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Anticipation. April 29, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Spring is typically a time of anticipation. Our fellow garden bloggers are anticipating all kinds of wonderful things—a new home or deck, a potager or chicken coop, new lambs or kids, the arrival of the first hummingbird, the unfurling of beautiful leaves and flowers as their gardens return to life, new vegetable beds and the appearance of those tiny, precious seedlings from the sea of fresh-dug soil. It’s a delight to read blog posts and revel in the excitement and inspiring photos.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are experiencing a different sort of aniticipation here at Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. That’s because it finally got warm enough to reestablish our container water gardens this past weekend. We’d had them both filled with water for weeks so it could warm up, and had put the piece of clay pipe horizontally in the bottom of the deeper container so our fish would have a “tunnel” to hide in if they needed to escape from predators. We’d already put the oxygenator plant anacharis in the water, too (it grows like a weed in our indoor aquaria so we always have plenty to spare for our outdoor water gardens). It was going to be a hundred-degree weekend. It was time to get going.

So last Sunday, Silence and I trekked over to Aquatic Concepts and came back with three goldfish, six snails, a water lettuce, a water hyacinth, a variegated papyrus, a variegated cattail, and a pink-flowered arrowhead. Mind you, we already had water hyacinths, water lettuce, and papyrus overwintering in the container water garden in our greenhouse, so we’d assumed we were in great shape until a power failure occurred one frigid winter night and, by the time we woke up, the plants had departed for that big pond in the sky. Back to the drawing board.

Once home, we divided the plants and snails between the deep and shallow container gardens and floated the goldfish bag in the deep container until the water temperatures equalized, then released the goldfish into their new home. And here’s where the anticipation comes in.

For the past several years, we’ve had a raccoon come through here for a couple of weeks in the spring and a couple in the fall. It apparently considers Hawk’s Haven like a motel stop en route to wherever it’s ultimately going. While it’s here, it pulls down our tube feeders and eats the birdseed, empties the outdoor cats’ food dish, and fishes in our water gardens for goldfish and snails. (See our earlier post “Raccoon 1, gardeners 0″ for more on this.) We have seen it at the cat-food dish and it is big. And it seems to have an unerring insinct as to when to arrive, since it inevitably appears about the second we’ve planted the water gardens.

Well, we’ve made it to Wednesday without an attack. (You can always tell because some plants are shredded and the water’s all muddy, even if you don’t see partially consumed fish floating on top or hurled to the ground nearby.) As always, we’re hard-pressed not to hope that this year we and our goldfish will be spared. But we once again bought inexpensive goldfish, having learned from bitter experience not to pay for the premium specimens early in the season. And now… anticipation. It’s making us late, it’s keeping us waiting.  And not in a good way.

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1. Lzyjo - April 29, 2009

I hate raccoons! They are always getting into trouble with garbage and those baby ducks you mentioned at Easter.

I’ve been wanting to make a container water garden since reading a feature in Country Almanac’s Container Gardens magazine. When I was a kid a put one of those goldfish types in a water garden dish with those oxygenating plants, I didn’t know that they needed to be fed, I thought they ate the plants and stuff. It died not long after. :(

Awwwww. But by all means try again! We use the inexpensive rigid black plastic “liners” for half-barrel water gardens as our container gardens, and they’ve held up without so much as pindrop leak both in the greenhouse and out in the elements for years! We like the way the black sets off the plants and fish, too. We enjoy creating a three-tiered planting scheme, with submerged oxygenating plants, container plants, and floating plants. When buying, just make sure your plants are true aquatics and not some of the tropical houseplants we’ve seen being sold as water plants because they’ll live for a while in water! Also bear in mind that many water plants multiply like crazy. You’ll note that we only bought one water lettuce and one water hyacinth—we know before long we’ll be restocking the greenhouse container garden and the shallow one with their offsets and passing extras along to our neighbor! We think snails and plants are both essential for keeping the water clean and clear, but don’t go overboard when stocking fish. Three small (but not tiny) goldfish in a half-barrel-size water garden are plenty; even one small koi all by itself would be too much for a water garden this size. And yes, you need to feed them during the warm months, but not too much or you’ll foul the water and kill your fish! For the three goldfish, six to eight outdoor goldfish pellets a day is planty. Go for it lzyjo!!!

2. Heather - April 29, 2009

Racoons are awfully cute until they are chewing off your leg. Potentially mean little creatures. Hope your fish habitat makes it. Maybe that racoon moved onto greener pastures.

So true, Heather! They’re clever and cuddly-looking, but we’ve heard real-life horror stories too horrible to repeat here. Our fingers are crossed for the fish and snails!

3. Gail - April 29, 2009

I’ve been thinking about a container garden myself and was all set to ask a few questions when I see you kindly answered them in your comment to Lzyjo! Thank you very much! The container I am eying is a galvanized stock tank…It will bring a shock of bright to the patio! Raccoons seem to be the only creatures that are able to escape the coyotes around here…smart and mean! gail

Stock tanks are a wonderful option, Gail! My landscape architect friend Cole has a wonderful stock tank bog with pitcher plants and other native bog plants. it’s breathtaking! And a stock tank would give you room for water lilies and native lotuses as well as an assortment of other plants and fish. Do it, then show us, please! Er, wait, are you saying there are coyotes in Nashville?!! Noooooo!!!

4. Victoria - April 29, 2009

I know what you’re going through. Well, kind of. Last year we had two raccoons visiting our ponds regularly. Fishing around, trying to get themselves a koi or goldfish for dinner. I ran them off with a broom once, then gave up and just photographed the little buggers. They haven’t been back this year, as far as we know. Our dog usually lets us know when they’re here.

Ha! Excellent attitude, Victoria! And I’m glad you haven’t seen them this year. Our dog (and the outdoor cats, for that matter) made themselves scarce whenever the monster raccoon appeared. “Oh, I don’t see that… lalala… I don’t see anything…” Sigh.

5. Lzyjo - April 29, 2009

Thank you for the tips, OFB. Gail had a great idea with the galvanized water troughs. There is one sitting unused in the landlords barn. $20 -$5O would probably make it mine. There are coydogs in the Nashville suburbs, DH’s former songwriting partner lost his kids’ pet bunny to one, said the kids had a bad feeling and called home to check and sure enough. To the coydogs. Haven’t seen them myself. Maybe it’s an urban legend?

Go for the trough—great find! And i forgot to tell you to get a mini water hyacinth rather than a full-size if you have a choice and want a water hyacinth. Not that full-size water hyacinths are huge, but because all water hyacinths spread, the minis will give you less aggravation and I find them more attractive. Coyotes, coydogs… shudder.

6. Daphne Gould - April 29, 2009

I used to have a half barrel water garden with a little waterfall. I pumped the water up and it came out from a bamboo fountain I made. Then went down a series of little waterfalls before it got to the barrel. It was fun but a lot of work. I usually had two cheap goldfish that went into it every year. I would feed them for a few weeks, then I only occasionally fed them. Nature provided for the goldfish. I think they got fat on mosquito larvae.

Mosquito control is definitely one reason we keep goldfish in our water gardens, Daphne! (Though we do enjoy watching them—the goldfish, not the mosquitos!—too, they’re so colorful.) Once they’re set up, our own container water gardens are no more work than feeding the fish and topping up the water when it doesn’t rain. No waterfalls = no electricity = no bills! We think you should try again!


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