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

Types of earth ponds

Dugout pondTim Matson explains that there are two types of earth ponds --- the dug-out pond and the embankment pond.  The former is generally built in a flat area where groundwater lies close to the surface, while the latter works best in a valley that can be turned into a pond by building a wall across the valley bottom.

Dug-out ponds are just what the name suggests --- a hole in the ground.  They can be quite small, and commercial fisheries often use a series of dugout ponds in series rather than one big pond to make management easier.  In the case of the fisheries Matson mentioned in his book, ponds are about 15 feet in diameter and 3 to 5 feet deep.

Types of ponds

The main disadvantage of a dug out pond is that the earth needs to go somewhere else --- mounding it up around the sides just creates a really funny-looking pond in a hole.  If you live in a very wet area, though, that excavated soil can be a pro rather than a con --- Matson mentioned one farmer who dug out a pond in a very low area, then used the soil to bring a nearly-as-low field out of the marsh and into more productive conditions.  We're doing something similar on a much smaller scale with our pond experiment.

The embankment method is often used to create a larger pond since it's more cost-effective to mound up the excavated earth as a dam, raising the potential water level and increasing your volume twice as quickly for each scoop of earth removed.  However, embankment ponds often blow out at the dam if you're not careful, so you'll want to follow Matson's tips to clear the embankment area down to the subsoil, then slowly build it up with impervious soil, compacting after every foot or two.  Unlike the walls of a dugout pond, which can be as steep as 2:1, you should keep your embankment flatter, with a maximum slope of 3:1.

Pond spillwayIn both the case of a dugout pond and an embankment pond, you need to think about how water comes into and leaves the pond as well.  Some dugout ponds are sky ponds, relying completely on groundwater and rain to stay full, but most ponds of both types are fed by a spring or stream.  Planning your inlet pipe so water cascades out onto the pond surface will add oxygen, while burying the pipe keeps water cooler in the summer and from freezing in the winter. On the other hand, you can use an unpiped inflow with a small settling pool just before you reach the pond, preventing silt from entering the pond proper.

At the other end of the pond, Matson is less keen on piping, having seen far too many ponds leak around the outflow pipe.  Instead, he recommends creating a stone-lined spillway channel, or, if you absolutely must pipe your outflow, adding an anti-seep collar around the pipe.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on sealing the earthen pond!

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This post is part of our Earth Ponds lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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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.

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