Friday, May 24, 2013

Frogless and Slightly on Fire

Before you continue reading, there are a few things you should know about me:

1. I am an absurdly optimistic person. I am convinced, even when I shouldn't be, that everything will work out okay.

2. However, having had my share of disasters, I'm a big believer in back up plans.

3. It rarely occurs to me to give up. It's possible, I suppose, that I'm a bit crazy, but so what? Life's more fun that way.

4. I often ignore the little voice telling me not to talk to strangers and will strike up a conversation with almost anybody.



In fall 2011, inspired by Sweetbay's pumpless, filterless frog puddle, my son and I installed a frog pond made from two 17 gallon farm grade muck buckets. Dug into the driest shade in my garden, I was convinced it would support wildlife without needing a pump or filter, neither of which were options. I stuffed it full of the floating oxygenator, hornwort, and several aquatic plants. I added frogs from a friends yard and guppies to control the mosquitos. Then I waited. The frogs left, the plants took over, and the guppies died. Worried I was cooking up West Nile virus, I added mosquito dunks and waited again, convinced the frogs would return. They never did.


When no frog spawn filled the pond this spring, I cleaned it out, replaced the frozen hornwort, and added tadpoles from a rural garden center. I was so happy to have a pond full of future frogs, I danced ridiculously around the house singing, "I have tadpoles! I have tadpoles!", horrifying my family and scaring the dogs. But when the tadpoles disappeared within a few days, I knew there was a problem. Worried about the oxygen level in the water, I anxiously filled a small vial with pond water and dropped in a few chemicals. To support life water needs to contain 6- 8 ppm of dissolved oxygen. How much oxygen did my water contain? Zero, zilch, nothing, nada. My much loved frog pond was a stinky stew of frog death.

Furious and convinced my oxygen tablets were too old to be useful, I stomped into the house and began making phone calls. Several businesses later, I was connected to a man who was an expert at aquatic gardening and owned a pond company.

HIM; No, they do not carry dissolved oxygen test kits. I was the only person who has ever asked for one.
HIM: Hornworts ability to oxygenate a pond is limited.  ME: Really?
HIM: Did I have a pump or filter? ME: No ( I could hear him sighing on the other end before explaining the affects of ammonia build up in my pond.)
HIM: Could I install one? ME: No, the outlet was on the other side of the garden.
HIM: How about a solar oxygenator? ME: My pond is in the shade HIM: Laughter


What do you mean I need sun to run a solar pump?

At this point I should have realized my pond was a disaster and all the water needed to be removed. Frustrated and hungry, I began researching solar oxygenators while taking out my fury on a dish of hummus and a pile of pita chips.  Finally having  found one that was reasonably priced, I stomped back out to the garden to measure the distance between the frog pond and the lone patch of sunshine that could fuel a solar cell only to discover the cord from the oxygenator to the sunny spot would be too short.

At this point, I could have given up. I'd already convinced myself a pumpless pond was a brilliant idea, seen it fail, and then chatted up a total stranger in my attempts to learn why it had become a black hole of death. But I didn't. It just didn't occur to me. Instead I took out the biggest rocks, filled the buckets with potting soil and decided to turn my frog pond into a bog garden.


Five happy lobelia


Lobelia siphlitica is also known as Great Blue Lobelia and is native to swamps and lowlands of the east coast. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

How much potting soil would I need? I had no idea. How boggy should the bog be? I don't know that, either. If I'd made it too dry, I'd take out some soil. It it was too wet, I'd add some soil.


A large clump of shasta daisies grows in front of the pond turned bog garden. Once they bloom and are cut back the lobelia will give this area some much needed height. Diervilla, rudbeckia, veronica, daylilies, phlox, and monarda also fill this bed. The dog run is between the garden and the fence.

After a bit of research I filled my bog with native lobelia siphlitica, which was amazingly available on the cheap at my local Lowe's.  I slid the lobelia in the quagmire and headed into the house. By the end of the day I'd also almost burned dinner and briefly set myself on fire, but I didn't care. I now had a bog garden. It was time to happy dance.

81 comments:

  1. Hmmm, if I had known you wanted frogs I could send you some (or maybe they are big toads) I dump out my water troughs when I find pollywogs or tadpoles in them, I have mosquito fish in another galvanized water trough and I don't have any pumps on any of them. Maybe you just needed to add some fresh water every couple of day.

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    1. You have tadpoles in your water troughs? Impressive! I thought all the rain would have increased the oxygen levels but no sirree Bob. I am a tadpole killer. We're putting in a real pond - with a pump/filter - this fall. I can hardly wait to dig up more grass! :o)

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  2. I loved this post. Very impressive determination (I am the opposite - a pessimist who gives us at the slightest sign of trouble). You might be surprised - if the bog garden takes off, the frogs may come on their own. Trust me. My whole back yard is a bog and I have tons and tons of frogs. When you hear them singing a chorus after it rains, you will know you've succeeded. Good luck!

