Ducks Gardening

How to build a backyard pond with a DIY biofilter

How to build a backyard pond with a DIY biofilter thumbnail
Tyrant Farms is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

 

Since this DIY backyard pond article is fairly long and detailed, we’ve included a table of contents. You can quickly click the table links below to jump to specific parts of the article that you’re interested in. Of course, we’ll try not to be upset with you if you’re not interested in the whole article!

Last updated: Oct 7, 2019 with new pond filter pad recommendations.

What’s Inside

  1. Duck Fanatics In Search of DIY Backyard Pond
  2. 3 Ways a Pond Changed Our Ecosystem
  3. DIY Pond: I. Expectations (Time, Cost, Weather, Work)
  4. DIY Pond II. Slideshow: From Start to Finish
  5. DIY Pond: III. How to Build Backyard Pond & Biofilter
  6. DIY Pond: IV. Ongoing Pond Maintenance
  7. Pond Materials List

Radical Duck Fanatics In Search of DIY Backyard Pond…

In case this is your first visit here, you should be forewarned that we’re duck fanatics… Radical duck evangelists who think more people (as long as they’re responsible people) should have backyard ducks.

Why? As we’ve written about elsewhere, for most people interested in raising egg-laying fowl, ducks often make a superior alternative to chickens.

One big distinction between chickens and ducks is that chickens take dust baths whereas ducks take water baths (waterfowl come by their name honestly).

ducks in backyard pond

“You’ve made me a decent pond, human slave.”

As such, if you’re going to raise happy, healthy ducks, you’ll need a water source for them. This can be a small kiddie pool… or it can be something more substantial.

We started off with a kiddie pool, but we got tired of having to dump it out every day after our seven waterfowl quickly turned their water fowl, er foul, which then made the “duck area” of our yard into a muddy pit.

One day, The Tyrant added a new project to my “honey do list”: build a 1,000+ gallon in-ground backyard pond for our ducks. Oh, and it needed to have a natural filtration system that used biology, rather than chemicals, to keep the water clean. Piece o’ cake. I’ll have it done before lunch, dear.

In all fairness, my wife has a biology and clinical research background, so she’d already done the bulk of the research for me. She really just needed me for the heavy lifting. (There’s a reason her nickname is The Tyrant.)

Three ways our backyard pond changed things at Tyrant Farms

 

The duck village got a makeover last night. #backyardducks #ducks #ducksofinstagram

A photo posted by Tyrant Farms (@tyrantfarms) on

1. More diverse ecosystem

As you’ve probably observed, natural water features (ponds, creeks, springs, etc) are a magnet for a wide diversity of lifeforms. Since building our backyard pond, we’ve been blown away by the increase in dragonflies, frogs, salamanders, and other beneficial critters that we didn’t used to see very often.

We’ve also noticed a decrease in mosquitos since ducks, frogs, salamanders, dragonfly larvae and other pond critters LOVE feasting on mosquito larvae. (Read about the other way we organically control mosquitos here.)

We have an edible organic landscape with several hundred species of food-producing plants and edible fungi, so having even more beneficial critters around to help us manage things and keep pest insect populations in check is most welcome. We now see why so many permaculturalists rave about the benefits of having a backyard pond and other water features.

backyard pond at night

Our girls swimming on a snowy night.

2. Happier humans

Humans have a deeply ingrained psychological connection to the sound of running water. On a primal level, burbling water sounds equate to an available water source, something our ancestors would have found quite reassuring before they could simply turn on a tap to get water.

Any time the weather permits, The Tyrant and I finish our day relaxing next to our pond/waterfall with a beverage as our ducks dabble and bathe in their pond.

A waterfall also aerates the water, providing oxygen and/or dissolved oxygen for beneficial lifeforms, including our pond’s fish, crawfish, salamanders, and perhaps most importantly: aerobic bacteria. If you’ve ever noticed a foul, sewage-like smell from a pond, a sewer, a swamp, etc. – that’s actually caused by various species of anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that don’t need oxygen to survive).

Anaerobic bacteria are often pathogenic, causing disease and illness in larger critters that ingest them. In an oxygenated environment, anaerobic bacteria can not survive or proliferate. (Side note: this is also the same reason you turn compost – turning compost introduces oxygen and encourages aerobic bacteria while discouraging anaerobic bacteria).

