DIY Mini Pond
Mini ponds can add a touch of beauty, serenity and fun to your balcony or patio. They are free standing above ground ponds. They can be made out of half barrels, plastic planters, and pre formed pond inserts. The size of the pond you make depends on whether you want fish, waterfalls, fountains and the usable space you have. As a Feng Shui consultant I often recommend mini ponds as a way to enhance your property. Ponds and moving water have an added bonus of attracting money and abundance as long as the water is constantly moving if either by fish or a pump of some kind. In this article I am outlining the balcony pond that I built in February of 2015 with a few other options and ideas linked. I have been keeping fish since I was 10 years old and really enjoy the carp out of it. See this video to watch my fish eating!
Before You Start You Need to Know a Few Things
How Much Will This Cost?
You can spend anywhere from $40 * to several hundred dollars. My setup cost less than $300 but I did have a few of the elements needed already (gravel and driftwood). Once everything is set up then electricity and fish food will be your only cost. Fish food is around $4 every couple of months.
Location & Safety
Water is HEAVY at almost 8lbs per gallon. Once you add in rocks, the container etc,. your pond can weigh a lot. So please make sure the place you are setting it can sustain the weight. You will also need access to a power outlet if you intend on running filtration and a pump. There are solar pumps but they aren't known to work very well. Fish maybe at risk of being eaten by birds and other animals.
The pond itself doesn't need to be cleaned but the filters do. If you buy the filter system I have listed here then I recommend cleaning the filters every two to three months. You can tell when the filter needs to be cleaned because you will lose water pressure in your fountain. The pump can also be opened up and cleaned as well. Be sure to read all the literature so you understand how to do this. This process isn't complicated but it does take a good 20 minutes of rinsing the filters of fish poop under running water which I do in my bathtub because I live in an apartment. If you have a garden I would rinse it there as the plants will love the fish waste.
The water never needs to be removed and changed when you have plants, but it does evaporate especially quickly during the summer months and during windy times. In the summer I have to put more water in to my pond every two weeks and in the winter it's once a month.
You will need to learn how to care for fish and a pond. I will outline some information here. Once it's set up it's actually very easy. You can't just set up the container and throw the fish in. There's a process that involves mostly patience for a few weeks.
Fish don't need to be fed every day and can even go a couple of days without being fed. If you go out of town then you can buy slow release fish food.
Get to Know Your LFS (local fish store)
Both of these places have a great selection for water plants, fish and have a knowledgeable staff. The people at Aquatic Warehouse know a lot and I would recommend them for most of your pond questions.
Getting Started: What to buy
Pond containers are around $100. You can use a large pot but be sure that it is water proof on the inside. Plastic can leach chemicals into the water so if you are getting fish consider the material well. This is why I went with resin, to be safe. Some people want to hide all chords coming out of the pond so they will drill a hole high up to run the chord through. If that is your preference consider if you can drill through the material without it breaking. I decided to just let the chord for my pump run over the edge of the pond. I used this container and it has held up well. Here are some others you can consider. Tuff stuff pond tanks or other types of pond inserts. The size of the container will depend on how many fish you want, space constraints and if you want a water fountain or fall feature.
2. Gravel and Other Decor
Gravel can be bought in bulk at pet stores. You only need enough to cover the bottom of the container. Personally I like natural looking gravel but your own aesthetic is what is important here. You can make it a little deeper, two inches or so if you want to be able to put your plants in it directly. I use containers for my plants so they don’t overgrow and get knocked about by the fish.
You can buy wood for decor. Malaysian driftwood is common. (Yes, buy it ,because some wood isn't good for fish). If you want your guppies to breed (mine do) then you need to have enough plants in there for them to think their babies will be safe. If you add wood to your fish tank know that it will release tannins in the water for a period of a few months and that will make the water look yellow. **
You want a lot of free space for fish to swim around and in my experience less is more. Plants and a piece of wood give some hiding space for the fish if they need it.
I have several large quartz crystals in my pond to beautify and energize.
At the end of this article I give some extraneous information on this subject for craft nerds such as myself.
3. Plants, Substrate and Plant Baskets
In my pond (pictured below) I use a pond planter basket and a burlap inside. The burlap keeps the roots from growing everywhere as well as containing the substrate. Lily pads come in a weighted sack that it stays in. The lily will go dormant in the winter, leave it in the tank as it will bloom again in the summer. Plants won't grow in gravel, they need dirt just like a regular plant. I use a pond specific substrate that is less messy than dirt.
