Pond Stones, Stones, Stones

Finding stones for the pond project is proving to be an adventure. It is raining here today, and was yesterday too. The days before that I was able to place all the stones I had previously gathered onto the pond planting ledge. I also bought some white stones in small bags–they were supposed to be 3 to 5 inch stones, but at least half were much smaller than that. Maybe not such a great buy. But I had enough to finish a ring around the center of the planting ledge. These stones will be large enough to stabilize smaller stones behind them. Once the pond is filled, all of them will be below the water.

Pond with stones in a ring around the ledge, plus “beach.”

I worked on the “beach,” which is an incline for critters to be able to reach the water easily. I did it early in the process because It seemed like this might be the trickiest part, and I wasn’t wrong. In the photo it is at the back, with mostly white stones. I had gently placed each stone one by one. However, I am thinking I might need to redo the upper part of it because when I imagine little critters walking on those stones, it seems like they are not stable enough–the incline being slightly too steep. But to redo it, I’ll have to move the upper stones, and go beneath the liner and the carpet, and take out a bit more soil so the slope is more gradual. When the pond is filled, the water will cover the white stones and come to the level of the row of larger stones behind them.

Close up of pond “beach”

After I finished the (imperfect) beach, I put all of my smaller stones on the ledge to the right of the beach. As you can see in the first photo, they didn’t cover very much. So I will have to buy more small stones for the planting shelves, but I am now looking at 1-2 inch round stones, not “pea stones”. I discovered that a nearby nursery has such stones available in bulk–but that means either borrowing or renting a pickup truck to be able to collect them. I can get a half-yard of them for a good price, which should do it. It is just a big project to rent a truck, get stones, unload them at my house, and return the truck. I don’t mean to complain! If anyone locally (Portland Maine) has a pickup truck (with an open bed) who is willing to loan it, can you let me know? For some reason, this part feels challenging to me.

So, in the meantime, last night I suddenly had an idea of where I could find some more bigger stones. In our old neighborhood there were rural roads with no houses nearby, and I thought I remembered seeing stones on the side of those roads. Today before the rain came, I drove over there with two intentions. Get some stones, but also, look to see if the lady slipper plants we use to find in the woods there were still blooming. And they were. And I did get some good stones by the side of the road! I have a feeling this gathering of stones will continue for some time.

Pink lady slipper

Pond decisions

Sometimes the mental work is as hard as the physical work of building the pond. If you’ve been following along with this project, you know that after digging the hole, after putting down old carpet to protect against invasive bittersweet roots, after placing the underlayment and then the pond liner, we started filling the pond with water a few days ago. That felt so great! But then I felt stuck. The Building Natural Ponds book, by Robert Pavlis, which has been such a great guide to this whole project, suggested using old carpet as an “overlayment” on the planting shelves, to protect against the stones that were to go there. But I had run out of most of the carpet, and also had misgivings about putting old carpet into the actual water of the pond. So what to do?

I thought and thought and then posed the question in two Facebook groups–the Building Natural Ponds group and the Northeast Permaculture Network. Then, I went outside and started gathering all the stones I’d been saving for the last five years from around the yard. I had some in five gallon buckets, and some in a pile next to the garage where violets had decided it was the perfect place to bloom. I had to dig under the roots to get all of those stones. But violets are very prolific in our yard, so I wasn’t worried about them. I also brought back the final bits of carpet I had–2 by 2 squares made of eco-friendly nylon.

Photo: Gathering all the stones to use in the pond.

Once that was done, I came back inside and checked my Facebook posts. I had gotten a variety of answers and suggestions from folks, and finally came up with my answer. I would use extra pond liner as an overlayment. Robert Pavlis had thought that idea would work well, so that gave me the confidence to do it. Some folks didn’t bother with any overlayment, but it gives just that added layer of protection against cuts or punctures from stones or little animal claws. So I went back outside, and I bravely made the first snips to cut off the extra pond liner around the edges of the pond. Because the pond wasn’t quite as deep as originally planned, there was quite a bit of extra liner.

