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Sunday, June 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The koi: Man's new best friend?

The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

Raising koi


It requires care, caution and cash

Koi are like the stock market. Don't play if you can't afford to lose.

Disease is a big issue for all fish, and despite the charm of the spiritual journey, no one wants to lose investments or fish friendships. A recent virus scare in the United States has made koi owners even more wary of the need to quarantine fish.

Ponds must be deep enough for fish to avoid raccoons and predatory birds.

Be alert to windblown hazards such as drifting insecticides. Some plants are known to be toxic, including castor bean plant, cherry trees, azalea leaves, holly berries, iris rhizomes, juniper, morning glory, privet, wisteria and yew.

Koi are hatched from eggs, and if these are not inadvertently eaten by the resident koi, they hatch into fry 1 inch long. If these are not inadvertently eaten by the resident koi, the fry can grow up to be about 3 feet long, although one 5-foot koi has been documented. Most koi are bought small, at about 6 inches.

It is a gaffe to call a koi orange and white, even though that's what it looks like. The proper term is red and white.

Koi feel low-frequency vibration, which is why they can be called to come. Some koi, it is said, have been trained to puff cigars and jump through hoops. Koi, it seems, will do anything for food.

Source: The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

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Warning: Koi are addictive, seductive, mesmerizing and so contemplative that a visitor new to koi can lose track of time. Gardeners can be sidetracked by a more important question: Can you have a water garden and koi?

The answer is: Not easily. Koi are the piscine equivalent of deer. What they don't eat, they rip out of the pots, and most gardeners who become fascinated with the fish learn to combine two hobbies in a separate fashion.

Had it not been for the plastic bag, the koi industry might still be limited to Japan.

The development of plastics in the 1950s permitted new, safer and easier means — plastic bags — of transporting fish.

Koi interest began to take off in the United States in the 1980s, but koi kept as ornamental livestock dates to the 17th century in Japan and earlier in China.

No pond is ever big enough. Jack O'Daniel, 67, made his first pond in 1993 when he was stressed out over the closure of the company where he worked.

That first 30-inch-deep pond with plants is now augmented by a plantless 8,500-gallon pool that is 7 feet deep, fed by a 1,700-gallon pond that is 4 feet deep and contains water lilies.

O'Daniel has given over his entire back yard in Louisville, Ky., to the pursuit of koi and gardening.

Laurie and Scott Murray moved into new construction — their first house — three years ago and only intended to add a small water feature as they began to landscape the bare ground in a subdivision.

They stopped at a pond store to get a preformed pool and discovered koi. "We were star-struck," recalls Laurie, 37. She and her husband, Scott, 37, were captivated by the aesthetics of koi and unafraid of the engineering bent required to keep them.

Within a year, they had upgraded to a 2,300-gallon pool for a new koi collection, and on Valentine's Day this year each surprised the other with a koi.

Be ready for a learning curve. Koi-keeping is not always simple.

Eleven years ago, when O'Daniel built his first koi pond yard, he made a commitment to sit down daily and read for an hour about koi diseases.

It took him a year to get through the literature, but it stood him in good stead in the eight years he traveled and showed fish.

The Murrays, on the front edge of their learning curve, had it go up steeply. On Christmas Eve, they discovered that the new pond equipment had been incorrectly installed and that they had lost a koi to death by entrapment in the skimmer.

Painful as it was to have to move the fish and redo the pond, actually, having such a rush of issues means they have absorbed the axiom that you are "growing" water as much as fish in koi culture and that, certainly for beginners hiring a contractor, it pays to ask for references and take the time to check out past work and client satisfaction.

You can make it as expensive as you want. Jay and Kathleen Owen started six years ago with a "little hole and a little liner." They now have a 4-foot-deep, 2,000-gallon pool with waterfall. They started with five goldfish bought for $1 each and now have a half-dozen koi, but "the most we have paid for a fish is $25," says Jay Owen. "This is a hobby."

There are, however, reports of collectors' koi sold for five and even six figures.

It is unwise to judge a carp's value by the price people have put to it. Here is an instructive quote from the owner of "Hanako," a legendary 15-pound female that died in 1977 in Japan in the pond where she was born. She was a documented 226 years old.

Dr. Komei Koshihara, who inherited Hanako when he married into "her" family, told Koi USA magazine in the May-June 1997 issue: "The love we feel for carp is nothing different from the love we feel for our neighbors. We often hear a person say that his carp has 100,000 yen worth, and I cannot help feeling that such a person ... might as well enjoy the sight of a 100,000 yen roll of banknotes floating on the water."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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