The Koi Khronicle

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Koi Khronicle

Hello, my name is Marvin Mallon. My wife Reva and I live in West Hills, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles.


For as long as I can recall, I had wanted to create a small koi pond in my back yard. I finally accomplished this in June of 2004. I can best describe how it got to where it is today by having you read an article I have submitted to KOIUSA, a slick, bi-monthly publication. It will be published in their May-June issue.

A Fishy Tale or

How I Defied Conventional Wisdom and Built a Successful Mini Koi Pond.

© Marvin Mallon 2004

“You can’t hope to raise Koi in anything smaller than a thousand-gallon pond”. That’s what I heard (and read) whenever I gave thought to building a habitat for those colorful creatures. It’s a myth! …. let me explain.

For as long as I can recall, I have been smitten with Koi fever. I took every opportunity, when traveling, to visit various ponds, either residential or commercial. Within a short radius of our San Fernando Valley, California home, are a great number of private Koi ponds of all sizes and configurations. Knowing that Koi people are outgoing and always proud to show off their installations, it never proved difficult to wangle an invitation for my wife and me to visit and admire quite a few attractive backyard ponds.

Even more exciting were the visits we made to the handful of aquatic stores and major wholesalers who dazzled us with some of the finest examples of Cyprinus Carpio to be found on the West Coast. A since-departed Koi farm in Santa Barbara encouraged visitors to the point that they sold small packets of Koi food that provided me with about fifteen minutes of pleasant relaxation. The sight of some of their two-footers evoked a great deal of envy. I just had to raise my own Koi!

In my usual manner, I amassed a variety of books, magazines, vendor brochures and Internet articles that I perused to the point of almost committing them to memory. I was confused by the contradictions that abounded from one authoritative source to another. Methods of filtration, number of fish per square foot, lilies versus hyacinths, to UV or not to UV; it dimmed my enthusiasm somewhat (but not completely).

What virtually every source did agree on was that Koi can’t be kept in anything less than a thousand gallons and nothing under a depth of at least 36 inches. This almost dashed my hopes for building a pond in my small and already overcrowded back yard. Our swimming pool, gazebo, spa and various planters left precious little acreage for any but the most diminutive pond. In addition, I wasn’t very anxious to get into tackling a liner for my first foray into Koi keeping. The preforms looked attractive but were obviously well below the minimum capacity (according to the Gurus) for creating a successful pond. A water garden, yes, but a habitat for Nishikigoi, not a chance.

And so, for a period of years, I abandoned my hope of having my very own Koi haven. If the fish mavens all agreed that the objects of my desire couldn’t be raised in anything smaller than a hole in the ground big enough to float a canoe, who was I to disagree? Of course, I eyed our 38,000-gallon swimming pool on more than one occasion. What a great pond that would make! I visualized a Japanese pagoda at one end and a beautifully arching bridge spanning the center. My wife quickly pulled me back from that idiotic idea, (“Not in this life, you won’t!”) reminding me that we still had visiting children, a grandchild and numerous friends and neighbors who would most likely abandon us if ever we deconstructed the old swimming hole.

And then came the turning point. On a motor trip to Northern California, we stopped over for a few days’ visit with our son and his bride of one year. He is a creative individual who, since our last visit, had completely landscaped the side yard of their Half Moon Bay home. The most interesting element of his handiwork was the installation of a 55-gallon preformed pond. Its Lilliputian size only permitted the use of a submerged pump sitting atop a small filter box driving a tiny spray head. Talk about a pond on a small scale! I had seen quarantine tanks ten times that size. But the biggest surprise of all came when, upon close examination, eight Koi of varying size were frolicking in the fourteen-inch depth of this postage-stamp pond. And then I had an epiphany! If he could manage to keep a squad of fish healthy and happy in that bathtub surely I could do the same. I could hardly wait to return home in order to put my plan into effect. “Go to it”, my wife encouraged.


