Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

How to Build a Backyard Pond with Tim Matson

This was reposted from Yankee Magazine.

For more than 25 years, Tim Matson of Strafford, Vermont, has designed ponds for clients around northern New England.

Tim Matson got his start designing ponds by building one for himself. That was 33 years ago. Since then, it has served him well. “It’s done just about everything,” says Matson, who’s authored four books (the newest is Landscaping Earth Ponds) and produced a DVD on ponds and pond building. “I taught my kids to skate on it. In the summer I swim every morning in it. And it brings in all kinds of critters.” In the early days, when his home didn’t have plumbing, he even used it as a water source. But beyond all that, Matson says, ponds are a draw for less quantifiable reasons. “People just want water,” he observes. “It’s in their soul. They feel comfort and security knowing they have a good body of water nearby.”

Study Up Done right, a well-constructed pond may come with a price tag beginning at $8,000, so it’s important to know exactly what you want before an ounce of dirt is moved. Do you want a beach? Is a fire hydrant part of the plan? Will you introduce fish? How will it be landscaped? Look at other ponds for inspiration, Matson advises; then, when you’re ready to move, vet your contractors. “I’ve seen some expensive ponds filled in after a year,” he warns.

Location, Location, Location To find the right pond spot, search for sags in the land or down slopes: places that indicate a nearby source of steady groundwater. And remember: Never build a pond below your septic system. “You don’t want bad water going into the pond,” Matson notes.

The Dirty Truth At its core, a good pond begins with good dirt, which can determine whether a pond can hold its water. A few test pits, each about eight feet deep, can offer clearer details about the land’s water source and soil composition. A sandy mix, for example, is a huge red flag. “You want a loam mixture that has between 10 and 20 percent clay,” Matson says.

Into the Deep Hey, even if you don’t plan on doing any high dives into the water, you still don’t want a pond that’s too shallow. Minimum depth is 8 feet, Matson recommends; otherwise, winter temps may freeze your pond solid, killing off the fish. “And in summer,” he adds, “the water will heat up and the transmission of light will make plant growth too active.”

Eyes on the Prize A newly built pond isn’t a finished pond. You’ll have to monitor erosion issues; an unexpected load of nutrients may introduce algae problems; and maintaining a proper water flow (what’s entering and what’s leaving the pond) is critical. “I always tell people, there are two important ingredients for a pond,” says Matson, laughing. “Water and good luck. There are so many uncertainties.”

For more on pond building and design, visit Tim Matson’s Web site: earthponds.com. For a video, go to: YankeeMagazine.com/more


The Limits to Growth and Greece: Systemic or Financial Collapse?

Could it be that the ongoing Greek collapse is a symptom of the more general collapse that the Limits to Growth model generates for the first two decades of the 21st century? Author Ugo Bardi (Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet) examines the correlation between what is unfolding between Greece […] Read More..

Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form. This week, Lottie from Florida asked if there are other garden mulch options that are as effective as hay. Josh Trought, one of our soil building and garden management […] Read More..

Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator

In today’s world, nearly everything we use, from phones and computers to cars and kitchen appliances, requires energy derived from fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offset some of that energy use by harnessing the renewable power of the sun? Josh Trought, founder of D Acres—an educational center in New Hampshire that researches, applies, […] Read More..

Building a Sustainable Community: The D Acres Model

If you were going to create a community-based homestead or farm from scratch, where would you start? What building materials would you use? What crops would you grow and what animals would you raise? How would you develop an organizational structure and connect with your community? And, how would you make sure all of this […] Read More..

A Man Apart: Remembering Bill Coperthwaite’s Radical Life

A Man Apart is the story—part family memoir and part biography—of Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow’s longtime friendship with Bill Coperthwaite (A Handmade Life), whose unusual, and even radical, life and fierce ideals helped them examine and understand their own. Framed by Coperthwaite’s sudden death and brought alive through the month-long adventure of building with […] Read More..