Photo: extra pond liner

I started cutting it up and laying pieces of it all around the planting ledge, starting with the spot that I hope will be a little incline “beach” for animals to be able to approach. And as it happened, I had just enough liner to cover everything I needed. Then I started putting some stones into place. I did that in bare feet, and an old carpet square worked as a place to wipe off my feet before getting onto the planting ledge. We had some slate pieces that we found here when we first moved here, so I am hoping to use them around the edges of at least part of the circle. But I am also trying out using them for steps into the pond. Once the pond is full of life, it will be slippery, so maybe not. Decisions for later.

Photo: pond with liner overlay done, and stones begun to be placed.

I worked into the late afternoon, but finally came inside for another commitment. Today I am feeling all that work in my body–sore hands, sore muscles. I am eager to continue laying the stones I have–and then I will see how many more I will need. More decisions. The basic idea is to put larger stones around the center of the planting ledge, and larger stones near the outer ring of the planting ledge, then pea stones to fill in–those will be the growing medium for bacteria that clean and filter the water and aquatic plants that clean and filter the water. But as with this whole process, I am taking it step by step. I think if I had really known how much work it would be, I might not have had the temerity to begin. But here I am.

Pond, Water!

Photo by Margy Dowzer: I am in the water as we fill the pond!

Such an exciting moment when we began to put water in the pond yesterday! It was a sunny hot day, so being in the cold water was great. I found I had to get right into it to do the folds of the pond liner which are necessary when you take a square liner and put it into a round hole. We filled it up to just under the level of the planting shelf.

Photo: black cloth underlayment

But back to the earlier parts of the process–the first thing I did yesterday was install the pond liner underlayment–a very light felty fabric thing that protects the pond liner. We might not have needed it, because of the carpet strips, but the pond liner is guaranteed for life if you use the underlayment. I had purchased a 20 by 20 foot 45 mil EPDM liner, and the underlayment came in two pieces of 10 by 20. I overlapped them about 3 feet. After that, I also dug further and deeper on the overflow channel, and made sure it sloped away from the pond. You can see it in the left on the photo.

Then, midday, our neighbors came by to help with installing the pond liner itself–the liner is very heavy, but with the three of us (plus a kid!), it wasn’t hard to position it over the hole. So grateful for helping hands! Because the pond wasn’t quite as deep as planned, I knew we’d have extra liner on the sides, so we didn’t have to worry about getting everything exactly centered.

Photo: getting in position to install the liner.

As it turns out, black rubber gets very hot in the sun, so we all wore gloves, along with our masks for COVID.

After the liner was roughly in place, the neighbors went home. I got into the hole and adjusted everything so it was flush with all the surfaces underneath, creating folds where needed. It was recommended by my Building Natural Ponds book to not step on it with shoes, but socks weren’t enough to protect my feet from the heat–so I pulled out my fuzzy slippers and a blanket.

Photo by Margy Dowzer: Taking a moment to rest while shaping the liner to the hole.

After a short break, we started filling the pond with our garden hose. Water from the house has chlorine in it, but the chlorine will evaporate quickly and so this water is fine to use especially before we have any life in the pond. Eventually, we’ll use water from the rain barrels you can see in the back of the photo, but we’ve had no significant rain for a while. While the hose was running, Margy and I wandered around the back of the yard looking at plants, and then finally pulled up chairs to watch the water fill. And I got in a few times to keep adjusting the liner–glad to have an excuse!

It isn’t the end of the process by any means. I have been doing this step by step, not knowing how long each step would take. The next thing to do, and why we only filled up to the planting shelf, is to cover the planting shelf with stones and pebbles. I’ve collected lots of rocks from around the yard, but will definitely need to purchase more. And that is a bit more complicated than I realized, likely involving borrowing or renting a pickup truck. But in the meantime, I went online and ordered 5 native pond plants that will arrive in about 10 days. It is really happening! And there is water in the pond!

Pond, carpet layer

Photo by Margy Dowzer: me working inside the pond, surrounded by pieces of carpet.

Yesterday, I laid down all the carpet pieces to cover the ground surface of my little future pond! (I got these pieces from kind strangers when I posted on Freecycle and Buy Nothing that I was looking for old carpet for the pond.) It was a bit like putting together a puzzle, making sure to overlay the pieces so all the ground was covered. As I mentioned before, this is one method for protecting the pond liner from roots and sharp stones–in our case, mainly from bittersweet roots. The toughest part was matching up square pieces in a circular area. That, and the dustiness–which is why I am wearing a mask and gloves. I used up all my pieces of carpet, except for some 2 by 2 squares that I plan to use over the liner on the planting shelves, to protect the liner from those stones. It was just right–I would have hated to have a bunch of leftover old carpet.

