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Thread: Understanding String Algae

  1. #61
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Musing about Climate Conditions

    Yes, it is a mystery, Ric.

    My pond experiences a seasonal bloom each year. Some years it is minor. Some years it is substantial. I do not know why it varies. I have noticed that the years when the outbreak has been most serious are also ones when I did not have any parasite outbreaks. That means there was no treatment for parasites. For most parasites, I use Pro-form C (F/MG) , which will setback algae. So, that may have been a factor in those years; but, perhaps not a complete explanation. One of the worse years for string algae in my pond was 5 or so years ago. In the course of a couple of weeks the pond went from some string algae being observed to a super-abundant explosion of the stuff. I was having to clean filter mats in the skimmers daily. The leaf baskets on pumps had to checked daily. Huge globs came through the bottom drains when flushed. The total algae production was incredible. When I called a friend I learned that he also was having an unprecedented string algae problem, as was another local hobbyist with multiple ponds. All of these ponds were designed as true koi ponds with all the filtration systems one could want and regularly maintained with daily attention. All of these ponds had different water sources... two different public utilities and private wells. The source water could not have been the causative factor. The unusually robust string algae growth was occurring throughout the Orlando region. It cannot be scientifically established, but I do believe that outbreak across the region had more to do with climatic conditions that year than pond-specific issues. Perhaps it was the number of days with water temperatures in a particular range. Perhaps conditions the prior Fall laid the ground for abundant growth when certain conditions came together that particular Spring. I simply do not know. Still, I have a hard time thinking it was coincidental that so many ponds in the area experienced an abundance of string algae much greater than any of the hobbyists had experienced previously. And, all of the ponds had the algae decline around the same time. It was about 6 weeks of misery. By late June, when even shaded ponds in the area have temperatures in the upper 70sF, you could visit the different ponds and not have a clue there had been such problems so short a time before.

  2. #62
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Plecostomus

    The algae-eating Plecostomus catfish is sometimes mentioned as a means to combat algae in the koi pond. I can speak with some experience about them. They will consume tremendous amounts of algae. They are not going to consume streamers in the water column. They will consume all algae on the pond walls and floor. If you do not feed sinking food, with a few plecostomus in the pond, and the water warm, in time there will be no significant amount of algae on any surface readily accessible… no string algae, no carpet algae, no algae at all. Their diet can be supplemented with sinking food. Although they are algae-eaters, they will go after meaty foods if available. Their algae consumption will be much reduced if other foods are made available. Of course, when the pond temperature falls below 70F they do not eat much and die if the water temperature stays in the low 60sF (or lower) for very long. So, they are not going to be of much use to anyone who is not in a warm water/subtropical area. There is a potential problem. If they do not have plenty of algae or other food to eat, they have been known to go after the slimecoat of other fish. This means our koi are placed at risk of injury. In a small pond with just goldfish and truly small koi, one or two plecos seem to do fine and do not bother the koi if enough food is provided so they do not have to rely solely on algae. The small fish are fast. As koi get larger, however, they are bigger targets and not as quick. Plecos are nocturnally active, so you might not see the attacks on your koi occurring. The Plecos can become a real problem. For those with goldfish in a watergarden, the plecos may work well, but they do like their veggies in all forms. When I kept a pleco in my lily pond the waterlillies were left alone. No other plant was left unconsumed.

    For the koi pond, I do not recommend keeping plecos even in warm climates. They may provide a real assist in controlling algae, but also present a risk to the koi that are the focus of our attention. You might get away with it for a while, but eventually you are likely to wish you had not put them in the pond.

  3. #63
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Clay & Kitty Litter

    I often see folks recommending the use of powdered clay to control string algae. Some swear by it. Others say it does them no good. Some say they have no idea whether it does any good, but it makes them feel good to try something. Since the bentonite clays adsorb ammonia and some phosphates, among other things, there is some logic to the notion of using clay. It can reduce the availability of nutrient for a short period. As soon as it settles out of the water column, however, the effect is reduced. As much impact may come from it being captured in the filaments of string algae, where it blocks light to some degree. Studies have shown that string algae does not fare well in natural waterbodies where silt released from dams and the like clog the streamers.

    Personally, I have used clay in the past and cannot say there was any impact on the string algae. However, I did not apply it daily over an extended period. Logically, it would have to be used repeatedly in order for the nutrient scrubbing to have much of an effect. Unlike chemical additives, clay on the market for use with koi will not harm the koi. So, if a person has clay on hand, they might as well use it.