Yay to waterfalls and pond bubblers!

Ducklings enjoying a swim under Tyrant Falls. Ducklings swimming in waterfall in backyard pond.

Ducklings enjoying a swim under Tyrant Falls.

3. Happier, healthier ducks

Our ducks’ rigorous daily schedule usually includes about 3+ hours swimming, playing, dabbling, and cleaning themselves in their backyard pond. Because of their pond, our ducks are much cleaner, healthier, and happier than they’d otherwise be.

Since we have ducks, we were much more adamant about figuring out a natural, self-cleaning DIY pond filter system that relied on biology rather than chemicals to clean itself (e.g. a biofilter).



Planning & building your backyard pond & biofilter

I. Expectations

Building a self-cleaning backyard pond isn’t a small project, but we’d absolutely do it again because of all the benefits it’s added to our life — and our ducks’ lives. Here’s what you should expect, assuming you decide to build a 1,000+ gallon backyard pond similar to ours:

Time 

About 75 hours of labor (maybe you can be more efficient than us).

Money 

Plan to invest roughly $1,500-$2,000 if you don’t have ducks and $2,000-$2,250 if you do have ducks (we recommend additional cleaning and pumping infrastructure if you have ducks, as we’ll go over shortly).

Outdoor Weather 

Ideally, the outdoor temps will need to be above 50°F (10°C) and sunny during the time that you’re applying sealer around your waterfall or doing your plumbing joints. You can always pause the project until the right weather conditions come along.

Strength 

If digging, lifting large rocks, and hauling heavy wheelbarrows sounds like a lot of work, get some help or consider hiring extra labor.

The pond, version 1.o, in early spring.

II. Backyard Pond Pictures: From Start to Finish

If you’re like us, seeing pictures of something in addition to instructions is REALLY helpful.

These DIY backyard pond pictures are intended to correspond with the next DIY sections of this article, and some of these images are redundant with the images included in Part 3. If you read something that you’re having trouble visualizing, hop back up here to the slideshow and you’ll probably find an answer!

Click the images if you’d like them enlarged! 

III. Step By Step: How to Build a Backyard Pond With a DIY Biofilter

Since we have ducks, we needed to plan for our pumps, plumbing, and pond filter system to handle a lot of extra poo and feathers (aka “solids”). If you don’t plan to have waterfowl in your backyard pond and you don’t think lots of leaves and other plant debris will fall into the pond throughout the year, you’ll probably do perfectly fine with a single pump and filter pond.

Whether you want to build a backyard duck pond, a meditation pond, a koi pond, a garden pond, or just a beautiful DIY pond to make your backyard extra flashy, let’s get started!

 *Note: There’s a full materials list you can use at the bottom of this article, so we won’t exhaustively list out each item in the step-by-step pond building section. 

1. Identify the location of your backyard pond.

Carefully consider the location of your backyard pond. Are there likely to be large tree roots where you’ll be digging? Underground pipes or wires? Is the area flat or sloped? How will that slope (or lack thereof) alter your pond/waterfall designs?

If you want to use our backyard pond as a model, see the dimensions in the above slideshow and our general site plan below.

backyard pond plans

Our initial backyard pond site plan revised to show the second bog filter, added in the of spring 2016. (click the image to view a larger version)

2. Dig your tiers & level the pond foundation.

backyard pond plans

The different levels of our pond. (click the image to view a larger version)

Use the dimensions in the above images to measure out your pond. You can use a string, chalk, or flour to mark the outline of the pond before you start digging.

First tier – Once you’ve marked the outline of your pond, dig the whole thing out 7″ down (or more if you want deeper pond shallows).

If you are planning to put plants in your backyard pond, it’s a good idea to slope your shallows back just a bit towards the wall (vs. a level ledge) so that your plants & your pebbles don’t slowly slide into the center of the pond. *see sketch above*

"Next, mark where you'd like your subsequent tiers to sit and begin digging.<strong srcset=Second tier – Mark the outline of the second tier, then dig it down 12″>

Third tier/pump hole – Mark the outline of the third tier, then dig it down another 12″.

All 3 tiers are roughed in! (#11 in the slideshow above)

When planning the depth of your backyard pond, keep in mind that in the months and years ahead, you will likely need to occasionally get into the pond to check on the pump and/or temporarily remove the pump in the event of a clog. That’s why our pond is thigh deep, not waist deep. 