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    1. Hmmmm.... I hadn't thought about that. It's pretty boggy back there since the tubs don't have any drainage holes. Maybe I'll get lucky and a few frogs will show up.

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  3. Great solution! And boy does it look beautiful! I especially like the photo of the woman with a tear in her eye! Your post is a wonderful example of determination!! I am so glad you were able to do the happy dance!

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    1. I tend to dance spontaneously a lot. It cracks up my students. I definitely think Lichtenstein had me in mind when he painted the woman crying. ;o)

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  4. You're not just an optimist - you're a resourceful problem-solver. Pat yourself on your back while you do your happy dance.

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    1. Thanks! I actually really enjoy problem solving. I like the challenge. :o) But dancing is just pure fun.

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  5. Your new bog garden is beautiful! Regarding the "dance" in the video, I believe that there's a medication that might help with that.

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    1. LOL!! Then I need it by the truck load. :o)

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  6. I'm sorry you set yourself on fire, accidentally I assume and not a sacrifice to the frog gods?

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    1. Total accident! My oven mitt caught fire while I was trying to save dinner. I thought the whole thing was pretty funny. :o)

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  7. We have lots of tadpoles - not sure if they will ever reach froghood though - the wildlife pond is full of leaves from the overhanging willow and no oxgenators either - but the frogs keep coming back regardless. I admire your persistance.

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    1. It's interesting how many people how frogs despite not doing anything. I build them a pond and they leave. Maybe they'll take up residence in the bog. :o)

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  8. I understand your optimism, your need to talk to strangers and your tenacity. What I don't understand is your desire to start cooking when there's gardening to be done - this kind of folly never ends well ;-)

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    1. So true!! I should have just ordered a pizza! :o)

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  9. Determination is a wonderful thing ! We are pumpless and filterless and although the balance is ok now we still have giant battles with blanketweed and algae and all sorts of other things. It all looks so easy when you see a natural pond in the 'wild'!

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    1. Ponds in the wild have these magic things called springs that keep them healthy and full of oxygen. I need some of that magic! :o)

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  10. True gardening stories by true gardeners are worth their weight in gold. You make my insomnia SO much more fun!!

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    1. LOL! I swear I heard a frog last night. I think it was in my neighbors yard taunting me.

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  11. I have to give you credit for going the mile. I also understand your desire for toads in your yard. I have only seen a couple by sheer accident, but am thinking they probably stay elsewhere and just visit here. Your bog garden looks good now though.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. We actually have lots of toads and skinks. I'm just dying for frogs and other aquatic wildlife. We're digging up a big chunk of our grass this fall to put in a real pond. I'm really excited. :o)

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  12. I enjoyed reading this post and rooting for you to succeed in your quest.
    I have to admit that I'm a lot like you. I hate to give up.
    Oh my dearest Tammy you made my day with the Elaine dance. Seinfeld is one of my all time favourite shows and that is a great episode (along with Soup Nazi of course), and Earth Wind & Fire is my favourite music band.
    Love your new frogless bog garden. Kudos.

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    1. I like to think I'm an awesome dancer but in reality I probably make Elaine look like Fred Astaire. :o)

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  13. Nice! I appreciate you sharing your experience. We have a pond about the same size as yours. We had tadpoles followed by frogs last year but nothing this year. We don't have a pump or filter on ours either so I am taking a lesson from you and going to look into a pump. In nature ponds don't have pumps but I suppose the ones that support wildlife have their own natural filter.

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    1. Pumpless ponds are magic to me. If I could have gotten the solar cell into some sun, the little oxygenator would have saved my pond. Oh well! I love my lobelia and have plans to install a real pond this fall. Good bye, grass!

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  14. I love your sense of humor and your willingness to share your failures along with your triumphs! I look forward to many posts about your fall pond project.

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    1. Thanks! I'm a big dork and see no point in trying to hide it. :o) I'm dying to put in the new pond!

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  15. You had me smiling right through your post :-) I would probably have thought and done exactly the same things, in the same order, perhaps with the exception of the dancing, I am no good at dancing anymore but I can throw my crutches in the air quite impressively! I'm looking forward to seeing your bog garden in full flower!

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    1. Me, too! I keep checking it to make sure everything is still alive. :o)

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  16. Tammy, I have too many frog in my pond and too many mosquitos around the pond :((. Every spring I have to dig up all trash and frozen frogs' bodies from the badly smelling water. The award for me is the crystal clean pond water with water lilies in it. I do not know how many years I will be able not to give up and then did a bed instead of the pond. May be your bog will be more simple thing than a pond?