    A related method recommended by some is to place a tub of kitty litter in the pond. Now, I know regulars on this board are ready to roll over howling at the suggestion, but since some folks say it works, it has to be recognized as a method in use. (BTW, the kitty litter generally suggested is the cheapest sold at Walmart, which has no perfumes or additives, but is 100% bentonite, albeit not necessarily of the grade considered suitable for consumption.) Those who recommend this practice theorize that the tub of litter allows water to flow through, and continually adsorbs nutrient that would otherwise feed the algae. One proponent plants their waterlillies in tubs of kitty litter and claims to never have string algae issues. I have seen a number of posts by people saying they were going to try this method. I have not seen much in follow-up posts reporting it was successful for them. I can imagine that bentonite clay might be an acceptable planting medium for waterlillies, although I have not seen it recommended by any expert growers. I do not think there would be much water movement through the clay. The reason it is used as cat litter is because it absorbs and holds liquid, and does not let the liquid flow through. It is used to line mudponds in areas with a low water table because it will hold the water in the pond. Water flows through bentonite clay very slowly even when gravity is working in favor of it moving through. So, I do not see the tub of clay as doing much of anything. However, thriving waterlillies would block sunlight. So, the method might seem to work. In any event, for the koikeeper, this is not a practical approach. A tub in the pond is simply something else on which koi might injure themselves. If I am going to use clay, I would not use kitty litter. I would use powdered clay applied in daily doses to the water column.
    Last edited by MikeM; 06-08-2013 at 08:21 AM. Reason: correct typo

  4. #64
    Tosai
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeM View Post
    .... One proponent plants their waterlillies in tubs of kitty litter and claims to never have string algae issues. I have seen a number of posts by people saying they were going to try this method. I have not seen much in follow-up posts reporting it was successful for them.
    I have numerous planted baskets of Walmart kitty litter in the pond, put in last Fall and a large outbreak of string algea this Spring. Very good flow and water quality, 3/4 shaded pond, cooler PacNw temps.

    It does not work ... for me, at least.

  5. #65
    Sansai almostgeorgia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeM View Post
    The algae-eating Plecostomus catfish is sometimes mentioned as a means to combat algae in the koi pond. I can speak with some experience about them. They will consume tremendous amounts of algae. They are not going to consume streamers in the water column. They will consume all algae on the pond walls and floor. If you do not feed sinking food, with a few plecostomus in the pond, and the water warm, in time there will be no significant amount of algae on any surface readily accessible… no string algae, no carpet algae, no algae at all. Their diet can be supplemented with sinking food. Although they are algae-eaters, they will go after meaty foods if available. Their algae consumption will be much reduced if other foods are made available. Of course, when the pond temperature falls below 70F they do not eat much and die if the water temperature stays in the low 60sF (or lower) for very long. So, they are not going to be of much use to anyone who is not in a warm water/subtropical area. There is a potential problem. If they do not have plenty of algae or other food to eat, they have been known to go after the slimecoat of other fish. This means our koi are placed at risk of injury. In a small pond with just goldfish and truly small koi, one or two plecos seem to do fine and do not bother the koi if enough food is provided so they do not have to rely solely on algae. The small fish are fast. As koi get larger, however, they are bigger targets and not as quick. Plecos are nocturnally active, so you might not see the attacks on your koi occurring. The Plecos can become a real problem. For those with goldfish in a watergarden, the plecos may work well, but they do like their veggies in all forms. When I kept a pleco in my lily pond the waterlillies were left alone. No other plant was left unconsumed.

    For the koi pond, I do not recommend keeping plecos even in warm climates. They may provide a real assist in controlling algae, but also present a risk to the koi that are the focus of our attention. You might get away with it for a while, but eventually you are likely to wish you had not put them in the pond.
    For what it's worth, I know someone who keeps a couple of large plecos in his 17K gal. koi pond and swears by their algae eating abilities. As you stated, Mike, they start to go 'belly up' when water temps approach 60 degrees here in north Florida, but this hobbyist has found a way to overwinter his fish. He simply rigs up a couple of large diameter PVC tubes with submersible heaters and the plecostomus go right to the heat source, staying in them until warmer weather (and water) arrives.

    Call me a purist, but I don't personally advise keeping ANY other fish with koi, and have also heard of plecostomus catfish attaching larger fish at night in a pond, leaving grievous wounds on their sides and bellies. For that matter, why anyone serious about koi would keep cichlids, Chinese banded high-fin sharks ( Myxocyprinus asiaticus), native sunfish, etc., with their prized koi collection is beyond me. And yes, I include goldfish in that WTH? category as well. Any and all of these can, at the very least, be vectors for parasites and pests that we just don't need in a pond. But I digress.....

