My San Antonio Pond

Pond filled, stones scrutinised

After about two years, I finally have two ponds in place in my San Antonio garden.  I think it’s a good decision to include a pond in a garden because it gives a focal point for sitting and relaxing, it’s soothing for an old codger just to watch the fish, and at the same it offers suitable habitat for many wild-life species, from insects to amphibians and mammals.

My ponds are not the sculptured beauties that feature in The Practical Rock and Water Garden (Peter Robinson), but that book and others continue to be a great source of ideas.  None of the literature I have access to deals with ponds in Costa Rica, so mostly I have just done what I did before in California, i.e. I dug a big hole (two in this case), bought a correspondingly big sheet of plastic liner, fitted it in and filled it up with water.  The rest of it has consisted of heaving rocks into place and putting in plants at what seem like strategic places.

First pond with slate edging

The chief problem here in Costa Rica is that the fantastic liners available in the USA and Europe are only available at fantastic prices.  I tried a couple of types of thick plastic in the end and finally have found one, a sort of  yellowish semi-transparent stuff, that doesn’t leak.  Or at least it hasn’t so far.  The only other expense I have incurred is in buying ‘lajas‘, slabs of slate to edge the pond.  Most of the rocks came from the holes I dug.

We live not far from the Guayabo National Monument, and so I knew that digging would unearth lots of pottery shards, but imagine my surprise when I also came across a beautiful three-legged bowl, completely intact.  Most of my neighbours have similar indigenous artifacts that they have dug up on their properties , however, so I imagine it’s not necessarily such a rare find.  Occasionally, vendors come to the gate selling pottery and jade items at rather high prices.  They think I must be a prospective buyer because I’m a gringo.  It’s difficult to convince people that Englishmen aren’t really gringos.

The next problem is that I have no natural water source on my property and so must use tap water and try not to waste too much of it.  I have now managed to get the pump I brought from California to work here, so I will now be able to recycle the water to the top of the little waterfall that I fashioned with earth and stones.  Luckily, the mountain environment here doesn’t promote the horrendous amounts of algae that are the bane of the ponder’s existence in California, so I can leave the pond untouched for days at a time.  The regular rains seem to keep the water quality healthy without my having to add fresh water too often.  I’m hoping to channel run-off from the roof after I fix the gutters (canoas).  However, the next decision is where and how to install filters so that I can get clear water.  I’ll probably go with big blue oil drums (estañones) filled with volcanic rock.  There should be plenty available around here!

Well, the ponds are still a work in progress, as is the garden itself, and I believe that it is good that it is so.  The second pond, for example, still has an expanse of plastic liner to be covered, though today I brought another load of rocks from up the road where they have just cleared out the drainage ditches (alcantarillas).

What about pond inhabitants?  All of this is rather vague, since the only real identifications I can make are of birds.  First in were some small dark-brown fish that neighbour Carlos Alvarado has in a tiny concrete-lined pond outside his door.  I put them in to eat any mosquito larvae that might appear.  We actually have had no problems at all with the dreaded ‘zancudos‘, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Next, the cane toads arrived.  I’m pretty sure that that’s what they are because they’re about the size of the squat statues of Buddha that my sister used to collect and they make a huge racket audible at nearly a kilometer’s distance.  My wife and I have somehow convinced ourselves that the toad’s call is not a nuisance, while barking dogs and crowing cockerels certainly are.

Millions of tadpoles ensued.  Toad tadpoles?  Who knows?  There is now also a multitude of pretty green frogs that measure a couple of inches in size.  They don’t seem to say anything, not even at night, and I’m sure some of the tadpoles are theirs.  Yesterday we saw a female toad ejecting black clouds of eggs in long ribbons into the water.  The little dark-brown fish don’t seem to touch them, yet the millions turn into thousands and then finally into just hundreds, it seems.

We also bought two goldfish (cometas’) and two tiny golden koi and introduced them first to the small pond.  They are now twice the size (after two months) and the koi have outgrown the cometas.  It is surprisingly difficult to get goldfish here in Costa Rica.  You can’t just go and get feeder goldfish at 10 c. each.    The ‘acuarios‘ want about 5000 colones (nearly $10) for just one small specimen.  I got the koi here in Turrialba very cheaply because they were so tiny.  Next we added espadas (sword-tails, I think), which probably should be in an indoor aquarium but which seem to be doing well.  There are seven of these, but not all are of the same colour and I’m not really sure if they actually are espadas.

Another visitor was a rather large snake that basked on a flat rock for a while until my wife’s squeals sent it wriggling into the water, where it swam underwater for a while, emitting bubbles.  My only impression was that it was grey and slender, about two and a half to three feet in length.  It rose briefly to the surface and then swam on the surface and disappeared into the water hyacinths.  I now splash about a bit before going bare-legged into the pond.  This is only the second snake that I have seen near the house.  The other was a beautiful red and black coral (?) snake that the local women unfortunately killed with a rock.

Ah yes, the water hyacinth came with the dark-brown little fishies from Carlos’s house.  They flourish in his pond but become progressively smaller in ours, until I finally throw them out and get some larger and prettier specimens from Carlos.  They have a beautiful lilac-coloured flower.

Insects of note are a whopping big tarantula that lives at the entrance to the pipe (this leaves the big pond to put overflow into the small one), and a large and wondrous purple dragon-fly.

The pond is full of life and we don’t have to feed the fish at all.  It is pleasant, however, to throw in bits of bread or corn chips, even though most of it seems to be eaten by the little dark jobs.  The goldfish and the koi are reluctant to eat at the surface and they wait until the bread becomes saturated.  They also like oatmeal, some of which floats and some of which descends immediately.  We bought comida para tilapia (tilapia food) today, which seems a much more economical way to go.  I may yet add a tilapia pond at the bottom of the property.  Tilapia is one of the most popular fish for eating in Costa Rica.  I first ate it in San Ramón at our friends’ house and cabins on the Río Barranca.  Stephanie and Wilber offer a great place to stay at very reasonable prices, if you’re in the San Ramón area.  You can contact them at  (toucancostarica.com)

The reluctance of our fish to come to the surface may be explained by the presence of the cat (I tolerate him only at my wife’s express request), but probably has more to do with the kiskadees (Pitangus sulfuratus).  These, together with Social flycatchers (Myiozetetes similis) and Grey-capped flycatchers (Myiozetetes granadensis) constantly skim the surface of the pond.  I really don’t know if they are eating fish and tadpoles or simply having a drink, but the kiskadees, in particular, remind me of kingfishers, with their big beaks.

Sitting at the pond-side early morning allows a nice view of the Turrialba volcano, (very active at the moment), and most of the other bird species that are regulars in the garden seem to be encouraged by the access to the water.  Background noise this week is the chorus of robins (yigüirros), the loud calls of the chayoteras (Black-headed saltators), the paper-rustling and gurgling sounds of the Montezuma oropendola, the squawks of passing Crimson-fronted parakeets and White-crowned parrots (chucuyos) and the sweet song of the House wrens.

My pond is far from perfect but I like it.  Next step is to get the filters but I may run it without for a while just to see how well the little Mighty Mite pump does with two ponds.

Two ponds -first version

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