Aug 10, 2016

A Frog Bog!

So if you read any Cool Ponds articles, newsletters, postcards, etc. you know that as of July 23, 2016 we have a new "Serenity Garden" here. We've plugged it pretty hard. The photo above shows the bog area of the pond surrounded by water lilies both hardy and tropical. What's great about this bog is not only is it awesome aesthetically and helping to keep the pond clean... it's also now home to two frogs.

They must have moved in almost as soon as the pond was finished. I guess they like the "serenity" of the garden as well. Can you see the bullfrog in the photo above? Check out the close up below:

They love the bog because they can float in among the aquatic plants and be pretty much unnoticeable. Honestly I wouldn't have seen them if Kasey hadn't pointed them out! (There is actually a Leopard Frog behind the boulder sticking out of the water in the top photo it's just not visible.) Plus there's an unlimited supply of little insects for them to eat. We have frogs all over the place here at our shop and we can pretty much attribute that to the heavy plant cover in all our water features.

If you are looking to entice some frogs to live in and enjoy your pond, I recommend creating a bog area. What is a bog? It's a shallow area that's filled with marginal aquatic plants.  All of our ponds here at the store have some type of bog area -- some of them multiple bogs. Marginal plants are those that have their roots in the water but the foliage is above the water surface.

It's not difficult to create a bog on an existing pond.
Option 1: Build a little retaining area with boulders inside the pond and fill the area with river rock to 1-2" below the water surface. You might be able to expand an existing shelf, possibly? The key is that it needs to be shallow.

Option 2: (More advanced.) Dig a shallow area next to your pond and attach new liner to create the bog area. Fill the new area with river rock.

For me the critters that live in my pond are what I enjoy most. Anything I can do to make them feel more at home and safe is a project well worth it!

Staci Wicker
Cool Ponds Co-owner

Jul 7, 2016

What Exactly Is Pond Filtration?

Pond Filtration Primer

Clear water is the goal. Now how do we achieve that?

Probably most realize that backyard ponds need filtration. Filtration comes in all sorts of forms however -- maybe not what you have pictured in your mind either!

Ancient pond filtration. No one wants to see this in the
bottom of their pond!

Submerged Filters
In the beginning... okay maybe not the beginning, but before modern day pond filtration was invented in the early 1990's, most pond filtration consisted of a pump in the pond bottom which drew the water through a container of lava rock also sitting in the pond bottom. This was somewhat effective, but unsightly and very high maintenance. This system was tweaked a bit to become the submerged filters that are still sold today -- a good percentage of new pond owners start this way, but it hasn't changed that much -- you can still see it in the pond bottom and it's still high maintenance. But for many, this is a low cost way to filter their pond and get started.

Today, modern filtration equipment is not
seen at all in or around the pond when
it is installed properly.

Modern Filtration
Today's modern day filtration consists of two components -- a biological waterfall and a skimmer. This system filters the pond exponentially better than the submerged filter and if installed properly is hidden, making the pond look much more natural.  The biological waterfall cleans and clarifies the water while the skimmer both protects the pump from debris and removes debris from the water. Read more about Biological Waterfalls here.

This spilling urn is both a filter and decorative!

External Filtration
Somewhere in between the submerged filter and the waterfall/skimmer combination lies the external filter. While the pump still sits in the pond bottom, the filter sits outside the pond making filter maintenance easier. These filters can be easily hidden or decorative such as the photo above. These filters are a great option for very small or hard-lined ponds.

There are other natural pond filters in the pond as well. 

There IS a creek in there! The plants are thriving!

If you look closely you can see the debris build-up.

Creeks and Streams
This spring we added a creek to our large pond in front of our shop. We added it simply as a debris filter. Because of the way the pond is constructed and the fact that our street floods terribly when it rains, all the debris from the parking lot ends up in the pond -- yeah, not a great situation. So we added this creek (and an accompanying skimmer) to remove the fine, excess debris. As the water flows through the rocks and gravel in the creek, it drops and collects in the gravel. You can see the build up. We simply use a pond vac and vac it out every so often. Works like a charm! Read more about the benefits of adding a creek here.

