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Ep.111 How To Build Your Own Backyard Pond

By March 9, 2021April 17th, 2021No Comments

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About The Speaker:

Matt Ferguson is the CTO at Galley Solutions.

Episode Resources:

Check out Matt’s  LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/in/mfergie/

Episode Transcription:

 

Nickolai Walker: [00:00:11] Hello, hello, welcome back to the studio. I am, of course, your host, Nickolai Walker. Where else would I be? This is my favorite seat. We are joined today in studio by Matt Ferguson, who is a proud member of 7CTOs. Thank you, sir. He is also the CTO at Galley Solutions and he’s a tinkerer. And I am also a tinker. I’ve always loved taking things apart and seeing how they work, but he has outdone me. He has built a natural pond in his backyard. And I have to know, is the water clear or murky? And bonus question, can I drink that water?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:00:44] I did, and it is full of plants right now. You can swim under the plants and just see filtering of daylight. It’s amazing, completely clear. You can drink it. You can swim with the fishes and drink the water, it’s pretty amazing.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:01:04] Can you catch the fish?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:01:06] Oh the kids catch the fish in nets all the time and put them back in. Their goldfish!

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:01:11] I once had an idea for fresh fish spending. So basically a big barrel in the backyard and then you have constantly circulating water and then the fish swim in that, and then you push a button and then it comes and falls in and then you have fresh fish.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:01:34] Perfect. We have fresh fish composting for our garden. So if a fish dies, they go get planted by a pumpkin.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:01:43] Is my fresh fish vending machine idea as terrible as most people find it in your mind?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:01:52] Well, I spent time paying for college, working in Alaska. So I’ve worked on the slaughter line of a fish processing plant before and it paid for the first year of college. I can tell you that from experience, it’s a pretty bloody, messy job. So I’m not sure how you contain the sloppy, yucky, smelly part of that.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:02:21] Post slaughter or pre slaughter?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:02:27] When the hammer comes down, man.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:02:30] This definitely feels like one of those ideas that everyone’s telling me is a bad idea. I should just go and do it and just try it.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:02:37] You know, a lot of folks are experimenting with permaculture. I can’t say I’m a permaculturalist, but I’ve had a few people that have studied permaculture come see what we’ve set up. They’re like, oh my God, we’ve always dreamed of this. And I’m like, well, this is just a couple of side projects along the line. But they’re actually trying to convince me that I should hook up my new green house to my pond and pump the water through it and make this giant ecosystem, which might be fun. Yeah, that might be a lot of fun, but permaculture is a really, really neat aspect of future technology and a way to plan communities around, you know, sustainability. I think it’s fantastic. But a lot of resources go into making it possible up front. You know, you reap the benefits, but it takes a lot of capital investment, right, to really make permaculture work.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:03:33] The purpose of permaculture being a closed ecosystem, right? Or some sort of ecosystem?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:03:41] Yeah, basically less inputs. So you’re not adding fertilizer or you’re using all the waste products. Yeah, absolutely. So there’s different verariants, from what my friends have been teaching me.  There are a whole lot of varieties of how to implement it. But everything from.. I know people are very successful and just small. You know, they have small gardens that are plotted off and they rotate animals through behind the plants. And immediately the next crop comes up, you know, like the poop and the hooves and everything mixing things together. And then you plan and then that’s there for 90 days and then the next day move on. So really simple fun experiments like that all the way to water and fish, you know, to aquaculture, like we’ve been talking about. But I have thirty thousand gallons of permaculture going on out here right outside my little door.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:04:41] I do want to talk about that pond. Does the pond has some sort of line there, right? So that the water stays in the pond or not.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:04:55] We did. You know, the type of soil we have here in San Diego makes it necessary. You will just get a lot of evaporation. We don’t have enough other materials and we don’t have enough natural water to make to make up for it. So we have a forty five mill liner and, you know, thickness of a mountain bike tire. That’s the size of the pond, so it’s, you know, 50 feet by I think it was 40 by 50. When we brought it in, I think it weighed eight hundred pounds or a thousand pounds. It was big. It was on a giant roller and took 10 guys to unfold it and to roll it out. And about the time we got it rolled out, it was in the hot sun, and when you touched it, you’d instantly blister your fingers because, you know, you’re trying to grab on to it. And it was so hot because that black plastic rubber was just holding on to the heat.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:05:54] I think that day you offloaded it was the day I was very busy and I couldn’t come to your home.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:06:00] Yeah, I think you were really busy that day. Yeah. I don’t remember you being here.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:06:09] It’s interesting how, when you move, you can remember the people who are not there. It’s always hard for me to remember who was there, but it’s very easy to remember who wasn’t there.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:06:19] Well, you know, we live in two communities separated by a giant gorge, by a river gorge. I live like ten miles from you, but it’s 40 miles to get there.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:06:29] It feels like forever to get to your house. My kids are like, why?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:06:36] But if I am on my mountain bike ride, I can see your house on the very end of my mountain bike ride. I can look over there and say, oh, I think Etienne’s right there. I can see across the canyon.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:06:45] Can you indulge me a little bit about the pond, still, or do you want to move on?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:06:49] No, that’s fine. What do you want to know?

