Half-Barrel Pond Page

Before I get started with the informative stuff, here are some scanned photographs of half-barrel ponds, taken in my back yard during late summer of 1997.

Ponds are a new interest of mine. I'd like to build one in my backyard some day, so I started out with a half-barrel pond on the kitchen patio, and then added another in the back yard, and now I've graduated to a few (six at the moment, but two will soon be disbursed to friends of mine) small ponds in my back yard. My full name is Jeffrey Valjean Cook and I live in Santa Monica (Los Angeles), California. Here is a link to Jeff Cook's Home Page.

A native (non-Google) translation of this page is available for the following languages:
  Belorussion : Bohdan Zograf
  Romanian : Adrian Pantilimon, courtesy Science Spaces

Click here for what's new on this page. Newest: Informative site Aquatic Plants and Flowers! on The Flower Blog, as requested by a member of a 4H club associated with the Valley Book Club.

This page discusses all aspects of building a half-barrel pond. My inspiration came from reading the newsgroup rec.ponds and from Pete's Pond Page. For real-time ponds on video, see the Home Page for International Waterlily Society. Another pond page discovery is PONDSIDE. Yet another is the Austin Pond Society Home Page. For information on Koi see the Web page for the Associated Koi Clubs of America or take a look at Keith Wolfe's Koi Information Korner.

A recent pond link acquisition from South Africa is The Pond Professor, which is all about ponds, pumps, and crystal clear pond water. This site makes mention of a book called "The Complete Pond Solver" that is of great interest to me. I look forward to reading it and reporting on it at some time in the future.

Constructive comments are welcome, send them to Jeff Cook. Someday I'd like to add some graphics to this page.

Some topics to consider before making your half-barrel pond:

Some more topics of interest:

And just in case your pond springs a link, here's some information on Mold Removal, because when water leaks from your pond, mold can follow.

Container

Contrary to common sense, a half-barrel is not required to construct a half-barrel pond! Some people prefer to use a rigid plastic barrel line, which can be used with or without the half-barrel. These liners should be available for around $30. Other substitutes, such as clay or concrete containers, are not specifically covered here, but most of this discussion should apply.

I chose a whiskey half-barrel for my miniature pond, because of its rustic good looks. I purchased one at a home improvement store for $16. If you decide to use a wooden half-barrel, the next decision is whether or not to use a liner. I had previously been advised that, without a liner, a half-barrel pond might get microbiotic and/or chemical contamination from the interior of the barrel, so a liner was desirable. So, for my first two ponds, I purchased a 5'x5' black plastic liner from a garden supplier for $20, inserted it into the barrel, filled the barrel with water, and trimmed off the excess liner just below the top edge of the barrel.

However, I have since come to the conclusion that a liner is not necessary and may be omitted if one has the patience to properly prepare the half-barrel beforehand. I have now populated five barrels without liners, one of which has been supporting plants and a goldfish for many months now, and the other four of which seem to be thriving, with blooming water hyacinth, water iris, and water lilies, and with lively mosquito fish populations. A technique for preparing these liner-less barrels is given in the section below.

Water

Water is a crucial ingredient! And chlorine-free water is mandatory if you want fish. If you are using a wooden half-barrel and are not using a liner, fill the barrel as full as possible and keep refilling until the slats expand to seal the container. If using a liner, then just fill up with water. If the water is chlorinated, let it sit in the barrel for a couple of days and the chlorine will evaporate.

If you do not wish to use a liner, which certainly cuts down on the expense, you must first prepare the barrel to remove the majority of the contaminants left over from the barrel's former contents, probably either wine or whiskey. A way to do this is to fill up the barrel and then throw in a few water hyacinths whose roots will provide a rudimentary filtration system. Empty the barrel out and refill every couple of days, or at least often enough to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching, retaining the water hyacinths. I have done this process for an entire month, but I was being conservative. If you can no longer smell the old contents, then I presume that the barrel is ready to stock.

The initial stocking of the barrel is of primary importance, in order to get the proper bacteria going so that a stable ecosystem can develop. It has been suggested that the simple use of plants from existing ponds, even those bought from the nursery, coupled with chlorine-free water, is sufficient to start up a small pond. But in my experience, this alone can result in an infection characterized by white oily-like surface sheen, white tendrils in the water, and an obnoxious sulfur-like smell. I have been told that this is due to a paramecium infestation. I have seen a barrel with such an infection completely recover naturally, and I have eliminated such an infection in other barrels by starting over by emptying, refilling, and then adding beneficial bacteria. In my opinion, a good way to ensure proper start-up is to supply part or all of your water from an existing barrel or pond. Alternatively, one may purchase beneficial bacteria from an aquarium supply shop and use it for start-up. I have tried both methods with success. Also, I like to drop a large piece of lava rock into the bottom of the barrel, to ensure that the bacteria have a large surface area on which to grow.

