Magazine article Sunset

The Colorful Magic of Koi

Magazine article Sunset

The Colorful Magic of Koi

Article excerpt

A guide to help decide if koi can live with you

When I owned a cockatoo, I was delighted with her beauty and surprised by her obvious affection for me. But I never expected to encounter a beautiful fish with personality. Then I met the koi.

Koi swirl through the water, displaying shades of red, gold, platinum, white, orange, yellow, gray, black, and blue. When you appear, they'll swim up and eat food out of your hand, and even nuzzle your fingers.

There are 14 classes of koi, all bred to be seen from above. Many are bred in the United States, while others come from Japan, China, Israel, and Singapore. Some grow fast, some slowly. While you can spend as much as $20,000 for a single prize specimen, you can also buy one a few months old for as little as $3 and watch it grow.

Where do you begin? A koi dealer can introduce you to fish that gleam like the purest gold or silver, and perhaps let you hand-feed salmon-size creatures with diaphanous fins and tails. Most dealers are free with pond-building advice, and can supply hardware and hook you up with landscape professionals who specialize in koi ponds.

Dealers can also recommend koi whose size, color, and conformation will fit your budget and fish-rearing experience. Chris Moore, a koi dealer in Everett, Washington, says: "We sell beginners inexpensive fish, usually in the $3 to $5 range, then let them trade up to bigger fish as they progress." Not all dealers make trade-ins, but most will bend over backward to see that you succeed with the fish they sell.

Many dealers ship fish for overnight air delivery by placing koi in containers filled with superoxygenated water (fish losses are very small). Dealers carry aquatic plants and preformulated koi food, and they can supply information about feeding schedules for your climate and local water quality: whether, for example, your water contains koi-killing chlorine, chloramines, and ammonium, and what to do if it does.

CREATING KOI HABITAT

If you have an underused swimming pool, or an 8- by 10-foot free space in a fenced, secured part of the garden, you have enough room for koi. Here's how to create the right habitat.

Convert a swimming pool. There's powerful logic behind the notion that a koi-filled pool serves a higher purpose than a rarely used pool. Pools are easy to convert. Cosmetically, it pays to give the pool bottom a dark coat so the fish show up better. The pool's mechanical filter should be converted to (or supplemented with) a biological filter.

Install a prefab pond. Though koi originated in Japanese rice paddies flooded with water just a few inches deep, it's best to choose a pond at least 3 feet deep. Shallower ponds make koi fishing too easy for predators (see "Protecting koi," above right). A 7- by 10-foot, 600-gallon free-form plastic pond costs $400 to $500; one that's half that size costs $275.

Build a pond. The easiest way is to dig an 8- by 10-foot pond at least 3 feet deep (as much as 5 feet deep where winters are very cold), then seal it with a flexible plastic liner (25 to 50 cents per square foot). Put landscaping fabric, old carpet, or sand down first to keep tiny rocks from puncturing the linen Sides should be vertical: a sloped, concave bottom can cause a wrinkled liner and make it too easy for herons to wade in after the fish. …

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