There are many plants that are very happy growing in water with fish waste to fertilize them. Papyrus, water lilies , peace lilies, babies' tears, water hyacinth and java moss to name a few. The types of plants you get buy will depend on the location of your pond, how warm the water will be and how much sun it gets. I'm in San Diego and my pond has papyrus, water lilies and java moss. My balcony is covered so I get limited sun exposure and that limits the plants I can have.
4. Dechlorinator & Other Chemicals
Tap water has chlorine in it and that will kill fish. Use a dechlorinator before you add new water and established pond and the correct amount for the first time you fill your pond. Don't bother with a pond sized bottle of dechlorinator since your pond is tiny and you won't need much. San Diego tap water doesn't need any other additions to be ready for your pond.
Some people recommend pond test kits. I bought one, I never use it. (Hey! Do you want to buy a pond test kit?) Basically you want to be sure the ammonia and nitrate levels of your water are low enough to not kill the fish.
A new pond needs to cycle through ammonia and nitrate levels that naturally occur. To jump start this cycle you can add this or get water or soil from an established fish tank. Adding plants from a fish store will also get the cycle started as they often have snails on them. Some people use hardy fish like guppies to cycle a fresh pond. Plants speed up this process considerably as they eat ammonia and nitrates. The only way to know for sure if your ammonia and nitrate levels are acceptable is to have them tested. Most fish stores will do this for you.
5. Filtration System
I chose this filtration system with a pump that would also make a water fountain. It does take up a fair amount of space in the bottom of the tank but that also means I have to clean it less often. Be sure to read all the directions to ensure safety and longevity of your pump system. The one linked here has a variety of tops for the water spout that can make different sounds and looks for the water fountain. As you set it up watch for water spraying or splashing out of the tank. You do not need a filtration system. This is a preference.
6. Extension cord
If your outlet is far from the pond use an outdoor,grounded, safe extension cord. Any home improvement store will have this. Be sure to create a drip loop to prevent water getting into your outlet.
Fish are the last thing you are going to add. Ponds are considered cold water and don't require a heater. Most pet stores carry tropical fish and a few cold water types. Some cold water fish that work in San Diego are gold fish, koi, guppies and mosquito fish.
Please do your research so you don’t kill your fish or overstock them. (Not all fish live well together or do well outside.) Koi will definitely outgrow a small container like this. Koi are also about $14 each and goldfish are $.50. Goldfish are the poor man's koi and look just as awesome. Chances are you will end up with a dead fish or two. Don't take it personally, it happens to every good fish owner.
I opted for goldfish which have been growing pretty large. I also have several fancy guppies and Endler guppies that have been breeding. After my pond had been established a year I also added an albino crayfish. My pond seems to do well with just 4 goldfish. Remember you want the fish to draw your eye around the pond, less is more! Goldfish will eat whatever they can get in their mouths so don't be surprised if your guppies become feeders. I feed my fish this and my crayfish this. Crayfish will also scoop up any fish food that isn't eaten by the fish so I feed him half as often as the goldfish.
I loved making this pond. It took hours of my life in research of the container and everything else that went into it. Now I have an awesome pond to sit next to on my balcony. I love watching the fish swim around and delight when new baby guppies are born.
Extra Information That Maybe Useful
You can make your own rocks and decorations with Great Stuff insulation foam. Lightweight rocks are a good idea when your pond is on a balcony.
There are a lot of videos online of how to DIY for "rocks" and other items for your fish tank
Just search DIY aquarium and great stuff. Here is an example. Great stuff is available at Home Improvement stores and is sandable and paintable. Please be sure to use aquarium safe paints. Do your research!
* $40 will get you a water feature but not a pond. You can buy a planter and add one of these pumps to make a water fountain in your yard.
A Feng Shui note on waterfalls. You do not want a waterfall directing water away from your house, this will mean money is leaving the house. The best fountains to attract money flow straight up and out into an arch. As seen in the picture above. If you want a water fall make sure it is directed towards your house/business and not away from it.
** You can run carbon through your filtration system to help clear tannins/yellow water. The tannins are not harmful for the fish but does make the water look less clean. Carbon also cleans the water, but so do the plants. You don’t need carbon, and it adds more work because you now have to remember to remove the carbon and replace is. Dirty carbon will start to dump toxins back into the water if left too long. Too long is based on the size of the tank and amount of carbon added. You will need to bag the carbon and place it underneath the two filters.