Monthly Archives: May 2016
If you are reading this article, it means that you have clicked on its title on this site, which also means that you’ve got at least a passing interest in ponds, fish, plants and the hobby in general. Many of you may have goldfish, some of you may have koi, and all of you have questions.
Questions like: “What kind of fish is that?”
“Why is my water that funny color?”
“What is that smell?”
“Why are all my fish swimming upside down?”
“Where can I rent a bulldozer?”
If you’re a little better at the hobby than that, questions about equipment upgrades, water testing, pond chemicals, fish health and access to better quality fish are more likely to be on your mind. A good-sized koi and goldfish show is the ideal place to go to find answers to all of these and more. They are gatherings of the most knowledgeable hobbyists in the area, who are there to exhibit the best fish in their ponds and compete for prizes. Also in attendance will be a wide variety of vendors, who provide services, equipment and livestock for the hobby. Shows will frequently sponsor seminars and speakers on a wide variety of topics which are open to all attendees.
What is even better, almost everybody present is, in one way or another, an enthusiast, and more than happy to share experiences, solutions, disasters and help at the drop of a question. It is incredibly easy to get a water gardener talking. The hard part is getting them to shut up. Ask a question; present a problem, within an hour you’ll have twenty suggestions and solutions. They may not all work for you, but every one of them has, at one time or another, worked for someone.
Koi shows are noisy, sometimes chaotic, invariably wet, and always fascinating fun. Come join us!
The Midwest Pond and Koi Society sponsors a Judged Koi Show and Pond Trade Show (June 24-26, 2016) at the MAX in McCook, IL. See their website, www.mpks.org, for more details.
Brief bio: Bob Passovoy stumbled innocently into ponding twenty-three years ago when his wife decided she wanted a water lily. He now operates a 4400 gallon koi pond with 28 koi, a 550 gallon swamp with fancy goldfish, a filtration system that’ll give you nightmares, and (because he left the room at the wrong time), the largest water gardening club in the Midwest.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t plant these; just consider their placement carefully.
|Bushes and Trees||Toxic parts|
|Laburnum anagyorides||pods and seeds|
|Privet||berries and leaves|
|Prunus (peaches, apricots, plums, cherries)||pits|
|Taxus (yew)||seeds, needles, branches|
|Viburnum opulus (snowball bush)||berries|
|Aristolochia durior (Dutchman’s Pipe)||all parts|
|Wisteria sinensis, W. floribunda||leaves and berries|
|Aconitum (Monkshood)||all parts|
|Arum maculatum (Wake Robin) A. italicum||berries|
|Brugmansia/Datura stramonia (Angel’s Trumpet)||all parts|
|Colchicum autumnale (Autumn Crocus)||all parts|
|Convollaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)||all parts (including water the flowers have been kept in)|
|Daffodil, Narcissus, Jonquil||all parts|
|Delphinium (Larkspur)||all parts|
|Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove)||foliage and seeds|
|Euphorbia (Snow on the Mountain)||sap|
|Hedera helix (English Ivy)||berries|
|Helleborus Niger (Christmas Rose)||all parts|
|Lantana camara||unripe fruit|
|Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal)||same as Lily of the Valley|
|Rincinus communis (Castor Bean Plant)||seeds|
|The Nightshades||Poison: solamine|
|Atropa belladonna (Belladonna)||berries|
|Lycopersicon lycopersicum (tomato)||green fruit (if eaten in quantity)|
|Solanum dulcamara (Bittersweet)||unripe berries|
|Solanum nigrum (deadly nightshade)||berries|
|Solanum tuberosum (potato)||all parts but tubers; tubers if green|
More — by family
(drawn from the Thompson & Morgan Seed Catalog)
Catharanthus (Periwinkle) Vinca Asclepiadaceae:
Berberis (Barberry) Podophylum Boraginaceae:
Echium –also attracts bees, if anyone’s allergic
Ricinus (Castor Oil Plant)
Plumeria – Frangipani Leguminosae:
Caesalpina ( Bird of ParadiseFlower)
Lathyrus (Everlasting Pea)
Convollaria (Lily of the Valley)
Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal)
Adonis (Pheasant’s eye)
Anemone (Wind Flower)
Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold)
Helleborus (Christmas Rose)
Pulsatilla (Pasque Flower)
Chaenomeles japonica (Quince) Solinaceae:
Datura (Angel’s Trumpet)
Nicandra (Shoo Fly Plant)
Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco)
Solanum (Winter Cherry) Scrophulariaceae:
Linaria (Toad Flax)
If you like the look of power and grace working in unison, then Showa might be the fish you are looking for, with its bold, wrapping black markings that complement the colors of red and white to create a dynamic panorama in three colors. Showa is considered one of the “big three” along with Kohaku and Sanke, and at most koi shows, one of these varieties will usually win Grand Champion.