3. Sand, Fabric Underlayment, and Pond Liner

Sand foundation 

Put about 1″ of sand on the flat surfaces of your pond foundation (we got 1/2 scoop from our Landscapers Supply). This helps ensure that no sharp rocks or pointy objects punch a hole in your pond liner – you do NOT want to have to trace down a hole in your liner after you’ve filled your pond.

Next comes the sand layer. About 1″ of sand is put down to reduce abrasion on your pond liner. (#17 in slideshow above)

Fabric Underlayment 

Now you’re ready for your protective underlayment, which prevents abrasion & punctures, further extending the life of your liner.

There are different things you can use here. We had some old landscape fabric sitting around, so we used that. The landscape fabric came in a long roll, making it difficult to universally cover the tiered pool foundation, as you can see in the slideshow. That’s why we’d recommend using this this 15′ x 20′ geotextile underlayment instead.

Cover all the surfaces with underlayment. Again, the rocks are temporarily in place to hold the underlayment in place – they didn’t stay there. (#19 in slideshow above)

Pond Liner

Now comes the liner. We did a lot of research here, and we recommend using this Firestone 45 mil. EPDM, 15′ x 20′. It’s a UV-resistant, highly flexible yet stable waterproofing membrane with a proven performance history in exposed applications – equally tolerating extreme cold and heat while maintaining its flexibility/not tearing.

The liner is also safe for exposure to wildlife and aquatic plants, which is important to us given that we’re owned by ducks. The liner fit snuggly into the contours of our pond and the black color allows any exposed surfaces to blend in with our rocks.

Some people we read about opted for a PVC liner – don’t do it! You’ll likely end up with cracked liner and water leaks within a couple years, whereas the 45 mil. Firestone will last for 20+ years (it has a 20 year manufacturer warranty).

Carefully roll out the liner without displacing the underlayment. We took off our shoes and pushed the liner into place with our feet. (#20 in slideshow above)

4. Pebbles & Rocks

Now it’s time to start making your backyard pond beautiful!

Build up, tier by tier, from the bottom of your pond to the top. Let us repeat that: do not start from the top and work down or you could end up with stretched liner or rock problems.

Want to calculate how many large rocks and pebbles/gravel you’ll need? Here’s a calculator.

Place large landscaping rocks along the sides/walls of the third tier (bottom) of your pond. Fill in the flat surfaces with 2″ of river pebbles and an occasional large flat rock to add stability and keep the pebbles from shifting too much. Repeat, tier by tier.

*We put a large flat rock in the center of the bottom tier/hole on our pond to provide a base for our pump and keep the pump off the very bottom of the pond (this helps keep the pump from getting clogged).

Begin slowly filling the pond with water as you finish lowest tiers to help expedite settling. We ended up scooping it back out later to plumb the pond.

22/43 – The first layer of rocks. Build up the walls/sides with large rocks and put your pebbles on the flat surfaces. (#22 in slideshow above)

On the outside lip of our backyard pond, we used concrete edgers/bricks covered with our native red clay to: a) provide a smooth, solid lip that was level all the way around, and b) raise the level of the liner up ABOVE ground level (that way, full pond = ground level or slightly below).

The underlayment went over this lip, then the liner went on top. Large landscape rocks were then placed on top to hold the liner down and hide it.

This image shows the edgers in place BEFORE we put the mud, sand, underlayment and liner over top. The string helped us level this up. (#14 in slideshow above)

The liner extended out about 6-8″ past the lip to allow for any settling or future pond expansions/alterations. (You can also easily seam together the liner with special pond liner adhesive.)

All around the outside of our pool we put down wood chip mulch.

This image shows how far past our top rocks the liner extended. (#33 in slideshow above)

Double check to make sure every tier of rocks is solid and stable – no shifting, slipping, or sliding rocks. Everything nice and snug.

backyard pond with ducks

We have Welsh Harlequin ducks, a heritage breed that makes great pets and egg layers. They’re bred from Mallards, which are “dabblers.” Dabbling ducks tip underwater to forage, while keeping their butts and feet on the surface. Our ducks will do short dives for fun, but they’re not technically “diving” ducks, which can swim and hunt underwater for over a minute at a time.

