I am not an expert on montmorillionite but as I understand it, the sealer for mud ponds is sodium bentonite, which expands significantly more than calcium bentonite, which is the basis of most clay additives for koi health.
The idea off adding the many trace minerals in the calcium bentonite into what are ponds that have no source of mineral content (rubber liners, polyurea, epoxy sealers, etc.) seems like a common sense type of thing.
As far as anecdotal evidence goes, I feel the addition of the clay bonds with other suspended particulates in the water column and allows these to be filtered out, leaving the water clearer than without. I also tend to notice fewer surface bubbles after using it, leading me to believe it somehow causes a reduction in DOC levels, but this is purely anecdotal.
While at the koi show in Charlotte this past weekend I had a chance to talk to Stephen. He asked me about "Koi Clay" and I told him some of the things I had learned about bentonite clay over the past 7 years. He asked me to post some of the information on this forum. Here it is.
Clay minerals are divided into four major groups. The most important groups are Kaolinite, Montmorillonite/Smectite, Illite (or The Clay-mica) group and the Chlorite group which contains the largest number of types. Many years ago I worked at a brick yard and my brother was the lab tech for the company. They use many types of clay when making bricks as well as make blends to get different colors and effects. I’ve also been involved with ceramics and they also use many types of clay.
I started raising Comets, Sarasa Comets and Shubunkins in 1991. In 1997 I noticed that another fish farmer near me had Comet goldfish that were very red instead of orange like mine. When I saw how red my friends Comets were I thought they were different from the ones I had and bought some from him. I took some of them to our garden shop we had at the time and sold them, but I put some in one of my mud ponds. Over a period of time the red on those Comets changed to more of an orange. My friend and I both were feeding the same type of food so I started looking for other reasons for the change. The one difference I noticed between our ponds was the clay soil his ponds were dug in. It had a different color than my clay so I decided to look into that area for the cause.
Once I started looking for information on benefits of clay for fish I found out that many of the higher end koi hobbyists used bentonite / montmorillonite clay to add to their closed ponds to enhance the koi’s color and white ground. I found several major brands of bentonite clay being sold for this purpose, but the price was very high, and being the resourceful person that I am I knew I could find a much cheaper source since I knew so much about clay. Well, I thought I knew a lot about clay, but I found out that I didn’t really, and then I thought I did, and then I found out I didn’t… Actually, the only real knowledge I gained was that the best clay for life is bentonite / montmorillonite clay, of which there are two (calcium bentonite and sodium bentonite) and that calcium bentonite is the best clay for koi ponds and water gardens.
Over the years I’ve collected samples from bentonite clay mines from around the world. The ones that were advertised for koi ponds all said they were the best for that use. Since that couldn’t be true I set out to find out which one was really the best. The only way I knew to find the answer to that question was to send the samples to a lab for testing. I couldn’t afford to send all the samples to a lab, but any time I could scrape up enough cash I’d send samples to the lab for mineral analysis. The results from the first six samples literally dropped my jaw. The differences were amazing. Each of the six had the same minerals present but there was a big difference in the percentages of those minerals. One sample had a calcium content of 21.8% and another sample had a calcium content of 2.81%. From the next group of samples I sent to the lab one had a calcium content of 1.7%. All the samples I sent to the lab were calcium bentonite clay with a purity level of 95% or better. Here are some comments from the lab tech on some of the samples I had analyzed.
“Samples R03-0173, R03-0174, are roughly 95% pure bentonite. Sample R03-0176 is roughly 98-100% pure bentonite. Sample R03-0175, R03-0177, R03-0178 contains a large part of impurities including silica and calcite. Samples R03-0326, R03-0327, R03-0328 and R03-0329 were tested on 4/15/03. Sample R03-0327 contained a large amount of calcite resulting in the high calcium number on the XRF data.”
I was very excited when I found my local co-op carried bentonite clay in 50 lb. bags. Written on the bag was “100% bentonite clay”. It should have been “100% sodium bentonite clay. I was doing physical test on the clay from the co-op and three other samples I had bought. The first thing I do with any new sample is put one level teaspoon of the clay in 4 ounces of water, let it sit a couple minutes and swirl the jar to see how well it goes into suspension. Before I got to the jar with the co-op clay it had sucked up all the water and stuck to the glass like glue. I had to scrape it out with a spoon and use a scrubby to clean it out of the jar. I didn’t bother to send that sample to the lab. No matter what the mineral analysis it would not work for recirculating ponds but it would be good for sealing a dam in a mud pond.
By the winter of 2000 after many emails and phone conversations with heads of geological sciences at major universities, the heads of the ceramic departments at those universities, agriculture extension agents that specialize in clay, koi breeders, koi hobbyist and anyone else that had anything to say about clay I came to the conclusion that as much as we thought we knew it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Sometime back in the 50’s one of the major pineapple farmers in Hawaii was losing his crop. They were doing all the same things as in previous years but their plants were dying. Fortunately they discovered that a trace element that was essential for pineapple growth had been leached from the soil. Once they found a source for that trace element they were able to save the crop and avoid total disaster.