A Showa can be recognized by any of several easily identifiable characteristics. As already mentioned, three colors must be present, but it is the placement of these colors that sets the Showa apart from other three-colored fish. Black should appear somewhere on all parts of the body – the head, trunk, and caudal (or tail) section. This black should appear as large wrapping bands or bold patches, sometimes connecting with each other.
A Showa should begin (somewhere near the nose) and end (somewhere near, but not into, the caudal fin) with black. Black also normally appears at the base of each pectoral fin as an added enhancement. The red should appear much as a kohaku pattern, that is, in artistic but simple patterns throughout the body. A normal ratio of the three colors is 1/3 of each, but variations from this are acceptable, and are largely a matter of personal preference.
Selecting a young Showa can be a tricky proposition. This is because the black doesn’t usually appear fully until 3 or 4 years of age. To complicate matters further, if a baby showa has black that appears “complete”, it may very well disappear, and reappear years later in totally different locations!
For this reason, it is best to select a showa with an attractive kohaku (red and white) pattern, but with hints of black to come, which will appear as bluish shadows beneath the skin.
A more recent development in the Showa variety is known as “Kindai”, or modern, Showa. This type of Showa is more delicate in appearance, with more white than red or black, and with the black and red appearing in distinctly different locations from each other rather than overlapping as on traditional Showa.
Whichever type of Showa you like, you should have at least one of these in your collection. With loving care and a little bit of luck, it may well become the King of your pond.
© Bryan Bateman 2009
If Showa can be called the King of Koi, then Kohaku certainly wears the Queen’s crown. This red and white beauty is one of the “big three” in koi shows, along with Showa and Sanke, which are both three-colored koi.
An old adage goes something like “The road to nishikigoi begins and ends with kohaku”. This refers to the attraction that the simple beauty of red on white has to the beginner, and to the many intricacies and challenges that this variety presents to the advanced hobbyist. Indeed, the first koi many of us see is a kohaku, to which we inevitably respond: “My what a pretty goldfish!”. Not until we buy it, take it home, and watch as it grows. . and grows. . . and grows. . . do we finally realize that this is no ordinary “goldfish”. The road to Nishikigoi has begun.
Later, when many of us take to showing koi, and have collected examples of our favorite varieties, we begin to search for that “special” kohaku. We learn that there are certain rules that need to be followed when it comes to a kohaku pattern. For instance, we don’t want the head covered in red and we prefer not to have red in the fins. Ideally the red comes to just past the eyes, leaving the rest of the head down to the mouth in white. An attractive exception to this rule is “kuchibeni”, or “red lipstick”, which is self-explanatory.
Also, the pattern should be bold rather than spotty, and it should wrap down to the midline or lateral line, giving the koi a powerful look. The classic pattern is a three-step pattern, which would have one red marking on the shoulder area, a large marking at the middle section, and a smaller red mark just before the tail. Similar to the “head” rule, the tail should also end in white. This is called a “tail stop” and refers to the last red marking stopping about ½ inch from the beginning of the tail fin.
