Joys & Sorrows of Koi Keeping

flameOnce your pond is installed it seems an easy decision to stock it with koi. What could be more beautiful or relaxing than the shimmer and dance of brightly coloured fish? So easily tamed to eat out of your hand. Daily answering to your voice or your footfalls.

Admittedly, you do have to recover from sticker shock. Koi are not an inexpensive purchase. But once bitten, you’re bitten for good. It’s not long before you begin learning how to shop around for the best quality koi in your area, and beyond.

koi at night groupMy trouble began immediately. I gave them names. Names based on their looks at first. But then names based on their individual personalities. Yep. Their personalities.

The wonderful and unfortunate thing about these fish is that they quickly become family pets. And all pets will eventually bring heartbreak. In the case of koi, it’s usually sooner than later, despite how long lived they are.
koi copperYou see, it doesn’t matter if your koi is a mutt or a Japanese show fish. It will work its way into your heart just as easily as a teacup puppy. The thing is, is that it’s completely unexpected, this love you’ll feel for the fish in the backyard.

It’s awkward to explain to the uninitiated, too. So I don’t bother trying to anymore, I just love ’em. Madly. They are the best part of my morning and the best part of my evening. This from a woman owned by amazing dogs and incredible parrots. It must be said that even the dogs and parrots are enamoured with the koi now, as well.

It’s a daily ritual–our feeding time. The pups flank me. The parrots giggle and ooh and ahhhh. Of course everyone gets to sample the tasty koi pellets (except, er, me).

fancy goldfishMy love affair with fish began with my first pond some 15 years ago. It was one of those existing small preformed plastic ponds that I eagerly purchased fancy goldfish for. Oh, they were lovely and sweet and yes, they ate out of my hand.

Looking back, I did everything single thing wrong with my first pond. I didn’t have a clue about water conditioning, water quality, aeration, filtration, nothing. And yet, those goldies made it through, hearty little creatures that they are.

koi cappAlas. Not so for our oh so sensitive koi. Except, they are by their very definition, simply, carp. A cold water river fish. How difficult can carp be, really? Brother. Very difficult.

Intensive filtration is a must. You’ve heard of bottom drains? Those are for ponds with koi. Depth matters. Water quality is king. Constant water monitoring is a must. It’s like you have to take a crash course in biology to live with these critters. Seriously. My first year living with koi I was absolutely overwhelmed. There are actually extensive online koi courses. Koi vets. Koi health. Koi water parameters. Koi forums. It was mind boggling.

I just wanted to enjoy them and feed them, was that too much to ask? Yes, actually, it was.

For to love them is to learn every single thing about them. My friends told me I was obsessive. I was obsessive. I drove the man crazy. He bought me no less than three water quality testing units. Then he forbade me from conducting my daily water tests. The PH was too high! We have an ammonia spike! OMG! ‘ STOP’ he commanded. But it was too late. I was hooked and on an upward battle in becoming a marine biologist, via online courses. It was, in short, crazy.

Our then existing pond, without filtration or a skimmer, was no match for koi keeping. Click on the photo to check out the water quality!! Argh.

I lost all my koi that year in what is recognized as the most common mistake. I was ‘topping up’ the pond while I worked on a major project, and later, forgot that the water was on.
I literally gassed all of my darling koi with the chlorine and chloromines from the tap water.
My man did the clean up as I couldn’t face it. While inspectig the bodies, he did discover many problems that would have lead to koi death eventually. Ulcers. Open sores. Spots.

I emphatically told him I was done with the heartbreak of koi keeping. I was finished. He didn’t believe me.
He built me a better koi pond the following spring.


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  1. Icy Pond, Koi, & Peer Pressure | wild hair - January 3, 2014

    […] you can have a pondless waterfall for all I care”.  And I meant it.  I’d already lived the tragedy of losing one koi family.  I would not do it again, for […]

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