Don’t duck the tough issues

Although we have been operating using organic and biodynamics principles at Homeland, one of our core goals at Dreamland was to adopt more permacultural approaches. We wanted to introduce animals to provide us with a broader range of healthy edible produce, and also to help us feeding the soil better. Our first focus is chickens and ducks. But if want to provide the ducks with a suitable as well as aesthetically pleasing home, it takes a lot of up-front work.


When we started the landscaping at Dreamland, we incorporated a reasonably-sized duck pond into the design. From previous work on a natural water pool (which we will post about one day…), and from reading how messy ducks are, we knew it needed extensive filtration. So we worked with Scott Tucker from Clearwater Lakes and Ponds  to incorporate enough “infrastructure” when we got the excavator to dig the pond and the holes for all the fruit trees .


Excavator with Markus

Markus helping to dig the pond


So it wasn’t only about digging a big enough hole for the pond, but we also had to shape the “hill” behind the pond for a filtration box and with a run-off down to the pond where we could include a lot of water plants to assist with the natural filtration process.


Pond - filtration zone

Initial design with rectangular filtration tubs


Filtration box

One of the biggest challenges was building the box for the biological filters. The first problem was getting the heavy sleepers up the “hill” and into the box. Fortunately it was a dry-ish period and I could reverse the trailer on our little access road <<link>> to bring the heavy wood really close to the box, so all I had to do was lug them up the ramps we had created with the excavator in order to service the filters and box. The second challenge was that I had dug the hole just big enough for the box so I had no space on the outside to drill the large screws in, even though I had drilled all the holes in the sleepers when I sawed them. To overcome this problem I first had to screw the one side outside the hole, then slide the x kilogram frame down into the hole, wedge the other side up with posts, screw them, and then lower it down in place! I had to do this four times for the four layers. Fortunately, as I got more tired, the angles got easier and the distance to lower the heavy frames got less and less. And for my engineering friends, by hook and by crook, it ended up level and square – if we disregard a millimetre here and there.

Redesign filtration area

In our initial designs we had these rectangular tubs to simulate a cascading water flow through bunches of water plants. I couldn’t envisage how we could get the water running down the slope. So we had an elaborate design of leaf filters and cascading pipes and pumps and who knows what not. Two days before installation we had a telephonic brainstorm and Josh from Clearwater Lakes and Ponds convinced me that it would be better to run a liner down the slope, instead of the tubs with all the filters and tubs – if one of the tubs get clogged up, say with leaves, it could cause the whole pond to pump dry and overflow out of the tub. Not a good idea! So the Friday morning before installation, there I was at first light taking the tubs out (including a drowned mouse) and reshaping the whole slope – using only a pick axe and a spade in our hard clay soil. Fortunately, I think the remodelled design would give a much more natural stream-like look in the long run.


Pond - redesign

Redesigned filtration areas


Installation 1

Later that morning Josh and Andrew from Clearwater Lakes and Ponds pitched up and started installing liners and filters and who knows what else. They really had good insight and gave me such good advice as to what would work and what not. In return I dug a few holes with the post-digger to save them some manual labour. A little win-win team-work never harmed anybody!

Great was the excitement when we turned the water on and filled the pond through the stream! Markus immediately started building little walls and diversions using the bricks we used to keep the liner down in the gusting cold wind. I wonder who’s going to enjoy this area more, the ducks or the kids?


