Thursday, November 14, 2013

You Have To Dig A Hole If You Want A Pond

I have wanted a backyard pond for a very long time. Some people think of a pond as a 1/4 to a 1/2 of an acre or larger. I plan on putting in a small pond, something around 15 ft wide x 30 ft long x 1-6 ft deep. A small pond that size will hold an amazing amount of water, in this case over 10,000 gallons.

There are many reasons other than aesthetics to put in a water feature on your property. You will increase the bio-diversity of your property instantly. Frogs will start showing up, birds will stop by as well as insects, spiders, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, fish and mammals. By adding a water feature to your landscape you will create an environment that really can't be measured by a metric I know of. Water is truly the catalyst of life. You will have a healthier more diverse property if you create aquatic habitats.

A pond allows you to fish for your dinner as well as grow many water loving plants. I plan on growing many things in my pond. Did you know you can grow water chestnuts in the midwest? You can grow duck-weed to feed your livestock and to support the fish and other life in your pond. I will put in cattails which are almost completely edible, and what you can't eat can be composted. So even if the only thing you can do is put in one of the plastic ponds from your local big box store, I hope you will put some sort of water feature on your property.

One of the first things you should do is locate an area that will best support a pond. Things to consider are drainage areas, soil composition, low lands and proximity to buildings and septic systems. You don't want to locate your pond close to a building or a septic drain field / tank. My pond will be about 20 ft from my garage and 40 ft from the closest drain field. I am sure there are regulations on these distances from your local government overlords so check your local code. 

The area I am locating my pond happens to be the lowest area in my backyard. When it rains a lot this area holds surface water for a couple days. Once you locate the best area on your property for a pond, you will want to dig a test hole. This will let you know what type of subsoil you are dealing with. About one foot down my sub soil turns into a nice clay layer. Clay is good, if you find your sub soil is gravely, you will need to seal your pond with a liner or bentonite clay. I have seen some people use old carpet, it works, but I know what goes into the manufacture of synthetic carpets, so I would pass on that. 

The other purpose of a test hole is to see if your ground will hold water. I dug this hole as deep as I could with a post hole digger. I ended up getting it around 4 ft deep. Next you want to fill the hole up with water. Now you just wait to see how long it takes for the water level to drop. If you walk away to grab a beer and when you come back the hole is empty, then you may have trouble putting in a pond the easy way.

I checked the hole the next day and it had gone down 2 feet. The ground was dry when I did this experiment, so I filled the hole back up and it dropped about two feet in 24 hours. I assume this is because the top 2 feet of the hole allowed more water to seep into the ground than the tighter packed clay on the bottom. After about a week there was only a foot of water in the hole. I am going to ask my neighbor if he sealed his pond, but I don't think he did. 

I am going to plumb the downspouts on the back of my garage into a water catchment system eventually. I will take the overflow from that, and using french drains, have the system drain into the pond. More on that in the future.

One last thing, put something like a board over the test hole you dig in case someone is walking around your backyard and doesn't know it is there. It would be quite a surprise to step in this hole and have your foot go down a couple feet.


  1. Hey Patrick! We've got another question for you :). In order to have enough dirt to build our earthship this spring, we will be digging a giant hole on site to aid in supplying the mass quantities of dirt needed. We'd like this giant hole to be the future site of a pond and other than knowing this, we haven't had the time to do the necessary research to determine what else we will need to thoughtfully plan out our pond. The place we have chosen is the wettest part of our land by far and already has some "wetlands"-like plants residing there... thus, we thought this would be a suitable place for a pond. I have done some preliminary "research" in watching various YouTube videos on pond construction but wondered what sources you have found most helpful. Obviously, we would like the pond to be constructed with permaculture principles in mind and thus, want to be as thoughtful as possible. However, we are short on time to do the necessary research so what books, online articles or videos would you recommend to direct our planning?

  2. Hey Lauren,

    I would start with trolling around this sub on

    I recommend you dig a test hole to see what soil type you are dealing with. If you do not have a large amount of clay in your soil you will have to seal it with something. I know of many ways to do it, some cheap and some very expensive. On one extreme you could put in a pond liner, but this is very expensive. Next would be lining it with Bentonite Clay, still kinda pricey. I have heard you could dig the pond and fence a couple hogs in there. They will wallow and compact the soil, but if you don't have the right subsoil, this wouldn't work. You can get a bunch of old carpet, most likely for free on CL, and line it with carpet. I personally don't want to do that because of the chemicals they use in the manufacturing. I am starting a Permaculture Design Course in Cincy this weekend which runs through the end of March. I will have a better understanding of pond construction afterwards. I will let you know if I learn anything that will help you.

  3. What a great site (! Thanks for passing on the info as always :)

  4. I appreciate your hard work. Pond is looking natural. Its depth will help to provide healthy environment to fish. Application on Pond Liners will make it waterproof.

    1. What pond? Its just a test hole. Please don't put your click bait on my blog.