Photo by Melody

That's Fishy! My Surprise Family

By Susanne Talbert (art_n_gardenSeptember 7, 2013

As a water gardener, I hope to support life in my pond whether it is plants, fish, frogs, or birds. I do everything possible to make harmonious conditions in my pond including filtration, oxygenation, a wildlife beach and some, okay a lot, of tender loving care. Imagine my surprise when ten microscopic baby fish ended up in a bucket of hot, swampy water a couple feet away from my pond.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 22, 2009.  Your comments are welcome, but  pleasebe aware that authorsof previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

It was my first full season of water gardening in my pond that I had finished the September of the previous year.  I had bought a few water lilies, water hyacinth, water lettuce and some parrot feather along with a couple koi and several goldfish to inhabit the pond.  I planted astilbe, bee balm, daylilies and Louisiana irises around the pond to make it look more natural.


By midsummer, my pond had really filled out.  The fish were growing faster than I thought possible, the water lilies were blooming and most (or worse) of all, the parrot feather, water lettuce, and water hyacinth had just about taken over every inch of the surface of the pond, making it hard to see the growing fish and enjoy the blooming lilies.  I was finally fed up, but I couldn't bear to just let it die so I ripped out several handfuls of the floating plants and threw them into a large bucket sitting next to the pond; several more handfuls went on the compost pile.  Every couple days for the next few weeks I repeated the culling process; it seemed like that stuff was on steroids! 


The large bucket actually started to look nice as well, full and green with parrot feather.  One unseasonably cool day as I was weeding around the daylilies, the ring I wear on my right hand flew off my cold-shrunken finger.  Plop.  Into the large red bucket it had flown.  Luckily it hadn't dropped into the pond; I would've been fishing that needle out of a 1000 gallon haystack for hours. 


I walked over to the red plastic bucket and pushed the parrot feather to one side and looked down to the bottom.  I saw a quick flash.  Oh wait, that was my ring reflecting the sun, I thought to myself.  I reach in to retrieve my ring and see another flash.  Well that's weird. 

I pulled out the rest of the parrots feather, leaving a few floating water hyacinths that were hiding underneath.  As soon as I did, I saw one little tiny thing swim toward the floating plant.  With a closer look I saw two more swimming near one side of the bucket and 6 more were hiding underneath the hyacinth as I lifted it up.  I'm sure the look on my face was priceless.  Huh?  I rubbed my eyes and blinked; how the heck did that happen?  I didn't even think I had any fish big enough to procreate yet, much less magically fling their young half way across the backyard to grow.   

As I thought about it though, I realized that maybe there were some hitchhikers that came along with the roots of the parrot feather and water hyacinth, where fish will sometimes leave their eggs.  I must have moved the eggs into the bucket earlier in the summer where they were hardy enough to survive hot temperatures, no supplemental oxygen, and complete ignorant neglect.  I hate to think of how many eggs I threw out with the compost, but am a little glad I didn't end up with even more babies. 


Upon final count, I had ten babies that were not longer than a pencil eraser is wide.  There were eight gray fish and two clear ones with pitch black eyes.  They weren't "cute" per se, but they were so tiny that they made me giddy. 


Once I discovered them, I moved them indoors to a filtered 20 gallon aquarium where they looked like ants in a giant world.  They took to their new home quickly.  Skittish at first, they will now swim to the top asking for food when they see me come close.   They have grown to about 1 inch long and I have started to see characteristics of some of my original fish in the babies.  One of them is about double the size of the others with a tail equal to its body size, which reminds me of one of the first goldfish I bought, Spike, the alarmingly large, long-tailed gold and black fish. Might he be their dad?  I believe they are all goldfish, though I won't know for sure for a while.  The two clear ones have taken on some black and orange spots, leading me to believe they are offspring of my three Shubunkin goldfish. 

It has been so rewarding to watch them grow over the winter indoors while the elder generation snoozes outdoors in the pond.  I had heard people say that goldfish will spawn anytime and anywhere, but now I am a believer.  I will be digging a new "goldfish only" pond this coming summer for my prolific goldfish.   Someday when the babies are older and bigger I will put the second generation into it. 


As I was closing up the pond for winter in October, I saw one tiny dark bluish-grey fish at the outskirts of the shallow end swimming alone.  I wonder, how many more are in there hiding that didn't stowaway with those infamous parrot feather plants? 

  About Susanne Talbert  
Susanne TalbertI garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite. My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.

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