Monday, June 10, 2013

Purple Martins and Pond Management

The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at the home of Dee and Ben Garrett outside of Warm Springs. Club members enjoyed touring the Garrett’s home and garden before meeting on the Garrett’s sun porch overlooking both the lake and the purple martin houses.

Dee Garrett has been a purple martin enthusiast since 1997.  She enjoyed their 1975-80 years at their beach house where she was introduced to the value and enjoyment of the birds.

Purple martins are known as the 1st back yard bird of North America as the Native Americans hung gourds near their dwellings for the birds because they would sound an alarm if intruders came.  Martins also drive off hawks, crows, and vultures. Today, east of the Rockies, martins are totally dependent on supplied housing. The Garrett’s colorfully trimmed but classic white martin houses are on three poles about 100 feet from their house. Dee says she enjoys their gurgling happy chirp that is near constant the months they are residence.

The martins arrive about mid-February from South America. Scouts report back to the flock that they have a prospective home.  Contrary to thought martins do not eat that many mosquitoes but like big bugs and are often seen with beetles, dragon flies, moths, and bees in their beaks when flying to their clutches.  Their enemies are swallows and sparrows.

Most fascinating is the fact there is a huge migratory spot at a mall in Macon where martins from all over join up and make the big migration to South America as a huge flock. The Garrets guess their houses are home to about thirty birds from spring through July when they migrate.

Garden club members enjoyed a delightful lunch Dee and Ben had prepared before the program began. Render Ward who spent 28 years working for the Extension Service and who served the Coweta area for 18 years was part of that county’s strong emphasis on horticulture and landscaping as the county grew.  Coweta is known for its very active and strong Master Gardener program. Ward recommended the 12 week Master Gardener programs by the Extension Service and the Coweta Backyard Association which has monthly meetings.

Ward, with a UGA degree in Agronomy, always liked fishing and fishery management and now has Applied Aquatics, a company designed to build, stock, and manage ponds. He currently manages ponds as small as half an acre to reservoirs that are hundreds of acres in size.

Ward divides his clients into two groups: those wanting the aesthetics of a pretty lake for recreation and to do a little fishing and those who want a well-stocked fishing pond. Number one to good management is vegetation control and to do that he stocks grass carp  which is not a carp but an Asian mur, or as he said, think of it as an underwater cow with no negative attributes like eating fish eggs or fish. If a lake has mur or carp put in early, it will never need an herbicide.

Second for good pond management is nutrition.  Ponds are fertilized to feed the microscopic algae and plankton which is fed on and makes up the food chain. The color of a pond and having a “good bloom” or blue green tint shows the suspension of microorganisms. Ponds that have a brown color just have different microscopic organisms and Ward has done “fungi swapping” or taking 150 gallons of water from one lake with a good bloom to another to improve the color.

Aeration of a lake helps plants use oxygen more efficiently. Ward recommended using fountains or aerators during the night for maximum efficiency.

Clients often ask Ward to evaluate fish populations. He stuns the fish and does a population analysis as well as weight measurements, their age (taken by counting the rings on a special bone in the head), age to size analysis, studies the pond’s predator to prey ratio, looks at the food supply and makes recommendations to the property owner. The stunned fish, quite edible, are delivered to the Meriwether County jail.

Garden club members had an assortment of questions for Ward ranging from draining a lake, to structural questions about dams and drains, turtles (which never cause pond problems), to beavers. The club finished by asking what differentiates a pond from a lake?  Ward replied by answering: whatever the owner wants to call it!