For the past 10 years we have kept our goldfish in the pond over the winter with no issues. This year we had an equipment failure. After 24 pots of boiling water, we melted 4 inches of ice but were unable to create an air hole. We put our heated bird bath on top of the ice in hopes of melting it. We tried pounding on the ice with no success. Any advice?
Answers from MWGS members:
Gary DeGrande: I know, from my own experience when I used to keep goldfish outside, that if there is at least some liquid water under the ice and if it hasn’t been too long that the surface has been frozen, the fish may survive. If you find that you can’t install a new pump, another option is to hang a bubbler near the surface close to the heater. You may still have to go out and break through what may become a dome of ice above the bubbler in very cold weather. If you find the pond is completely or nearly completely frozen and/or you find some dead fish, you might want to just shut everything down for the winter (although you will want to bring in any pumps) and save yourself from the battle with winter this year. Marty will be happy to sell you some new fish in the spring!
Jan Schreier: I have read, and have anecdotal evidence that the stress on fish caused by pounding on ice in an ornamental pond is an urban myth. So, I wouldn’t worry too much about that part. For your ice, you can get any pond heater but also, pipe heat tape from big box hardware stores will work too, and may be more readily available. That will give you 1200 to 1500 watts of heat and will melt through the ice in a matter of hours. Just don’t let either end (the tail end, or the area that has the temperature sensor) submerge in water. I like this so much, that I have now taped one of these to my aerator hose for winter aeration. Keeps the big aeration dome from forming, and I also don’t have to worry about condensation freezing inside the aeration hose (which has happened on occasion). I only plug it in during below zero temperatures to save on electricity and life of the heat tape. Depending on your fish load and size of pond, they can take about 1-2 weeks without an air hole, and be just fine, so unless you have seen all of them floating, they may still be OK. I gave up on using a pump to agitate the water long ago and opted for the indoor/outdoor aerators for all of my pond winterizations. Several reasons: Pumps can clog with leaves and other debris, and once that happens, it is very hard to pull it out/replace or unclog. Aerators work on 25-50 watts of power, and pumps are more like 1000-5000. If your aerator goes out, it is on land, and you can easily bring it inside to replace the diaphragm (very inexpensive!), or if that isn’t it, replace the aerator.
So maybe for next year, you may want to get an aerator kit which would include aerator, heavy-weight tubing (don’t get clear vinyl, as that is subject to condensation freezing clogging the hose), and a diffuser. Good ones (kits) will run you $150-$300 which is usually less than the cost of a pump. I also protect the aerator by placing it on a basket or bricks to keep it off the ground and cover the top with a 5 gallon bucket. This prevents water from getting into the aerator due to melting or falling snow/rain.