By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
Every day at around 3 p.m., receptionist Lisa Burns feeds the orange, black, white and cream koi darting about the manmade pond in front of the Ocean Ridge Town Hall and Police Department. On weekends, the duty falls to a policeman or dispatcher.
Dr. Jim Weege, a semi-retired veterinarian, donates his time to care for these fish. “I thought it would be neat to participate and give back to the town where I’ve lived for 22 years,” he says.
He thinks that having the natural-looking pond with its pink, yellow and purple water lilies and dancing fish helps take “the hardness” out of the government buildings.
Shelley Crawford, owner of Butterflies Are Free Inc., a landscape design company in Boca Raton, has installed koi ponds for customers. “People go crazy for koi,” she says.
Koi are carp that have been hybridized by the Japanese, to whom these fish symbolize love and friendship.
You may find watching them relaxing and be tempted to create a koi pond in your back yard. But before you dig, here are questions to ask yourself:
Dr. Jim Weege volunteers his time to care for the koi at Ocean Ridge Town Hall. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Do I want another pet? Keeping koi is similar to owning a cat. “You can leave them alone for a couple of days, but then you need to give them some attention,” says Gordon Nash, president of the Tropical Koi Club with members in Palm Beach County.
Do I have space? To keep koi, the pond must be quite large and deep. Start with one that holds 10,000 gallons of water and is at least 5 feet deep, suggests Crawford.
You need the depth so that the fish can hide from herons, raccoons and kingfishers that like to feast on them.
What does it cost? A professionally installed 5- by 5-foot koi pond with the necessary filtration and algae-fighting equipment that’s landscaped with real rock will cost you about $10,000, according to Crawford. However, she has installed ponds that cost upward of $40,000.
Where should I place my pond? Where you’ll be able to see and enjoy it. Near your home or patio is a good place.
What will be my biggest headache? Algae is a constant concern. There are systems such as ultraviolet light and chemicals as well as aerators that help prevent algae bloom, but you have to keep after it.
You’ll also need to regularly test the water for things such as pH as well as nitrites and nitrates.
How do I build a koi pond? There are many different types of ponds, including prefabricated ones. But if you want to build one, you might begin by laying a hose out in a pattern that is aesthetically pleasing and fits your landscape. Then you can use spray paint to mark the outline of your pond.
You also have to decide if you want a waterfall and where to place it. And you’ll need to install plumbing and pumps necessary to recirculate and filter the water.
Nash strongly recommends a drain at the bottom of the pond to remove fish waste that settles there. “A koi pond without a bottom drain is like a car without an engine,” he says.
Then, go ahead and dig. But because you are probably scooping out sugar sand, Crawford suggests you line the hole with cement blocks. Otherwise, after the first rain, the sand will fall back into it, she says.
A felt liner makes a soft layer between the blocks and keeps the plastic liner you lay on top of it from tearing when it’s filled with water.
Next, landscape with boulders and plants such as papyrus and grasses.
When ready, fill your pond with water. But don’t add the koi and water lilies just yet. First you have to treat the water to remove chlorine and other chemicals.
How do I select koi? Grand champions from Japanese breeders can cost $100,000. And one member of the Tropical Koi Club has a fish worth $250,000, according to Nash. Koi are priced according to color, sex, pattern and scaling.
“It’s individual preference. Some people like a Toyota, others a Lexus,” Crawford says.
How many koi should I buy? Moderation is key, says Crawford, who recommends six to 10 fish in a 10,000-gallon pond. If you have more, they compete for food and their waste can overload a filtering system.
Do I like frogs? Chances are your pond is going to be home to tadpoles and lots of frogs. “If you don’t like the sound of them chirping at night, you don’t want a pond,” says Crawford, who likes to listen to nature.
This all may sound like a lot of work and expense, but Crawford doesn’t discourage you from keeping koi.
Like any addition to your home, there’s an initial investment, she says. But the fish and pond are going to make your home more attractive and valuable while giving you hours of fun and relaxation.
Nash agrees: “Just sitting watching your fish can suck the stress out of you. They are very calming to see.”
The Ocean Ridge town koi pond is funded by donations. If you’d like to contribute to the Ocean Ridge Koi Garden Fund, contact Dr. Jim Weege at 523-5705. For information on the Tropical Koi Club, visit tropicalkoiclub.org.