In consideration of the available space in our back yard and the investment of time, labor and money, I opted for a preform too, albeit a larger one then my scion had chosen. I bought a Beckett 85 gallon unit (their model ANGEL2) and called upon my favorite handyman to come and make the installation. I’m well past the pick-and-shovel stage of my life and I needed his strong back to dig the hole, line it with sand and drop in the polyethylene preform.

Of course, it didn’t end there. It seemed appropriate to surround the pond with a decorative paved patio. Not large, but befitting the surroundings. The red bricks were supplemented with colorful rocks and pebbles that overhung the lip of the preform and added greatly to the overall appearance. Set in cement, the edging of rocks was firmly in place and I could move on to the next step in my installation.

I selected a Tetra Dyna Mag 500 submersible pump aware that it was overkill for such a small pond but knowing that its output could be cut back if necessary. A Tetra above-ground PF-1 filter seemed like a good companion piece for this installation and the 1” hose going in and 1 ¼” tubing at the output gave good circulation and more than adequate volume turnover.

A little tweaking was necessary to get the filter’s gravity output to drain back into the pond properly. Raising the filter higher off the ground was all that was necessary to affect this. That’s where an oversized pump that can drive a good head of water proved to be a prudent choice. The in-pond pump came with a choice of fountain or bell spray. The neat symmetrical appearance of the bell-shaped spray seemed best and provides more than enough aeration.

Somewhat after the fact, my wife and I joined a local Koi club (Ventura County Koi Society) and were warmly accepted into their ranks. An established group in the Southern California region, they are open to beginners (like us) as well as some of the most serious ichthyologists imaginable. The first meeting we attended coincided with their annual barbeque and raffle. Great food, great company and the opportunity to get responses to some of my still-unanswered questions proved invaluable. Having not yet purchased my Koi, their input regarding size, quantity and other considerations was most welcome.

One member went so far as to give me a no-longer-needed Tetra UV-1 that he assured me would be an important adjunct to my setup. How right he proved to be! Within days of installing this ultra-violet clarifier between pump and biofilter a nasty bit of algae bloom, that threatened the viewing of my yet-to-be purchased fish, was cleared up.

Even though enough time had transpired for my mini-pond to balance out, I purposely chose to postpone adding any Koi until my wife and I returned from a two-week vacation. Only after the prodding of a good neighbor (“Where’s the fish?”) did I decide to make my first finny purchase based on his sworn promise to look after them in our absence. And so, three frisky four-inchers made their debut in our pond. No new parents home from the hospital with a trio of preemies could have been more watchful and attentive than we. Fortunately, our coddling (and perhaps a teeny bit of over-feeding) harmed them not. We noted their skittishness during the day when they could spot us clearly and found that evening seemed the best time (with the submerged lights on) to feed them. Where we appeared to them to be monstrous predators by day, we became benevolent dispersers of floating Koi sticks (Tetra again) by night. Poor confused juveniles!

Of course, I took advantage of all the many sources of information available to the Koi novice. Books, magazines, the Internet and, of course, the fellow members of VCKS. Another unexpected source of assistance came from my teenage grandson who astonished me with the depth of his understanding about raising fish in general and Koi specifically. It seems the grandfather is supposed to impart this sort of knowledge to the younger family member, not the other way around. But, hey, I’ll take help wherever I can get it and his input proved invaluable.

In the intervening months, the trio has grown noticeably. The one we call Alpha (for Alpha Male, the leader of the pack) is now a fat six-incher while both Beta and Gamma are not far behind. Who knows, by the time they all get to be a foot long I might just opt for a thousand gallon addition. “Don’t even think about it.”, says the Alpha Female I married fifty years ago. Since she has the power of veto in the Security Council of our household, the three boys are just going to have to stay trim and slim.

In conclusion, if becoming a serious Koi Keeper raising some really big guys is your desire then go for the 3000-gallon mini-lake. But if you would be content with the relaxation and opportunity for meditation that bringing up a couple of juveniles can supply, then the sub-hundred pond can work wonders for your soul. My wife agrees with my new motto; “Every Koi you own adds two years to your life”.

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