Messing About

A long time ago in this very office (or one quite like it the other side of town) a pair of fishkeeping hacks first discussed the concept of benign neglect and fishkeeping. The hacks were myself and Karen Youngs, my deputy, lately returned to PFK. What we were thinking about was the tendency of all keen hobbyists to not leave well alone.

For instance, my garden has had a dozen or more incarnations since the year I moved in (1985) and none of them have been especially successful. But if I'd resigned myself to weeding and digging and ignored everything else, I'd now have a blaze of colour, packed with self seeded annuals, shrubs, and lots of unnamed plants that I took a dislike to and hauled out. The only exception is that my lawn would be a thistle bed not the walkable mixture of grass and moss that it now is.

I built my pond about four years ago, having had a small wildlife pond before. It's tiny - no good for Koi but OK for goldfish and the like. Because it's there it's been used for a string of tests - anti green water, anti blanketweed , pumps, (which it destroys) and other get fixed quick solutions.

Last year I cleaned it out for the first time. The fish didn't mind the fresh water one bit - and the green water and blanketweed algae relished it. The plants did OK, the goldfish and Fat head minnows both spawned successful, and all was right with the mini ecosystem.

This was far better than all those years when various treatments and tests took place. So now I thought, leave well alone. A bit of benign neglect. I've seen the messing about syndrome in action in other hobbies and some sports before. Everything's going beautifully until the hobbyist tweaks something - changing flows through pumps, adding a wonder additive, changing the food regime - all just because they can. (Golfers change their swings, cricketers mess around with their stances at the wicket - and even if cricket is a closed book to you wherever you are in the world you can think of something similar). Disaster ALWAYS follows.

The fishkeeping equivalent is overcleaning filters (easily done) or upsetting perfectly happy fish by trying to achieve the water chemistry YOU think they really need.

But could I leave well alone? No I couldn't. After the demise of the latest pump in the pond, I hadn't replaced it. I was running an ecologically sound machine filtered by heavy plant growth, lightly stocked. But the water turned green this spring quite badly. The plants (lilies mostly) took their time to emerge. So I faltered, and dosed it with a wonder cure. This may well have worked, but I had forgotten the advice I always give readers. Always aerate when knocking out algae as it breaks down and pollutes the water.

Yesterday I was off to the distant beaches of Norfolk when my daughter spotted the half a dozen goldfish gasping for air. A wild improvisation of equipment followed, with a faulty extension lead nearly reducing me to tears.

In the end I rewired a spare pump - one of the perks of editing this magazine is things like spare pumps - and as it churned the water through you could smell the sulphur dioxide blowing free. The problem is, I think, the high walls of my garden, and the fact that my pond is as deep as it's wide so that any breeze has little effect and the water doesn't get turned over. So it's back to fitting a pump and filter, and "messing about" with the pond again.

© Steve Windsor. May not be reproduced in part, or whole, without permission.

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