Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Shooting fish in a barrel

Or, at least I tried to shoot a picture of the goldfish that live in our rain barrel.

I bought this rain barrel at the beginning of the Summer, to collect water for our vegetable garden.

Although excited to have a source of chlorine-free, neutral pH (well, neutral-ish) free water that is close to the garden, I was concerned about breeding mosquitoes.

The neighboring town has already had two cases of West Nile Virus, and I don't want to contribute to the count.

A lot of people use "BT" (also called "mosquito dunks"), which is supposed to be safe for people and pets. I'm a bit squeamish about the unknown side-effects of chemicals in general, so I was hesitant to pour this all over the vegetables. Also, I'm cheap, and the chemicals would be an on-going expense.

So, instead, I bought three 28-cent "feeder" goldfish at the local Wal-Mart, and hoped they'd munch up any mosquito larvae in the barrel. I also picked up a $1.51 container of fish food, almost twice the price of the fish. (Ever hear the expression, "the cheapest part of owning a horse is the horse"?)

This has worked really well. The fish, which were previously designated as food for larger pet fish, have 55 gallons of space, both fresh bugs and dried fish food for dinner, and no predators. It's a bit boring in there, but I'm guessing it's suitable for a fish-style attention span. They've grown appreciably in the past couple of months. I think they're happy. At least they haven't complained. Or died. Yet.

Their waste makes the water in the rain barrel even more effective in the garden, as a weak fertilizer. ("Fish emulsion" for free!)

I've read that some people take the fish in for the Winter, and keep them as indoor pets until the Spring.

I also read (but am not sure I believe) an account of someone who forgot to do this, resulting in the fish frozen in a barrel full of ice (like flies in amber, or herbs in ice cubes for punch) . According to the story, the fish lived to see two more years (!) after the thaw. Apparently, some (all?) goldfish hibernate (or the aquatic equivalent) in the cold. (Do I *need* to write a disclaimer on this one?)

There are many sites on-line that give easy instructions for constructing a home-made rain barrel, but this is the one we have. I checked the price today, and it is 50% more than we paid (from the same source) at the beginning of the Summer! I'm not sure if that is due to seasonal demand fluctuations, or because the price of everything is on the rise, and this is a way (long term) to reduce the on-going expense of the water bill.

(Gretta is wearing gloves in these pictures because we fed the fish on our way to work in the garden this morning. She doesn't like to get her fingernails dirty. )

9 comments, so far. Add yours now!

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Jendeis said...

Ooh, loved reading this post. Can't wait for John Dear and I to have a "real" house so that we can have a real garden.

DJ Fuzzy said...

Here's a bit of backup for the "frozen fish" story. In college, I had a Resident Asst. that had a pirhana that he had kept for several years and he was very attached to it. Well, from what I understand, the year before I came to college, he had drove home to Minnesota and his heater gave out on him. The pirhana's water froze over, the fish stopped swimming, & the RA thought he had lost "his buddy" but, he thawed the pirhana out on the off-chance that it would survive. It lived! Anyway, I had to share this fish tale with you. Thanks for "jogging" this memory! : )

kat said...

Hey thanks for stopping by my blog. I had to come by and check back yours and you had me at Juggling Frogs ~ It only looks easy.
My parents have barrels in the garden and I called them immediately to let them know about the goldfish option. Smart thinking really.

Leora said...

A rain barrel sounds like a nice idea, but once you started getting me worried about mosquitoes, then about needing to remember to take care of some fish, I'm like, oh, I'll enjoy hearing about yours instead.

a fish-style attention span
Something very funny about this.

Shevy said...

I really like your blog! I came here as a result of Shifra's comment and have now spent way too long reading through your archives (when I should have been writing my own blog post for tonight).

Your cakes are incredible and there are a lot of interesting things you've made.

Just wanted to mention that when I was a toddler my grandmother had goldfish in a pond in her back yard (which she made herself, even to mixing up the concrete for it!) and she used to feed them raw oatmeal (you just sprinkle a small amount of the dry flakes on the surface of the water the same way you do with "real" fish food). I loved being allowed to feed them and they were big fishies, so the oatmeal must have agreed with them....

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, BT is not a chemical of any sort. It is a natural bacteria.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your helpful information!
I've been trying to deal with the mosquito breeding problem for a while
I tried putting a thin layer of olive oil on the surface of the rain barrel, which definitely got rid of the mosquitoes, but made the water oily and likewise the watering can when you filled it with water for the garden."yuccch" said my wife all summer.
This year my wife said "no way" with the oil so I'm trying the goldfish route…
They've been in there for a few days now and mainly hanging out at the bottom of the barrel.. I guess they are ok..?
My only question is whether goldfish need the water to be moving (i.e. with a pump blowing bubbles like a fishtank..?)
my neighbour has a pump going in the fishpond in front of his house and those fish seem happy… and the frogs ( which do seem to hibernate every winter) , though I'm not sure how "frozen " they get coming back every year.
I will keep tabs on your progress and let you know what happens over here
Thanks again for the info!

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