Michigan September 2010

This latest adventure all started with an email from one of the two ‘They who must be obeyed’ (from now on read this as TWMBO) and it simply said – ‘Send Matt over here now, it’s Koi harvest time.’

Of course I could not possibly send Matt as he was knee deep in concrete shuttering at Strandvik in Norway.

I sent back the news to TWMBO and then got a reply – ‘OK, then get your ass on a plane, you’ll have to do instead.’

Fear coursed through my body, I needed an assistant and the only one I wanted was Hilary, she of the manicured fingernails and three white dogs that are her life. ‘How about kennels?’ said I, she just glowered at me. ‘A professional dog house sitter perhaps?’ I whimpered – but she glowered even more. After a phone call to her daughter who lived some 260 miles away it was arranged that the trio would be taken there for the duration of our visit. Then followed mumbles and grumbles as to how it would be the first time ever she had been separated from her babies. I tried to lighten things up by reminding her to get the daily supply of 1cms cubes of the finest cooked chicken breast known to man airlifted from Fortnum and Mason by helicopter to the new address and I would be happy to continue with my pot noodles.

For those who do not know, Hilary has been involved with Koi since 1984 and has handled more Koi than any other lady I know of, she also has a full grasp of what I may need to carry out.

It’s a long story but I watched as all my bitches drove away to Essex and I prepared a list as long as my arm requesting items required when we arrived at the residence of TWMBO. The list covered many portable ponds; assorted water testing equipment; assorted anti-parasite medications; a very accurate gram balance; a very good microscope with all accessories; measuring cylinders; assorted jars; large air pumps; air stones; assorted nets; heated water supplies; every antibiotic known to man and syringes of all sizes plus a liberal quantity of MS222.

I sent the list to TWMBO and thought that that would give me some time to arrange air tickets only to discover that 15 minutes later TWMBO had replied to say – ‘Yes we’ve got all that except for this and that which you’ll have to supply and why isn’t your ass on a plane by now?’

By the time Hilary got back – completely un-consolable, I had arrange the tickets and was trying to get the visas for entry into the USA, which is not the easiest of things especially when you don’t know your inside leg measurement.

We found ourselves prisoners outside Manchester airport early one morning and knew we had one last chance for a cigarette before entering the main doors. The route was Manchester to Amsterdam and then to Detroit via flying back over Manchester???

Flying is not one of my greatest loves in life, in fact it terrifies me, add to that the necessary searches, questions and checks today and it all becomes extremely arduous. The three-hour wait at Schipol brought relief, as there was three rooms set aside for those depraved smokers and each could comfortably hold ten persons at one time. I rushed with the speed of a gazelle to the nearest to find there were some 80 persons inside the fog, I think I was on the third tier and stood balanced on the shoulders of an elderly lady, by then I had lost Hilary. The fun increased as I watched a rock band from Ireland pushing through with guitars.

The flight to Detroit was 8 hours and forty minutes by Delta airlines, I counted every single minute of that flight and watched the screen as the plane made its way very slowly. I was prepared though, someone had given me two 5mg valium tablets that I washed down with a couple of lagers and then prepared for sleep. The sleep never came but Hilary, who can fall asleep for fun, was out like a light.

Meanwhile I tried to concentrate on what Detroit would be like and realised the great lakes were not too distant so I recited to myself the entire words of ‘The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ – after that I wondered if Smokey Robinson would be waiting to greet us on arrival or if I would see the ghost of Marvin Gaye wafting by as we entered the airport. After more endless checks and Hilary whispering to me ‘Shut up you miserable old sod’ for the tenth time we found ourselves almost free at the exit gate where we saw our man showing a sign which read ‘Waddington’ before him. His first words were that the car was above us in the parking lot and I replied ‘Good on you, but I need a cigarette first’ and made a dash for the open air, lit one and looked around for Diana Ross but she must also have been busy that day.

TWMBO was as good as his word, the Lincoln was a smoking car and so we set out on the 90-minute drive to Davison making a stop at a drive through Starbucks for a large coffee. It was Hilary who first noticed that there seemed to be more churches along the route than houses to which our driver said ‘Oh yeah, religion’s a big industry in these parts’.

Then the usual questions followed – ‘What brings you two here then?’ – ‘Have you heard of Koi fish?’ said I, ‘No, d’ya eat them?’ ‘Sometimes’ said I.

He then looked at his sat nav and said ‘Hey, you been here before?’ – I said ‘No, but I’ve seen pictures’. He said ‘This place is really in the sticks, I’ve never been here before’.

