Flowers in my Garden, Spring 2017


Flowers in my Garden Spring 2017 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

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Busy in the Garden and the Ponds.


DSC_5129I have spent the last couple of months working either in the garden or in and around the ponds and have not had the time to go on any hikes at all. In between, I fitted in a couple of fish rescues and consequently have added to the plants that are surplus to my requirements.

Spring arrived early here in my part of Central Texas with only two days of freezing weather, which was enough to knock down almost every living plant in both the garden and the ponds. This required considerable effort to cut everything back and then move the cut material to the compost heap and took several days and much moaning and complaining on my part. Nothing new with that as I tend to moan and complain about everything especially if it is not going well. Luckily, I am the only one within earshot as usually, the dogs make a quick exit when I start cussing. Actually,I don’t rant and rave but generally just utter a quick “f” word and then go about my business figuring out how to get over whatever caused me to cuss in the first place.

I have already written a couple of blogs of some of my other escapades. Things like the Skippy Filters, part 1 and 2 and the Doggie Escape Fixes and the Ponds at Mayfield Park. I spent some time in reworking the plumbing inlet pipe to the pump on the Aquadyne system on the 6000 gallon pond and am much happier with the result. At least now, it sucks in water and does not keep blocking up although in fairness, this is a bad time of the year with the Live Oaks dropping all of their blooms most of which seem to go into the ponds. Thank goodness that this is nearly over as it is very messy, everywhere and not just in the water.

The pictures show the amount of new growth already in the ponds.

Altogether, I repotted a dozen or more lilies plus sundry other water plants and then, spent some time trimming the remaining lilies getting them ready for others to plant. I took a 5 gallon bucket full with about 30 or so plants to the Pond Meeting which happened to coincide with my planting efforts and they were all gone within minutes. I still have at least that number remaining in the tubs which I plan on taking to the next meeting which is our Annual Plant Swap. I also had a few other people stop bye to get some of the plants for their own ponds.

Potting lilies is not hard work although somewhat messy and the old potted material does not smell that great either.. First of all, it requires getting into all of the ponds and removing the pots to the side and then getting out of the pond to transport them to the table, upending the pot on its side to get the lily root (tuber) out of the pot, and then trimming it back to a more manageable size that has new growth that is already sprouting. These are then placed back into the pot on top of a layer of clay type dirt, adding fertilizer tablets and then covering it up with more dirt so that just the new growth is showing. I usually place pebbles on the top to try to discourage the big Koi from washing the lily out of the pot with their tails as they love to get at the roots. The whole pot is then submerged back into the water about a foot or more down.

Following all of the repotting efforts, it required that I get back into the ponds to place the pots which I did. This year, I am trying something different in an attempt to get some of the lilies to last long enough to flower and that is, to place anywhere from 6 to 10 lilies in each of the big ponds. Maybe, if there are so many, the Koi will leave them alone. In some cases, I had used the 18 inch tall pots which I just stood on the bottom of the pond and already, the ponds are covered with lily pads and I noticed that we already have a bloom. First lily bloom of the season.

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With everything growing so fast, it is hard to keep up with all of the trimming and raking but it is a labor of love and quite enjoyable. I need to get my riding mower repaired to cut the grass alongside of the road. Seems like every year, I have to have something done to that particular piece of machinery before it will start. I have other mowers so it not like I have to use the riding mower.

Darn, the pump on the stream has just stopped. I wonder what is wrong with it, Just blocked up or maybe worn out. Stay tuned for the next story…

The Second Fish Rescue.


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Mayfield Park

As I mentioned in the previous blog, I worked two fish rescues this past week. The one in Georgetown is the subject of that blog. This one was in a place called Kempner which I have never heard of. When I first received the email from Sonja asking for help with her fish, I had no idea that eventually it would lead to a 75 mile one way trip.

