What is an ecosystem pond? How does ecosystem pond work? What makes an ecosystem pond different from a pool? Is one pond better than another?
Here we’ll explore the terms and definitions of this style of pond, and how it works. But before we do that, let’s take a step back, to a place away from the hustle and noise of cities, a place far from the dirt and smog of factories and industries. To a beautiful lake.
What do you see? It’s beautiful! The entire atmosphere seems relaxed and peaceful. But if you wait silently, you’ll see, hear, and feel more than you imagined. Cattails rustle in the breeze; lily pads float serenely. Then a bird chirps. A fish splashes. A frog lets out a melancholy croak as he dives into the water. Suddenly you realize that all around you, everything is alive! Minnows race in the shallow waters. Dragonflies skim the surface of the water. A family of ducks swims and dives through the water. Water strider bugs row madly across the still water, swallows dip and fly overhead, and in the gentle breeze that moves across the water, you hear the distant cry of a hawk. The tall trees’ long roots grow down into the water, in search of the life it gives; even the gentle flowers along the water nod in celebration of life. This is life, unmarred by everything man has done to make our world better, faster, easier.
This is a natural ecosystem.
An ecosystem pond is a pond or stream designed to function following the patterns of nature – no harmful chemicals, complex filter system, or chlorine. These natural beauties are created to embrace and enhance life on every level, from the graceful plants that add color around and in the water to the beautiful fish that swim in the shallows and the birds that bathe at the water’s edge.
Welcome to pond life.
These ponds all follow similar construction theory, but they can be designed to fit almost any backyard size or area. Even a small space, indoor or outdoor, can be transformed with the beauty and life of an ecosystem pond.
But how is this done? A freshwater ecosystem has almost endless players that contribute to the symphony, but we’ll look at a few of the key players that are almost universal, from the smallest patio bowl pond to the endless Everglades.
Circulation is vital to pond life. In a naturally-occurring system, circulation usually happens by the natural flow of rivers or creeks. In a man-made system, we recreate this with a simple skimmer and waterfall system. This circulation does several things. First, the moving surface water effectively skims floating debris from the surface of the pond, removing excess leaves and litter before they sink to the bottom. Circulation also helps keep the oxygen in the water at healthy levels for the plants and fish. With proper circulation, no brackish water will ever become a breeding ground for those pesky mosquitoes.
Pond filtration can be divided into two categories: Mechanical Filtration and Biological Filtration. Mechanical filtration can be thought of as the physical removal of debris from water. The skimming of the circulation system plays an integral part in mechanical filtration. In a constructed ecosystem, we enhance this system by using a skimmer basket to remove leaves and debris, and filter mats to aid in separating tiny pieces of debris from the flow of water. The same skimmer that holds these functions also conveniently houses the pump that provides circulation for the pond. Biological filtration is the removal of excess nutrients from the water. These nutrients are invisible and seem so trivial, but a nutrient imbalance is the beginning of many problems, from cloudy water to prolific algae blooms and poor fish health. Healthy bacteria play a major role in biological filtration; these bacteria break down and devour sediments and debris and improve water clarity. The natural filtration acts as the digestive system of a pond, and biologists intentionally select these healthy bacteria strains because they are safe for humans and animals.
Fun Fact: The human body has over one hundred billion healthy bacteria in it! (that’s 100,000,000,000) A pond without healthy bacteria can get a belly ache, just like its owners.
Many people assume plants are simply a cosmetic to enhance pond life; however, they are vital to a flourishing ecosystem. Aquatic plants pull nutrients out of the water to grow. If these nutrients remain in the water, they will allow algae to flourish. So, having established plants in and around the pond will starve unwanted algae out of the ecosystem. Plants also put oxygen into the water in exchange for the nitrates and carbon dioxide they pull out. This dramatically boosts fish health; they need oxygen in the water to live. Plants also provide cover for small pond life to flourish in, from the dragonflies who control bug populations to the microbes who silently consume debris and waste from the pond.
Fun Fact: While mosquitoes cannot reproduce in the moving water of a correctly designed ecosystem pond, Dragonflies prefer this environment for breeding. These tiny carnivores can eat up to a hundred mosquitoes in a single day!
These silent friends do much more than exist and look beautiful. Just as the plants pull carbon dioxide out of the water and release oxygen back in for the fish, the fish give back to their beneficiaries. They consume oxygen in the water but also release carbon dioxide back for the plants. Fish waste acts as a fertilizer to the many plants that thrive in these mutual waters. Many fish act as ever-on-duty cleaners, eating algae growth off rocks and gravel in the pond.