Photo: carpet layer completed!

Today, I still have to dig some more of the overflow channel, install the official “underlayment” that came with the liner, and then some neighbors are coming over to help me position the pond liner–it is too heavy for me to move it on my own. I am trying to get it in place before some rain in the forecast on Saturday, though we did get some drizzle this morning. I’ll post more pictures as the work gets done.

Meanwhile, these beautiful purple lupine flowers started blooming in our front road edge, with no work at all from me this year, and I just want to include them here, for anyone who’s reading this far. May you have a beautiful day!

Photo: Lupine flowers

Pond, next steps

Photo: Cutting old donated carpet in 2 feet+ strips

I had a slow start today. I haven’t talked much lately about living with chronic illness, but for some reason I’ve been feeling much better energy than usual this spring. Still, I have a method for energy use: First of all, I rest when I need to. But what seems to work with garden projects is that I exert myself for a short while–say 10 minutes, or one wheelbarrow load. And then I sit and rest for 10 minutes. I don’t time myself, that is just a guess. I stop when I need to and rest until I can start again. While resting, I drink some iced licorice-root tea–that is a big help. I make a big batch of the tea (boiling licorice root for 15 minutes), and cool it to keep in jars in the fridge. Then I put together a big plastic glass (with a cover to take outside) adding ice and some lemon juice. Licorice root is said to be good for adrenal glands, so maybe this is why it has been so good for my energy.

But for example, this afternoon about 3 p.m., after my slow start, I was able to make my way outside. I started on the next step for the pond–cutting the old carpet (that I collected for free) into strips about 2 feet wide. I started with the biggest carpet piece I had received. Margy bought me a really good pair of carpet cutting scissors. Oh my gosh–they are so sharp and nice and easy to use. So I cut one 8 foot (?) strip, and then I rested. Then I cut another one. It went like that. After I had finished cutting that carpet piece into about 8 strips, I decided to see how it might lay on the pond surface.

But then I had another thought while experimenting. Since the pond is no longer going to be 3 feet deep, but rather about 2 1/2 feet, and since I have a pond liner that is 20 by 20, why not make it a bit wider at the top. (Since the equation for the pond liner size takes into account depth and width and length.) So instead of 11 by 11 1/2, just add a bit more on the half that has a one foot planting shelf, let the pond be closer to 12 by 12, and the planting shelf be a bit wider too. So I started digging again around the top edge. And then I remembered the advice to make a sloping “beach” edge for small critters to be able to get in. So I did some of that. Again, bit by bit.

While doing this further digging, I again saw more bright orange bittersweet roots. This is the biggest reason why we are using carpet strips as an underlayment. Some folks like sand better, but we need something that can stop the roots from puncturing the pond liner.

So the next photo is what it looked like when I called it a day. I was lying in the hammock a bit, resting, and then when I got up I could barely move. That is the other part of this process. I get really exhausted and sore all over. So I came in and took a hot shower, and then took two aspirin, which lately always seems to help. I’ll be down for the evening, but tomorrow, probably ready to start again. Unless I am not. I am sharing all these details to say that I am so grateful I am able to do this outside work, in this rhythm of work and rest. And also, maybe it might be a helpful suggestion for others who don’t have stamina for whatever reason. Work and rest, work and rest, in little segments. It has been a good day.

Photo: the pond, which is wider now (on the left and foreground), with blue carpet strips covering the “beach” area, and going down to the bottom.

Pond Dig, part 4

Photo: Pond, fully dug, with four levels and a measuring line across

Hurray! I’ve been back to digging the pond the last couple days, and today I finished the bottom layer! I hit clay soil at about 2 1/2 feet down, and went a little deeper in one spot. For those who were wondering about the water that showed up in the bottom, I learned, after consulting other folks, that it’s probably not really a bit deal. It might possibly lift the liner in the spring a small amount, but on the other hand, the water in the pond might have enough weight to counter that. In any case, over the last several days of not much rain, there is no standing water, though the soil I’ve dug out has been damp.