    As an aside, like so many other exotic tropical plants and animals, this type of 'sucker catfish' is also now firmly entrenched in most of the rivers and waterways in Florida. With their penchant for burrowing into the mud banks of canals and streams to create nesting cavities, they are creating a lot of erosion issues. They are also now infesting Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee, FL, one of the largest freshwater springs in the world, and causing bank erosion by burrowing into the soft limestone rock that is part of the Karst topography of these spring sites. The year 'round water temp of 72 degrees or so in a Florida spring suits them perfectly, even when the air temps ocassionally drop below freezing.

  6. #66
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by diamond*girl View Post
    I have numerous planted baskets of Walmart kitty litter in the pond, put in last Fall and a large outbreak of string algea this Spring. Very good flow and water quality, 3/4 shaded pond, cooler PacNw temps.

    It does not work ... for me, at least.
    I guess the real question is whether your plants grow well in kitty litter. If so, it was not a complete waste of effort.

  7. #67
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by almostgeorgia View Post
    For what it's worth, I know someone who keeps a couple of large plecos in his 17K gal. koi pond and swears by their algae eating abilities. As you stated, Mike, they start to go 'belly up' when water temps approach 60 degrees here in north Florida, but this hobbyist has found a way to overwinter his fish. He simply rigs up a couple of large diameter PVC tubes with submersible heaters and the plecostomus go right to the heat source, staying in them until warmer weather (and water) arrives.

    Call me a purist, but I don't personally advise keeping ANY other fish with koi, and have also heard of plecostomus catfish attaching larger fish at night in a pond, leaving grievous wounds on their sides and bellies. For that matter, why anyone serious about koi would keep cichlids, Chinese banded high-fin sharks ( Myxocyprinus asiaticus), native sunfish, etc., with their prized koi collection is beyond me. And yes, I include goldfish in that WTH? category as well. Any and all of these can, at the very least, be vectors for parasites and pests that we just don't need in a pond. But I digress.....

    As an aside, like so many other exotic tropical plants and animals, this type of 'sucker catfish' is also now firmly entrenched in most of the rivers and waterways in Florida. With their penchant for burrowing into the mud banks of canals and streams to create nesting cavities, they are creating a lot of erosion issues. They are also now infesting Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee, FL, one of the largest freshwater springs in the world, and causing bank erosion by burrowing into the soft limestone rock that is part of the Karst topography of these spring sites. The year 'round water temp of 72 degrees or so in a Florida spring suits them perfectly, even when the air temps ocassionally drop below freezing.
    Plecos are all over Florida. At Blue Springs, where Manatees winter when the waters of the St Johns River get too cool, Plecos are abundant. They come into the warmer spring in winter just like the Manatees. You'll see some streamers of string algae caught on branches where the Plecos cannot reach. Otherwise, the spring is fairly free of algae.

  8. #68
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Bacterial Additives

    Now I come to what may be as much 'scientific' snake oil as barley straw extract, or may be a useful tool in the control of string algae. I suspect some bacterial concoction may be truly helpful and I find the subject intrigueing, but I decline to vouch for any product and do not want to encourage anyone to spend money on 'bottled bugs'. Still....

    We do not see much about using bacterial additives to combat string algae in the U.S. It is a topic of discussion elsewhere, particularly in the UK. I first got interested in the possibility after I used a sludge remover concoction because I was concerned about debris build-up in a plumbing run that I cannot easily flush. There was a die-back of algae in the weeks thereafter. Whether it was coincidence or causative, I had no idea. And, some years ago, after the regional outbreak I mentioned above, a friend obtained a Viresco bacterial additive from the UK and it seemed to him to have a negative effect on string algae. So, I tried reading up on the subject, only to find that the mass of science involved is more confusing and complex than trying to understand string algae. There is no end to the trails one can wander. Nonetheless, what I learned in perusing articles on sewage waste treatment and such was enough to make me think that a useful concoction is possible. Whether one actually exists, and whether the ones marketed actually work (even if not quite as well as the promoters say), I have not decided.

    Based on what I have seen on UK-based koi forums, the Viresco line of additives seems to be the most successful in the marketplace. The story line is that in the course of producing sludge-consuming concoctions, it was observed that there were negative impacts on string algae. (That tale appeals to me since I think I observed the same thing, or deluded myself into thinking I had.) So, the little family business played around and refined the concoction to emphasize certain anaerobic bacteria which consume nitrate and phosphate. The identity of these magic bacteria is kept as guarded trade secret. (What silliness! If this little family business figured it out, so could the large companies heavily invested in the sewage treatment industry with staffs of scientists studying microbes all the time. I figure that they either don't know, or the bacteria are available much more cheaply from an industrial supply source.) The anaerobic bacteria in the Viresco product supposedly take up residence in the anaerobic micro-environments of the pond, particularly in the bio-film. There they proliferate, consuming nitrate to the point that it becomes undetectable and lowering phosphate levels substantially (but not completely). String algae populations will begin to collapse in about 10 days, they say, and the string algae will be fully under control after about 30 days. But, if good results are not seen, a second treatment may be needed. Hmmmm... if the bacteria are proliferating like crazy as it is said they do, why would a second treatment be needed? It should not take much time for a bacterial population to multiply to a point equivalent to what is in a little package of the product. Sounds more like fantasy than fantastic.