I’d designed a large Koi pond system at this place in October 2009 and Matt had installed it all but I had not heard another word from TWMBO until orders were given to go out there.

By the time we arrived we had been awake for 23 hours and darkness was approaching. The driver looked around the complex and just said ‘Jeez’ before giving us our bags.

A young-ish looking guy came over and said ‘Hi, I’m Robert, you must be Peter and Hilary, thanks for coming’ – he then pointed to a house and said ‘Just follow me, this is where, you’ll be staying’.

Now this was a large, tall, rust-coloured wooden house and it was getting dark but there were outdoor lights illuminating it. As we gazed up at it, it reminded us both of Bate’s Motel from ‘Psycho’ but inside was another world.

Rust-coloured wooden house

Inside Michigan House

Inside Michigan House

It is quite unlike any other house I have ever seen before and is on three open storeys, the pictures can tell better than I can describe. Robert showed us around and pointed out many items that had been prepared for us both with a great deal of forethought. There was everything and more that we could possibly hope for, in short – pure luxury. Robert whose nickname is Buddy asked us to rest a while; get freshened up and ‘the boss’ would come to take us for dinner quite soon.

That evening at a local Italian restaurant we met both TWMBO’s for the first time together with Buddy and Buddy’s mum Bobbie, a very distinguished looking lady who also has a house in the grounds of the ‘farm’ where we would go for breakfasts and lunches during the stay. It was then that I learned that Matt would also be joining us in a day or so. I didn’t ask questions as to exactly how he’d been coerced but just accepted it all as being arranged by a TWMBO. By then we were both falling asleep and bed beckoned. Before getting into bed I gazed out all around the house and illuminated grounds but could see no signs of the huge greenhouse pond I had designed 11 months earlier.

Jet lag woke me at 4.30am and Hilary was still in slumber, I went downstairs and made a coffee. I went downstairs again and then and walked outside, the weather was mild and there was silence around me, the outside lights were still on but it was easy to see that everything was in order. The lawns were immaculate as were the gravel driveways and all the buildings. I went back inside for another coffee and waited for daylight to come. The pond I had designed turned out to be less than 20 feet from the house we were staying in but two sides had been clad like a barn to be in keeping with other barns on the property although the roof and some walls were in clear polycarbonate cladding. I found the entrance and walked inside a small room where a grey and white cat stared at me. The next door led into the greenhouse itself and I gazed at the sight before me, twelve diffuser drains brought aeration to the entire pond surface and the pond looked positively enormous. I walked halfway down one side and paused to see the large Koi moving calmly below the aeration.

The next minute I felt razor sharp claws grasping my legs and then my chest as the cat made its way onto my shoulder and started to purr. I later discovered that there are several cats on the farm but this one is Space Kitty.

Peter Waddington Holiding Cat

He is less than one-year old but he is the boss cat who behaves more like a dog and lives in the barn where the Koi pond is and his hobby is killing anything that moves. (Some days later I watched as Space Kitty stalked and terrorised the large German Sheppard and the Labrador as they were playing.) With cat on shoulder I walked around the entire pond and viewed all the large Koi swimming there, they and the water looked to be in perfect condition.

I really do not know how long I stayed there and wondered how I could turn off the air to get a closer look at the Koi but I thought it best to wait. Soon a guy came into the building wearing a wool hat and rubber boots and so I presumed he was one of the team I’d be working with. I waxed lyrically about the pond as he turned off the air supply to show perfect water clarity with just the very slightest touch of grey/green that clearly distinguished it from pure drinking water. The large Koi cruised lazily until food was thrown into the pond and then they lazily came to the surface to feed. I asked the guy many questions, not just about the pond and the Koi but also about the farm itself and the architecture. He seemed to know just about everything there was to know about everything there and all was explained in detail.

Mind you, he should have known everything because he was one of the TWMBO’s who owned the place. I swear he had come in disguise from his very smart casual attire of the previous night in order to fool me – and he did, I didn’t realise this fully until later that day.

After breakfast with Bobbie, Buddy introduced us to Joe, Jimmy and Shane who did all the hard work around the place. They, in turn, showed us the water containers where surplus Koi to the main pond would be housed after the harvest and I gulped. The area surrounding another barn was a mass of huge dumpsters hired from the local waste depot. Each had been lined with heavy gauge polythene and part-filled with well water which turned out to be the only source of supply, the aeration to each one was blasting away merrily from a huge compressor. Buddy then showed us the dumpsters that took the initial water from the well before supplying it to the rest; these dumpsters had aeration towers with added warm water from a separate boiler.