So I ended up with four levels: first level all around the edge for planting (at about 10 inches down), second for a step, plus another spot to plant pond lilies, third another step down, and fourth the very bottom. The bottom is about 2 ft. 10 inches feet deep, though more like 2 1/2 feet from the top of the water once filled, since there is an overflow channel about 4 inches down from the top. I decided to let the clay soil be my guide for stopping at that depth. The very thin white line you can see across the pond is my measuring-depth-device–a string anchored in the ground at each side, and then another string looped onto it, marked with knots at each foot, and weighted so it hangs down.

It has been a lot of hard work to do the final levels, because each damp shovel-full had to be carried up the steps to the top step to put it in the wheelbarrow. And then, when I wheeled it all to the mound where it was going, I had to shovel it onto the mound. (Eventually I will add compost to the mound, and plant some sort of ground cover.)

Photo: Mound where I put the dirt, to cover old demolition waste, then put cardboard on top, then more pond soil.

The next step will be to cut old carpet into strips, to layer over the ground to keep roots from coming through, and to protect the pond liner. And surprisingly, there were small bittersweet roots all the way down to the bottom level. I have a pile of old carpet that I collected from willing volunteers (via Freecycle and Buy Nothing) last week, that is sitting on the patio, waiting for me.

But for now, I am coming inside to rest, with sore muscles but a happy heart. It has been so satisfying to be digging down into the beautiful earth, imagining a place for water.

Prayer for Pollinators

Peach and two cherry trees

If you’ve been following my work on digging the pond, I will mention that I took a little break, first to find out what to do about the water that has seeped into the bottom, and then because I twisted my ankle on Friday while I was digging. So annoying! My ankle is not so bad–after a couple days of rest, I can hobble around now, and I will be digging again soon.

In the meantime I wanted to share this photo of the flowering peach and cherry trees in our food forest. They flowered a bit earlier this year than last. In the photo, the peach blossoms are pink, and it is hard to see the white cherry blossoms amid their green leaves in the photo. But they are so beautiful! There are more cherry blossoms this year than last, when we got just a few.

However, I’ve been concerned about pollination. Our neighbor keeps honey bee hives, and usually we have lots of her bees visiting over here, drinking nectar and drinking water from our bird baths. But this year, it has been very sparse for bees. I found out that our neighbor’s hives died in a cold snap earlier in the spring and she hasn’t replenished them yet with new bees.

One day, I did see bees of all sizes in the Lapins cherry tree (on the right in the photo), but I didn’t see them in the peach tree. (Not that I sit and stare all day.) But I’ve been doing so much TLC with the trees this year, with Kaolin clay, and holistic foliar sprays. It would be a shame if we didn’t get fruit because of pollination problems. It is too late now to try to hand-pollinate. The other potential glitch is that while the Lapins cherry is self-fertile, the Black Tartarian cherry needs the Lapins to cross-pollinate. They are both sort of blooming now, but the Lapins had peak blooms earlier, and the Black Tartarian has new blooms that just came out yesterday. So we wait and see.

It reminds me of the sad danger to pollinators everywhere because of climate change, environmental pollutants, pesticides, and development. All of our human food is dependent on these little creatures who pollinate the plants. If the bees die, so do the humans.

Today I pray for the pollinators, with gratitude and humility. Part of this prayer is offering to the bees so many other plants in our food forest: daffodils, dandelions, and violets are blooming now; soon we will also have chives, oregano, clover, thyme, and many more. All of us can do more to provide food for bees and other pollinators throughout the season. Only then can they also provide food for us. May this circle of life be blessed.

Pond Dig, part three

I had a helper yesterday for digging the pond. My friend Sylvia came by in the afternoon and the very first thing we did was drag the pond-liner in its box from near the house to back closer to the pond. (You can see it in the picture, behind the wheelbarrow.) That would have been enough help all by itself–so heavy! But then we took turns digging, hauling, and resting nearby. We got a lot done, and also enjoyed a rare COVID-time visit, walking around the yard and in the woods, looking at birds and plants.

Sylvia standing on the planting shelf, while digging in the pond!

So here is what the pond looks like now, in layers. The first layer down, about 8-10 inches, is for the planting layer. The next layer down, maybe 18 inches, is for a step layer–part of that I might take away as we go along, but some will remain to be a step into the pond going forward. In the middle, we dug to about 2 feet down, as measured with this string set-up I created. My aim is to go three feet down in the middle.