    But, Viresco has a lot of supporters on UK boards, as well as those who say it did not work for them. I used it one year and experienced a decline in string algae, but I used it just before temperatures soared, so it could have been pure coincidence. The company proudly claims that a huge percentage of sales are to repeat customers. And, a series of popular magazine articles purporting to study the effectiveness of the product gave it high marks for controlling string algae. (Although in one it was used in two tubs to which a glob of algae was added, with apparent success in one tub and not in the other, until a repeat dose was applied, at which point the two week study ended. Hmmm.) It all has the sound of barley straw extract, but my friend thought it helped and I saw the coincidental effect of using sludge remover, right? So, I decided to look into it some more.

    I'll not trace the confusing mess of 'stuff' written in the microbiology sub-field of waste treatment. It is a busy field for researchers. I did come across articles about using alternating anaerobic and aerobic processes to reduce or eliminate nitrate and phosphate from sewage wastewater. And, I found an article about a particular anaerobic critter that could do the trick without the alternating stages. ...The article abstract is informative, even if a challenge on first reading:

    Applied And Environmental Microbiology, March, 2000 : "Polyphosphate accumulation by Paracoccus denitrificans was examined under aerobic, anoxic, and anaerobic conditions. Polyphosphate synthesis by this denitrifier took place with either oxygen or nitrate as the electron acceptor and in the presence of an external carbon source. Cells were capable of poly-β-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) synthesis, but no polyphosphate was produced when PHB-rich cells were incubated under anoxic conditions in the absence of an external carbon source. By comparison of these findings to those with polyphosphate-accumulating organisms thought to be responsible for phosphate removal in activated sludge systems, it is concluded that P. denitrificans is capable of combined phosphate and nitrate removal without the need for alternating anaerobic/aerobic or anaerobic/anoxic switches. Studies on additional denitrifying isolates from a denitrifying fluidized bed reactor suggested that polyphosphate accumulation is widespread among denitrifiers."

    So, it is possible to lower both nitrate and phosphate levels using anaerobic bacteria. Can it be done by just adding the critters to the highly oxygenated koi pond? If there are suitable habitats for these wondrous bacteria, how is it that they cannot find their way into my pond without being purchased? And, since there is a continual supply of nitrate and phosphate in the koi pond, why would there ever be a need for more than one application throughout the life of the pond? I guess I just can't stop asking questions.

    The promoter of the product says it is the removal of nitrate that causes string algae to decline. However, it is established that string algae do not use much nitrate. If they did, nitrate levels would plummet when string algae bloomed. But, use of nitrate does occur if phosphate levels are high. If the Viresco bugs do work, I suspect it is due to the lowering of phosphate as much as, or more than, lowering of nitrate.

    Altogether, I remain intrigued by the possibility. I wonder why the U.S. bottled bugs producers do not aim a product at string algae. And, I wonder if it is waste of money to go on Ebay and click on 'Buy It Now'. It would cost about $85 to treat my pond. Or, just wait for the string algae to decline on its own, as it always seems to do by late June. Since it's early June, I guess I'll worry about it next year. Meanwhile, I'll be wondering if it just might work, in the right conditions. ...but, why did the second tub need a repeat application when the two tubs were set up identically?

  9. #69
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Bog Gardens: Revisiting Norm Meck's Theories

    If anyone was paying closer attention than any sane person should, they would have noted that I did not include bog gardens on the initial list of remedies. I added it along the way. I had not included bog gardens initially, I guess because I am so biased against the notion of them. I have blasted the idea that a bog garden will purify pond water through nitrogen removal in another thread. However, I was planning to revisit theories put forward by Norm Meck a dozen or more years ago, and as I thought about it, it seemed to me that the bog garden topic served that goal.