Rocks and Gravel in the Pond
What exactly is biological filtration? It's beneficial bacteria going to work breaking down and eating up all the excess nutrients in your pond that can feed algae. In order for the beneficial bacterial to do their job, they need a place to live -- like all the surfaces in your pond. If you add rocks and gravel to the pond, the surface area for bacteria to colonize will increase exponentially! One to two inches of river rock in the pond bottom is an awesome filter!

Aquatic Plants
Plants are natural filters all the way! They eat excess nutrients that build up in the pond. Not all plants are as good eaters as others, however. Although water lilies shade the water, they're not great nutrient eaters. For the best results, marginal plants put in areas where water flows through their roots will be the best at filtration. As well as eating nutrients, their roots will catch fine debris too. (Another reason to add a creek!)

Supplemental Beneficial Bacteria
In our backyards, we're trying to imitate Mother Nature. She has plenty of beneficial bacterial to keep natural bodies of water in balance. In our backyard ponds, we do things to upset that balance -- too many fish, fish food, inadequate plant quantities, etc. So it's important to supplement with BioClear and Clean (beneficial bacteria) to keep that balance by its consuming the excess nutrients.

All ponds are unique and require their own filtration solution to look their best and remain healthy. There are lots of easy ways to increase your pond's filtration or you can start with the easiest and lowest possible maintenance -- the biological waterfall and skimmer. Need some advice? All of us at Cool Ponds are happy to help!

May 13, 2016

How Much Should I Expect to Pay for a Water Feature?

When you say the word water feature, lots of images come to mind. I mean a water feature can be a lot of things. A simple pot with a fountain is a water feature. For the purposes of this article, I'm talking about ponds and pond-free waterfalls. Remember that our goal in installing your water feature is to build a long-term relationship with you and your water feature. We want you to love your water feature so much you can't wait to tell everyone about it and how wonderful it is and you get to enjoy it without spending a lot of time working on it. Does that describe the water feature you have now?

When we talk about pond kits and installed ponds at Cool Ponds, we are talking about something very specific. Our ponds have biological and mechanical filtration, are lined with 45 mil rubber liner, and include EVERYTHING you need to have a beautiful, low maintenance pond. Plus, when complete, you will not see any rubber liner, tubing, pump, filter, wires... it will look completely natural.  Can you picture it? This isn't the pond you see in the hardware store flyer and it's certainly not as high maintenance either! Believe it or not... our installed ponds start at $5400 for an 8' by 10' by 2' deep pond with a waterfall and 5' long creek. Everything you need for that pond is there when we are finished. Plus we walk you step by step through how to take care of it. If you don't want to take care of it, we can sign you up for our maintenance program and you never lift a finger!

Pond-Free Waterfalls
A pond-free waterfall is a waterfall and creek without the pond at the bottom. It actually has a small pond but it's underground so you don't see it. If you want the sound and sight of a waterfall but don't necessarily want fish or water lilies, then a pond-free might be an option for you. Our pond-free waterfalls also look completely natural with no mechanical parts showing. Our 5' waterfall and creek pond-free starts at $2950. Again when we are finished, it will be complete and we will discuss everything you need to do to maintain your feature ... which isn't much.

Working with us is different... in a good way. You will love our people, our ponds and our passion. We hope you will contact us for a design consultation soon!

May 11, 2016

The Cool Ponds Difference

Let me be clear: we are big fans of doing it yourself. Our home has been remodeled by our family team of five many times (and most of those times our team members were just big enough to wield a hammer!). So when it came to deciding to hire someone to paint our house, it was not without some reservations.

After an inspiring visit to the Home Show, we decided to contact a short list of painting contractors for estimates.

It has been a crazy experience.

