This Earth Day I find myself thinking about the changes I’ve seen from years ago. Anyone else remember the commercial with Iron Eyes Cody, the “Indian Chief” who shed a single tear as he gazed out over a fouled and polluted landscape? I’ll bet everyone who was watching TV fifty years ago does remember. That thirty-second spot by Keep America Beautiful, Inc. aired on Earth Day in 1971. The Hudson River he overlooked from the Palisades was a mess. Swimming in the East River, like the Bowery Boys used to do in their films from the Thirties? No way. We just knew the water would kill you, you could smell it was toxic. Well, that silly tear, which Lady Bird Johnson had to talk him into, actually just a drop of glycerin, that tear changed my world. New Yorkers can once again swim in the Hudson, and the striped bass fishery is thriving. Littering, which was a way of life that EVERYONE practiced, almost disappeared. Talk about positive impact. Wow.
As a pond builder, I’ve always felt the need for sustainability. Like the rest of the industry, I started moving away from high energy pumps and massive filtration, taking advantage of the new technologies that have revolutionized motors in all fields, from cars to vacuums to computerized variable speed pumps. The features we build these days use a fraction of the electricity we used to need for the same flow. But I’m thinking even the ponds themselves can do more with less. Most of my past projects were purely ornamental features, meant as a panacea to sooth the souls of onlookers and nothing more. And that was a lofty goal, one I am proud of. Lord knows we all need all the soothing we can get these days. But, I’m beginning to feel that my ponds should do more than simply delight the families I built them for.
Aquaponics makes sense to me as the next step. With food costs spiraling, and no end in sight, why just look at the fish? I’ve started thinking about raising different species of fish, not just nishikigoi. Have you ever seen a Mozambique Tilapia in its breeding finery? Gorgeous. And tasty. And before anyone starts to protest, don’t forget that the fish we call Koi were at first just dinner, until they were reprieved because of their pretty colors. I’ll bet they still taste good. Now, I’m not saying you should eat your prized Tancho. Just that you could. Can you say gefilte fish? Carp were until recently a prized delicacy here in the States, as they still are pretty much everywhere else around the world. Caught and ate them all the time as a kid, floured and fried in butter. Don’t knock ‘em until you try ‘em.
It’s not just fish that could be… ”utilized”, shall we say? So-called “dirty” pond water is full of nutrients, it can grow a lot more than algae and waterlilies. Ever since the Nelsons of Katy Texas showed me what could be done, we’ve been experimenting with all sorts of plants in graveled streams and headwater pools. Want a bumper crop of tomatoes? Swap out the pond grass and rushes in your veggie filter. You won’t believe the yields. Not only do most plants, not just “water plants”, grow prodigiously in submerged gravel beds, they also clean the water crystal clear. And that muck at the bottom of our ponds? Black gold for the garden. Nowadays, at botanical gardens, we build collection beds outside the pond that we can drain the sludge into to dry with the turn of a valve, then harvest it to supplement store bought fertilizer.
On a final note to these random musings on Earth Day, I’m really impressed with the company I work for. As a representative of the world’s leader in ornamental water feature equipment, I’m proud to note that Oase has always focused on sustainability, and that focus has only broadened over time.
Maybe there’s hope for us yet. Happy Earth Day!
Demi has been in water garden construction since 1986. As Atlantic’s Director of Product Information, if he’s not building water features, he’s writing or talking about them. If you have a design or construction question, he’s the one to ask.