5. Skippy BioFilter, Plumbing, Pumps

Once your rocks and pebbles are all in place, it’s time to let your jeans slip down partially off your behind to show off your inner plumber. (Actually, don’t do that.)

Step 1: Set Filter Pond 

First, get your filter pond placed. To prevent the filter pond from sinking/settling, you’ll want to really tamp down the foundation soil underneath it, then add about 2″ of gravel/sand mix, then about 1″ of sand over top of the gravel to prevent the gravel from roughing up and potentially puncturing the underside of the filter pond (alternately you could use concrete pavers or pour a concrete pad below your freeze line).

We recommend using at least a 50+ gallon filter pond. This is the one we wished we’d used on our first filter pond (we used it later on a second filter/bog pond), but we used the old pool we already had instead. A 50 gallon filter pond should be more than adequate to clean a ~1,000 gallon pond IF you don’t have ducks – we added a second 50 gallon filter pond a year later since we have seven ducks.

The exact ratio of filter pond to main pond is hard to determine. There are probably too many potential factors to come up with a precise ratio that works for every scenario. For instance, if you have ducks, you’re going to want to have a much higher filter-to-pond ratio than someone who just has a couple of fish in their pond.

One fact remains: you can’t have too much filter pond, but you can certainly have too little – so err on the side of too much biofilter/filter pond, especially if you have waterfowl.  

Step 2. Plumb the Pond 

Position your pump on the rock in the center of your pump hole. We highly recommend the Laguna 2900 Max-Flow pump – especially if you have ducks. You want a pump that can handle solids and one that has enough power to turn your pond water over 2-4 times per hour (calculations here).

The Laguna is also extremely energy efficient. Once your pump is positioned, measure and sketch out the lengths of PVC pipe and joints you’re going to need to run pipe from your pump into the base of your filter pond. (Again, the full list of plumbing supplies we used is at the bottom of this article – but the exact joints and lengths of pipe needed may vary depending on where you locate your filter pond.)

Do NOT seal any plumbing joints until you’re confident everything is sized and fitted correctly. Once you’ve linked it all together and everything fits, seal your plumbing joints one by one, locking everything into place.

Step 3. Add Pond Biofilter Pads  

Place protective framing over the inflow in the bottom of your filter pond to make sure the pipes don’t get clogged with filter media when you unplug your pump (due to gravity, the pump sucks back out when turned off since the filter pond is higher – unless you plumb in a cut off valve at the top).

Updated Oct 2019 with new pond filter media recommendations!

In the original version of this article, we recommended hogs hair filters which work great. However, they break down over time, lose their filtering ability, and eventually require replacement.

In April 2019, we installed a different filter media that we read really good things about: a combo of Matala Filter Media Pads – (Green) and Matala Filter Media Pads – (Grey). The different colors correspond with different filter density – grey = more dense, green = less dense. 

Grey and green Matala filter pad pieces.

Grey and green Matala filter pad pieces. These were the left over scrap pieces after we cut out the primary filter piece in the image below.

We cut both the green and grey filter pads exactly to the size of our filter pond and stacked them on top of each other.

Then we put the remaining scrap pieces on top of the fitted ones.

We made a mold of our pond bog filter with a piece of cardboard, then used the cardboard mold to cut out a piece of filter material. Skippy biofilter, pond filter pad

We made a mold of our pond bog filter with a piece of cardboard, then used the cardboard mold to cut out a piece of filter material.

The green filter went in first to filter out the larger material. The grey filter went on top to filter out finer material. 

Now, six months later, we’re happy to report that the Matala filter pads have made a huge difference in water quality in our pond. AND they’re still in like-new condition. (Covered with good pond bacteria and muck but not breaking down like hogs hair does.)

Despite 6 ducks swimming and pooping in our pond all day long, we haven’t had to do a thing to our pond since putting the new filter pads in (other than adding beneficial pond bacteria when we first put the new pads in). 

When you’re done putting your filter pads in to your bog filter, fill up the bog with water, *then squirt in this beneficial pond bacteria (follow quantity instructions on label based on size of your pond). This is the primary bacteria that’s going to clean the water in your backyard pond, and its home is going to largely be in your filter pads.

(*Important note: Only put the pond bacteria into your new pond if you’re going to be able to turn it on and have water flowing within a half day or so. Pond bacteria needs water and nutrients to survive.)

This setup is called a skippy biofilter – you can geek out on the details here if you’d like.