Our estimates have ranged by the thousands, for no apparent reasoning. Some people say the house can be painted in two days, some say seven. Some of them gave us pricing before they left our yard, and others gave us pricing many days later. From some we received professional printouts, and others simply scribbled notes on the backs of business cards. Some had excellent communication with us, and some just dropped off the face of the Earth.

We finally found a professional we liked who was upfront and fair, and we're dying to see our new paint color!

This huge array of paint contractors is an accurate representation of any contracting world-- including our own pond niche. It can be difficult to know who you're working with, and it can be scary trusting someone in your house or yard.

So we're here to be totally upfront with you. The following is how WE do business...

We're going to detail exactly what our process for our installation is. After all, you're inviting us into your home, asking us to tear up your yard... You should have precise knowledge of what that looks like!

Initial Contact

Whether you found us online, at the Flower and Patio Show, or heard about us from your neighbor's cousin's daughter's boyfriend, we ask that you visit our store before we ever come out to your house.

You wouldn't buy a car over the phone, would you? Most likely not. You go to the showroom. You test drive a few models. You pick out the color. You find the right package so that you can get that sunroof, right?

It's the same principle with ponds. You need to visit our store, see what our style is like, find the right size pond and waterfall, find out where the pump goes, etc. And get pricing. Our display features at our store are all priced so there are no surprises when our designers arrive at your home. Our retail staff will answer all your questions.

Setting An Appointment 

Once you've visited our store, we will set an appointment to have a designer come to your house (either Steve or Steven Jr.-- or both!). We require a $100 design consultation fee, which will come off the price of the work once we've been contracted. We're not just measuring siding here, we are designing a unique water feature that fits your needs. We have a vast array of experience that we draw from to design what will work best with your location and fit what you desire in a water feature.

Initial House Call 

At this initial house visit, we'll take a look at your yard and find out what exactly you would like. If you really have no clue what you'd like except that you know you want some water-- don't worry. We're very good at brainstorming and designing something specifically for you.

Plus, we don't just do ponds. If you want a patio next to your water feature, a fire pit, some plantings around it to make it look totally natural, we can do all that for you too. This initial house call is the perfect time to paint a complete picture of what you'd like to have.

Before we leave your house, we'll hand you an estimate, broken down line-by-line for you to see exactly what we're charging. This estimate will only change if you want to add something in the process. There's no "Well, we forgot this rock, and we're short this-and-this, so we had to increase your bill," at the end. The price we give you is the price. Period. You'll see the starting prices that you saw at our store that would have only increased if something was added or you live a distance away.

Contracting Cool Ponds

We ask for half the total estimate up front. We will collect the last half once the job is 100% complete.

You'll be added to our work schedule on a first-come-first-serve basis. We're not going to put another job ahead of you because it's bigger or quicker or for any other reason. The only thing that will push your job completion back is weather, and that's if it's pretty bad weather by the way. We will work in
the rain or the cold or the heat. Just as long as we can get a shovel in the ground and our machines through your yard without making a muddy, soupy mess.

Throughout the process, we will maintain clear communication with you. If you have any questions, all you need to do is call our store or email us and we'll give you a quick, complete answer. If rough weather does push our schedule back, you'll be the first to know.

Completing the Installation 

So far in this you should have noticed some big differences in how we do business compared to the rest of the contracting world. But this is where you'll note the biggest difference.

Our entire crew will be at your house from the day we start, and we will stay at your house exclusively until the project is finished. There's no jumping from job site to job site or having half the crew somewhere and the other half somewhere else.

This makes our completion time very timely. Our Celebration pond (around 1000 gallons, 8' wide by 12' long) will take a day and a half. Our Journey pond (3500 gallons, 15' wide, 19' long) will take three days.

Our crew is entirely professional, and they love their jobs. You're welcome to ask every single one of them questions. They'd love to chat with you! They're artists, and they work extremely hard.

We are a tobacco free company so you'll never find a stray cigarette butt from us.

We treat your yard with respect. This is your home, after all.

