The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Experimental pond sealing, phase 1

Green frog

Although a little frog moved into my pond excavation overnight, I know the water level is currently dependent on groundwater height.  In other words, if it ever stops raining constantly, our groundwater will drop and our "pond" will dry up.  Time to experiment with sealing the pond!

Pond excavation

From what I've read, the first step in making a liner-less pond that will stay wet is to choose the right area where the soil is rich in clay and the groundwater is high.  That part's easy in our swamp.  As I dug my hole Saturday evening, I could tell I was hitting groundwater because the mud on my shovel became nearly too heavy for me to lift.  An hour after stopping, water was already trickling in to fill the hole.

Pond filling in

By Sunday morning, the pond had filled to a depth of nine inches.  It did rain in the night, but only lightly, and I'm sure the majority of this water simply seeped into my pit through the walls.

Jewelweed in the pit

Found water is exciting, but I want my pit to hold water even during droughts.  And I'd prefer it to be fillable above the groundwater level.  In Earth Ponds, Tim Matson reports that most liner-less ponds nowadays achieve their water-holding abilities by compacting the soil with heavy equipment.  But before we had bulldozers, people were still building ponds.  As the water slowly seeped into the hole, these old-timey farmers turned livestock into the pond area and let them trample the mud with their hooves, sometimes adding hay and/or manure to combine gleying action with the compaction.  They often had to repeat the procedure at intervals as water levels rose.

We don't have a handy herd of cattle (and I don't think you could fit even one cow in my little hole), so I decided to mimic their action myself.  Rather than hay, I tossed in an armload of jewelweed...

Compacting clay

...and jumped in to trample the organic matter into the mud!

Here's where I realized one flaw in my pond design.  I wanted to make the bottom deep and to provide a shallower ledge around that center for emergent plants, but my pond is too small to provide a gentle slope between the two levels.  As I trampled, I realized I'd be able to seal the bottom of each tier, but not the steep walls in between.  We'll see if this dooms my project to leaky failure.

Gleying a pond

Here's my jewelweed fermentation pit after trampling an armload of greenery into the water-holding portion and another into the soggy tier closest to the camera.  If the water level continues to rise, I'll repeat the endeavor with other parts of the pit.

I'm having fun experimenting with small-scale pond sealing, but I'm also prepared to change over to a liner if necessary.  In my mind, this pond is already full of lotuses, arrowheads, and goldfish, and I'm prepared to drop $100 to make that happen.

The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention, bringing clean water to backyard birds around the world.

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

If you have a 2x4 or small log the size of a hoof you could always pound it into the clay with a hammer or sledge hammer to mimic the pressure of an animals hoof and with this method you could do this on the sides as well.
Comment by Brian Tue Jul 30 09:21:06 2013
Brian --- Mark suggested using the spud bar, which is a similar tool to what you're envisioning building. I think that would work really well, but my legs are much stronger than my arms. I can only tamp for a few minutes but I can trample much longer. :-) If the sides do start to leak, though, I might go back and get strong-armed Mark to use a tool like that there.
Comment by anna Tue Jul 30 10:02:08 2013
I was interested in the after-trampling picture of the pond, but would have liked to see an after-trampling picture of Anna, too! Visions of Lucy stomping grapes had me giggling.
Comment by Heather Tue Jul 30 14:57:52 2013
I can’t suggest something which is not useful so my suggestion for my pond was Pond Pro and I did not repent after having this from last eight years. To know more please visit
Comment by Joan Fri Dec 19 03:24:38 2014

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.