The Bucketpond Challenge

Liz's bucket ponds

The UK’s first national Garden Bioblitz is fast approaching (1st-2nd June – put it in your diary!), and for the past few weeks I have been busy trying to tidy up my small garden and make it a bit more attractive to wildlife in preparation for the big event.

I have filled empty pots with lots of new flowers, dug flowerbeds, sown wildflower seeds, and built a makeshift compost heap. However, one of my biggest jobs has been to sort out the ‘bucket ponds’ I put in place last year, and I’m hoping that they will be even more successful this time round.

Providing water

One of the most important things you can do for wildlife in your garden is to provide water. A pond is excellent, providing a home for a wide variety of aquatic species, as well as a place to bathe and drink for birds and other animals. Even something as small as a birdbath can still provide a vital source of drinking and bathing water for visiting birds, helping them to keep their plumage in top condition.

Garden pondsHowever, while a pond is an ideal addition to many gardens, it’s not always possible to build one, particularly if, like me, you have a tiny concrete garden that your landlord might not take too kindly to you ripping up. Desperate to try and attract more wildlife last year, I decided to look for a way to still provide a watery habitat in a confined, urban space. My solution? The ‘bucket pond’!

Pond in miniature

The largest, most suitable-looking containers I could find for my mini ponds were large plastic buckets that are usually used for garden waste. I ideally wanted to fill them with rainwater, but at the time I built them it was very dry and I also had no easy way of collecting rainwater in the garden. Tap water is not recommended for ponds as it contains too many nutrients, but I didn’t have much other choice for mine.

I initially started with one large bucket, later getting a second, smaller one. Initial results were not overly promising – the water went slightly green and then filled with mosquito larvae. LOTS of mosquito larvae. While I didn’t mind too much – they would provide a nice base to the food chain, for birds and bats at least, and they were my first animal residents – I wasn’t sure the neighbours would take too kindly to me providing a breeding ground for blood-sucking insects.

Mosquito larvae in the bucket pond Worm-like larvae in the bucket pond

I also got some almost caterpillar-like worms which covered the bottom and side of the buckets; probably some sort of fly larvae, but I wasn’t able to get an ID on them.

Adding plants

The big breakthrough in my bucket ponds came when I added some pond plants. I tried to choose native species, both oxygenators and emergent plants (both to look nice, and for aerial insects to perch on). I also added a few small rocks, all to try and create a variety of habitats and hidey places.

I also got slightly carried away and added a third bucket! As well as instantly making them look like miniature ponds rather than sad buckets of dirty water, the addition of the plants also unintentionally brought in a host of hitchhikers. Within weeks, I had at least three pond snail species swimming around, plus thousands of daphnia and ostracods (tiny aquatic crustaceans). Suddenly, come the summer, the buckets were finally teeming with life.

Pond snail in bucket pond 'Gigantor', my great pond snail - he's huge!

Daphnia in the bucket pond Daphnia in the bucket pond

Flying visitors

The best moment in my bucket pond experience came one sunny day when I went outside to find a pair of mating damselflies in the garden. Not only did they fly around and investigate the garden, but they eventually settled on one of the “ponds” and started laying eggs! This has to be the real proof that even a small effort can work wonders in attracting wildlife.

Large red damselflies laying eggs in bucket pondSeveral weeks later, while taking part in the Garden Bioblitz 2012, a bit of pond dipping gave me the joy of seeing the hatched damselfly nymphs – what a result!

Damselfly nymph in bucket pondChallenges

The bucket ponds haven’t been without their challenges. A tiny body of water is never going to quite match up to a large pond. The buckets have steep sides and the tops are relatively high above the ground, making it difficult for any animals to move in and out – they are not easily going to become home to any amphibians, and won’t make suitable bird baths.

Their small size also means that the water in the buckets could undergo quite large temperature fluctuations. They didn’t freeze too badly over the winter, but I do wonder whether my damselfly nymphs made it through all the cold weather.

Even with plenty of plants and hungry snails, the water in two of the buckets has become quite choked with blanketweed. I’m reluctant to use chemicals to remove it. Barley straw is a commonly used “natural” method to combat it, but the only stuff I have found locally came as an expensive extract in a large bottle, far beyond my needs. I’m trying to remove the excess weed by hand and am hoping it’ll all find its own balance, particularly if it stays topped up with rainwater, and perhaps if I can shade it a bit more with plants.

First stages - slightly empty-looking buckets Next stage - filled with plants

Going a bit green A few new plants added this year

The pond snails have laid lots of eggs though, and the daphnia are back whizzing around in at least one of the larger buckets. I’ve also added in a couple more plants this year.

YOUR TURN – take the bucketpond challenge!

My bucket pond experiment has been hugely rewarding, and I’ve been amazed how successful it’s been at attracting wildlife. If it can have great results in a tiny, really urban garden then it can work anywhere!

I challenge you to have a go. If you can built a proper pond, then please do – it’s great fun and a magnet for wildlife. If you can’t manage a pond, then have a go at building a bucket pond, and let me know how you get on or if you have any good tips! If all you can do is put a dish of water out for the birds, then even that is fantastic.

I’d love to hear how you get on!

