Keep It Simple
"Look after your water and the koi will look after themselves"
I don’t know where I first heard this saying but it does ring true.
In this day and age drum filters are the King of mechanical koi pond filtration. Why? Because they automatically clean themselves in accordance with the demand placed upon them. They take solid waste particles out of the water on a regular basis, resulting in clean water and a lightened load on the biological filter media. Correctly installed, they pretty much guarantee to make the life of a koi keeper much simpler and easier. But what if you're one of the many koi keepers that don't run a drum filter, can you still keep good water?
Of course you can!
The key to creating good koi water in a drum-less system, is regular maintenance.
This might seem like I'm stating the obvious, but from my past experience as a koi dealer, along with the numerous 'Groundhog Day Posts' I endlessly see on groups and forums, it's quite clear that many people neglect their filter maintenance. On top of this, most people forget the importance of regularly testing their pond water.
The good news is that this is a relatively easy fix and adopting a more effective maintenance regime is something that every hobbyist can do.
So what are we aiming for...
In my opinion we must keep our mechanical filtration as clean as possible, our drain lines as clean as possible and in a pump-fed system, the bottom of the pond as clean as possible. This keeps solid waste from turning 'sour' over an extended period, eases the load on our biological filtration allowing it to perform more effectively and ultimately makes for healthier water. This is all very much achievable, your hobby will inevitably become more 'hands-on,' but all it takes is a little education and a willingness to do your 'chores.'
Flush The Waste Away!
If you have a filter that requires manual maintenance, it is important to clean the mechanical stage as often as your schedule allows. Some koi keepers will protest that they can leave their filters for weeks and even months on end without requiring maintenance. I'm not saying that you can't get away with this but it's certainly not a practise I would recommend. The potential for problems with this method, are huge.
My experience tells me that every filter performs more effectively if you clean the mechanical stage regularly.
Often, the more frequently, the better. This way you avoid the inevitable 'ticking time bomb' of a neglected filter. Don’t forget that this flushing of waste also encourages healthy water changes, although every koi keeper should consider adopting the ‘trickle in’ method. However, a problem can arise if your filter is so large that when cleaning it you lose too much water from the pond in one go. This can be true of old multi-bay type filters, huge vortexes or homemade block built filters. The key here is to still figure out a way of cleaning the mechanical stage as regularly as you can. If this is not possible I would consider modifying/upgrading the filter so that the process is made simple and quick. It will pay for itself in the long run to have a happy healthy koi pond that is easy to keep in peak condition.
A good ‘manually maintained’ mechanical filter should be effective at stopping solid waste from entering the biological stage, it should be simple and quick to clean and it should require minimal water to do so, thus allowing regular maintenance to take place.
In my experience of testing many filters over the years, the following units offer this, in no particular order:
3. Nexus Units (Eazy Pod, 220, 320)
Two of the above combine mechanical and biological filtration in one unit, which is rather handy. A sieve however, must be followed by some form of biological filter to make an effective filtration system for a koi pond.
The way I see it, if your mechanical filter is simple and quick to clean, you will be more inclined to maintain it.
For instance I ran an Easy Pod as mechanical filtration and a bakki shower as added biological on a heavily stocked sales pond, every morning as I fed the koi, I cleaned the Eazy Pod. By the time I had finished feeding the koi and giving them a quick look over, the filter was ready to switch back on. Simple. Now this might be seen as excessive for a hobbyists pond, but the koi were always in great health, great condition, the water always looked wonderfully healthy and I could also feed well too. So was it really excessive?
It’s all about compromise, drum filters obviously offer a great solution to heavily reduce maintenance in the koi hobby. However if a drum filter isn't an option, you can still keep your pond working at an optimal level, if you’re prepared to do the maintenance and the easier that is, the better.
So confess, how often do you clean your mechanical filtration?!
It surprises me that even in this modern age (where information is so easily accessible) so many koi keepers lack a basic understanding of how to keep healthy water. This knowledge isn't a luxury but a necessity, an education required by anyone who has made the commitment to look after these living jewels as their pets. You owe it to them - even though they're "just fish."
When I worked as a koi dealer, virtually every day I would speak with koi keepers who simply didn’t know how look after their water. Much like Groundhog Day, I would endlessly relive their multitude of explanations about the worrying behaviour or condition of their koi and the shoddy visual condition of their pond water.
Bracing myself and gritting my teeth, knowing full well the reply to my first question, long before I've even asked it... I would delicately say... "what are your water parameters like?'
At this point my will to live would start making swift motions towards the exit! I now know I'm faced with two problems, someone who clearly doesn't know their water parameters and the very difficult task of convincing someone that cleaning their filters once a month is not going to cut the mustard.
Other statements fired at me with equal certainty by those koi keepers with similar problems would include...
‘I tested my water, it’s all spot on’
‘I clean my filters regularly’
‘I don’t feed too much’
‘I don’t have a lot of koi.’
I'm not being cruel, or intending to take the 'Michael,' as it were, but reality dictates that the majority of koi keepers are over stocked, under filtered, feed excessively for their system and don't maintain their filters properly. The poor and potentially disastrous results of this concoction will drive many new koi keepers to give up the hobby all together.
And We Can't Have That!
Reassuringly, this is a relatively easy fix and this article aims to point those koi keepers to which the above sounds familiar, in the right direction.
If you are a new koi keeper or you have not yet developed a maintenance regime that runs like clockwork, it is important to test your water regularly. This is vital, it will give you immediate evidence as to whether you are keeping the system in balance. After a period of time you’ll develop the priceless skill of keeping your water, but this is something only experience can buy.