6. Build Your Waterfall

It might seem counterintuitive, but we built our waterfall last. We wanted to have all of our plumbing and the filter pond in place BEFORE we put in the rocks that hide and support it.

There’s no single formula for building a waterfall, and yours will be unique because your rocks are unique. Some people concrete their foundations in, which is perfectly fine – but that doesn’t allow you to easily change things/iterate later, which is why we went a different route.

We simply built up a foundation with gravel, sand, and stone, then put pond liner under our final top-level rocks going down the waterfall in order to prevent water from escaping out of the system via the waterfall.

Since we’d never built a waterfall before, we looked at hundreds of photos of waterfalls online for inspiration. We’d recommend you do the same.

You’ll also need to cut an opening in the siding of your filter pond, and use a scrap of pond liner and “fish-safe” silicone sealant to attach the liner to the inside of your filter pond. The liner will need to extend out of the filter pond and onto your first waterfall rock to prevent water from leaking out behind your waterfall.

7. Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

Show time!

Fill up your backyard pond with water. Ideally you can use a dechlorinator to filter the chlorine out of the water you fill your pond with since chlorine can kill beneficial bacteria.

It’s a good idea to take a close look at your rock pond walls as the water fills around them to make sure they’re not settling or moving too much, thus requiring you to reposition them.

Once your pond is full, plug your pump cord into a yard outlet (we’ve been using this Yard Master 6-Outlet power stake since day one and it still works). It’s a magical thing to watch your backyard pond come to life for the first time!

If your water is muddy and turbid for the first 7-14 days after you fill it, don’t despair! That’s normal. It will take a bit of time for your filters to kick into full gear and your pond to clear up.

Also, as your pond is filling AND for the next 24-48 hours after it’s full, keep a close eye out for any signs of leaks. Is the ground wet where it shouldn’t be? Is the pond level dropping? If so, there’s a good chance you have a leak, and 9/10 times that leak is happening somewhere in your waterfall and can be easily fixed by rearranging rocks or pond liner.

Depending on the time of year when you build your backyard pond, you’ll probably want to add a second type of pond-cleaning bacteria to your water once the pond is full – either a warm water of cold water bacteria (see materials list below for links).

Congratulations, you’re now the proud new owner of a gorgeous backyard pond that you built yourself!

backyard pond

Happy ducks splashing and frolicking.

IV. Ongoing Maintenance & Alterations To Your Backyard Pond

Ongoing maintenance on your backyard pond will be minimal if you don’t have ducks. Ha! The fewer ducks you have, the less maintenance your pond will require.

Given that we have ducks, we decided that our single biofilter pond needed a friend, so we added a second 50 gallon filter bog with a waterfall that cascades into the back of the first filter pond. The general rule is you want your bog/filter portion of your system to be at least 20% of your pond; ex: 100 sq ft pond surface would need 10-20 sq ft bog/filter system. 

We also ended up adding a second waterfall off of our original filter pond to add additional waterflow/aeration to the near side of our pond. You can see that project pictured below:

backyard pond revisions / duck pond pond filter construction

Due to seven ducks using our backyard pond for several hours per day plus a large oak tree dropping debris into the pond regularly, we decided to add a second pump and filter, plus an additional/secondary waterfall to increase aeration. Svetlana the Duck makes a great foreman.

Additionally, to get even more oxygen into our pond to keep Sid Fishest and his fish family (our four pond fish) happy, we got two of these small aerators. More oxygen into your pond = healthier pond water. We do clean our filter media at least 1-2 times per year as-needed, but without ducks you should rarely (some people say never) have to clean your filter media. That’s one of the neat things about the Skippy biofilter system.

Using the test strips in our materials list below, we test our pond water periodically throughout the year. The water has yet to measure anything less than ideal.

Pond Maintenance Schedule

Here’s what a normal ongoing pond maintenance schedule might look like:

SPRING pond maintenance 

  • Check pond water quality with this Pond Water Quality Test Kit (here are the ones we use). If high nitrate levels detected, add seasonally-appropriate beneficial bacteria, then test water again a week later.
  • IF waterfall has slowed due to debris clogging it, unplug the pump. The water reversal will usually dislodge whatever is in the pump impeller; if not, you’ll need to hop in, disconnect the pump, bring it to the side of the pond, pop off the top and remove the clog manually.