If you want to find out more about how to build a pond, or to read more about miniature ponds, here are a few handy links:

And more from the RSPB about providing water for birds:

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “The Bucketpond Challenge

  1. I loved this post. I have a very small urban garden and spent some time earlier today watching a pigeon have a long wash and scrub up in my water feature. It is such a delight to see the birds drink from the pool or actually get inside for a total immersion. I will try your bucket pond idea as I certainly don’t have room for a pond. I’ll link this post to facebook – such a good idea needs all the recognition it can get. Thanks.

  2. Hi Della, really enjoyed this article.
    Wonderful inspiration for anyone who thinks they have limited space to include this very important habitat.
    Loved the damselfly moment. We are trying both a small container pond and small wildlife pond near our veg patch. So excited, takes a lot of planning (it’s become an obsession, I love reading about pond projects!), some time and lots of patience. So we are also hoping for that moment we see a beautiful damselfly / dragonfly darting around them.
    Thank you Della
    Best wishes
    Raj

    1. Hi Raj, glad you enjoyed it! Good luck with your ponds, I’d love to hear how you get on. It’s great being able to sit outside and watch the wildlife enjoying something you’ve built! Best wishes, Liz

  3. I just found this Life Pond…
    http://www.carrington-ecoproducts.co.uk/
    …and am thinking of getting one, as I have Newts in my 2/3 wild 4 year old garden, only 1/3 ever mown. Your Bucket Pond idea is great, and I will set one up tomorrow. May manage a way for the newts to get in and out using some Apple wood branches…The Newts got into my cat’s drinking dish, but could not get out…so that had to be changed, not Newt proof.
    Thank you for the excellent tips.

  4. Hi Della, I was inspired to start a bucket pond last year after a vist to the Derby museum which has a great wildlife section. I buried the bucket in the lawn about early Autumn and the very next day there was a frog in there! Since I had used tap water I was surprised to see one so soon. Over the years we have had an occasional frog visitor to the garden as there used to be a large pond here once our neighbour told us. I just didn’t expect one so soon. He stayed all winter but we haven’t seen him for a few weeks but I think they can travel quite a distance.
    I came on the internet to look at maintenance as there is quite a bit of algae and what I now know is duckweed, so will try to remove some.
    Since I have young children I thought the bucket pond is a much safer pond option. I realise kids can drown in shallow water but since I have put rocks at one side to aid access in and out, also a plant in a pot at the other side, there really isn’t much room for a child to fall into, but plenty of room for frogs.
    I did intend on being a bit cheeky and asking the neighbours behind us fo some of their frogspawn but I guess it is too late now, maybe next year. Do you think that would work?
    Enjoyed the blog, thanks.
    Christine

    1. Thanks Christine, that’s amazing that you had a frog the very next day! Just shows how valuable even a tiny bit of water can be 🙂

      I’m still struggling with algae in my bucket ponds – barley straw is meant to be a natural remedy that you can get from most garden / pond centres, but I could only find a massive bottle of extract which was too expensive when I only needed a few drops. I’ve just been trying to take the algae out by hand and need to try and shade the water more. Hope you have success with yours! I believe daphnia are also good at keeping the water clear – the daphnia in my ponds seem to have come in on the pond plants I added.

      Re taking some frogspawn, the general advice is not to move it between ponds as it can potentially spread diseases or invasive plants. Best to wait and see if the frogs lay some in your pond naturally – if it’s suitable for them and you have frogs around (and they can easily move between gardens) then they should find their own way there eventually. It could be that it’s too small for them though. The best thing to do is just to try and make it as wildlife-friendly as possible and hope they’ll be attracted in! Good luck!

      Liz

      PS, glad you liked the blog! 🙂

  5. I have had my bucket pond for about a month / 6 weeks now and the plants are doing well and the birds are drinking a bathing every night. Today I was so excited to see hundreds of tiny tadpole like creatures – but I now think they are mosquito larvae. I am inclined to kill them somehow but I guess they will attract something else to feed on them? We have bats in the area – so it would be lovely to see them visit?

    1. That’s great you’ve got a bucket pond and it’s doing well so far! Sounds like they are mosquito larvae, but I would just leave them be – as you say, something will be likely to feed on them (either as larvae or adults) and also the ‘ecosystem’ of the pond will hopefully sort itself out over time. When I built mine, initially they had nothing but mosquito larvae in, but once I’d introduced some plants and various other creatures had found their way in there it all settled down (and the water cleared up as well – it was initially a bit green!). I even had damselflies laying eggs in there, and their larvae would be likely to feed on the mosquito larvae! Good luck with it 🙂

  6. Hi Liz, Thanks I really enjoyed this article. I have just set up a bucket pond today using a builders bucket. I packed soil and rocks around it to level with the top. Can you suggest a suitable type water plant.

    1. That’s great! Do let me know how you get on with it 🙂 I’m not an expert on pond plants, but I would suggest having a mixture of submerged and emergent (coming up above the surface) plants, so you create a range of microhabitats for different species. Also good to have some oxygenating plants. Go for native species though – here are two links I’ve found with a few suggestions for the UK, but I’m sure there are more useful websites out there: http://www.froglife.org/info-advice/creating-or-improving-ponds/ and http://www.bbowt.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/plants%20for%20ponds%281%29.pdf.

      No need to completely fill it with plants – they should grow and fill the space, and it’s good to have some areas of open water too.

      Hope that helps!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s