Fun Fact: Koi Fish, long considered the king of the water garden fish world, are bottom feeders. This means they are best suited to eat from the bottom of your pond; cleaning algae from gravel is as natural to them as eating a sandwich is to us.
Rocks and Gravel
Rocks are essential to the construction of an ecosystem pond. Rocks provide structural stability and add coves of shelter for fish from natural predators from above. What little algae grows on the surface of rocks and gravel becomes a food source for the fish. Rocks and gravel also significantly increase the surface area of growing space for the bacteria that digest pond waste; these microscopic workers need to attach to a surface to live.
There are many more finessed parts of a properly functioning ecosystem pond, but these parts together make up the body of what a freshwater ecosystem is and how it works. Coming together, they can create all the life, peace, and beauty of the world’s most delicate and beautiful ecosystems.
Welcome to pond life – you belong here!
It’s a question that’s been raised time and again by professionals, do-it-yourself enthusiasts, and homeowners looking to make a wise investment decision.
When we speak of concrete, we’re generally talking about a single (monolithic, to be technical), poured concrete slab. This concrete is usually reinforced with wire or rebar and can be smooth finished or textured. Stamped concrete often falls into this category, although there are some other differences between stamped and regular concrete.
Concrete is usually poured either directly on the prepared site ground, or ideally, on a bedding layer of at least 2 inches of clean stone. Most public sidewalks and curbs, garage floors, and residential concrete projects are done this way.
Most paving stones—or pavers, as we call them—are made from a pre-cured concrete. There are also clay bricks and natural stone products, but for simplicity, we’ll focus on concrete paving stones.
Pavers don’t have wire or rebar grid in them. Instead, their strength comes from the interlocking pavers around them, and the weight distribution that it provides. Pavers require more extensive base work. Our recommendation is to have at least a 6-inch crushed stone base and a 1-inch layer of bedding sand. All correctly installed residential paver walkways and patios require this minimum, while driveways and industrial jobs require much more.
A Head-to-Head Comparison
In four-season climates like ours in Pennsylvania, both materials are subject to moving ground caused by the freeze and thaw of the soil below them, and they behave in different ways.
Since concrete is a single “free-floating” slab, either the entire piece of concrete will move up or down, or it will crack. This movement is what causes the uneven bumps to appear along the joints in a sidewalk and cracks to appear in the previously smooth patio. Contractors avoid this problem by putting “safety cracks” in the concrete. However, over time, concrete will still tend to crack and heave, which cannot be repaired.
You can think of pavers as many small concrete slabs locked together. Freeze and thaw cycles will move pavers too. However, each joint between two pavers allows for a bit of flex and movement. In this way, pavers can move with the freeze, and will settle back into place without leaving any bumps or cracks. In both cases, this movement is usually minimal; unfortunately, if the concrete flexes more than 0.125 inches, it will crack.
Pricing of Concrete vs. Stamped Pavers
Initially, a poured concrete slab will be cheaper to install than a paver area of the same size. Poured concrete requires less base work and preparation and is less labor intensive than pavers. There are some risks to be considered with this installation. Once the concrete slab is poured, it is permanent. If a crack develops, or a corner is chipped, it is usually costly to fix. Repairs often require cutting a patch out or demolishing the entire pad and re-pouring it. The contractor might repair any issues related to the original construction. But any cracks, chips, or problems that occur after installation will incur additional cost for the homeowner.
Pavers cost more to install but are less costly to repair or alter. If a single paver is chipped or marred, it can be removed and replaced with little difficulty. When properly installed, no cracks or gaps should appear. Most pavers come with a warranty on the quality of the pavers. Many contractors offer a warranty on their work for two to five years or longer.
Concrete offers a range of color variations created by dyeing the wet (not yet poured) concrete a particular color, which is done on the day of the installation. Concrete can be stamped with a pattern or finished with several different texture options.
Pavers offer an almost endless avenue of artistic opportunity. Many pavers have several color options, and various pavers can be used together to create contrast or complementing borders and color schemes. You can choose from varying textures to create a certain feel – from a smooth, modern design or an aged, textured feel.
Patterns can be made with pavers as well. For ideas on color, texture, pattern, visit our Hardscape Project Gallery .
Pavers can also be used to correspond with color-matching retaining walls, steps, fireplaces and more. If your location isn’t flat and grading work must be done, consider the possibilities of combining Pavers and walls to complement each other.
Here are a few questions to consider as you plan your hardscaping project:
Ultimately, the choice is yours.
Weston has been working at Tussey since 2007, starting as a laborer on the crews. Today he works as a foreman on one of the crews during the landscaping season, as well as our marketing director at Tussey.