She explained in her email that caring for the pond was getting too much for her so she was going to close it down completely and would like someone to come and rescue the fish and find them good homes. We conversed and I made arrangements that I would visit her on Saturday. She sent me a Google Map of where she lived and the shortest route to get there as I had never driven up to that part of the State  which is another reason I agreed to make the rescue.

Basically, the drive was up Hwy 183 North for most of the way towards Killeen and Copperas Cove with a couple of tricky turn offs onto Hwy 190 before taking FM 1630. My GPS was only good so far and in the end, I had to rely on the printed Google Map for the final directions. It was an interesting drive and it is only when you drive on the less travelled roads do you realize just how big and beautiful this Country really is especially with Spring just breaking out.

I pulled up to the house which was on a country road way out in nowhere although with houses all the way up and down the street to be met by the Man of the house who opened the gate for me. He directed me to the pond and I was able to drive right up next to it which is always a plus. Then Sonja came out and greeted me with a thick German accent pleased to see that I had arrived early. We chatted for a bit and exchanged histories of the why’s and when’s of out arrivals to the States. All of this while the pond was pumping out.

Sonja told me that she had built the pond 15 years ago by herself except for a couple of the big rocks that required help and had maintained it herself in the interim. It  was her hobby but for the last year, it had started to get more work than she could handle and she admitted that she had sadly neglected it. She had very recently changed out the pump, a 3600 gph unit and was looking to sell it as she had no more use for it with the pond closing down.

It was obvious that the pond had been neglected. The water was very cloudy and it was almost impossible to see the fish. There was a huge of cluster of water lily plants growing in the middle that upon inspection, turned out to be just one lily. It had long overgrown the pot and was firmly rooted into the sludge on the bottom of the pond.

I put on my wellie boots, rubber boots to you Americans, and carefully climbed into the pond. Sonja was fussing over me the whole time so worried that I would slip and fall and indeed, the bottom was really slick but I managed to stay on my feet the whole time. With the water going down, I could spot the fish and went about the business of netting some them and handing them up to Sonja who transferred them to the containers.

I started to cut back the lily plant so that we could get it out of the pond it was so big. It took quite a while but eventually, I had it into smaller and more manageable pieces all of which could be repotted and would probably regrow. While I was working on the lily, Sonja and her Husband were trying to catch the remaining fish which were proving to be very elusive.

Finally, with the water level down and the lily out of the way, we were able to be very positive that we had netted all of the fish. Altogether, there was one very large Koi and 15 what I thought were black goldfish, all in beautiful condition regardless of the water condition. Fish are so adaptable.

We collectively reloaded my trailer including all of the water lily pieces and I carefully strapped everything in place. I told Sonja that the fish would probably end up in Mayfield Park which seemed to please her that many others would get the same pleasure out of them that she had.

I said my farewells and drove off trying hard to remember which roads I took coming up. Needless to say, the GPS was not showing the way back that I used to come up and redirected me at least 20 miles out of my way so instead of going to Cedar Park, I ended up on IH 35 in Killeen. Mumbling under my breath, I headed for Mayfield Park in Austin.

Being a weekend, the Park was very busy but luckily, there is an unloading zone right next to the entrance with no one in it. I parked and uncovered the trailer and loaded one of the containers onto my dolly. As I wheeled it into the area where the ponds are located which is very rough stone, the container managed to slip off the dolly and it and fish were everywhere. A couple of people stopped and helped to pick them up so that I could get them to the pond we had worked on the previous Saturday. It was over a week and I figured that the chlorine in the water had already dissipated. The second trip was uneventful and just like the time before when I was unloading the goldfish, I had a lot of help and questions from the younger members watching the whole process. Altogether, I placed 13  fish into that pond.

I repacked my trailer and made my way home with the Koi and a couple of the black (Gold) fish which I put into the 5000 gallon pond where they happily mingled in with the other fish that already reside there. In the opinion of at least one member of the Pond Society, it might turn out that the black fish may not be goldfish after all but common carp although the previous owner stated that she bought a black goldfish way back and has no recollection of any carp added to her pond.  Regardless, they are still beautiful fish in very good condition and will make a good addition to my pond and Mayfield Park. Koi are very close members of the Carp family anyway.