Bentonite clay not only provides needed minerals but it also removes poisons/toxins from animals. Macaws and Amazon parrots regularly visit what is called “clay licks” to ingest clay. Here is a direct quote from a web site about these birds:
“First, macaw and parrot clay licks are special deposits of clay along riverbanks or sometimes in the forest interior in the Amazon rainforest. The birds flocks to the clay, usually in waves that start at 600 or 630 am and end at 1100 am or noon, to eat thumb-sized lumps each day. The clay appears to detoxify the nasty poisons in their diets of seeds of rainforest trees and vines.”
What it boils down to is plants and animals need all the necessary vitamins, minerals and trace elements to function at peak performance. In order for an automobile to maintain peak performance it has to have exactly the right mixture of gas and air, a good exhaust system, clean filters, proper adjustment of the timing, etc. Even though they will still get you there most of the time with a couple plugs not firing or too much gas to air mixture they will not last as long and will use more gas as well as produce more pollution. If plants don’t have the needed minerals they will not grow as well and will be more prone to parasites and disease. If animals don’t have the needed minerals the immune function will not perform well and they are more prone to allergies and other health problems.
The only type of clay that provides minerals as well as removing toxins from the body is bentonite clay. While the clay is traveling through the digestive system it picks up toxins, but it also releases the minerals which leach through the sides of the intestines and gets into the blood stream. When you hear all the benefits of bentonite clay to animals it sounds like a pitch form one of the “Snake Oil” salesmen. How could anything truly provide all those benefits? It’s simple; all the clay does is provide the body with the one or few trace minerals that is lacking in their diet. By doing so it just allows the body’s immune system to perform the way it should. Everything that any living thing needs to function properly is in nature and all we have to do is use it. We humans have a tendency to “smart” ourselves to death.
One area that I got into was very fascinating. I found out that the clay they use in health spas for mud baths and facials is calcium bentonite clay. Bentonite clay is also sold in health food stores for human consumption to clean the colon and provide the body with minerals and trace minerals that are now lacking from our foods and water. At one time these minerals and trace elements were in our soils but due to extensive farming they have been leached out and they haven’t been replaced. Bentonite clay with a purity level of 95%+ contains no less than 67 colloidal minerals. Colloidal means the minerals are in suspension and are easily assimilated by plants and animals. In order to function at peak performance plants and animals need a good balance of minerals. We’ve known for a long time how important vitamins are to our health but it has only been in the past 10 years or so that the medical professionals are starting to realize just how important minerals are to health.
Bentonite clay has over 1,000 uses. It can be found in toothpaste, candy bars, shoe polish, plastics and too many other products to mention, including pharmaceuticals. It is used for well drilling mud as a lubricant and to help discharge the rock particles from the hole. One source of bentonite clay is used to clarify cooking oil and it is also used to clarify wine. I’ve collected and tested samples from all these sources and more. Just because it is “bentonite” or “montmorillonite” clay doesn’t mean it will be the best for our ponds. All calcium bentonite clay is beneficial for koi but I wanted to know which one was the most beneficial. If I was going to add clay to my ponds I wanted it to provide the best results. The only way I knew to decide which would be best was to find out what the mineral requirements are for koi. Of all the samples of the major brands of clay on the market for koi ponds “Refresh” had the best balance of minerals. Fortunately there was another sample that was from a mine here in the US that was extremely close to “Refresh” so in March 2002 I put it on the market as “Koi Clay”.
This covers just a little bit of what I’ve learned about bentonite clay. I started this research to benefit the koi here at Koi Village and not to find something to sell. Once I discovered the clay I wanted to use I realized I could offer it to my loyal customers for a fraction of what they would have to pay for “Refresh”, “Refine”, TeraPond”, and some of the other brands on the market. I did offer it wholesale to a couple of my friends in the business but all the others came to me.
The feedback I’ve gotten from those that have been using “Koi Clay” is fantastic. One of the most exciting reports came from Terry Knauer who owns Economy Aquatic Gardens in Louisville, KY. Cindy knows Terry so she may want to ask him about his experience. I had been dealing with Terry since 2000 and he was one of the first retail distributors of “Koi Clay”. He told me that he received a box of 6” Japanese import koi from a dealer that were “eat up” with mouth rot. He told me he dumped a 6 lb. box of “Koi Clay” into a 100 gallon tank and fed them sinking food so they would have to root around in the clay to get the food. He didn’t use any antibiotic food or any chemical treatment. He went on to tell me that he only lost a couple of those koi and the rest healed up without any scars.
If you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them. If I don’t have the answer I will try to find it. There is no doubt that there are others out there that know more about this subject than I but they are very hard to find. If any of you know someone that can tell me more about bentonite clay please let me know who they are and how I can contact them.