Pond layers dug out.

But then we came upon a problem that wasn’t mentioned in the Building Natural Ponds book by Robert Pavlis. Water started to seep up from the sandy soil. We are actually at the time of year when vernal pools abound here in Maine. We have a ditch way back behind the edge of our property and the properties next door that fills during spring rains. And we had an inch of rain last week, though generally it has been a dry winter. Does this mean we can’t go any deeper for a lined pond? Or do we need to wait until it is a bit dryer as the days go by? Will it mess up the pond to have water under the liner at the bottom? Or does it not matter at all? I am going to ask my questions in the Facebook group Building Natural Ponds, and see whether I might find some answers.

Water seeping from the soil in the bottom of the pond.

Maybe the pond just wants to be a pond so badly, that it doesn’t want to wait, lol. Meanwhile, I am going to rest today from digging, and more rain is coming tomorrow. So we will see. If you have any wisdom about this, I’d love to hear from you.

Pond Dig, part two

More on my adventures in digging a small pond! Yesterday I finished digging the first layer of the pond, down to the level of the planting shelf, about 1 foot. I checked whether it was fairly level after I was done. And then I did some math to figure out what 1/2 to 1/3 of the total surface area would be, which is the best size for the planting shelves.

For those who might wonder, here is how I worked on that: Using a website that computes circle area, I found that for my 11′ by 11.5′ pond, the total surface area was about 100 square feet. If I made a planting shelf one foot deep, the resulting circle would be 9′ by 9.5′, with a surface area of 67 square feet, meaning the planting shelf included 33 square feet. I was surprised that just 1 foot at the edge already brought it to 1/3 of the area. Doing two feet would leave a circle of 7′ by 7.5′, or 41 square feet, with 59 square feet for planting. So I took half of that, and decided to do 1 foot wide on one half, with 2 feet wide on the other half, approximately. Even though the math is exact, the actual pond will be less so, but it gave me an idea of what I was aiming for. I marked it out with white flour, including a spot for a step, that would be dug to 1 more foot down, to make it easier to get in and out of the pond center.

Pond layer one, with my rough markings for planting shelves and a step

Meanwhile, I’ve heard back from folks who have bits and pieces of carpet–I had asked for at least 2 feet wide, and the responses have ranged from 2′ by 2′, to a medium size carpet. I picked up some yesterday, and will do more today. It has been fun to have these interactions with folks, limited as they are–so rare for me in a time of COVID. Since I don’t have a truck, the smaller pieces actually work because they fit in the back of my car.

Meanwhile, the pond liner was delivered yesterday too! A very heavy box was dropped in our driveway by UPS. (I think I remember that it was going to be 138 pounds) Unable to lift it myself, or even together with Margy, she had the idea to roll it onto a larger piece of cardboard (which we always have in our garage for various garden projects) and then we could pull that cardboard together along the driveway to a better spot–and it worked. So it is waiting by the side of our house. It made me realize, though, that when I actually install the liner in the pond, I will definitely need help from a few friends.

Four years ago, the pond was part of our original plan for our permablitz–when twenty-some people came by and helped us with all manner of garden projects. (If you are curious about that, you can find more here.) It was such a humbling and gratifying experience to be gifted with the energy of so many to begin to create this permaculture garden where we live. With everything else going on that day, it was decided that the pond would be too much to attempt. But it is wonderful to remember how community enables us to live better with our land, how the gift of each other’s time and energy enriches all who participate. With COVID we’ve been on our own so much, and yet even so, we rely on the help of others–delivery people, for example, and neighbors who have picked up needed items in stores. It has brought us closer together with our neighbors actually. We are so programmed by our society to try to be self-sufficient. It is hard to be reminded of our need for each other–and yet that need is a blessing.

Meanwhile, it was also a blessing to be digging on my own, outside in a beautiful sunny day. Squirrels were playing, birds singing, daffodils shining bright yellow, and the cherry and peach trees are beginning to blossom. I started on the next layer of the pond. Our soil is very sandy and compacted–we had an inch of rain fall on Friday, and none of it stayed in the depression that I had already dug. So the recommendation is to slope the sides as we go down so it doesn’t collapse. Step by step, and with a little help, I think it can be done.

Digging begun on second level.