SUMMER pond maintenance 

  • Same as spring.

FALL pond maintenance

  • Same as spring, plus remove fall leaves by hand or with a net so they don’t clog your pump.

WINTER pond maintenance

  • Same as spring, but we recommend getting a pond de-icer if you live in a cold area. We live in Greenville, SC (Ag Zone 7B), which is not exactly known for frigid temps. However, our pond will still freeze over on really cold winter nights. After breaking apart and removing the ice with our numb hands enough times, we finally decided to get this floating de-icer. It’s kept our pond completely ice-free down into single digit temps, which makes us and our ducks very happy.

Complete Materials List For Backyard Pond

Stones, Pebbles, Gravel, Sand

Easily found at local landscape supply companies.

  • 2-4,000 lbs rock (1-2 pallets)
  • 1/2 scoop sand
  • 1/2 scoop river pebbles
  • 1/2 scoop gravel

The Skippy Biofilter

Materials List:

  • 50 gallon tub
  • 1 – length of 1 1/2 inch PVC pipe.
  • 1 – PVC tee.
  • 3 – PVC elbows.
  • 1 – 1 1/2 inch to 1 1/4 inch threaded nipple reducer.
  • 1 – plastic egg crate style overhead 2×4 light grate (or something similar). You can find these in the ceiling tile section of Home Depot or Lowes or other hardware store. It’s a ceiling light grate panel. *You don’t have to get this IF you use a really stiff filter media like Matala filter pads.
  • 4 – 1/4 inch x 1 1/2 inch bolt, nut and washer combinations.
  • Filter media/pads: Matala Filter Media Pads – (Green) and Matala Filter Media Pads – (Grey)
  • Bacteria inoculant for filter media

Pumps & Aerators:

Pond Making Materials: 

Miscellaneous:

Questions?

Got questions about building your own backyard pond? Ask away in the comments section below!

Or read our two follow-up articles: 

DIY/How To: Build a backyard pond with a self-cleaning biofilter

The Ultimate Guide: How To Build a Backyard Pond with DIY Biofilter

stay in touch

Like what you're seeing here? Please be sure to subscribe to Tyrant Farms so we can let you know about new articles you'll love.

55 Comments

  • Reply
    Emily
    July 29, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    Hi, Aaron. I just wanted to say thank you for providing such a detailed explanation of your process here. We followed your instructions, used the same materials, and have a beautiful pond for our five ducks. We have one problem, though. It has been close to three weeks since we turned the pump on and began filtering our water. We added bacteria to the filter pads and the water, have had the pump running almost constantly, and our water is still very murky. It has developed a strong odor now, too. I’m not sure what we did wrong, but I’m concerned about the ducks using the pond with the water looking and smelling like it does. Should we give it more time to filter? I’m tempted to drain it and start over with fresh water, but I’d hate to go through the whole waiting process again if it’s going to correct itself soon. Any advice would be hugely appreciated. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 30, 2021 at 10:04 am

      Hi Emily! Sorry you’re having issues with water quality. Best guess, there are two possible causes here (and they may be happening concurrently):

      1) When we first filled up our pond and turned on the water, the water was quite turbid due to all the residue on the rocks and pebbles. It took quite a while for the sediment to settle, but there was no associated smell.
      2) Municipal water has quite a few chemical additives put in to kill microbes to ensure people don’t get sick when drinking it. These additives may also kill the beneficial pond bacteria you add when you’re first filling the pond. The chemicals do dissipate and/or become diluted by rainwater over time. This would mean that the good bacteria was killed, leaving the “microbiome” of your pond sterile and wide open for inoculation by bad bacteria, which would create an odor as they proliferated.

      The first thing we’d recommend is re-introducing beneficial pond bacteria one evening asap once you put your flock up. We’d recommend Microbe Lift PL Bacteria which will consume lots of nitrogen and algae as well: https://amzn.to/3iS50Fm. If that doesn’t improve the water quality within 3-5 days, then you may unfortunately want to consider removing and replacing the water. Please check back and let us know how things go!

      • Reply
        Emily
        August 13, 2021 at 6:12 pm

        Thank you for the advice! We ended up draining the water out yesterday. I ordered the bacteria you suggested and added it, but the water continued to get worse, so we figured it was time to start over. Now that we’ve cleaned everything out and refilled the pond with fresh water (still city water, unfortunately) I have a few follow-up questions.