I use filtered water (no lead, chlorine, etc.) when topping up to account for evaporation; chlorinated water may be used if preceded with a chlorine neutralizer. It has recently come to my attention that topping up with filtered water may eventually have an adverse effect on water quality, due to increased concentrations of the substances that are not removed by the filter, such as salts. If this is a concern, which I must admit has never been a concern of mine, then occasional water changes are recommended. For example, one could periodically siphon (or use a pail) and remove 25% of the water volume, and then replace it with unchlorinated water.

Plants

Plants make the half-barrel pond pleasing to view, especially flowering plants. The following four types of plants are desirable for a balanced ecosystem: To my first half-barrel pond I added one anacharis (oxygenation), one zebra rush (bog), one Blue Capensis (day-blooming water lily), and a few water hyacinth and water lettuce (floating). Duckweed came attached to the other plants. Note: duckweed can quickly multiply to cover the entire surface of a small pond unless controlled by consumption (in my experience goldfish like to eat it) or by occasional removal by, for instance, a net.

The soil-rooted plants should be planted in individual containers and fertilized appropriately (water lilies, especially, require frequent fertilization). Bog plants should be placed so that their root tops are within one inch of the surface of the pond, above or below. To help prevent algae growth, plants should cover 75-80% of the surface of your pond.

Snails

Snails are the cleanup crew in a pond. Frequently, snails will accompany the plants you buy for your pond. My current advice for snails is to suggest that you consult with aquaria store personnel if you wish to purchase snails to populate your pond. Certain snails, such as apple snails, will consume your plants, and are not necessarily recommended for planted barrel ponds.

Fish

While plants make a pond pleasing to view, fish add an element of fun. Even if no fish are desired, one type of fish is almost mandatory, and that is the mosquito fish (gambusia). (Mosquito fish can usually be obtained free from your local mosquito abatement program.) A few small mosquito fish will prevent your pond from becoming an insect breeding ground, and will not require feeding or mechanicals. One or two small goldfish can also serve this purpose. Do not put fish in your barrel until the water has "aged" for 2-4 weeks, that is, until the beneficial bacteria have had time to get established, or, alternatively, you can hurry the process by adding liquid or dried bacteria purchased from a pet store.

It is rumored that a pond will support one inch of fish for every 5 gallons of water without requiring oxygenation or filtration. If you see your fish "gasping" at the top of the water (low oxygenation), or you intend to put a lot of fish in a small space, then your pond will require mechanical filtration and aeration. But regardless, it is inappropriate to put large fish in a small space like a half-barrel pond. And even goldfish can eventually outgrow a half-barrel pond.

Notice: Please do not put Koi in a half-barrel pond. They will soon outgrow their container and they tend to devour plants.

Notice: I have been informed by various sources that combining mosquito fish and goldfish can be fatal to the goldfish. The reasoning behind this is that the fast, energetic mosquito fish will deprive the goldfish of food and they may even disable the goldfish through aggression. However, my small ponds contain both mosquito fish and goldfish, some for three years now, and the goldfish are thriving and have produced offspring. Perhaps the problem only occurs when the mosquito fish population far outnumbers the goldfish population. I only keep two goldfish and a few mosquito fish in each barrel.

Mechanicals

Mechanicals are not necessary in a half-barrel pond unless you overstock. If you want to support a lot of water creatures, you will need an aerator and biological filter to keep them alive.

Designs for a simple aerator/biofilter will be upcoming here. According to a post on rec.ponds the book "Practical Koi Keeping Volume 1" contains a wealth of information for do-it-yourselfers including several biofilter designs, with drawings. It is apparently available from AKCA, PO Box 28027, San Diego, CA 92128 (619) 487-4143 voice or fax.

Maintenance

A 5% water change per week is recommended. I accomplish this by topping up with filtered, chlorine-free water once a week (I attach an EverPure water filter to my hose and top up with that). I have been advised that topping up with dechlorinated but unfiltered tap water will eventually cause the water in the barrel to become brackish, but have yet to see such a situation occur. Note also that one can use liquid dechlorinators if only chlorinated water is available. A couple of my barrels are topped up twice weekly by my watering system, with no apparent ill effects.

Plants need fertilizer. Fish need food when you overstock. Filters require periodic cleaning. To minimize maintenance, I keep the plant load high and the fish load low, and do not filter, so all I have to do is feed the plants periodically.

Suppliers (Primarily in California)

Now for some fish ... See also The Pond Drectory.

Mail-Order Suppliers

Suggested Reading

Except for the Lilypons and Waterford Gardens catalogs and "The Atlas of Garden Ponds," a good comprehensive coffee-table-type book, I have not reviewed the following publications.
Copyright (C) 1995-2007 Jeffrey Valjean Cook

This page has been accessed 2636 times since December 1995.
Maintained by: Jeff Cook.
Last updated: March 15, 2004