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Huge back yard pond becomes a reality

by Bruce Corcoran

Group photo

"WATER BEGINS TO FLOW" Water begins to fill the large pond built last Friday in the backyard of Chuck Catton's Chatham home. Catton is one of only three master pond builders in Canada and his dream pond sharpened into reality before his eyes as part of Aquascape Ontario's annual Build-A-Pond Day.

For the first time in her career, Chuck Catton brought his work home with him Friday.

He also brought his boss and 50 strangers with him to start and finish his one-day project.
And Catton couldn't be happier.

He is one of only three master pond builders in Canada and his dream pond sharpened into reality before his eyes last Friday as part of Aquascape Ontario's annual Build-A-Pond Day.

The 50 strangers were landscapers and homeowners who paid $99 to spend a day hauling heavy rocks and learning the tricks of the pond-building trade. One came from as far away as New Brunswick to take part.

Normally, Aquascape will build a pond from scratch in one day, according to staffer Rita Wieler. But Catton and boss Perry Molema cheated this time around for the project, which now takes up most of Catton's back yard on Stanley Avenue in Chatham.

"The hole was pre-dug. You just can't do it all in one day with a pond this big," Wieler said.

The project features two waterfalls, a bog garden and 40-foot simulated streambed to go with a 21-foot by 28-foot pond. It was show-cased in the July 14-15 Ponds Across Ontario tour.

Molema said a pond of this magnitude would cost a homeowner about $15,000, but Catton's came free of charge, as a form of bonus to a man who has installed more than 150 ponds for Aquascape.

"He doesn't pay for this. Everyone paid to come," Molema explained.

Wieler said Catton has earned it.

"This is his bonus. He's going to love it," she said. "If it wasn't for Chuck testing the products, we in the front office wouldn't have the answers to many of our clients' questions."

For Catton, 4 p.m. couldn't have come soon enough. That was when the water started flowing through his very own back yard escape.

"It's been a long time coming," he said. "I've been doing ponds for about six years. For every pond I put in, I thought "when I get my pond, I'll do this."

Size did matter to Catton.

"I knew that for anything smaller than this, I would have not enjoyed," he said. "And it's not just what I envisioned, it's 50 people having input as well."

The work went quickly, beginning with the liner. Gravel followed and then came the larger boulders and variety of smaller rocks. By noon, the stream and waterfalls were all that remained to be completed. Catton and crew had water trucked in, using more than 3,200 gallons to fill the pond. By 5 p.m., the waterfalls had sprung to life.

The spirits of the participants remained high throughout the day, despite the heavy lifting.

"Maybe next year, he's having a Build-An-Addition-On-His-House Day." joked one participant.

Pond put in yard in one day.......continued from page 1

Wieler said many of the participants in Friday's pond-fest are working towards obtaining certified installer status with Aquascape. To reach that mark, an installer must have built five ponds and obtained testimonials from two of his or her customers. Friday's project counted as one of the fine.

Back yard ponds have become big business, Wieler said, as Aquascape sells its customized pond kits to homeowners and landscapers across the country. Locally, landscapers install upwards of 65 a year.

For homeowners, it's a trend that sticks.

"We have done three ponds at one person's house," Wieler said. "Once (homeowners) start, it's like they never stop."

Catton's pond, and many others, are self-sustaining ecological systems. Once he stalks the pond with about 20 koi fish, the pond sustains itself and the water will remain clear.

"It's important to circulate the water. The two waterfalls are biological filters," Molema said. "They create natural habitat for bacteria. That bacteria feeds on excess nitrates. The nitrates can create green water as algae develops." The rocks and gravel are also strong breeding grounds for bacteria throughout the pond.

The waterfalls are each fed by pumps located in two skimmers in the north end of the pond. Molema said the skimmers remove about 80 per cent of debris from the water, which helps to keep it clear.

The final touch, the bog garden, is a tribute to Mother Nature. "A bog is nature's filter," Molema explained.

The koi not only add colour, but also eat algae and insect larvae.

Catton's creation is a bit of an extravagance compared to Aquascape's typical projects. Molema said most are 11-feet by 16-feet or smaller.

"Chuck will be able to swim in this one," he said.

And swim in it Catton did, taking the plunge into the chilly water after Aquascape took a group photo of the participants.

This isn't Catton's biggest project. The master pond builder has created ecological art in many back yards across the country. Moelma said his crowning achievement came in St. John', Nfld. Catton flew out there to work with a 12-man crew. It took 10 days to build a 160-foot by 60-foot pond for a home there.

Chuck drilling the skimmer

TAKING SHAPE: Above, in the beginning Chuck Catton's back yard in Chatham was nothing more than a flat yard covered in grass. Soon it had been dug, molded, covered with a heavy liner and fitted with skimmers and pumps during last Friday's Aquascape Ontario's annual Build-A-Pond Day.

Below: A lesson in drains from master pond builder Catton, centre, to some of the 50 people who helped build the huge pond in one day

Chuck gives a lesson in drains


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Koi Fun Facts...

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- In Japan, during the judging process, Japanese judges only grant or award points. Unlike most American judging, where points tend to be deducted from some sort of "perfect" fish, the Japanese only award points to the fish is a competition, which are all started at zero.

- It is believed that koi can live more than 100 years. They can be aged accurately (but sacrificially) by the examination of the bones of the inner ear. Ages derived from scales can be inaccurate, as a one-year-old fish can have between seven and eleven rings on a scale, depending on the scale you choose.

- Koi have no stomachs. In fact, all they have is an expandable small intestine that functions as a pseudo stomach but has none of the common stomach structures.

- Koi have teeth in the back of the throat, which can be used, if needed, to crush any snails and crustaceans they may ingest.