        1. When should we add the first dose of bacteria to the new water and inoculate the filter pads? If the chemicals in city water will kill everything, would it be better to wait a bit until said chemicals have dissipated?
        2. Should we have the pump running and filtering right away, or wait until we add the bacteria?
        3. Is there a particular type of feeder fish you’d recommend to help with the pond gunk? I’ve read they can be very beneficial to the health of the pond, but I don’t know what the options are as far as cold-hardy (needs to survive Ohio winters) and big enough to not get eaten by the ducks. We purchased 40 large minnows and goldfish already, to the ducks’ delight, and have had no survivors.

        Again, thank you so much for your help. I’m sure you have much better things to do than answer my endless questions, so I really appreciate you taking the time to respond.

        • Aaron von Frank
          August 14, 2021 at 1:53 pm

          Sorry for your troubles, Emily. Answers to your questions below:

          1. Unfortunately, there’s no simple, universal answer here. That’s because different municipalities use different types and ratios of chemicals to treat their water and make it safe for human consumption, which is not the same thing as being safe for fish, beneficial microbes, and other aquatic life to live in. Case in point: some municipalities use straight chlorine which would probably completely dissipate from pond water on a hot summer day within 24 hours. Others use chloramine, which is a combination of ammonia and chlorine that makes the chlorine much more non-volatile, e.g. it won’t dissipate. Aquarium owners usually have to use special water treatment products to neutralize chloramine or it kills their fish. There’s no risk to your ducks, but depending on the concentration, chloramine may very well kill the beneficial microbes. Maybe your town/city water department publicly posts what additives are used in the water on their website, otherwise you could call to find out.

          Either way, any chemicals in your water that would volatilize out would likely do so in 24-48 hours. So you could add Microbe Lift PL Bacteria after 2 days. Frankly, you may want to keep adding it every week or so if your pond water becomes malodorous (fancy way of saying stinky) or has high amounts of algae growing in it. We’d be really surprised if it doesn’t work because it’s a great product that we’ve found very helpful over the years.

          2. Yes, you definitely want to keep your pond pump on. That will at least filter out solids through your Matala pads and aerate the water via whatever waterfall system you have set up. Both of those factors are very important for promoting and maintaining pond water quality.

          3. We had pretty much the exact same thing happen with fish in our pond! Our ducks ate about 50 small feeder fish we got from a local pet store within an afternoon. Miraculously, a few of them somehow survived and became large fish (we didn’t realize until a year later). The problem with using fish for cleaning your pond is they also poop and pee. As you said, we’re also not sure which fish in the “cleaner” category could survive the winter. Plants are a much better option for improving water quality IF you can keep your ducks from eating/destroying them with fencing or other methods. We have some yellow flag irises in pots in our pond that our ducks pretty well leave alone. We also have pickerelweed in our second pond filter which our ducks ravage at every opportunity (somehow they always end up figuring out how to get over/under/through whatever fencing we erect). Both of those are perennial plants that go dormant in the winter but slurp up a lot of pond nutrients from spring – fall, which also overlaps with periods when pond water quality can be more of a challenge.

          Hope this helps and please keep us posted.

  • Reply
    Mark Kempf
    July 26, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    We have grown to love our ducks after our daughter brought home a set from a farm supply store 7 years ago. I just built a duck pond (filled it up about 10 days ago) based on your site and so far the ducks are liking it. But, i’m getting green buildup on the rocks and waterfall and pump hose (its clear so i can see the inside of it). I’m no biology or chemist so i don’t know how to diagnose what it is. The pond gets sun until mid afternoon and we have had some scorcher days. Could the sun be killing the bacteria in the filter pads or is it algae? I do have an oxygenator in the pond. I don’t have test strips purchased as i’m not sure what to do with results anyway. The ducks still get in and our dogs drink (but don’t get in). Any recommendations? Oh, we have 5 ducks for our pond and have used a 50 gallon tub for our filtering bog. We were able to use one layer of the green filter and two layers of the finer gray filter.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 27, 2021 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Mark! Sounds like algae, which is normal and expected (to a point) when you have a steady nitrogen/nutrient source like duck poo + heat. We have some algae in our pond and on our rocks too. When there is excess nitrogen, it can cause a large algae bloom which turns your water green – that’s when it’s a problem. Since your pond is new and sounds like it’s set up well, you probably don’t too severe of a problem. One thing we wonder about is when pond bacteria is added to a pool full of fresh municipal water that contains additives intended to kill microbes (for good reason), if it also kills the good bacteria you’re adding. The answer is probably “yes.” At this point with your pond, the chlorine & other antimicrobial compounds in the municipal water have probably dissipated or diluted with rainfall and open air exposure. Long answer short: you may want to go ahead and add another round of pond bacteria tonight once you put your ducks up. Not sure which bacteria you’re using, but the one we’d recommend for you is Microbe Lift PL Bacteria which will consume lots of nitrogen and algae as well: https://amzn.to/3iS50Fm. Hope this helps and please check back to let us know how things go!

