The more I read about ponds, the more I think that they’re a really good use of otherwise wasted space in the front of the house: done well, they’ll look merely ornamental, but actually be extremely useful. And that’s just for the plants, let alone the possibility of breeding your own fish (to be eaten!). PFAF has a good general article about edible water and bog gardens.
Of the useful cropping plants in ponds, duckweed springs to mind first of all: it’s very common and in large ponds it can be difficult to keep under control, so regular cropping would be excellent news all round. It can be used as a survival food, but it has a lot of uses in the garden as well, as a green manure, a mulch and food for animals and fish. For a brilliant site about it’s many uses, you can’t do better than go here. The scientist who runs this site, Tamra Fakhoorian, is also what we’d call a smallholder or part-time farmer maybe, in Kentucky, her breadth of knowledge is inspiring. As an example of what can be done, here’s a large pond local to me adapted for angling, with a healthy crop of duckweed too:
Water cress is also a brilliant crop, and is already used for humans, of course. Water chestnut too. Source the plants from a reputable nursery, and off you go.
Plants that provide cover and food for small animals are a good idea too – frogs will eat slugs and other garden pests, for instance. Plant pickerelweed and wild rice (the seeds are edible for humans too) as well as hornwort and elodea to help them. Hornwort can be eaten by humans, and elodea is said to be an emetic (causes vomiting) – so do your homework about exactly what plants you want!
If you have any sort of pond at all, you’ll need a sloping edge to at least part of your pond, so that those valuable, pest-reducing little insects and animals can get out of your pond, if they fall in. This one is ideal, and the ducks think so too:
There are all sorts of opportunities going begging: the picture below shows a few of them. The drainage pipe that feeds it has become blocked, the water is stagnant, a tree has grown up inside the pond itself. The structural elements surrounding it (and this is indeed somebody’s front garden) are obviously well maintained, but the pond element itself has been abandoned. Very sad.
One word of warning, especially if you also go foraging for any of these plants – liver flukes are a real danger, being picked up from contaminated water, undercooked fish or raw plant material from infected sites. Care should always be taken on matters of hygiene, of course, but common sense will help you here: the fluke life cycle is complex, needing both snails and fishes before it can infect mammals. E. coli can be found in waterplants too, occasionally.
What about breeding your own fish? Carp are a genuine possibility in the UK, with a firm headquartered in Scotland breeding them in Devon, for aquaponics systems. There are quite a few fish farms breeding carp for fisheries – some local investigation will help you find one nearer. The British Aquaponics Association is listed below.
The North American preference is tilapia, again for aquaponics systems – not really the sort of pond for the front garden, but certainly something to think about for the back garden, as a less obtrusive option. Whatever you do, if you have livestock of any description, fish included, a lot of research and commitment is necessary, to avoid unnecessary suffering and to safely maximise production.
Water features need childproofing – especially in the front gaden. Exuberant passers-by under the age of criminal responsibility may trespass. They shouldn’t, but they do – and you may have children of your own, or visitors with children.
Basically, RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, recommends best practice of “a rigid mesh or grille” able to support the weight of a child up to age 4 – 5, and remain above the water at all times. That age cut-off is because it’s only then that children are aware of what warnings about danger might mean. If such strong mesh is impossible for your pond for some reason, mesh that’s strong enough to support a two year old toddler is a basic preventative measure.
If you’re growing crops in a water feature that’s only three inches deep or something similar, then that’s probably overkill – but bear in mind that something that shallow is going to freeze during most winters in the UK, and that’s going to be useless for fish, unless …. Tamra at Duckweed Gardening has some great ideas about transplanting crops into indoor containers – her weather issues in Kentucky are pretty different from ours in the UK, of course, but they can be adapted to our needs. Transplanting fish, however, is a tricky situation, and not something that I’d contemplate.
So there we are. I hope I’ve covinced you that front gardens can have their uses. It can be a little tricky, but there are plenty of different ways to use them for prepping, as well as enjoyment. Here’s one to enjoy, taken at a village pond near to me:
The British Aquaponic Association – their newsletter, and last year’s conference presentations, can be downloaded.
Permaculture has a deep interest in ponds, of course, and this is some of the advice and research they have available.
PFAF is an encyclopaedic site full of detailed information about all sorts of plants worldwide. In my opinion, it gathers rather than assesses information, but it can’t be bettered as a pointer to what you need to look out for.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. For a prepping blog, why not? They have useful information.
A private American site, already quoted in the post above, with really valuable information on duckweed for many uses and links to much of the scientific literature about it.