A couple weeks back we hosted a work bee with Reno's "Permaculture Northern Nevada" group to build a small pond in our front yard. Our friend with pond building experience led about seven of us for three hours of pond making. Our motivation in building a small pond or water feature was twofold. First, we sought to add the soothing qualities of water in a area of our homestead where we spend a lot of time in the summer hosting guests and eating meals. Second, we wanted another habitat to diversify the little ecosystem of our land that would support birds, aquatic plants, and insects.
Katy and I spent some time beforehand figuring out the future location and size of the pond with particular attention to how it would fit in with an raised sitting area we intend to build later in the summer. The pond will anchor one corner of this future "outdoor room".
With the help of the group we dug a hole roughly seven feet long by four feet wide and two feet deep at its deepest point. The edges we kept as vertical as possible. The size of our our was in part determined by the size of the old pond liner our friend had for us to use. We made it a bit irregular – one end wider than the other - to give it a slightly more natural look. We also added about two feet to each measurement knowing we'd have to cover additional length over our earthbags (see below).
We used earth bags (sand bags) filled with the extracted soil to raise up the sides of the pond. We stacked them two high to give us about 8" above grade. Earth bags are great for this as they are malleable, smooth (no sharp edges to poke the pond liner), and easy to maneuver into place.
We leveled the bags using a long 2x4 with a level atop it and then tamping down or fluffing up the earthbags as needed. We left a foot-wide spillway on one end intentionally lower by a couple inches. This is the outlet should our pond overflow from rain or, more likely, our mistake in overfilling it.
We filled in the gaps between the bags and the ground and between the bags themselves with wet clay-rich soil from what we dug out of the hole. This served to make all the sides smoother and more plumb.
We laid an old nylon/polyester blanket at the bottom and up the sides as much as possible to act as a cushion for the pond liner and reduce risk of puncture. There were several roots we had to cut back before this, too.
Using scraps of an old billboard sign we then lined the sides of the hole and up and over the bags. We tacked the billboard vinyl to the bags with old nails. Old billboard signs are another great urban resource – call your local companies and ask for their old signs. They are usually 40'x14' and can be had for around $20.
We then lowered the pond liner into the hole and over the other materials with a large rock placed roughly in it's center point. The weight made it easy to lay the liner and knowing the middle helped us get the placement right quicker.
Last, for the work bee day anyway, we filled the pond up with water. As it filled we stood around the edges and made slight adjustments to the liner placement before it got too heavy to move.
Since the work bee we covered and lined the liner with urbanite (salvaged concrete sidewalk chunks, in this case) and rocks to hide the plastic and help "ground" the pond in our yard. We also added some aquatic plants, a log perch to make it accessible for birds, and a disc that promotes the growth of a certain bacteria which inhibits mosquito larvae development (gotten at the same place as the plants). Mosquito Fish, which eat mosquito larvae, are on the way, too.
In the future, as our outdoor room takes shape, we'll add flowers and plants in the urbanite and rock cracks and connect a small deck to one side so we can sit and dip our feet as we like.
Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.
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