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    1. I think my bog will be easier than a pond. My husband and I are putting in a real pond this fall and I'm really excited. I just hope I don't end up with frozen frogs!

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  17. Sometimes the road to success is paved with lots of little compromises. Glad you got something good out of your efforts. Also love your #3 lol.

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    1. I agree! I love the new bog and the mosquitoes have disappeared. :o)

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  18. Heehee, I love the Gardening Shoe's comment. And I agree with Jane's "It all looks so easy when you see a natural pond in the 'wild'". I am so glad I managed to persuade Hubby to not attempt a pond.

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    1. Wild ponds are spring fed but I'm not sure a spring in my back garden would such a good idea... :o)

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  19. This reminded me of the kind of projects I undertake, with similar results. The bog sounds like a great compromise in the end, but you get credit for your tenacity with the Frogpond of Death. You tried! It could have worked! It looked kind of pretty!

    The lobelia will be beautiful and it will all work out much better. But I have to also agree with Gardening Shoe -- why were you cooking dinner when there was gardening left undone?

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    1. I think the only reason I was cooking was hunger. :o) Lobelia aren't very tasty. We're putting in a real pond this fall and I can't wait!

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  20. Are you my long lost twin sister? I too am absurdly optimistic and should really cut my losses much sooner. Here in suburban London I don't see too many frogs unless I am out on a date. One turned up at my front door the other day and I didn't know what to do with it so regretfully I left it there. It was probably eaten by a Fox. Now I see I could of taken it in, built a pond and reared a frog dynasty. What a fool I am.

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    1. This comment is so funny! What I lack in frogs I make up for in toads and skinks, a native lizard. If your frog had been an ant, he would have stayed for a lolly. :o)

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  21. Hi Tammy, that reminds me of when I once served chocolate puddle pudding when it should have been a light, airy cake. I'm a great believer in that there's always another way to look at the situation and to rescue it - most of the time. I hope the bog garden works out well, I was going to suggests a whole load of plants you could try but they wouldn't be hardy enough and wouldn't get through the winter. While you are wonderfully optimistic and carefree, I seem to be stubborn and full of grim determination. We'd both end up with the same results, but you do it with much more style and enjoyment than I ever could!

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    1. 'Grim determination' - that is such a funny approach to gardening. I am a bit carefree but am also deeply stubborn. I just refuse to accept defeat sometimes. That damn frog pond was going to be fabulous, whether it liked it or not! ;o)

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  22. Thank goodness for happy endings! :-)

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  23. It's good to be an optimist. Maybe try some Lobelia cardinalis with those great blue lobelia?

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    1. I had lobelia card. in the pond last year and it was too shady. It spent all summer laying on the mulch like a drunk. Pathetic.

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  24. You are my kind of gardener!!! Can we be optimistically, crazy, snatching at dreams kind of gardeners together? Your stories and the way you describe them make me laugh really loud. Thank you. And I hope your bog is completely successful and if it isn't I can't wait to see what else you'll turn it into. By the way, I built a pond for frogs and transported some young-uns from miles away to my pond. Of course they all left and when I saw a frog hopping two houses over I gave it a stern warning to return to my pond, or else! Yeah, people think I'm crazy too!

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    1. I have a neighbor who is petrified of frogs and I worried they all hopped over to her house to torture her. I swear I heard a frog the other night in another yard. I think it was taunting me.

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  25. Wow, you really are determined! Your bog garden looks pretty and I hope it does well for you.

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  26. Things are always more complicated than you think it's going to be isn't it? :) New water gets dumped into our puddle 1-2 times a day (sometimes more in really hot weather -- I add cold water to it in really hot dry weather because it's also an avian and bee watering hole) so it gets plenty of oxygen. My puddle is currently frogless, since the tadpoles FINALLY grew legs and hopped away. A frog will probably show up later in the summer. Birds always visit it, though, when we need rain. Some really cool birds too: Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Bluebirds, Summer Tanagers, and adorable Chpping Sparrows. The puddle is unattractive though. At least it's not very big. I'm fine with tending a puddle but you couldn't pay me to take care of a pond.

    You asked me how I keep grass out of my garden beds -- I can't. April and May are pretty brutal months for weeding (until everything grows up and fills out), and then bermudagrass is a problem at the edges during high summer.

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    1. Ah ha! So that's where the magic comes from! I thought it might have been spring fed. I filled my pond constantly last year which was probably why the hornwort was so healthy. We're putting in a real pond - a small one - this fall and I can hardly wait. I hope taking care of it isn't a pain in the butt. I get grass in my garden, too. Today I accidentally pulled out a clump of daylilies I thought were grass. Duh!

