This article, written by Chip Kawalsingh, was first published in ‘Nishikigoi Yearbook – Volume 3, and is republished with the permission of both author and publisher.

Previous parts of Chip’s ‘Chasing Elephants’ series of articles can be found here:

Chasing Elephants – The Pursuit of Jumbo Koi (a hobbyist perspective) – Part 1

Chasing Elephants – The Pursuit of Jumbo Koi (a hobbyist perspective) – Part 2

 

Chip Kawalsingh

Chip Kawalsingh

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

This life-inspiring quote is at the heart of what’s needed to raise jumbo Koi. This article is an account of my attempt at the next level of Koi keeping, including reverse osmosis (RO) and my first visit to Japan.


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Koi keeping is not rocket science, you’ve got to buy the right Koi then raise it correctly. It’s that simple! But it’s not easy! Let me explain. Chasing elephants (or creating jumbo Koi) starts with buying the right Koi; Koi with a body predisposed to growing jumbo, and quality to light up the dawn. But what is the right Koi? Before I get ahead of myself, let’s consider what this necessitates.

The euphoria of Koi for me has certainly been a journey of doing what’s necessary. That is, firstly, create a pond that has the right environment to nurture these magnificent creatures. Seeing a quality Nishikigoi of 85cm-plus is certainly inspirational, breath-taking and gratifying. It’s enough to open the heart, make you light headed and drain the wallet! We’ve all been there. When the marriage of water, filter and food works, the water seems to have a pulse of its own. It’s more than a pond. It’s an ecosystem, creating a symbiosis of Koi to pond. I would unequivocally have a sense of achievement if I took any Tosai or Nissai to over 85cm. It sounds simple, but trust me, it’s not easy.

First Things First

Stop buying Koi and get the pond right! This has less to do with the size of the pond and more with how well the pond works to keep its water quality, so you can feed enough food to grow the Koi without compromising the environment. Saki Hikari is my food of choice as it’s made in Japan. The on-going research that goes into it – along with the fact that breeders raise the Koi on it – makes it my first choice. I also changed from all floating pellets to feeding a mix, Saki Hikari Balance Sinking and Floating type. This made a difference in the amount of food I could get into the Koi. The Koi fed intuitively, taking pellets falling to the pond floor. Most of the smaller Koi took food on the way down. The larger Koi were comfortable with feeding off the floor. No more Koi clumsily head-up trying hard to suck pellets off the surface or thrashing each other around like MMA fighters, but gently inhaling mouthfuls at a time.

As previously mentioned, I ripped out my existing filter system with its miles of pipework and replaced it with something simple, yet effective: a Profi drum with Double Bakki Showers filled with Bakki House Media. With this filtration I can feed above 1kg of food a day without trashing the water. The drum’s ability to get the waste out of the water before it has an impact on the system is quick and efficient, with less of a ‘tea bag’ effect on the water. This is where having a well designed pond is critical; the drains should have enough pull to remove waste and avoid settlement. Also, there’s no more expensive high-powered air pumps blasting air 24/7, as the Bakki showers provides more than enough oxygen the right way.

Chip next to his drum and shower filtered pond

Chip next to his drum and shower filtered pond

On the 26th January 2015 I moved up a level in the quest for better water quality with the installation a reverse osmosis system in the pond. As I explained in my last article, it’s only one more piece to the puzzle to achieve jumbo Koi. RO is not an answer for selecting Koi that are not predisposed to growing jumbo. Junk Koi with RO will still be junk: simple! With RO I’m able to maintain a pH of 7.02 and TDS 120, down from pH 7.8–8.2 and TDS 400.

 


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Chip's RO unit

Chip’s RO unit

By no means am I expecting the Koi to hit 80cm+ in one season! However, the growth has been very good, and, I’ve noticed the lustre and shine are maintained and improved on Koi, Beni plate and even Sumi is more robust, and when mechanically damaged, Beni regenerated back quickly. In conjunction with my RO system, I run a pH controller that enables the pH to be automatically topped up via a dosing pump that’s taking from a tank filled with water mixed with bicarbonate of soda. As I often travel abroad for work I need this option. This enables a very slow increase of the pH to set parameters without drastic increases. My KH sits nicely right around the 1-2 mark, as does my GH. This does not have a negative impact on the nitrite.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no Koi expert. For this I rely on Mike Snaden. He’s my teacher when it comes to Koi, and my guide to what is the ideal water to raise them. When you see first-hand what Mike has achieved with Koi and the level of what he brings into the United Kingdom, in my view it takes some beating. He’s a water geek of the highest order, and Koi master for that matter.