Aeration towers

Buddy asked me if these water containers ‘were enough for my requirements’ whilst I wondered just how many Koi were to be harvested and perhaps I’d gone a little over the top with my shopping list!

Next we went to see the main mud pond that was being drained by petrol-powered pumps on 3” hose and the harvest was set to be three days later.

Main mud pond that was being drained

There were other mud ponds there with 2” Koi born this year and we walked around them taking everything in. It was then mentioned that excavators were expected to start work on even more mud ponds later that day. It was later that day I mentioned to Hilary just how fortunate we were that it was Koi that took us to incredible places like this one.

The next day was set aside to check all the Koi in the inside pond to ensure no parasites were present. Despite the fact that the pond is huge, a tailored harvest net under the guidance of Buddy, Jimmy, Joe and Shane gets all the Koi safely to one end with one sweep under the ever-watchful eyes and supervision of Space Kitty.

Koi in the inside pond

We had a room right next to the main pond with all items needed at the ready.

Koi Medication Area

There were 29 large Koi to be inspected and mucus samples were taken from each one over the day. Once the sample was considered to be parasite free, the Koi was returned to the other side of the net, we found only half of one dead skin fluke all day long. There was a funny situation towards late afternoon when the light was poor, I wished to inspect a pectoral area of one very large and beautiful Showa and asked for a torch. I was met with looks of surprise from the guys, Jimmy said ‘You need a torch?’ – I said I did and off he went when Hilary mentioned the light was bad. Buddy then said ‘Is it a flashlight you are looking for?’ The others were at the ready to bring in oxy-acetylene welding gear to see me carry out some serious cosmetic heat treatment to the Koi! Thankfully a flashlight was all that was necessary. Matt Cameron turned up very late, as usual, the same night.

Jimmy usually is in charge of feeding the Koi, the pellets used to date are large Hikari Wheatgerm mixed with a liquid containing a secret mixture, courtesy of TWMBO, of fresh orange juice, garlic and ginger but supplementary feeding is by way of lettuces and boiled barley, the feeds are fed twice once in the early morning and the last around 6.00pm.

There is another huge barn next to the main Koi pond greenhouse and this was a perfect place to set up portable ponds to receive the better Koi from the mud pond. Ten brand new 8 feet diameter ponds were erected with assorted water containers and these were filled to 18” deep with heavy aeration pumped across from the dumpster ponds on 3” bore lines. All of this was set up the day before the harvest was to take place and water temperatures in these ponds were the same as the mud pond itself.

Ten brand new 8 feet diameter ponds

We had advance information that some 200-odd Koi were inside the mud pond as well as a stock of golden orfe, an unknown quantity of blue gills and one or two snapping turtles. Furthermore the mud in the area is not nearly as kind as the Yamakoshi mud and takes on a yoghurt-type consistency and the colour of dark chocolate when the pond is drained for harvest. Lifting nets/Koi socks were banned by me and all Koi would be removed by vinyl bags and carried either to the barn where Hilary and myself would receive them or to the dumpsters at the opposite side of the gravel road. By then the mud pond was drained enough to be harvested.

Mud pond was drained

However, with all things Koi and the plans surrounding them, things can, and do, go wrong.

The harvest net was eventually stretched across the mud pond and pushed forwards towards the collection end with one TWMBO in at the deep end barking commands.

Harvest net was eventually stretched across the mud pond

I watched from above as the mud coagulated further with each forward step. Carp can handle thick mud but orfe, being much nearer to the trout family, cannot and nor, I soon discovered, can blue gills. It got to danger levels when the orfe and blue gills started to roll to the surface and had to be tipped back over the net.

I shouted out ‘Please get Matt inside the net now and start lifting out the large Koi to the others.’

I still don’t know how those young guys and a girl managed to carry all those Koi up the slippery banks of the mud pond to the dumpster ponds or to us but their faces were twisted with grimaces when they delivered them breathless. It only took a dozen or so Koi to make our receiving pond water black and we could not allow this into the portable ponds. There were 51 large Koi brought into our barn at the end of the day and these were distributed into the ten ponds. After the first ten mucus samples showed trichodina and nothing else we assumed all would carry this parasite, further random scrapes proved this to be so. After all Koi had been harvested, the guys and a girl appeared to have been painted from head to toe with one inch thick of mud. After changing into other clothes, all ponds had to be netted and secured for the night.