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:06:51] I want to help the person who’s listening to this who thought they were going to get a tech conversation. I just want to give them a little bit of left field sort of topic and I personally am fascinated by it, so. I’m just going to trust.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:07:12] It has been a really fun learning process, which is what it all is for me, right? It’s learning new things and we put our pond in three years ago.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:07:24] But just tell me, Matt, why did you decide to do it?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:07:28] I mean, we were considering putting in a pool. Right? Everybody needs to think about a pool if you live in East County, San Diego. And I started investigating that. And I love plants and I love nature. And so I started to look into the swimming pond, as they call them in Europe. And I said, oh, this is really interesting. What are the options? And I love ‘do it yourself’ things. I think that’s a lot of fun for the family. I wanted something that would be not just a pool that you’d go in. But we really just wanted a place, after a long mountain bike ride, to come jump in and cool off. Something where the water stays below 70 degrees, you know, well, around 70 even in the summer. So can you just plunge into this nine foot deep pond, get cool and come out? So it was like, OK, we wanted that. We also wanted to have this green, lush backyard. We wanted to experience the fun of having some fish at the same time and the fact that I could just rent an excavator on a weekend and dig and crater my entire backyard into a ten foot deep by 30 foot wide hole and not get thrown out by my community, you was a benefit.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:09:12] So I guess it’s not permitted?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:09:17] Now, it’s not a swimming pool, it’s just a hole in the ground.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:09:22] Now, did you have close moments when you were digging that hole like life threatening tipping..?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:09:28] Oh, yeah, for sure. It wouldn’t be a project at the Ferguson household unless someone almost got electrocuted or something like that, right?

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:09:43] So can you, I know it’s three years now, but can you just walk me through the stages, like just a brief overview of what it takes to go from just a plain backyard to a lush, gorgeous swimming pool?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:10:00] Yeah. First, you send everybody out shopping and then you spray paint the backyard when they’re not looking and you spray paint some lines and you start imagining where the boundaries would be. You have to start thinking about, well, the shallow, the deep, where is the swimming section going to be versus the plant section. So you have lots of different zones and then figuring out the swimming section, which is very deep, versus the plant section that has to be no more than two or three feet deep. And you need to make sure you have enough plant section to keep the water quality good versus the swimming section, which is not doing anything healthy as far as recycling water. And then, you know, so you really have to figure out, OK, well, what can I fit in my yard? And then there’s a big oak tree, you know, so how do I work around the roots because I don’t want to damage that oak tree. And so now you start getting these imaginary shapes that are organic because you’re working around organic things in your yard. You know, there’s a walkway I want to keep over here. OK, well, how do I work around all these things? And that was really the fun part, too, is it’s got to be a shape that just fit into our yard and the structures we already had and we just dig out what we wanted.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:11:19] Ok, so then you rent the thingamajig?

 

Nickolai Walker: [00:11:23] And Matt, what is that technical term?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:11:26] Oh, we rented an excavator which is, you know, kind of a mini excavator, which is kind of like a backhoe. But without the blade on the front or without the bucket on the front.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:11:38] But how do you go ten feet deep with an excavator? The excavator is the thing you drive in and drive out, right? Or do you have to..

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:11:47] The excavator has an arm, so you’ve got to you got to rent the excavator that’s going to go is the depth that you need. And so ten feet was the exact, you know, for a small excavator, that’s it. It took me three days to dig it.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:12:02] Now, didn’t you have any dangerous moments where you wanted to dig the ten feet and then your thing wanted to tip over?