  • Reply
    Riley
    January 8, 2021 at 6:41 pm

    Hey my name is Riley and we want to build a pond we have three ducks that are indian runner ducks we don’t need a very large one just like four hundred gallons with out a water fall and we’re wondering what y’all could suggest our price range is preferably under 1500 if y’all could get back that would be great rhanks

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 10, 2021 at 11:11 am

      Hi Riley. You can easily modify the pond plans/specifications we detail in this article to make a smaller pond with a smaller budget. Please note that the waterfall is not merely cosmetic: you have to have a pump + filter pond + filter material in order to filter out duck solids and clean the water in your pond. The waterfall simply connects the filter pond to the main pond while aerating the water (another important feature for improved water quality). Once you understand the basic requirements for creating a pond like the one in this article, you can modify your plans to match your budget/scope. Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    Herb Bittner
    January 3, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Hello, and Happy New Year!

    First, know that I’ve stalked your site for about a year now, and am finally ready to build a pond because of it! You did a great job presenting a lot of general, good to know, information with just enough detail to work. The wife has 11 ducks (calls and teals), so I’m scraping out a pond that will have a 110 gal filter w/ waterfall, and a second waterfall into a stream that will also feed into the pond. I’ll have a Laguna 4280 feeding both, hoping to create some circulation from the two waterfalls angling in to keep it from freezing in a Virginia winter. I (think I) recall that you used to have a circulation pump, in a case of some sort, in your pond – do I recall that correctly, or is that from some other site I stalked and don’t remember? I’m looking for a way to help out circulation a little so I can avoid powering a de-icer for ~1800 gallons of water.

    Thank you!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 3, 2021 at 5:00 pm

      Hi Herb! We were wondering who was stalking our site, so thanks for outing yourself! 😛

      As for our DIY backyard pond: other than the small and large Laguna pumps + two filter ponds/waterfalls, we haven’t used any additional pumps or circulating systems in our pond. The flow from the waterfalls and the direction at which they enter the pond keep the pond water in motion and circulating. We do have cold snaps here in Upstate South Carolina where the pond will freeze over IF we don’t plop a de-icer in, but that’s maybe only 2-3 weeks over the course of a winter. It has to be consistently below freezing for multiple days and nights for the pond to freeze over. A de-icer really doesn’t draw that much energy, so it may well be worth considering for your setup up in VA. Hope this helps and feel free to reach out anytime we can be of help as you’re putting your pond together.

  • Reply
    Kristin Wisdom
    December 27, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for your excellent step by step instructions. I have installed 2 ponds for my sweet ducks following you instructions with a few modifications. One large 2000 gallon pond out side and one 150 gal pond insider greenhouse where the ducks live. The indoor pond is in service all year. They both have 50 gallon filters, I have matala pads at the bottom and clay balls or k1 biomedical on top. Though I found that plants growing in the bio media made a huge improvement to water clarity. I will add more plants next year. I also found the barley straw extract to be very helpful, but you can’t get behind. I did find an easy fix if the pond gets really green. I replaced my pump profiler with an old poly filled pillow for 2 days and it filtered out all the algae. Anyway, thanks for your help.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      December 28, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      That sounds like a great pond setup, thanks Kristin! Yes, plants definitely make a huge difference in pond water quality – the trick is keeping the ducks from accessing and eating/destroying them. The best plant we’ve found thus far is pickerel, which we keep in our top filter pond with caging to keep the ducks out. Every now and then, they’ll figure out how to get over the fencing and eat it to a nub. Thanks also for the other pond care tips!

1 2 3

Leave a Reply