All in all, another successful fish rescue and I got to meet some more very nice people plus enjoying a trip to a different part of the State. Altogether, I covered around 160 miles because of the redirect to Killeen.

Austin Pond Society March Meeting 2017


DSC_5001The Austin Pond Society held their monthly meeting on March 20th which was attended by about 45 members. They were treated to a meal of Chicken Spaghetti with the salads  and fixin’s provided by the members. We were a little short on deserts this time around much to my disappointment as this meeting is the only time I allow myself the luxury of desert.. Many Thanks to Steven Monfrini, our Hospitality person shown below in his kitchen.

Following the meal and just a little different from our normal procedure, John O’Sullivan announced that he was now involved in helping people to get their Voter Registration up to date and that he was now able to give assistance to any and all that might need help in this area. He mentioned that Texas is now the most stringent State in the Union regarding Voter Registration and he felt that it was very important that everyone that can vote is eligible to do so.

Following John’s discussion, Jeannie Ferrier, President, started the advertised part of meeting with the introduction of a couple of new members followed by a brief report of the members activities this past month with cleaning Mayfield Ponds and the fish rescues that we have done. With that out of the way, we moved into the presentation for the evening with this particular one offered by Jeannie and Steven. They spoke about the construction of their 10,000 gallon pond and all that was involved in it from digging the hole to installing the pond plants. Steven spoke about the lights he has installed both in and around the pond. They fielded a lot of questions during and after the presentation which was warmly received by all of the members. Below is a video of their presentation.

Jeannie and Steven, March 20, 2017 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

After their presentation, there were reports from the various Board Members and a lengthy discussion from Ted Paone about the upcoming Pond Tour. He also discussed Zilkerfest which is being held  the weekend of March 25-26 for which he needed Volunteers to man the Austin Pond Societies booth which is used to promote both the Society and the upcoming Pond Tour on June 3-4. The new stream renovation in Zilker Gardens is also having their official opening dedication ceremony which the Pond Society had donated $5000 to help towards the cost of that project.

The Tour arrangements are moving along very nicely, according to Ted. So far, there are 11 ponds on the North side and 9 on the South with the possibility of at least one more.

The meeting came to a close with the drawing for the door prizes and this time around, all of the food had been consumed so there was no need to ask people t0 take some home. The next meeting will be held on April 17 and this meeting will be our Annual Plant Swap. Bring along your surplus plants or fish that are both pond and garden related and swap them for something useful to you. Hope to see you there.

Below is the Business Video of the meeting.

APS Business Mar 2017 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

My Latest Project – part two.


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The finished product. I still want to re-work the 4 inch outlet pipe.

Following my discovery of the ongoing leaks in the rebuilt 100 gallon Skippy Filter, I opted to replace this set up with a completely new one albeit basically the same system. This way, I could re-use some of the parts I had purchased to rebuild the original one.

My first item on the agenda was a trip to Dripping Springs and Tractor Supply to purchase a new 100 gallon Rubbermaid tank. Amazingly enough, the price had not gone up from the last one I bought which had to be at least 5 years ago. I brought it home and prepared to start work on the new project.

First thing was to unload all of the lava rock which I had bagged up and then shovel out the small amount of loose stuff from the original rebuilt filter. I removed the grate and the plumbing bringing me back to just the tank and the outlet pipe. My original intent was to remove the 4 inch outlet pipe from this tank and reuse it on the new one but when I tried to unbolt it, the bolts were so corroded they would not budge. This got me looking at the new tank and I discovered that the manufacturers had changed their design and there was not a single flat area I could use to install the 4 inch outlet pipe. The only alternative was to install two 2 inch outlet pipes and either run them into a 4 inch pipe or have two separate 2 inch outlet pipes.