Another popular pattern is the lightening, or inazuma, pattern. This is a single red marking zig-zagging down the entire length of the koi. Balance of the pattern is important also. It should look pleasing to the eye – not too heavy on one side or the other. Finally, the edging of the red, known as “kiwa”, should be sharp and clean. A blur at the leading edge (towards the head) is OK if it is only one scale wide. All of this red should sit on a canvas of pure porcelain-like white.
Next time you are visiting a trade show or a koi dealer, take the time to study the kohakus. Bowl five or six of them up – study patterns. Study body shapes. Study color and skin quality. Maybe you’ll spot a “special” kohaku that will take you a little further down the road that is Nishikigoi.
© Bryan Bateman 2009
In most cases a Sanke can be easily recognized by the characteristic kohaku pattern (red patterning on a white fish) accented with black markings scattered about the body much like stepping stones. As with many varieties, there are a few “rules” which should be followed. One of these is that the head should be free of any black markings. Another is that the pectoral fins should have “tejima”, or thin black stripes, extending from the pectoral joint to about one-half the length of the fin. Other than these two rules, it becomes much a matter of personal taste as to the location, size, and number of black markings.
In judging Sanke, a judge will consider the overall balance of the red and white markings – how well they compliment each other. If the black markings are concentrated in one area, such as near the tail, or all on one side, it creates an un-balanced and busy look. There should be a “focal point” on a Sanke, which would be a fairly large black marking on one shoulder. This is important enough to have its own name: “Kata Sumi”. Another appreciation point is that the black markings should be located on the white rather than on the red. This creates a more elegant and refined impression.
In selecting young Sanke, in addition to the standard checklist of good health, solid body structure, and good skin quality, you should look for a pleasing kohaku pattern. A two- or three- step pattern tends to look very nice on a Sanke because there will be several white areas upon which the black stepping stones will hopefully appear. As with most varieties exhibiting black coloration, we cannot predict for sure where these markings will be. This is one challenge of selecting a baby Sanke. Most will have black markings as Tosai (one-year-olds), but these will frequently fade away to be replaced by permanent markings by the third year or fourth year. In general, the permanent black markings will be at approximately the same locations as the “baby black”, but you can also look closely for faint gray markings, which will emerge later as normal black.
© Bryan Bateman 2009
Of all the beautiful varieties of koi that have been developed over the years, to me the Ai Goromo takes the prize as the most amazing accomplishment by the breeders of Japan. Ai Goromo is easily recognized by the delicate blue edging, or reticulation, on each red scale on a pattern of what would otherwise be a kohaku. Its cousin, the Goshiki, is an interesting contrast with its typical blue edging on the white. These two varieties are frequently combined as a single variety for koi show purposes.
Two sub-types of Goromo, Sumi Goromo and Budo Goromo, are not as elegant or refined in appearance, and consequently don’t generally compete very well in shows against a good Ai Goromo. Sumi Goromo has a much darker and heavier edging, and the Budo Goromo has “grape clusters” (translation of “Budo”) mixed in with the normal reticulation. These two sub-types can sometimes be mistaken as shiro utsuri (black and white koi) due to the dark ai (blue) almost completely covering the red, but if you look closely you will see the red appear as a dark purple thru the almost black pattern.
Ai Goromo was probably developed by crossing an Asagi with a Kohaku. As a result of this cross, the Ai Goromo inherited a striking bluish-white background from its Asagi parent.
When selecting a young Ai Goromo, look for one with an attractive kohaku pattern and with reticulation that is barely visible if at all. This is why this variety is such a challenge to collect. You must be sure of the parentage, and even then there can be no guarantee that the reticulation will come, or that it will be even. The reticulation tends to darken and thicken with age, so if you buy a young (one or two years old) Goromo that appears to be a nearly finished Ai Goromo, the chance is very good that it will darken and become either a Budo or a Sumi Goromo. If, on the other hand, you are lucky enough to find one that develops into this most rare beauty, with each red scale outlined in a thin crescent-moon of blue, it will take your breath away. Happy hunting!
