Monday, November 19, 2012

The Tactical Gardener: Backyard Ponds

The Tactical Gardener
Backyard Ponds

Backyard ponds make a wonderful addition for your yard.  These stressful times require  ways to relax and unwind, and a backyard pond has a nice Zen-like quality to it, perfect for unwinding at the end of a hectic day.  Feeding the goldfish, koi, or whatever aquatic critters you have, and listening to the sound of water falling across stones can have a real soothing effect on mind and spirit.

For those people who live in an urban environment like I do, backyard ponds could also have real benefit in a post-collapse long-term survival situation.  Turning your pond into an aquatic survival larder would be relatively easy, requiring only that you replace your ornamental fish with something more useful, like catfish.

There are many varieties of catfish, and the nice thing about them is that they will eat practically anything.  Bugs, allege, rotting vegetation, minnows, worms, carrion, etc.  They also eat each other, but if you can keep them fed with all the other stuff, more than likely that wouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Another benefit to a backyard pond is that they attract other forms of wildlife.  I have seen numerous species of birds, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, deer, snakes, and fox drinking from the pond, especially in the winter time when their natural water sources may be frozen solid.  The pond also has a growing population of frogs, which would make an ideal protein source, and they are extremely easy to catch with a net.  Traps and snares set up around the pond would give you an excellent chance of adding meat to your diet.

Pond Construction Basics
If you don’t already have a backyard pond, they are relatively simple to build, depending on the size and scope of your plan.  I started with a pre-formed 200 gallon shell, which was fine, but it had some drawbacks.  It wasn’t deep enough to fully protect the fish from birds and other predators, and it’s small size limited the amount of fish it would support.

Last year I replaced the old pond with a new 800 gallon one, using a flexible liner instead of a pre-formed shell.  I hand dug the hole, using a good spade, five gallon bucket, wheelbarrow, and about two weeks of work, a few hours each night and a couple of good weekend days.  Oh, and use a good weight lifting belt or other back support, so you don’t blow your back out.  Remember, lift with your legs, not your back.

Aquatic Plants
I dug the hole to different depths, so the fish have a variety of places to hang out.  There are two shelves on the sides, at a depth of about two feet.  Cattails, ranked in the top ten survival plants by a lot of experts, could be grown in buckets sitting on the shelves.  Cattails and other varieties of edible aquatic plants can be grown in the marshy areas around the pond.  I built a bog at one end of the pond where I now grow ornamental plants, but it could easily be converted to grow some of the plants listed in this link.

Underlayment and Liner
Once the hole is dug, make sure you have smoothed out any rough spots, and removed any protruding rocks or tree roots.  Put old pieces of carpeting or thick cardboard down at the bottom of the hole as an underlayment, to protect the flexible liner.  You can buy underlayment made for this purpose, but the improvised stuff works just as well and it’s cheaper.  If you haven’t bought the liner yet, now is the time to figure out how much you’ll need.  It would suck if you put your liner in the hole and found out it was too small.  To calculate how much liner you will need, follow this simple formula.

Liner Width=  Pond width + 2x depth + 2-foot overlap

Liner Length=  Pond length + 2x depth + 2-foot overlap

Pumps and Calculating Pond Volume
You’ll need a pump that can move the entire volume of your pond in about an hour, to make sure that the fish have enough oxygen.  If the grid goes down and there is no power, you’ll have to agitate the water by hand to make sure the toxic gasses created from fish poo and rotting vegetation have a chance to release, as well as providing oxygen to the fish.

I figured out the volume of my pond by timing how long it took to fill up a five gallon bucket from my garden hose.  I did this four or five times, and it was within a few seconds each time, so I was pretty sure it was accurate.  Once you know how long it takes to fill up your bucket, you simply time how long it takes to fill your pond from start to finish.  It took about one minute to fill the bucket, so I multiplied the number of minutes it took to fill the pond by five (gallons in a minute) and presto, 800 gallon pond.

Another important consideration will be filtration.  Again, with no electricity, you’ll have to clean excess debris from the bottom of the pond by hand, but catfish would eat a lot of it for you.  Covering the pond full time with a net would also help keep unwanted debris from getting into the pond, as well as protect the fish from predators. 

In the meantime, you will want to put in a filter.  Store bought ones for a pond my size can run around $200 for a solid one, which seemed a bit much to me.  I made the one shown below out of an old bucket and salvaged parts from my original smaller pump.  I took my $200 savings and bought pork n' beans and bullets.

Remember, in a true survival situation, you could also improvise a pond out of an existing swimming pool or hot tub.  Bathtubs, large waterproof containers, and trash cans could also be used for smaller ponds.

Hope this helps.  If you need any advice or suggestions for your Zen/survival pond, let me know, I’ll be glad to help out.

Zen/Survival Pond

Pump in filter bucket with allege strainers.

Completed filter.

Cute frog/food source.


  1. Interesting and very informative Charlie but I hope we never get to the point that I have to eat my wet pets.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I am with you, I hope it never gets that bad, cause that's going to suck. A lot. I like my fish and frog friends right where they are, in the pond and not in my belly. Never hurts to think ahead a little though.

  3. I believe I see what looks like water hyacinth in the pond. They provide filtration through their roots. You could also consider other floaters and submerged plants such as water lettuce and hornwort. No water lilies?

    1. No water lilies yet. I usually just pick up a couple of different plants on the cheap at the beginning of the season. I haven't had any luck getting the plants to survive the winter, so I don't spend too much money on them. Thanks for the interest and comment. Really appreciate it.

  4. That's a nice looking pond right there..You'll have to smoke up some frog legs and let us know how it taste after a few days in a ruck. Something you might find yourself eating in a E&E/Bug out situation..

  5. Your Post is very helpful and you gave very good info in your post. I am very happy to read your post.

  6. I have a backyard pond; they are relatively simple to build, limited the amount of fish it would support. Pond Repair by Pondpro2000 made it easy to maintain it.

  7. I love ponds, it will attract wildlife, snakes like northern water snakes

  8. Ponds are really great to wildlife unfortunately there are many invasive species like nile monitor lizards