I opted for the first idea and made a trip to Lowes to purchase the necessary plumbing materials. I laid everything out prior to starting work on the new tank to  make sure that my ideas would work but something about the project really bothered me. I was concerned that the new tank did not have the really flat areas to install the outlet pipes and that it would lead to more leaks without a flat surface. I was also bothered by the fact that I was getting ready to spend and maybe waste, around $200 on a new tank and plumbing materials just for the sake of a very small leak in the original setup. The last thought really made up my mind so I loaded up the car with the new tank and the recently purchased plumbing materials and returned both to their respective stores.

Feeling better about myself and the project as a whole, I decided that I would once again try to patch the leaky tank. I also reasoned that if I rebuilt the base on which the original tank was sitting, the tank would have a much better chance with the patches as it would not be subject to the additional stresses caused by the settlement of the original four concrete blocks which probably not only caused the cracks but also created a situation where bye they were forced open by the stress. Not being able to remove the 4 inch outlet without a lot of work, I opted to cut the pipe to just a small piece extending from the tank. This way, I was able to move the tank completely out of the way while I went about the task of rebuilding the base. First though, it required another trip to Lowes to get the concrete blocks for the rebuild. I use a lot of blocks as support for the pond plants and they also make good safety tunnels for the fish to hide out in case of a Heron attack. The only drawback with the blocks is as I grow older, they are getting much heavier…Hard to believe that at one time in my life, I laid bricks and blocks for a living as I was trained as a Bricklayer in my youth. They weren’t that heavy back then.

I built the base by digging out the dirt and placing the blocks next to each other so that it was level all the way around. I made it just a little bigger than the bottom of the tank and ended up with a solid block slab. Then I turned my attention to the tank and spent some time in making another repair using the same rubber adhesive and liner patch as before. Satisfied with that part of the project, I moved the tank back onto the new concrete base and positioned it where I needed it which was in a different position and on a different angle than before.

The next part of the project was really straightforward as I had already bagged up the Lava Rock and cut the grate to size and it only took a few minutes to reinstall the materials back into the tank. Because of the new location, I had to do some work on the inlet but that was straightforward plumbing. I temporarily hooked up the 4 inch outlet as I have plans to change that just a little but I wanted to turn it on and test it out. It performs perfectly and as far as I can see, there are no leaks. Now all that is left is to re-work the 4 inch outlet pipe and add a few rocks to make it less obtrusive.

It was a good decision on my part to re-work and repair the old tank and save myself $200. For once in my long life, I used my brain instead of just tearing ahead as I have so many times in the past. Must be getting smarter (and definitely weaker) in my old age…

 

My Latest Project.


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The Skippy Filter on the Goldfish Pond.

I have three large “Skippy” filters on three different ponds and a couple of smaller ones on the goldfish ponds. They are simple to construct and do a very good job of helping to clean the water. Basically, water is pumped into the tank through a system that feeds through the bottom allowing the water to rise up through the filter material and flows out through a 4 inch pipe back into the pond either directly or through a waterfall.. I use 1 1/2 inch pipe to  pump the water in and in my case, a 1200 gph pump located in the skimmer box.

Basically, mine are built using a 100 gallon Rubbermaid tank that I buy from the Tractor Supply store, one of my most favorite places to visit. I have mentioned before that in real life, I missed out and should have been something related to the land like a Farmer or Wildlife Warden hence my liking for Tractor Supply. I guess I am compensating in a different way. Anyway, Tractor Supply carries these Rubbermaid tanks in different sizes and I have found that the 100 gallon size is just right for my purposes. I also have three of the 80 gallon size that I use to keep pond plants in as I am getting them ready to put into the ponds or to over winter them.

The tank on the 5000 gallon pond developed a leak very close to the drain plug that is built into the tank. It was only the very faintest of cracks but enough that it was constantly dripping. Over time, this would amount to a lot of wasted water (and money) so I decided that I would do a repair job on it.