    There are folks who repeatedly post that they never have a string algae problem and credit it to the wonderful bog garden they rely upon to purify their pond. They credit the bog with removing nitrogen from the system so that string algae cannot take hold. This is simply silly. As I have explained at length in that other thread, the amount of vegetation required to have an effect on a koi pond is hugely more than any bog garden, and the nitrogen removal would have to be so substantial that the garden would not be the thriving, beautiful creation people are so proud to have. However, that does not mean the bog garden may not have an impact on algae. The impact is not due to nitrogen removal. If there is one, it is due to decomposition occurring in the bog. And, that takes us to Ray Jordan's post about pondkeepers who do everything wrong and do not get string algae, and Norm Meck's theory.

    Newcomers may not know about Norm Meck. He had a background in wastewater treatment and sewage plants. He frequently contributed to popular koi literature in the 1980s and 1990s in regard to filtration, water chemistry and nitrification processes. He had a special interest in greenwater and undertook a determined study of the phenomenon. Best known are the series of experiments he conducted in which water from many different sources were used to culture greenwater. He used distilled water, tap water, well water and water from different established ponds that were clear. (These were ponds that did not rely on UV to be clear.) Adding nutrient, aeration and a 'starter culture' of greenwater, he found that that the greenwater alga rapidly grew in all the samples except the ones from established clear ponds. Starter algae added to those samples died within a few hours. From these experiments, he concluded that there was some substance in clear established pond water that is toxic to greenwater algae. In the years following his initial experiments, he proceeded to try to identify what that substance was. He did not succeed, but did put forward a theory. That theory is that aerobic decomposition of algae by heterotroph bacteria releases a by-product toxic to living algae. He considered this substance an antibiotic, using that term in its broad sense. (At one time, he theorized that the toxic substance was released by the dead algae itself, but his studies led to him rejecting that idea in favor of the decomposition by-product theory.) He suspected the source was the lignin in the cellulose making up algal cell walls, and noted that barley straw has a similar cellular composition, which might explain the anti-algal effects of decomposing barley straw showing up in early studies occurring when he was getting deeply into the subject. Meck performed an additional set of experiments which led him to believe it likely that the substance persisted for only a few days, perhaps no more than 4 days, but he did not confirm this. He also performed experiments in which clear pond water was diluted with distilled water. These showed that at a 50-50 dilution, greenwater algae died quickly. In two parts distilled water and one part clear pond water, the algae did not die, but did not grow. At a 3:1 dilution, growth occurred at slower rates. At a 4:1 dilution, the algae flourished. These experiments confirmed the conclusion that the toxic substance exists. Meck also came to think that UV radiation might destroy the substance, whatever it was.

    The Meck studies indicate why a bog garden may actually work in fighting string algae, since we know they are usually a center of decomposition. If Meck was correct that the toxic substance comes from the decomposition of cellulose, then decomposition of any vegetative matter would do. Some plants have a higher ratio of cellulose than others, but all have quite a large proportion of the cell wall composed of cellulose. However, the effectiveness would depend on there being only small or no water changes. The toxic substance would have to be allowed to build up in the water. In other words, an ill-maintained pond with decomposing plant-based organics (leaves and such), just might have so much of the toxic substance that string algae is deterred. Cleaning gunk out of filters regularly, rapid removal of organic wastes through bottom drains, frequent large water changes... all the things we have learned to do in maintaining our ponds, these minimize the presence of Meck's toxic substance.

    I do not recommend that koikeepers give up their maintenance chores. Doing so might help combat the inconvenience of string algae, but our koi do come first.

  10. #70
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Meck Theory Postscript

    Meck came to believe that heterotrohic bacterial decomposition and not nitrifier competition was the reason well-filtered ponds could stay clear. I disagree with this aspect of his work. I think it is now too well established that nitrifier competition can deter greenwater algae. Using my own pond as a negating example, I perform huge water changes weekly that would so dilute the toxic substance that greenwater algae should be thriving in my pond. Even without the use of UV, greenwater does not thrive. The water is clear to the eye of visitors.

    While I reject this aspect of Meck's thinking, I do believe there is merit to the main conclusion that there is an algicidal substance released in the course of decomposition. It is another variable among the many mentioned thus far in this thread, all contributing to the apparent inconsistencies and mystery of string algae.


    ________________



    Now it's time to take a break from writing about string algae. This year's seasonal outbreak of the stuff in my pond is coming to an end. It is in decline, with the mushy remnants blocking the skimmer filter pads so that they have to be cleaned daily. So, instead of writing about it, I need to go clean the pads this morning.

    BTW, it looks like the string algae is on schedule to wrap up this year's performance by the end of the month. By late June, I expect there will be no sign of any problem. And, yes, we are now getting 90F degree days, the pond temperature is rising above 76F. All is following the usual seasonal cycle in my pond.
    Last edited by MikeM; 06-09-2013 at 09:37 AM.

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