How to look after your koi while you're on holiday
I've just realised why I have such fond memories of my summer holidays as a child; they were not my responsibility to organise. I was blissfully unaware of all the arrangements that my parents had to make for both home and abroad.
Not so now! Once you've organised flights, accommodation, car hire and holiday insurance, thoughts then turn to responsibilities at home.
Having no pets, all my parents were concerned with was getting the houseplants watered while we were on holiday. How things change. As a parent myself, in addition to the house plants, we have numerous furred and finned animals that all need to be cared for while we are away. We can take cat to relatives or even a cattery - simple enough, but what are our options when leaving a koi pond for a fortnight in the summer?
How do we best ensure the health (and more recently, security) of our pond in our absence so that we can completely detach ourselves from the domestic responsibilities that we have left back in Blighty?
Koi club membership.
Being a member of your local koi club offers many benefits, especially when going away on holiday. In fact, it is arguably worth the annual membership fee alone to know that you could have access to willing and able koi enthusiasts who would look left after your pond as though it were their own while you're away. Needless to say, you will also be able to return the favour. But if you're not a member of a local koi club what are your alternatives?
My first choice would be a nearby friend or close neighbour who was also a pond keeper. They will naturally have a keen eye for spotting any potential issues while you're away and because they are likely to be enjoying their own pond on a daily basis, they are less likely to forget about yours.
Alternatively, speak to a willing neighbour who would be happy (and interested) to keep an eye over your pond for two weeks. But bear in mind, your instructions and directions will have to be more detailed and precise as in effect you will be entrusting your pond to an inexperienced novice.
By involving your neighbour, you can also more easily address issues of security. They will keep your front lawn trimmed, keep an eye out for any strange behaviour and perhaps if they have a second car even park on your driveway. Security of koi ponds has become a hot topic over recent years, so tell as few people as possible about your impending vacation.
Just before you fly.
There are a number of ways in which you can prepare your pond before flying out that will make life easier for both your stand-in and your fish. Because you will be absent for the next two weeks or so, you will need to prepare your pond beforehand, creating a two week maintenance-free period for when you are away. Only you know the specific areas of your pond that require most regular maintenance, so if possible, work extra hard on these areas, creating a period of grace before things have to be maintained again; ideally, only after you've returned. Basically, you need to get everything freshened up before you go.
a. Water changes. Rather than the usual the fortnightly water change, consider doing two in the preceding fortnight. This is better than doing a big one too close to your departure date, as this may affect your pond's stability, having a knock-on effect for your koi which may manifest itself as a health problem while you're away.
b. Media maintenance. Likewise, combine your water changes with extra rigorous mechanical media maintenance. You know how frequently this needs changing or cleaning before flow rates are affected, so plan accordingly. If possible, why not have some pre-cleaned media standing by to be dropped into your filter by your neighbour in place of one-week-old mechanical media. The bio-chambers should look after themselves over this period.
c. Pump Prefilter. If your pump has a pre-filter (or a habit of blocking up) then clean it just before leaving. If blanketweed is the culprit, then remove as much by hand before leaving and ensure your favoured blanket weed control treatment has been added recently.
Things you should do just before you fly.
Your priority while you are away is to maintain a satisfactory and stable water quality, and to keep your neighbour's role as pond guardian as simple and straightforward as possible. Consequently do not do any of the following immediately prior to your holiday.
a. Add a preventative fish treatment to your pond. These may have an adverse effect on your fish while you're away. If your fish are under treatment prior to leaving, leave your neighbour with a pre-measured doses and precise instructions on when to dose while you are away.
b. Add new fish. If you have a quarantine system, this should be empty of fish while you are away. Plan well in advance of your holiday so that no new fish are in quarantine or have recently been added to your pond. Newly introduced koi are more likely to suffer settling-in health problems, which again your neighbour is not likely to spot or know what to do with if they occur in your absence.
c. New hardware. New pumps or filter systems will operate in slightly different ways to your redundant hardware, requiring your experienced eye to ensure that they are run-in well and with no detrimental effects to your pond or koi. So leave your system untouched for the weeks preceding your holiday so that you're familiar and confident with your system's operation.
What should your neighbour look out for?
The logic in asking a close neighbour to look after your koi is that you should expect them to carry out a daily check on your pond. Give them a daily checklist together with guidance on what to do in certain circumstances.
If you want your koi to be fed over the vacation (they should manage without food for two weeks) then put set portions to one side in sealed containers or bags. You can't predict the weather so there is a risk of overfeeding if the weather is poor while you're away. Why not provide food for alternate days as this will spare your filter the usual loading, making maintenance less likely while you're getting tanned. Rather than burden your neighbour with the responsibility of feeding (although this is a useful reward and motivation for them to check and your pond regularly) you could invest in an auto feeder. However, if you're not used to using one, it may be difficult to set it accurately so that it provides your fish with the quantity of food they are used to. As before, if you are in any doubt and if it involves using new hardware, it is better to stick to tried and trusted methods while you are away.
If you have prepared your pond, filter system and feeding regime then you would not expect your water quality to deteriorate, making it unnecessary for your neighbour to test your pond water while you're away. Anyway, would you trust them to spot a problem, interpret results and respond as required if they do find a problem with your water? I find that by giving a volunteer a few, it easy-to-follow yet fundamental tasks to do, they will do them well (and this does not include testing water).
Just before you leave.
Invite your neighbour to come and see your pond to become very familiar with it. Go through your brief instructions and check that they understand everything. If your instructions involve any hands-on maintenance, then ask your neighbour to do a dummy run (eg rinsing filter media, cleaning pump pre-filters etc).
Leave them with a contact number for you abroad (hotel/apartment) that he can call if he is in any doubt as to what to do. It is far better for your neighbour to call and ask questions rather than act out of the purest motives only to regrettably do the wrong thing.
Jobs to do. - Neighbour's Checklist
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