Fish are easy to care for, right? Wrong! Two years ago, I committed genocide in my koi pond.
Learning to do some things around the house makes me feel wonderful. “Fixing” the washing machine made me proud and was relatively easy. Learning to clean the filters in the koi pond and take care of that is a different ball of wax.
You have to understand that my ex could find a way to make anything work. That was a great skill because he could cobble together what he had or could find at a local store and make it work. However, it also means that nothing is really at 100% or in shape for a standard technician. The pump and filter for the koi pond are prime examples (no pun intended–unless you thought it was funny, then it was intentional). You have to stick your arm down through 18 inches of water into the pump box and feel for the debris that has been sucked into the intake and pry it out bit by nasty, disgusting bit. Then you pull out larger filters that are really intended for air vents and rinse them off. The net portion is a salvaged pool skimmer which isn’t the right size, but if you prop it up just right, it catches some of the debris before it is sucked into the filters or pump.
However algae blooms at certain times and he has always managed the chemicals to control it. I did a little bit of internet research trying to find the best way to control it and they suggested adding a bit of chlorine bleach to control the bloom. So I followed the advice from the Internet. After all, if it’s on the Internet, it has to be true, right?
I put a tiny amount in the filters when I cleaned them out, then fed the fish and went inside. My oldest daughter got sick that night, so I was up numerous times with her. The next morning, I staggered out of bed, got the two youngest kids up, fed, dressed and off to school, made a doctor’s appointment, called to cancel work, and cleaned up the kitchen. I had a little time before we needed to go to the Doctor’s office, so I decided to feed the fish and skim off any algae that was on the surface. I knew something was wrong as soon as I opened the back door and noticed a fish floating on the surface. I put the food down and grabbed the crab net by the pond as I walked out.
Dead fish littered the surface of the pond, while the survivors gaped for air with their mouths open. I ran inside for some anti-chlorine drops and poured them into the pond. If it had been one or two fish, I would have wrapped them in a bag and dropped them in the garbage, but there were too many casualties. And it would be an entire week before the trash was picked up–not an odor I wanted lingering. I dug a hole in a flower bed about 18 inches deep then began scooping the victims into a net and dumping them into the mass grave. Fortunately, they didn’t smell like fish since their bodies were slimy from the bleach that was in the water, so the dogs didn’t try to to steal them from the burial ground. I scooped over a dozen fish into the hole, then covered them with dirt and placed a large rock over the burial site to deter grave robbers–my two dogs or any wild animal that frequented the pond at night. Then I turned my attention to the survivors–the poor poisoned poisson. The April Fool chant of children in France rang through my head, “Poisson d’Avril!” (It’s the cry they make when they successfully pin a paper fish on another’s back.)
I used a 5 gallon bucket to scoop out lots of water from the pond, but we had experienced almost 4 days of torrential rain, so I had to carry each bucket away from the pond to dump it in a place where the overflow wouldn’t run back into the pond. Next, I grabbed the hose and angled it to to splash into the lower pond to add fresh water. Then I grabbed the bottle of dechlorinator and poured the remainder into the pond. The new soundtrack in my head became “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Maybe it was an encouragement to the survivors, or maybe it was to buoy my strength.
I scooped water out of the upper pond while the lower pond filled, then decided to clean out the filter before restarting the pump which channels water into the upper pond so it can flow down the waterfall to aerate the water. I pulled the filters out and, not surprisingly, found another victim. I dug a smaller, more shallow hole in a flower bed and scooped this one into it, rinsed the filters and replaced them, then pulled the strainer out. You’ll never believe what was in it–another deceased fish! I dumped it in the new hole and rinsed out the the strainer, replaced it and then gritted my teeth as I knelt down to do the worst part of the process–sticking my arm into the mucky water and cleaning the intakes on the pump. I’ve found lots of critters–live and dead doing this part of the process, so I fully expected to grab another slimy victim.
I reached down behind the pump first, pulling the leaves and debris from the intakes, then plunged my arm into the front part of the filter. Again, I found debris, leaf litter, and small sticks, but there wasn’t a fish there! I thought that might be the end of it, but as I watched the pump start up, I noticed a goldfish that stayed in the same place too long. I got out the crab net and had to pry him out of the rocks he had wedged into before bloating. He must have been one of the first victims and he had swollen into the crack between the rocks. That made 3 in the second grave. Then I swept the net around the pond a few times, and found 2 more deceased that were hidden in the lily pads. I dumped them in the hole, covered it with dirt, then turned off the water to the pond and said a quick prayer for their protection against me before washing my hands and changing shoes so I could take my daughter to her appointment.
It was an embarrassing, nasty episode that I wanted to forget. But it didn’t end there. Two days later, I came in late from work, and I had to regroup, change clothes, and get to a quick meeting before settling the kids for bed. I barked orders at the son playing video games to take a shower before I returned, wondering why he hadn’t done that after football. I returned home for the evening about 9 pm and he was still playing video games! Exasperated, I asked him to take a shower and change clothes so I could stand to be in the same room as him.
He claimed he had showered twice–once after school and once when I asked him to shower again. I asked if he had put dirty clothes on, and he claimed he hadn’t, then blamed the dogs for the odor in the room. I told him to take his shoes to the garage and spray them with deodorizer, then changed into my pajamas. I returned to the front room and the odor lingered. He claimed to have disinfected his shoes and I asked him to make sure his clothes were clean. By this time, he was understandably fed up with me accusing him of smelling up the house.
“It’s not me–it’s the dog!” he protested. “He smells like fish!”
I froze and sniffed, dread mingling with the stench that I now recognized. The largest dog was chewing on something, and I asked my son what he had given him. He reached down and yanked away what he thought was a toy, but was a fish head! He threw it across the room and wiped his hands on his clean clothes. The dog happily bounded over to retrieve it and began gnawing gratefully on his treasure.
It was time for an “All Hands on Deck.” I quickly assigned each child a task. One child was assigned to bathe the dogs, the boys were to gather & rebury all fish parts, then cover them with a rock to prevent grave-robbing. The other child was to begin the cleanup process. Fortunately, only one head and one tail were found inside. Within an hour, we had clean, damp dogs, freshly cleaned carpets, candles burning and our home no longer smelled like a fish market.