Which Comes First: Body, Skin or Pattern?

Going back to my initial remarks, ‘it’s about buying the right Koi’. What is the right Koi? What makes up the right Koi? Well, most veteran Koi keepers will agree, if you cannot have all three of body, skin and pattern (BSP), then go firstly for body and skin. Pattern comes at a premium. Trust me, having now been to Japan, anything with all three BSP comes in at a big premium. Here’s an example: On my recent trip to Takigawa I really wanted a Kohaku from him. (Takigawa-san has become more of a legend in my eyes, which I will explain later on.) I bowled a few Kohaku but my budget wasn’t quite there. In the end I went for the body and skin. Takigawa-san agreed and said great body and skin. Takigawa Kohaku (1) So yes, it is possible to buy very good Koi without breaking the bank, cutting off an arm or having to leave your other half – whichever comes first!

It’s a Test Match

During the early days of RO I wanted to make sure I got back into the habit of regular water testing. I used an API test kit and generally it’s ok, but I wanted something more ‘gospel’ that I could rely on. That came in the form of a Palintest kit. I was fortunate enough to have a buddy that works for a water company, which meant I could use his until I got my own. After a few weeks I just had to have one myself: pennies saved, one less Koi and I got my own.

Palintest photometer

Palintest photometer

This provides more of a laboratory- level reading on pH, KH, GH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. It’s as accurate as you can get. Part of the great thing about RO is learning about water chemistry and seeing how it affects your Koi. I’m far from nerdy with it, but regular monthly tests keep all my settings exactly where I want them to be. Using a test kit like this provides the peace of mind when running lower pH/KH, and also forces knowledge that’s vital in keeping nirvana water. I’ve heard it said many times that the harder the water, the better it is for sumi development. One of the things I’ve noticed running lower pH is how well the sumi looks on my Shiro Utsuri and Ueno Showa. I think there’s a misconception that sumi will fall off in lower pH, warmer water and then return. However, I think that quality sumi develops no-matter the pH of your water, though it is possible that lower quality sumi will be affected negatively by lower pH.

Some Koi

The Koi growth stats after one season of growing in my new RO pond are indicated on each photo.


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The sky really is the limit ‘if’ you get it right!

 

'Calypso', grown from 36cm tosai to 58cm nisai. It's hard to believe these are one and the same Koi.

‘Calypso’, grown from 36cm tosai to 58cm nisai. It’s hard to believe these are one and the same Koi.

Omosako Shiro Utsuri, was 76cm, now 78cm

Omosako Shiro Utsuri, was 76cm, now 78cm

Ueno Showa, was 59cm, now 70cm

Ueno Showa, was 59cm, now 70cm

Close up of the sumi on Ueno Showa

Close up of the sumi on Ueno Showa

Tancho Kohaku, was 60cm, now 71cm

Tancho Kohaku, was 60cm, now 71cm

Matsue Kohaku, 36cm as tosai, now 58cm as nisai

Matsue Kohaku, 36cm as tosai, now 58cm as nisai

Sakai Kohaku, was 72cm, now 78cm

Sakai Kohaku, was 72cm, now 78cm

Okawa Kohaku has grown from 64cm to 72cm in the year

Okawa Kohaku has grown from 64cm to 72cm in the year

Dreams Can Come True!

I ended my last article my saying ‘It’s my dream to go to Japan.’ Well, guess what? I went to Japan!

 


 

To be continued…….The second part of the this article will be published on 10th March 2017….


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Nishikigoi Yearbook Volume 2

The complete article was published in Nishikigoi Yearbook Volume 3 which is available to purchase in many leading Koi outlets or directly from the publishers – http://www.nishikigoiyearbook.com/.


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