Koi in quarantine

I’ll leave the next two days out which consisted of trying to address our hands pierced by blue gills, water readings, water changes, 90 minute potassium baths together with standard pond treatments of potassium permanganate and a few Koi moved from here to there but, as they say, all’s well that ends well.

The water temperatures between the barn ponds and the main pond had to be adjusted by floating the Koi in bowls until the water equalised.

Floating the Koi in blue bowls

There are now some 130 Koi in the inside pond and all are bouncing with health and I must admit it’s a sight for Koi lovers that should not be missed. Here are two shots, one with aeration and one with no aeration. This system operates exclusively on Eric filter units.

130 Koi in the inside pond

One thing I have learned about TWMBO is that they appear to know every single Koi by heart, not only do they know them by their official Japanese variety names, I have now also learned the names of many other varieties for the very first time which I shall pass on to Kate McGill for her next book. One day we were asked by one TWMBO to go through the dumpster ponds and remove the following varieties into the indoor system, he gave me a list with these names on them together with the ponds they were housed: –

Twitch; Raspberry; Coco Chanel, Goldie, Whitey, Mr. Snowy, Mrs. Snowy, Ghostie, Bones, Prison Break, Fluffy Buddy, Mean Bobbie, Lemon Drop, Lucky, Nursie, Carpy, Tiger, Sparkle Sisters, Better-Beata, Wanda, Baby Debbie, Grumpy Scott, Sickly Pink, Harelip, Fred, Lips, Pseudo Lips, Chubby, Peaches, Pseudo Peaches, Blondie, Cinnamon, Diamondy Girl and Boxy.

Of course, this list made everything as clear as mud to me.

Thankfully Frank Beard from ZZ Top turned up to assist Hil with the Koi in the dumpster ponds.

Overlooking field

Inspecting the koi

Now to the incredible part of it all which goes to show that all Koi lovers are not equal. In that large, very overstocked mud pond there were Koi of all qualities ranging from world class to a few very low class specimens – class means zero to TWMBO because to them all are their pets. This applies equally to their dogs, cats and an assortment of parrots – but that’s another story. There were males and females in that pond as there were home bred Koi together with the long fins I love so dearly and those bought from several USA Koi dealers.

Please believe me, TWMBO know every single Koi in their care.

I would never have recommended this method of stocking a mud pond to anyone and yet my eyes did not lie to me, the Koi were in incredible condition as far as health and condition goes. The home-produced Koi of 50-70cms had bodies that were true perfection and looked like they would creep up to the 1 metre mark in a few years and yet these were all results of flock spawnings. In all the Koi there, I did not see one bacterial infection except for one that had obviously been attacked in the pond and had healed itself.

So I shall do my best and recommend keeping the very best 15 females in one mud pond next year, I shall explain the follies of keeping males with females, I shall try to explain that the best water space should go to the best Koi and so on because it’s my job. Whether or not TWMBO will listen and heed is another matter altogether!

Hilary and I spent 15 wonderful days and nights in north Michigan and we were treated with a hospitality that really was better than the finest hotel imaginable. Nishikigoi have taken me to many parts of the world over the years but this adventure was truly exceptional. Towards the end of the visit I would walk into the indoor pond as daylight broke to be greeted by Space Kitty and we would gaze at 130 large Koi cruising below us.

It was also another learning curve for me as it is the first time I have witnessed source water with such a very high mineral content. Whilst the Koi simply revel in this endless supply of pure Re-Fresh, the pond walls, base and filter media have become calcified as a result of the incoming minerals. The membrane diffusers in the filters need regular attention with a scrub of acetic acid to get them back to maximum operation and the filter mat cartridges have now taken on a stone-like appearance which only enhances biological performance on the surfaces. The Koi can be seen to be constantly grazing on the fine moss algae coating the walls of the pond despite the substantial feeds they are given. Despite the large water volume of the system, 130 large Koi do produce significant waste matter, which is always flushed to waste on a daily basis.

One evening, one of the TWMBO mentioned those who find keeping dogs or cats to be a little laborious may turn to keeping birds, which only becomes a little more laborious and so they then think that keeping fish may well be a less laborious option? However, as we all know, dogs, cats and birds live in the same air that we humans do but fish also need good water in which to thrive!

Finally, here’s sundown in Flint.

Sundown in Flint.

Waddy 2010.

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