I shut it down and drained the water back into the pond  and disconnected the plumbing. I then emptied the filter material which in this case was Lava Rock loosely stacked inside of the tank.I was surprised how clean the rock was as I expected it to be pretty muddy considering that the system had been in place for at least 10 years. Turns out that most of the mud was in the bottom water chamber built into the system. I finished cleaning out the muck and put it on the garden as it is basically fish poop and full of good garden nutrients. After washing out the tank, I turned my attention to finding the leak from the inside as I already knew where it was generally located from the dripping water on the outside.

I found what I thought was the crack. It was about 3 inches long and in a difficult place to repair. Being a Rubbermaid tank and with the basic material rubber, I opted for a tire repair kit to see if it would seal the leak. I have a small electric hand sander which I used to prepare the area, cleaning and roughing up the rubber tank material and after cutting a patch from a small piece of pond liner (another rubber material), I carefully applied the adhesive and after waiting the appropriate time for the glue to dry, applied the patch over the crack.

The repair was as good as I could get it and I went about the task of putting the filter back together. I like to build a chamber where the inlet pipes are located to give the water a chance to flow freely before it rises up into the filter material. The old material that I had used for this chamber (a wire shelf cut to size) was not in very good shape after many years under water so I decided that I would replace it with better and stronger stuff. This meant a trip to Cedar park, around 30 miles one way, to visit one of the Pond Society sponsors, Hill Country Water Gardens, to purchase the proper material. I needed a 2 by 4 piece of plastic grating and a 4 by 4 piece of plastic mesh to put on top of the grating to stop smaller pieces of the lava rock from filling the chamber below. Even though it is a long way to go, I really like visiting this place as it has so much cool stuff. I should mention that prior to making the trip, I put enough water into the tank to cover the repair to test the leak and it seemed to be holding up.

The next day, I carefully cut the grate to size followed by a piece of mesh also cut to size and after replacing the fill pipe from the original setup, installed the grate and mesh into the tank on strategically placed bricks for support after making sure that the tank was level and well supported although I had not moved if from its original place. I opted to buy some mesh Laundry bags from a couple of the local stores and to load them with the lava material as it it had been a real bitch to dig out this time around. As I filled the bags, I placed them onto the grating inside the tank until I had enough for my purpose. I used loose lava rock to fill in any holes between the bags. After reconnecting the original plumbing, I turned the pump back on to see if everything was working  as it should and that it was not leaking . It appeared to be OK so I left it running overnight.

The next day, to my dismay, I discovered that there was a second leak that had not been visible the first time around. I figured that probably loading the tank with the lava rock and with its additional weight, had distorted the tank enough for the second leak to show up. I left it for a couple of days but it was only getting worse and was really bothering me to waste that water, even small drops at a time. I decided that I would do the job over this time with a new tank but that is a different story. You could say, part two…

Dripping Springs Farmers Market 2-1-2017


dsc_4906I was in Dripping Springs the other day to shop at Tractor Supply where I get my fish food and anything else that appeals to the country boy in me. I swear that I should have been born a farmer as I have such an attraction for the country life. This time around, I bought a couple of heavy duty tee shirts to add to my collection and wandered around looking at all of the neat stuff and wishing I was 50 years younger. Hell, I would settle for just 20 years younger.

On the way back out, I pulled into a Farmers market that is held every Wednesday in the middle of the small town. I had noticed it before but had never bothered to stop but this time, as I had my camera with me, pulled into the parking lot.

There were around twenty or so vendors set up each doing their best to sell their wares. I stopped at a tent that sold Empanadas and couldn’t resist the temptation of buying one of them. It was nicely hot and as soon as I got back to the car, I ate it enjoying every bite of the tangy taste of Mexican cooking. I could easily have gobbled down another two or three.

Music was provided by a guitar player who was very good. There were the usual merchants selling fresh garden produce. Another was selling fresh meat and many more specializing in a large variety of goods.

Well worth the stop if you are in Dripping Springs on a Wednesday afternoon.