© Bryan Bateman 2009
I have always been fascinated with the Goshiki variety, with its many variations of color, reticulation and pattern. Recently goshiki have been divided into two sub-types: Light, or mameshibori (also sometimes called kindai) goshiki, and dark, or kuro goshiki.
The light version looks much like a kohaku but with thin crescent-shaped dark blue reticulation appearing on the white skin, whereas the darker kuro goshiki sometimes has reticulation on the red as well, with the white area becoming almost completely dominated by heavy dark blue reticulation – appearing almost like black or dark purple rather than white.
The original meaning of goshiki is “five-colored”. These colors are white, black, red, light blue, and dark blue. When mixed on some goshiki (i.e. kuro) the ground (main, or background color of the body) can appear as purple, which makes for a really cool looking fish!
This variety was originally placed in the kawarimono (or “miscellaneous”) class for judging purposes, but due to great efforts to improve and refine the variety, it was recently upgraded to a combined koromo/goshiki class.
The reason these two varieties are combined into one class is that they are of the same genetic blend – kohaku and Asagi. The kohaku gene contributes the red patterning on a white background while the Asagi gene contributes the reticulation. In the case of koromo this reticulation is restricted to the red areas, while with goshiki the reticulation is usually restricted to the white areas (the exception being kuro goshiki as mentioned above which sometimes has reticulation on both the red and white areas).
Two popular variations of goshiki are goshiki sanke ( aka goshiki sanshoku) and goshiki showa. These will appear as normal goshiki with added small black patches in the case of goshiki sanke or with added larger black wrapping markings in the case of goshiki showa. Both of these types are placed in the kawarimono class for judging purposes.
When selecting a young goshiki for your collection you should first look for a pleasing kohaku pattern. Sandan (three-step) is ideal on a goshiki because it provides for a large amount of white area to accentuate the reticulation. Judges are a bit more lenient regarding the placement of the red on the head of a goshiki. For example, a goshiki with either too much or not enough red between the tip of the nose and the eyes will be acceptable as long as the red is bright and clean and the white provides a pleasing background, giving the koi an artistic look.
The fins should be either all white or can have red at the base (moto aka). The reticulation should be even (not irregular or splotchy appearing) and the red should appear almost to be floating on the ground – a unique characteristic of high quality goshiki. Young goshiki will often appear to be kohaku, as the reticulation normally does not appear until later. You have to trust your dealer in this respect, who should know the lineage of the fish he is selling.
Whether you fancy the kuro goshiki or the elusive ( ‘been looking for one for years!) mameshibori goshiki, this variety will certainly delight and will be a big attraction in your pond.
© Bryan Bateman 2009
Shiro Utsuri (pronounced SHE-row oot-SOO-ree) is a member of the Utsuri class at koi shows, which also includes Ki Utsuri (yellow and black), and Hi Utsuri (red and black). Of these three, the Shiro Utsuri, or white and black koi, is by far the most popular, and will often compete with Gosanke – Kohaku, Sanke, and Showa – for Grand Champion at koi shows.
“Utsuri” translates from the Japanese as “reflection”, which refers to a tendency these koi have of displaying alternating markings, much like a checkerboard, on their bodies. Modern patterns vary, however, from the traditional checkerboard type to a limitless array of artistic interpretations. We see banded “bumble-bee” patterns, or we may see continuous “inazuma” or lightning type patterns that run to and fro over the entire koi from head to tail, or maybe a koi with just a few brush-mark splashes of sumi seeming to float on a sea of white.
A similar variety often confused with Shiro Utsuri is Shiro Bekko, which is also a black and white koi. The difference between these two types lies in the location and shape of the black markings. While Utsuri normally exhibit larger, wrapping black markings, which will often appear on the head as well as on the body, Bekko are distinguished by the small stepping-stone type of markings appearing on the body but not on the head, much like we see on Sanke.
