Updated: 7:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, 2011
Published: 7:35 p.m. Friday, July 15, 2011
Mornings and evenings, Michael and Terrie Lumsden sit on their deck, sip on a wake-up cup coffee or an end-of-the-day glass of wine and stare into the water. Their backyard pond in Northwest Hills connects with an artificial gurgling stream that has a disappearing fountain popular with birds. Birds sing; frogs croak. It’s the ideal place to connect and talk about the day. Then it happens.
Elvis, Amelia, Bevo, Navajo and 15 other koi, competing for food on the surface, provide brilliant flashes of orange, white, red, black and yellow. A parade of which the Lumsdens never tire unfolds.
“This is not about being driven to have or care for koi,” said Michael Lumsden of their show-quality pond accented with blooming water lilies. “It’s about us taking time from the day to talk to each other and watch the fish.
“They make us forget about the guy who cut us off in traffic.”
Like dog lovers adore their Yorkies and gardeners their “Knock Out” roses, the Lumsdens love their koi.
“We’re kind of nuts about this, a real passion,” said Terrie Lumsden.
The joy of koi is a world unto its own. The koi are the art; the pond and water garden are the canvas. “Michael thought about this pond for a whole year, then designed it and helped build it,” she said. He built a 6,000-gallon pond at their home in Lake Jackson before moving to Austin in 2005.
Their current 4,500-gallon pond is deep to protect koi from natural predators, such as blue heron and owls. It has an elaborate, expensive filtration system that the Lumsdens said is economical to operate.
While the pond is the centerpiece of their back yard, accented by majestic oaks, plants and grasses, the koi are the stars of the show. To keep fish healthy, teamwork is a must. He does much of the maintenance; she tests water quality. The Lumsdens, who also have a dog and a cat, have owned and raised koi since 1988. They give away many of the koi – 35 last year – born in the pond. They’ve paid up to $150 for a young koi only six inches in length and own koi from some of the finest breeders in Japan.
A female named Masaka cost $500 when she was imported to the U.S.; the Lumsdens won her with a $25 raffle ticket. Masaka was valued at $2,500 by a judge at a koi show. (While the Lumsdens attend koi shows, they aren’t into the competitive end of it.)
But with the enjoyment of the pond can come heartbreak. Since late May, five of the koi have died, including prized 20-inch Masaka. The Lumsdens blame it on the high pH levels in the city tap water. The pH is a measurement of acidity or basicity, and while the city dispenses acceptable drinking water with a high pH factor, it is not ideal for koi, said the Lumsdens, especially when there is a slight spike in the pH. A $600 necropsy of Masaka concluded that high pH in the water doomed her, the Lumsdens said.
The fish began getting sick after the couple did a routine 20 percent change of the water in the pond, which caused the pH level to rise dramatically.
City officials said the city’s pH level has been constant for years, and they have not done anything differently.
Maintaining good water quality in aquariums and ponds requires constant care, and several factors can affect fish, said Marcus Whittle of AquaTek, an Austin store that specializes in aquarium supplies.
When the Lumsdens changed the water, they did add the recommended chemicals to remove chlorine in the water.
Last month , another of the Lumsdens’ fish jumped out of the water and died.
Even when their pets died, the Lumsdens had a hard time parting with them. “They are family,” said Michael Lumsden.
Although today’s colorful varieties of koi were developed in Japan, the fish originated in eastern Asia and China and are descended from black carp known as magoi. Koi were introduced to Japan with the invading Chinese.
In the 17th century, rice farmers in a village on the northwestern coast of mainland Japan introduced carp into their irrigation ponds to supplement their diet of rice. Color mutations of the carp were first noticed between 1804 and 1830. Cross breeding of the fish created some of the beautiful color variations that exist today. Breeding was restricted up until the 20th century. The first koi arrived in the United States — in San Francisco — in 1938. Koi-keeping outside Japan increased dramatically during the 1980s, but the Japanese varieties continue to outshine those produced in other parts of the world.
Koi can grow up to 3 feet, weigh more than 40 pounds and live 50 to 70 years. Many are bred for koi shows that are popular in Japan and the U.S., including events in Dallas and San Antonio.
Source: The Tetra Encyclopedia of Koi