How to Turn How to Turn a Cheap, Easy, Homeschooling Project into an Expensive, Complicated One

By Mary Ann Eagleson

Ahhh, spring, that time of year when we think about gardening and improving the look of our yards, plus get some home education experience in several sciences. A few years ago, Mimsy and I set out to do a perennial bed, her choice from the Doorpost curriculum. We went to Lowes and bought an $11.00 box of perennial seeds. We had a little vacant spot between our house and our neighbors, and it was full of weeds. We cleaned out some of the weeds, opened the box, dumped the contents, threw a fine covering of the soil on the seeds, and, voila! A perennial bed!

The first year we discovered the box had a lot of flowers that were more weed like in design. We sorted through them and cleaned out the ones we didn’t want.

This interest resulted in Miriam reading about perennials on her own, and we began buying a few here and there, and adding them to our garden. Typically, at least for us, we lost quite a few. This is due in part to the fact that we do very little to tend the garden. Weeding is done a couple times during the season, watering when it gets very dry, and fertilizing when I think of it, and then its that sprinkle fertilizer that takes two minutes. With left over leaves, and other debris, no doubt most of it goes to waste. However, all was not lost and some of the seeds took almost two years to show up as real live plants. Somehow the beautiful wild phlox took hold.

We threw in seeds from the 1980’s that never got planted, and some new ones, and this produced a Butterfly Bush and Money Plants. We were now way beyond our initial $ 11.00. We purchased five little perennial bushes, with spike like tops, and we no longer can recall what they are. We added $ 3.00 Wal-Mart mini roses, and Black Eyed Susans that our friend gave us.  Beautiful as they are, they started taking over the garden, so we keep digging them out, sharing some, replanting others in different beds and adding interest to the garbage men’s life.
A summer or so later, we thought we would clean up the back part of the garden and add a Wal-Mart preformed, 3’ by 5’ pond. We searched out the options by stopping at 3 garden centers and bought the $ 79.00 option at Wal-Mart, because the person who sold it to us assured us it included everything we needed.

“Oh Boy, this should be great,” I told the kids. We were pretty excited, and I was sure what would take time was digging the hole. In less then 3 hours the children had the hole dug, but we found out we needed sand to put underneath the pond so it would sit level.  This resulted in trip number 2 to the store. While at Wal-Mart, Abby and I got sidetracked and bought 4 of the cutest fantail gold fish, so sure we would be able to put them in the pond within a few hours.

Of course, we needed food for the gold fish, so I just bought some food sitting on the shelf at Wal-Mart.

On the way home Abby was so excited, she proclaimed, “This is so wonderful. They are my first pets. They are so cute!” I made some comment on their ability to survive in the pond being less than great and she added, “Oh no this isn’t a good sign, I am already attached!”

The pond looked so unattractive, that we decided to get some pond rock to dress it up. Four trips to Harrisburg Gardens later, the only folks in town who have pond rock, and some 60 dollars poorer, we had a pond that looked pretty good. This was no easy task however. We had to sort through the rocks and find those that were thinner, because we paid by the pound. I wanted to keep the cost down by using less thick rock. We had to climb the pile and dig. On the third trip, a thunderstorm hit, and the cashier was yelling, “We are closing due to the storm, please hurry! “ Those rocks are heavy and we didn’t want to put more then 300 or 400 pounds in our car at a time, so that meant numerous trips.

Meanwhile, with all the added work around the pond and the risk of the dirt getting into the water, we didn’t want to scare the fish, so we had to put them in our popcorn bowl, the largest thing we had in the house. They took up residence on the kitchen counter. Mimsy was concerned about their oxygen level, so she added her little water garden pump.

Finally we had everything ready, and we were about to add the fish, when we read the instructions on the waterfall. We needed to add pea gravel, so back to Lowe’s for that, and while there we met another lady who had just put in a pond like ours .She told us now was the time to add that weed stopping liner around the outside so we could reduce grass and weeds from growing up alongside the pond: $10.00 more.

Once home, I had to rework the rocks on the outside of the pond to get the weed stopper properly placed. The children were getting anxious about the fish not having enough space in the popcorn bowl, so I rushed as fast as I could.

Now that we had fish, we needed water plants. That meant another trip to a different nursery that specializes in pond plants. This cost an extra $ 25.00 or so.

Finally the moment came. We put Zorro, Calico, Goldie and Peach into their new home. They seemed to love it! We sat on the new little swing that we bought, another $70.00, and $ 20.00 or so more for the fill dirt and rocks needed to level out the area for the swing. We got about 10 minutes worth of enjoyment, when a huge rainstorm hit. As soon as the storm was over, we ran out to see the fish and saw nothing but muddy water!

I went back to Wal-Mart’s to buy a large plastic container and a net to catch them. We didn’t have the heart to put them back into the popcorn bowl after they had experienced their lovely new home, albeit, mud and all. I used my candy thermometer to check the temperature of the water I was putting in the container for sudden water temperature changes kills gold fish (previous experience had taught me this.)

Darkness had set, and with my flashlight, I managed to find Zorro, all black; Goldie; and Peach. For at least 45 minutes, I scanned the pond for Calico. I was sure he was dead. Suddenly, he surfaced, I swished the net, and lo and behold, a swing and a miss. Several long minutes passed, when I finally decided to try to feed him hoping that would bring him to the surface. Some time later, he appeared, and success: he was captured and put in the new container, which now lived in our foyer.  Everyone who stopped by got the whole “fishy” story.

Twice more before we added the fish again, we had rainstorms, and the pond filled with dirt. Twice more I cleaned it out.  It turns out that the pond should have been in the highest place in the yard, not under trees, and in the sun. Ours was just the opposite in all respects, yet it still is our best option. No doubt this will cost more in the end, for now we have to buy a net for the fall to keep the leaves out.

I called the company that made our pond. It came with a pump, but the company said this pump would not get the dirt out of the water. I called That Fish Place, a great place by the way in Lancaster, for ponders (no pun intended), and they told me I needed the $83.00  Pondmaster filter for it would take care of removing the dirt should more get in the pond.

I made the trip, and discovered that the food I had for the gold fish was not really very good for outside ponds, and also had to buy a new thermometer, for I had left    my candy thermometer on the floor near the temporary fish home and stepped on it.  Crunch. Oh well, the new one was cheap, only $ 3.00. This was small potatoes in scope of the overall project.

After grading again the surface around the pond, digging trenches around the outside edge of the pond, and adding pea gravel, a storm struck and the pond stayed relatively clear. We added the new Pondmaster filter, and for almost two weeks the fish have lived in their new home. We even have sat out on the swing and enjoyed them.

We met a lot of interesting people along the way in this project, giving us a chance to act more like “fishers of men,” instead of “fishers of fish.” Others had similar tales, and at least we shared a laugh, and my prayer life increased a great deal!

Mary Ann Eagleson and her husband Bruce homeschooled their four children since 1981. Though all are graduated now, they did some variation of college at home with all of them and continue to disciple one another. They serve on the CHAP and Alliance boards. The family recently created the fledgling Tell It Publishing Company to share with others resources they have created and used to foster family discipleship during the Lent, Easter, Christmas and other seasons of the year. Their son  Nate says, “Mom, you have to ‘tell’ other parents about this! Of all my childhood memories, this is one of my favorites!” Learn more at:


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