The ratio of black to white on a Shiro Utsuri is largely a matter of personal preference, but in koi shows, a Shiro exhibiting a greater proportion of white to black will generally fare better.
Other appreciation points are that the pectoral fins should have moto guro, or black patches, at the base of each fin, and that the other fins should be all or mostly white.
The black pattern should have an artistic balance that is pleasing to the eye, with not too much front vs back or side vs. side, and there should be some black on the head region – preferably forming an eye-catching complement to the overall pattern. This contrast of black and white, with no other colors, creates a beautiful and intriguing fish which will complement any koi pond.
© Bryan Bateman 2009
One of the most interesting varieties from a developmental standpoint is the black and white, scale-less Kumonryu. It comes from a long line of koi beginning with a dark-colored magoi variant called a Tetsu Magoi. From crosses with this koi many years ago an all black koi was developed called a Karasu (crow).
Some of these koi had white fin tips, which were singled out and further cross-bred to create koi with more and more white. Eventually a black koi with a white head and white fins was developed called a Yatsushiro.
The first kumonryu, which is merely a doitsu (scaleless) version of a yatsushiro, was created when a shusui (doitsu koi with red lateral markings and a bluish body color) was crossed with a yatsushiro.
One way to tell a kumonryu from a doitsu shiro utsuri (also a black and white scaleless koi) is to look closely at the white skin. A kumonryu will have a bluish tint, inherited from its shusui parent.
The other difference between the two is the genetic tendency of the sumi (black) to appear as a wrapping pattern on Utsuri, while it appears more as a lateral-type pattern (running lengthwise) on Kumonryu.
From the first kumonryu many breeders have developed variations in the patterning, including some truly spectacular specimens reminiscent of a killer-whale type of pattern. The problem is, these koi have a nasty habit of changing colors from season to season (black becomes white and white becomes black!) and also changing their patterns from year to year, so that you may not even recognize your own koi if you don’t watch it closely!
For this reason, it is difficult to select a baby kumonryu. They tend to develop more black as they mature, so some hobbyists recommend purchasing predominantly white babies. If you really want to increase your chances of getting a good specimen, and your budget and pond can handle it, perhaps purchasing two or three of them would make sense. These koi are a lot of fun to own and provide endless fascination as they change their patterns from season to season and from year to year.
© Bryan Bateman 2009
Have you ever seen a soft gray colored koi with gold patterning? If you have, you likely would not forget, because it is very different looking than the brightly colored koi we are used to seeing. This quietly refined and elegant koi is called an Ochiba Shigure, which aptly translates to “autumn leaves on water”. The delicately reticulated scales do indeed give an impression of leaves floating on a calm pond, with the golden-leaved trees reflected on the surface.
A relative newcomer on the koi scene, having been around only since about the mid-90s, the Ochiba is actually a cross between a gray Soragoi and a golden brown chagoi. These two ancestors have a reputation of being the friendliest of koi, and the Ochiba has happily inherited that trait. Many hobbyists will have one of these types koi in their collection for the purpose of encouraging other, shyer koi to “come out of their shells” and be more sociable. They will be the first to come up to greet you as you approach your pond, and will readily eat from your hand.
For show purposes, they are usually grouped with the “kawarimono” class, which is a catch-all for many of the lesser-known varieties. However, due to their increasing popularity, some shows have a special award for best Ochiba. There are many newer types of Ochiba as well, including a scale-less Doitsu Ochiba, a sparkling ginrin Ochiba, and most recently a metallic doitsu ochiba. Another sub-variety has been a cross between a red and white Kohaku and an Ochiba, giving an attractive gray and red patterned koi.
If you want a friendly new addition to your pond, and you enjoy the understated softness of earth tones that remind one of the colors of fall, Ochiba Shigure might be your koi.
© Bryan Bateman 2009