The End Result 

When we've finished installing your water feature, swept all the sand off your new patio, set your chairs at just the right distance from your fire pit, we'll do a final walk through with you. Our crew foreman will walk you through your entire installation. Where the pump is, how to turn on the new underwater lights, what steps you will take to keep your water crystal clear, etc.

You'll be given a welcome packet with answers to every question you never knew you should ask. But our assistance does not stop there. Our store hosts free classes every year, and we encourage you to come to as many as you'd like. Every one of us is here to help your water feature become an intimate part of your life for many, many years.

Your Cool Ponds experience will be unlike any you've ever had with another company. If you have any interest at all in our services, visit our store. You can tour our gardens, sit by our ponds. Our retail staff is on hand to answer all of your questions-- not to pressure you at all.

Water features are beautiful, relaxing, and life-transforming. We believe every step of the process should reflect that. 

Apr 14, 2016

Changing the World... One Backyard At A Time!

Even a small amount of habitat added to a yard makes a huge difference!
This article was written by Steve and Staci’s oldest daughter, Kasey, who graduated from Ball State University in December ’14 with a Biology degree. She is Cool Ponds' Business Development Manager and Interim Store Manager.

In late January, my dad and I went to Ball State to set up a booth at the Natural Resources and Energy Management Career Fair. I enjoy the career fair immensely. It’s a chance to meet the people coming out of my alma mater—who they are as people, as scientists.

Looking around at the other companies at the career fair, we realized how few private sector companies were there—we were just  1 of 5! State and federal agencies made up the bulk of the companies offering internships and employment. So when students wandered to our table, they looked at our pond photos, they glanced at our brochures, and then they tilted their heads and said, “What is Cool Ponds?”

We weren’t totally surprised by this question. When we gave our answer, we received a mix of responses. But one young woman had the most striking response. She looked at our pond photos, glanced at our brochures, then tilted her head back and laughed, and said, “Why?”

It was a rude question, and it was delivered to us in such a shocking and abrupt way that I admit I stumbled through my answer. When she walked away, it occurred to me that her question represented the huge disconnect between academia and reality that I struggled with for so long during my own schooling.

I’m not here to dog academia or to say that I didn’t fully enjoy and appreciate 100% of my schooling. I’m not here to insult the students we spoke with or anyone who picks up a job with a government division.

No, I praise academia. Every student we talked to at that career fair had a genuine passion  for nature and a sincere will to help the Earth. The disconnect I’m talking about occurs in the classroom. When I was in school not so very long ago, we were gearing up for jobs with the DNR, the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, large ecological survey companies… But nothing like I do. And I get it; jobs like mine at Cool Ponds are not in abundance.

What frustrates me is that these young people—who know so much and who are so eager to change the world—will have very little voice or impact in the companies represented at the career fair. Because I believe that real change, real, impactful change will happen one yard at a time. Of course I believe that big companies and government bodies make big changes—of course they do! They are incredibly important, and millions of acres across the world have been saved for the preservation of wildlife habitat.

But what about the parking lot next door? The farm down the street? How many insects can those support? How many birds? How many mammals and reptiles? When you start adding land up plot by plot, that acreage adds up very quickly.

It’s hard for a government to get something going. Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area  (near Linton, IN) is an amazing 8,000 acre marsh habitat. It’s an incredible boon to the entire North American ecosystem. But it also took decades and too many litigation battles to become a dedicated wildlife refuge. Your own backyard can become great habitat in just the span of a weekend. No, your yard won’t have the same impact that Goose Pond does. But what if your neighbors did the same thing? Or your whole neighborhood? What about your city?

At Cool Ponds, we have wanted for many years now to be “the nature store.” And we do that well, with water features and with our bird supplies. But this year we’re doing more. With several events dedicated just to enhancing your backyard habitat, to providing terrestrial plants, to offering some bee and bat supplies, we want you to help us make your world a little more biologically vibrant.

So this year I challenge you to make your land, no matter how small, a little bit more ecologically friendly. And if you’re unsure where to start, please get in touch with me. Nothing would please me more than to help you help the Earth.

Kasey Wicker


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