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:12:10] Oh, yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah. I mean, you’re teetering on the very edge trying to get that last foot and your family’s telling you that you’re tipping and you’re like, yeah, I’m good. It’s OK, you know, but you have a lot of control in an excavator because you can push back and the bucket is your friend. It’s a big thumb sticking out there. But you do have to be careful and, yeah. And then all that dirt, as you’re taking the dirt out, has to go somewhere. So it’s becoming this giant mound behind you. So then you have to take a moment and go plow that where the dirt is going to go, which I had a place for planned ten years ago. And so that built up my back driveway. And it was quite the process because, once you get that hole in the ground, and you taper all the edges and you build everything, you get everything ready. You’ve got to make everything smooth. You can’t have rocks. You can’t have anything that’s going to poke through that liner. It’s all got to be smooth. So it’s a lot of raking and just hand labor after you get that excavator out. So pretty backbreaking and then, you know, making sure that your swim zone, which is going to be super deep has a concrete boundary down at the bottom as well.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:13:33] Ok, so there is a concrete boundary.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:13:36] Only in the deepest area. Yeah. Just to hold back the wall because it’s a vertical wall down there. The pond slopes in and then it comes to a deep zone which is the swimming zone. And then around that deep zone you build up another layer of walls which are a retaining block. But that’s after you put in the line. So you put the liner in and then on top of the liner you add walls of retaining block, and behind that you can fill in with gravel. And in that gravel, you put four inch drain pipe that is going to circulate water for you. And so in the lower levels of the gravel is a four inch perforated drain pipe that runs serpentine everywhere. And then over that, you put more gravel over that you put felt and then more gravel and then, in every corner of the pond’s deep zone, we put these air stones thatrun off a little tiny air compressor in my shop. You don’t hear it. There’s no noise. There’s no big water pump going on. All there is is an air stone in every corner that links to the drain pipe. And that just like in an aquarium, if your kid’s aquarium or if you’re into aquariums, when you have bubbles rising in a column, they lift water. And so they create a hydraulic pump that pulls water out of the drain pipe, which is in the gravel. And so that gravel is clean gravel. It never has plants in it. It’s under a barrier of felt. And there’s all the good bacteria in there. And that’s where all of the magic is happening. And you’re constantly circulating water through that gravel, that rough gravel with lots of corners where microbes can live.

 

Matthew Ferguson: [00:15:36] And that’s the cheap way, versus some high tech fabric or high tech medium, to create a place for good bacteria to grow. That is really important to keep that water circulating. So we run four air stones about the size of a baseball. And they’re just like an air stone, like a little tiny one you’d have it a little aquarium or a little bigger. And they run in each corner and you just see bubbles coming up because there’s a pipe that ends right there and in a column and it’s turning thousands of gallons of water over a day through that rough gravel. So you don’t get any mosquitoes. It’s a pond. But because the water is always circulating, there’s no place for mosquito larva because it’s not stagnant water. So we don’t have those kind of issues and it probably costs pennies a day to run to have the pond because we’re not running big pumps, even though we have some waterfalls and we did things later, they’re not necessary. They’re just there for fun. But we swim out there every day. I mean, just to jump in every day, you know, in the afternoon, just like anybody uses their pool, except we jump in and, you know, you can go underwater and and look at fish. We’ve got plants growing on the very bottom now in the deep zone. So we have plants that are eight feet tall. They’re coming up from the bottom. They’re just amazing. And we started them with one little plant, this big, and now they’re these giant eelgrass that you can swim amongst and you can watch the fish. It’s like a Jacques Cousteau show in my backyard.

 

Etienne de Bruin: [00:17:16] That’s insane.

 

Nickolai Walker: [00:17:31] Thanks again for joining us here in the CTO studio, and thank you to our guest, Matt Ferguson. He is the CTO at Galley Solutions and a fellow tinkerer, just like I am. Sir, my hat is off to you. We will see you next time with another interview with him. And, if you are enjoying anything you’re listening to, just do a few things for us, if you would not mind. One is go check out 7CTOscom.  Then go check out Matt Ferguson’s LinkedIn. And three, subscribe to the podcast here in iTunes. We will see you next time.

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