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  27. PS I forgot the most important part!! Congrats on your new bog garden! There's never any shortage of interesting things you can grow in a bog garden. The blue lobelia will make a beautiful show.

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  28. I always love reading your posts...you just make me laugh!! I can just picture you. It's funny, you wanted frogs and I am deathly afraid of frogs and toads. I know they're good for the garden, and I have toads here, but they scare the &%#* out of me! I'm glad you made lemonaide out of your lemons! That's really great!

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    1. Repeat after me: frogs are fabulous! I have lots of toads and skinks, a native lizard. I think they're cool but am still dying for a frog. But I don't want to see any snakes!

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  29. A true gardener is not afraid to try new things, or to fail. You did not fail, you merely created something marvelous out of a difficult situation...

    And yes, I could see myself doing the exact same thing....I want frogs..we have tree frogs but it's pretty dry here for anything else...except mosquies.

    Jen

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    1. It seems strange to me that Canada is dry. It always seems so moist and snowy. A tree frog would be awesome. Right now all we hear is the hum of a zillion cicadas that have hatched after their 17 year cycle. They sound like saws.

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  30. I loved reading this although I felt your pain! You sound a lot like me... I do not want people to tell me I "can't" do something.... I want them to tell me my options so I can get it done!
    I love that you went into a back up plan and I look forward to reading how the bog garden will turn out. Will it have carniverous plants in it?
    Have a wonderful Memorial day.

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    1. I am pig-headed stubborn. As soon as I'm told I can't do something, screw it!! I'm doing it! If I planted carnivorous plants, my dogs might disappear. :o)

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  31. Truly optimistic and a wonderful happy ending...love blue lobelia!

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    1. Thanks! I'm excited for those flowers. :o)

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  32. OK, you have to know that I was about to sign off the Internet for the night, but decided to check your post first, because you always make me smile. I'm so glad I did because you made my day. Excellent idea, too, by the way! I love the idea of a bog garden, and the Lobelias obviously love it, too!

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    1. Thanks! It seemed like the only way to effectively use a giant hole filled with stinky water. :o) So far the lobelia are still alive. Yay!

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  33. Awesome post. Thanks for putting it up. I also have in my about creating pond without those hassles. Now, I might not. And perhaps create bog garden. Have you tried creating pond with just stones and a dug out area? Will that work? Perhaps I should give a try.

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    1. Natural ponds need a continual water source, like a spring. I'm adding a real pond this fall that we're excited about. :o)

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  34. Tammy,
    I nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award (unless you have too many followers ;)

    http://kristyfgillespie.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/1164/

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  35. I love how you go with whatever happens and make it work. I wish I was as optimistic as you are Tammy.

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    1. I have my dark clouds but ultimately think everything will be okay, even if it's crappy here and there. I try to make the best of what I have. It makes life easier and gives me something to laugh at. :o)

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  36. It's a lovely idea to turn a negative into a positive, and I'm sure your bog garden will be a wonderful asset, providing food for different kinds of wildlife. Who knows, you may even get a frog or two in there as they like boggy areas.

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    1. I hope they show up! I think they're cute and love how many bugs they eat. :o)

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  37. Nice save!Look for the silver lining. Jeannine

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  38. The first indication of an optimist is the ability to turn a problem into a solution. You accomplished that and more. Wonderful post!

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  39. Oh and BTW 'briefly set myself on fire'
    Nothing so exciting as wildlife gardening.One day ... you will find a way ... to have frogs in your garden. But, build it, and they will come. I'm sad for the Forced Migration Frogs.

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  40. I don't know many people who could work the Elaine dance into a post of frog ponds. And you did it with such finesse! :) Thanks for my laugh out loud moment of the afternoon. And congrats on the bog garden! I'm hoping to have a frog pond one day...but it can't coincide with canine existence (at least not my canine). Some day......

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  41. I had a pumpless filterless pond for several years, a hole lined with concrete. Sunlight is very important for a pond. It had water hyacinths, which purify water (in sewage treatment plants) and did fine in that respect, I even had baby fish born to some feeder goldfish, until the mother raccoon with 3 babies showed up and ate them all. I had the same experience with toad tadpoles, I got like 80 from a ditch that was drying up, and they grew great and then hopped away, NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN. Arghh. So after mucking it out several winters I seriously questioned the sanity of struggling with a pond. My SIL had an OTTER show up in hers to eat all her expensive Koi. So, I hope you can enjoy your new pond, I am envious when I see someone with lovely water and fish. Your post cracked me up.

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