Pond - first water Markus having fun

First water flow, with Markus having lots of fun


Weekend fun

Over the weekend, I wanted to get as much of the liner packed down before they came and completed the installation on the Monday. This led to a lot of hunting and phoning and driving around. Eventually I had a load of moss rocks and another load of pebbles lined up. Great was our dismay when the truck with the moss rocks got stuck in the muddy clay while reversing up the makeshift access way, still “miles” away from the pond. All we could do was to let it dump its load right there in the access way, and with that it was still quite a palaver to get it pulled out. Unfortunately I don’t have any action photos of the truck getting stuck – I don’t the driver would have appreciated that, and I wasn’t thinking of it at the time either! Needless to say, with the driveway all “spun out”, it’s going to be a while before we can get the pebbles or any mulch trucks through there…


Pond rocks in driveway

All the pond rocks lying in the muddy driveway


So the rest of the weekend there I was carting large rocks up the slippery muddy driveway to the pond, and then placing them strategically to try and make it look like a natural stream running through rocks. Late Sunday afternoon I even slipped while carrying one of the big rocks and landed slam bang in the icy water – luckily in the small “plunge pool” just before the pond. Imagine falling into the meter deep pond while carrying a big rock! Suffice to say, that little episode terminated my work on Sunday…

Installation 2

So on Monday Josh and Andrew returned to complete the installation of the filters, the solar panels, the pump and few other bits and pieces. In between them doing this, we refined the pond edge to make some shallow areas for the ducks to exit and to fine-tune the water levels. The whole of Monday, Adrien, who now rents with his parents at Dreamland, helped me cart wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of heavy rocks through the rain squalls up the slippery driveway to where the pond is. That helped so much! At the end of the day, when the kids returned from school, we had the driveway cleared and all the rocks placed along and on the liner to create a rock stream. A short burst of tank water illustrated how it would look when it eventually ran.

The last step was to place the water plants in strategic places.


Pond with rocks

Pond with most of the rocks in place


Unfortunately, the suppliers sent the solar panels with a too short (5m) cable, even though we ordered a long enough (15m) cable and waited a month for its delivery. Grrrr. So Josh and Andrew will have to come out again to complete the installation.

In the meanwhile we now have to finalise the edges, get millions of groundcovers, hide all the liners and edges and just finalise the whole project, but apart from the pebbles, the big construction items are done! We’ll do another post once all the pebbles and plants have been installed and settled.

And the ducks?

Of course, the kids want to know how soon they can get “their” ducks! Well, that’s still a long way off… From all we’ve learnt, ducks apparently make a massive mess, especially if there’s loose ground and mud involved. So the whole area around the pond has to be established and planted first. So, sorry kiddos, those little duckies will only be coming next year sometime – maybe early in the year if we get our ducks in a row!

Lessons learnt

  • Make very sure you have a practical design before acquiring any bits and pieces, even though you may think it will work. We are now stuck with three rectangle tubs… OK, make that two – we’ll probably use one as a loose tub in the chicken/duck coup’s “en-suite” run, where we can just tip it out when it gets dirty.
  • If you have an access route destined to be used by trucks and trailers – especially on clay that gets really soft and slippery in the rainy season, get it compacted, and even paved with crushed stone… This little lesson may set us back quite a few dollars and quite a few weeks.


About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

7 Comments on Don’t duck the tough issues

  1. Great post! We’re looking to build a pond or 3 as we’re restricted from building a dam. So your post is super handy!
    We have the issue of rock and lots of it! So no need to truck that in, instead we have to truck in dirt and soil 😂
    Hope you’ve recovered after your slip!!

  2. If you have lots of rock, you’re lucky in having enough material to cover the liners, but with rocky soil you must be careful with sharp edges puncturing the liner. You may need an “underliner” to cover the liner. If you’re looking to keep ducks with big ponds, you’ll need a lot of filtration – either long runs with lots of plants and/or biofilters – we’re doing both.

  3. Fortunately, there are no plans for ducks in my garden, so no filtration system needed. I wonder how much mess the wild birds might make but then most of their droppings seem to land on the fence.

    • Hi Helen, we have many wild birds visiting our pond. I wouldn’t put excessive filtration in for them. They’re quite neat compared to ducks. But you need to keep your water flowing to keep it fresh, mosquito-free and so on. But you can use small little solar pond pump for that – which you get at hardware stores.

  4. Wow Martin, I just found this post. Just the kind of set up I am hoping to put together. Very interesting!

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