Koi fish are a great hobby. They also help you to relax and relieve stress. Koi are particularly fun to watch eat. Although Koi will eat many natural food sources such as algae and other natural pond residents, the greatest pleasure for many Koi keepers is in hand feeding them. They will even eat lettuce and watermellon!

Water gardeners have been known to stock their ponds with many different kinds of fish. My husband's first thought was to stock it with bass to be sure he would catch some this spring. My first thought was -- this would be the end of "you shoulda seen the one that got away". You'll see everything from bass to blue gill, goldfish, trout, catfish, salmon, tadpoles and carp.

By far the most popular fish of water gardening is the beautiful, colorful and friendly Koi. These carefully cultivated carp-like conundrums from the land of the rising sun have captivated the imagination of pond owners and their visitors worldwide.

This article will help you explore the magical attraction these swimming jewels have created in their admirers. With genealogy that's deeply imbedded in Japanese culture and history, Koi are considered water gardening royalty but they actually have blue-collar roots.

Koi are really a fancy variety of the common bottom feeding carp. They are most comfortable using their famous whiskers for rooting around the rocks and rubble of their natural environment. As a member of the carp family, they are very hardy and not nearly as difficult to raise, as some would have you believe.

Koi are an integral part of Japanese culture similar to having cats and dogs in America. But, most Koi outlive their owners and are often passed down from one generation to another. In one pond, scientists from a local university tested the scales (the same trick used to tell the age of trees) and found that the oldest fish was 226 years old and two of his chums (pardon the pun) were 180 and 156 respectively.

According to historical accounts, Koi breeding in Japan dates back to the 17th century in the village of Yamakoshi where they were bred as a protein supplement to rice. Several hundred years ago, in the mountains of Niigata, a farmer noticed a red carp swimming among the black carp they raised for food. Years of selective breeding have created hundreds of unique varieties of Koi that we enjoy today. Out of the frying pan into the status of national fish of Japan.

The Tancho Koi, which sports a large red circle on its head, is known as the symbol of the rising sun on the Japanese flag. For that reason, Tancho is the most coveted Koi in and out of Japan. Breeders from Israel and the US always procure their inventory from Japan in order to claim Japanese heritage. Today Koi are bred in every country and considered to be the most popular fresh-water ornamental pond fish and are often referred to as being "living jewels" or "swimming flowers".

Most water gardeners, are not as interested in showing Koi as they are in enjoying them so here are a few facts that may make your Koi watching less expensive and more interesting and fun.

The most common Koi found here in American water gardens fall into three general categories.

1) Pond raised - first most common and least expensive.

2) Ornamental quality - second most common and more expensive.

3) Show quality - competition breed and quite expensive.

Pond quality Koi are available from local pet stores, online, or from local breeders. They have mixed bloodlines, have no papers and are not suitable for competition. But they are very inexpensive and every bit as friendly, beautiful and enjoyable as their more expensive counterparts.

Ornamental quality Koi will have been breed from good quality parents, have bloodlines, good conformation, and beautiful coloration. Ornamental Koi however, have unbalanced patterns, with flaws in their skin and coloring. Unless one of your nosy neighbors is an expert, no one will be able to detect the imperfections.

Show quality Koi are expected to have good bloodlines, good body conformation, shiny and unflawed skin, sharp edges and balance in their patterns. These Koi come from show quality parents.

Most of us will stock our ponds with pond or ornamental quality Koi but it is interesting to become familiar with the varieties which make up 95% of Japanese Show quality Koi. The first three categories are referred to as Gosanke (Japanese for three families) or otherwise known as "The Big Three". The primary concern in valuing any Koi is the intensity of their color, and the degree of contrast.

The Big Three are Kohaku, Sanke, and Showa.

Kohaku - Beautiful white Koi each with distinctively unique red markings. No two Kohaku have the same markings, therefore there are various sub-categories which refer to the type of red and white pattern. In addition to intensity of color and degree of contrast the most valuable of the Kohaku has a clearer cut and stark contrast. The Japanese have named the crispness of the pattern's edge. It's called "kiwa"

Sanke - In the early 1900's a new variety of Koi emerged with some unique black markings to the red and white Kohaku. This new category was called Sanke or Sanshowku.

Showa - In the 1930's another new variety of Kohaku developed that featured red and white markings against a jet-black base.

Hikarimujil - The forth category is the most popular in America and is known as "light without pattern". The "light" refers to a bright metallic sheen. They are "without pattern" meaning one color: black, green, red, yellow, blue or gold. They are truly unique among Koi.

Kawarigoi - The fifth category, in translation means "changing" or "different". All the varieties named and unnamed that either have unstable characteristics, or do not fall into any other recognized category fall into the category of Kawarigoi. Into this group, there are literally hundreds of different examples as well as any new varieties that may emerge. Known lovingly as mutts, some spectacular some bizarre, this category has had many champions.

Size counts. -The most important factor in determining the value of Koi is in its size. The bigger, the more valuable. Some Koi can get to be a 3 feet long. It appears that depending on their age and under optimum conditions Koi can grow almost an inch per month or faster.

Conformation - The next most important factor is shape. The most valuable shape is "torpedo-like".

Skin, color intensity and clarity are also very important in evaluating the value of Koi. There should be no flaws or blemishes in the skin; next intensity, balance and clarity of color pattern will be judged. The more intense, balanced and clear the colors are the higher the value.

A final word on breeders. Koi Farming is a culling and sorting process, which separates the serious breeders from the recreational breeders. Breeding Koi are kept in dirt ponds until early spring. Then they take them out and separate the males from the females, inject the females with a special hormone that makes them fertile. The strip the eggs from the females and the sperm from the males and put them into an indoor hatchery. The fry are born in 4-7 weeks and after one more week they are put into a "grow out" pond to grow for another 6-8 weeks. Then the culling or sorting begins.

In the first cull they keep 25-50 % of the best quality Koi and sell the rest at reduced prices to other hatcheries. During the next 2 months they grow to between 4 -6 inches long. The best 10-40% is kept grown 2 more months to between 6-8 inches long. The final group of select thoroughbreds will be cultivated for another season until they reach 12-18 inches long and are ready for sale. Consequently, the larger the fish, the higher the quality. The truly expensive fish will be 12-18 inches long before being sold.

All in all, if you have a water garden you should consider Koi. There are many colorful inexpensive Japanese Koi to be found. These "Living Jewels" behave like family pets, they can be trained and they enjoy being hand fed. They will bring you years of pleasure and they add color and personality to your water garden.




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