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Monday, May 16, 2011

Koi ponds: Tranquility in the Garden

“I know the joy of fishes in the river through my own joy, as I go walking along the same river.”Zhuangzi ~

Today’s over-scheduled lifestyle has reflected the need to reconnect to a more serene and natural environment, and this in part may explain the evolution of water features in home gardens. Koi ponds in particular, are now one of the more popular home and garden enhancements.

Revered in the Orient as the perfect artistic environmental blend of showy plants and colorful fish, a koi pond, if built properly, becomes a year round ecosystem providing hours of relaxing pleasure while furnishing an unrivaled property investment.

“Koi” or “nishikigoi” (Japanese for “brocaded carp”) are amazing fish with fossil lineage stretching 20 million years to southern China. Not to be confused with goldfish or common carp (although related) koi are often referred to as “living jewels” or “swimming flowers”.

Popularized in Japan during the late nineteenth century, koi were farmed in rice paddies for their high quality source of protein. Over the century, these prolific fish found their way to ornamental garden ponds in the West.

Today’s koi come in 13 varieties (each containing a number of sub groups) and are classified by colors and patterns, ranging from bright orange and white (with black irregular spots) to solid silver or blue with reticulated net-like scales.

They are a curious breed of fish that make great pets. They hear, taste, smell, and will blush red when stressed, and can actually be trained to take food from your hand.

Koi have voracious appetites but should not be fed more than twice a day, with only enough food to be totally consumed during one feeding.

Often koi are accidentally killed by overfeeding, causing the fish to excrete excessive amounts of ammonia, which makes it difficult for them to breathe, and weakens their immune systems to infection and parasitic invasions. ( Proper filtration and pump equipment lessens the chance of that happening.)

Koi that winter-over outside should cease being fed when temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, since their metabolisms slow down and they go into a semi-hibernation state. Once milder days return consistently, they may go back to their normal feeding schedule. It’s also a good idea to provide a deep enough pond (at minimum three feet depending on local climate) so your koi have a place to rest on the bottom during a frigid spell.

When building a koi pond, a bigger surface area is also better as well as adding a pond heater and keeping formed ice aerated as part of winter care.

Female koi begin to spawn at around three years of age, laying thousands of eggs. Hatchlings start life about one-sixteenth of an inch in size and should be culled to prevent overpopulation. Within ten years, if well cared for in a spacious pond, koi easily reach three feet in length and tip the scales at around 25 to 30 pounds. Their average life span is between 40 to 70 years, but it is not uncommon for certain varieties to live 100 plus years and be handed down from one generation of human caretakers to the next.

Unusual or fancy mature koi, when full grown, fetch thousands of dollars on the retail market, so it’s an investment that enhances more than your property value.

Plants and flowers are also an integral part of your pond that provides an idyllic and healthful setting for your fish. Your local garden center may stock pond exotics, but if not, a quick Internet search provides numerous outlets for fish stock as well as flowers.

HGTV (Home and Garden Television) as well as DIY (the Do-It-Yourself Network - both on cable and satellite) devoted several shows and episodes to the creation of these beautiful and serene landscape additions. If you follow the links above, these are great sources of information to familiarize yourself with the work and cost involved in this type of home improvement project, in addition to determining if you are a do-it-yourself type, or feel more secure in hiring a professional to assist in building the koi pond of your dreams.

Thanks to Kisinkona’s Youtube channel for this relaxing capture of koi in their habitat.