, thanks to a nasty layer of hardpan we have about 18 inches below ground. (That's the whitish layer you see in the photo below.)

This hardpan layer has made me despair of ever successfully growing fruit trees (roots can't penetrate it) but it has the compensating virtue, we learned, of funneling rainwater straight into the pond.

Here's the sequence. The pond was dug on January 10, 2012. This photo was taken January 30:

February 8:

March 9:

March 21:

March 25:

See? Effortless on our part! It helps that our property is just the tiniest bit sloped toward the pond.

That first year, we wondered how well the pond would hold up during the driest parts of summer. It's not unusual here to go three months without rain. Would the pond go empty?

The answer: no. It dropped about two feet in depth, but otherwise stayed full of water. Yippee!

Fast forward to yesterday. Here's some photo updates of our pond.

We have a few cattails growing along the edges. We're not necessarily encouraging their growth -- a neighbor has a stock pond so thoroughly overgrown with cattails that it's almost solid ground except in the very middle. We're gonna control these guys.

After a year and a half, the water is still cloudy due to all the clay silt in suspension.

There's no doubt the pond has attracted wildlife. Here are a couple of beautiful dragonflies.

We've seen wild ducks, Canadian geese, and cliff swallows using the water. Surprisingly, it hasn't attracted frogs (with corresponding tadpoles). No food, I guess.

The west side of the pond is shallow and ramped.

The east side is the deep end.

You can see the "dry lines" or high-water marks on the eastern edge. (This photo was taken yesterday, July 12. That's how much the water level has dropped so far this summer.)

You can see how close the pond is to the garden. This way, if we ever have to hand-water the garden, the water source isn't too far away.

Last year when we put the cattle on the pasture, they were obsessed with wanting to get to the pond. Not because they were thirsty (their stock tank is always full) but because it's new and different. We didn't have a particular objection with them drinking from the pond, but the sides are very steep and it's dangerous for them to fall in because they'll always try to climb back out the way they came in, meaning up the steep side rather than swimming toward the sloped end. (Cattle aren't very bright.) Bottom line, they'll drown. So we put up a hasty fence to keep them out.

There's something about fences. The grass is always greener on the other side.

This fence was never meant to be permanent, and the cattle have inflicted their damage over the last year. We keep patching and re-patching. One of these days we'll install a more permanent fence, hopefully making the pond contiguous with the garden.

We also still have those two honkin' big piles of clay dirt on either side. Originally we knew someone who wanted to haul it away, but that hasn't happened yet, so there it sits. Some of it has sloughed back into the pond (contributing to why the pond is still cloudy) so this winter we're going to tarp the dirt piles with billboard tarps to lessen the runoff.

Our raw young stock pond may not be as picturesque as the older, more mature stock ponds may be... but we are very very glad to have this permanent source of water on our farm.


  1. That is awesome.... love the pond...

  2. Thank you, Patrice. The update was very helpful.

  3. Guess we are lucky our well is 10 feet deep.

  4. Are you going to stock fish?

  5. Well done! Have you considered planting some kind of drought-hardy ground cover on that dirt? Your garden to pond proximity is way sweet.

    And fwiw, cattails are edible, and adobe bricks are always useful and popular. :)

    We have some of the former, and work to keep them well under control. In a push come to shove situation I might utilize the slope to terrace in some big containers and grow them for food. The sheep love the greens, and probably the cattle would too. Fencing is paramount, as the they'll wade in to get to them, and boom the pond is contaminated.

    And nobody wants to deal with a critter stuck in the mud, which is not a risk here, but sounds like it could be in your case.

    As for the adobe, my neighbor's land has some incredibly rich clay deposits, which I'm tempted to use to make some bricks, just for fun.

    O/t..have you ever made or used any Portland cement? I understand a lot of folks used it in the old days for stock troughs and tanks. I've seen some delightful planters and garden furniture made with it.

    A. McSp

  6. That's so great!

    Just a small correction: it's Canada geese, not Canadian geese. :)

  7. If you need to water garden from pond, wouldn't you need a gas pump to push? And if you need to buy one, you could get a generator for a little more and you can run house well pump off that. I have a 5500 genny and run my garden submersible pump to water. Also if folks have ponds that leak you can pound Sodium Bentonite into the floor and walls ( powdered clay) not too pricey, but labor intensive. I am putting in a pond next year and will be fish farming soon after. I love catfish!

  8. It seems you spent a fair amount of money anyway and still don't have an alternative source of drinking water.
    I've got a similar situation in the upper Midwest. No surface water and a 350' deep well. My solution was to install a generator ( you can get a 220volt propane genset that will handle a 2hp well pump, including start amps, for around $450.00) and then to install a solar system. That works great. I never use the genset now and I'm off grid so power outages are not an issue.
    Even if you only went with 8 x 6 volt batteries (grid charged)tied into an inverter, you'd have power for you and the critters for a couple of weeks.
    I dug a hole for my septic tank. Have the same soil as you do with a clay layer 3' under the surface. Water runs both off the slope and along the clay to fill it regularly. I figure I'll dig a french drain in a chevron shape to collect it all and send it to a new location for the future duck pond.
    I do wish I had a nice big pond like you do.

  9. as $$ permit, perhaps a coupe more above ground tanks? if the pond becomes polluted you'd still have h2o for drinking.
    deb harvey

  10. I wish we could send you some of this excess rain we are having in Western North Carolina. I also wish we haf a big hole dug because it weould be more than full by now. Unfortunately we will probably have to bring in some better clay when we are able to build our pond.

  11. Hi Patrice.
    Your pond's looking great - full and pretty with the grasses around its edge.

    Just a thought about your dirt piles - if you were able to avoid the hardpan clay mixture, you might be able to use some of the other soil to mix with compost for future garden use. Even if some clay was used, compost helps improve the texture and from what I've read, clay stores a lot of minerals, which if made accessible, plants thrive on.

    I was so pleased to see that you had a good-sized tank for an alternative water supply. I've got one too and we use it for drinking water and for the garden. Although we have a pump attached, I rarely use it as I just bucket water from the tap or use a slow-pressure hose. If the water level went below the tap, obviously I couldn't rely on that method any more.

    My in-laws have a large tank which is elevated. They regularly pump water to fill it but it's just gravity fed to the house taps etc. If the power goes off, they know they have at least a tank full of water for some time.

    I also like the idea, as mentioned above, of a generator. I can't remember if you've mentioned whether you have one or not. I believe there are additives to add to fuel to prolong its storage life.


  12. Wondering if mosquitoes are breeding in the pond. If so, maybe you should introduce frogs to eat them.

  13. We also have a well and worry about pumping fresh water with no electricity. So far we have purchased a Crank-a-Watt with which we can generate a small amount of electricity without a gas generator. Also bought a Burkey water filter which we are currently using because we like it so much.

    Our water is great, but now can store it in gallon sized jugs. The Burkey filters 1-3/4 gal every four hours and will filter any water such as pond water, runoff or whatever source you have. In an emergency I would defiitely be drinking the filtered water without hesitation.

    Love your idea of the above ground tank and just wish we could put a pond in our pasture but our soil is sandy and rocky.

  14. I wish I had those big piles o' dirt for a firing range. They would make a great backstop :-)