Koi Kichi

In America, many koi keepers refer to themselves as “Koi Kichi” – crazy for koi or koi madness. It’s probably more correct to say koi kichigai – but koi kichi works. I am deep into the madness. I am enjoying the hobby of koi keeping, koi appreciation and this weekend I passed my judging certification test. If you had told me what people go through to “show” koi, I would have said those folks are nuts. Well now I’m one of those nuts who show koi and a certified judge for koi shows. (If you are a judge at a show, obviously you can’t bring your koi to compete.)

Last month I had the privilege to judge at two koi shows. The first show was about two hours away in South Carolina. It was the second time that I had been to the koi show hosted by the local club. The show is held inside a community activity center which means air conditioning and no bugs. Koi exhibitors transport their koi to the show in bags of water and air. Some koi keepers have koi transport tanks in trucks and trailers. The koi are placed in show vats and there is an aeration system to keep the water oxygenated throughout the weekend.

Most shows have a team of at least two judges. Our head judge for the show was Dr. Robert Wicker from Charlotte, NC and a goldfish+koi judge, Luanne Porter from Florida. Our job is to judge the koi through a relatively standard procedure. Every koi in the show is looked at and we determine which koi are standouts for a variety of awards. Every show seems to have unique nuances which means we need to read the specific show rules very carefully.

The koi community is rather small so many koi keepers come pretty far just to help out. The gentleman on the left is John Hall and the gentleman taking photos is Bill Doyle. John’s wife, Pat, does scorekeeping which is complicated even with a computer program. John and Bill volunteer to help with benching at many of the koi shows. Benching is the process of registering and accepting a koi into a show. Every koi is measured, categorized as a specific variety and a photo is taken to ensure proper identification with the administrative number provided. A koi show can be a disaster if benching is not done properly. The photo below was taken after judging because “glamour shots” are needed of the major winners and Bill is pretty good behind the lens.

Koi shows tend to run two and a half days. On Friday, exhibitors are bringing in their koi and benching takes place for most of the day. On Saturday morning, the judging begins and it runs for a few hours. Ideally we want to finish by 4:00 pm to allow the scorekeeper to calculate all the results, double check the results and often create a slide show for the awards presentation. Many clubs will have a banquet on Saturday evening where awards are announced, we might have an auction and just a lot of koi talk.

On Sunday morning, there is a “tank walk” with the judges. The judging team discusses the appreciation points of the major winners at their tank and are available to answer questions that hobbyists may want to ask about their specific koi. Normally the head judge does the tank talk but in this show, Dr. Wicker had to be on call back in Charlotte. So it was my responsibility to fill in and it was a good experience. My surprise was one of my West Point classmates showing up for the tank tour. Patricia Schaeflern is a veterinarian in Blairsville, GA and drove a few hours to visit. She shows dogs so the craziness of a koi show was somewhat familiar for her.

A few days later I was on a plane to judge a show in San Antonio, Texas. Always nice to indulge my love of Mexican food with the rest of the judging team. The San Antonio show was held at a water garden site, outdoors. Most koi shows are outdoors and even though we were in Texas, not too hot. At this show I was evaluated by both judges as part of the certification process.

Michelle Gravenish was the head judge and Steve Childers was assisting. You receive a lot of constructive criticism with the intent to help you do well as a judge. Koi appreciation focuses more on finding the positive attributes of koi and determining which koi presents better. Do we find faults? Of course we do – but we try to emphasize the positive characteristics. Koi keeping is a tough and expensive hobby. Keeping your koi healthy takes proper equipment, daily observation and also some luck. The most unfortunate things can happen like your equipment fails, the water drains, a new koi brings in a parasite that wipes out the rest, a koi chooses to just jump out of the pond and flop around to their death, herons, raccoons – the list of bad possibilities is endless.

Speaking of bad possibilities, at the San Antonio koi show, Michelle and I were admiring all the water lilies. Right after we took a selfie, Michelle says “ooooo, I think I hurt my foot.” She’s hobbling around and we get some ice for her. The pain is so bad that we end up wheeling her around in a rolling desk chair during judging. This is necessary because in the judging process you end up walking back and forth between tanks for hours. Now if I was in that much pain, I think I would have considered going to UrgentCare after judging concluded. Michelle just had me drive her to the local CVS and picks up a compression brace and cane. Michelle was able to hobble around better on Sunday and completed the judges tank walk.

I guess the lesson here is – the show must go on. Michelle did go to the doctor back in Minnesota on Monday afternoon. Fracture of the fifth metatarsal, in a boot for six weeks.

So much of the last few weeks has been focused on judging shows and studying for the certification test. The pond builder and I have also put our house in Minnesota up for sale and we’re heading to closing next month. We sold the home with the large 12,000 gallon pond in place. The buyers have never kept koi but are willing to give it a try. I’m not sure if they realize they are getting a lot of higher end equipment to include a rotary drum filter, moving bed filter, pumps and more. I hope they join the koi club and get into the hobby. I’ll have to leave them a note that if they decide to fill in the pond – they should definitely put the equipment up for sale.

We haven’t made much progress on our own pond because the black walnut trees are still there. Small annoyances like “work” limit our time outdoors. We think that maybe this weekend we might get at least one taken down.

The reason these trees need to go is that they’re very messy, certain plants do not grow under them and the leaves and hulls can be poisonous to fish. Black walnuts produce something called juglone which is a problem chemical. The squirrels create piles of black walnut shells on any flat surface. I need to ensure that they are not eating black walnuts on the pond edge, creating messy piles of juglone laced walnut parts that could fall into the water. I’ll probably make a little table under the walnut trees across the road to encourage them to eat somewhere away from the future koi pond.

While we wait on black walnut tree removal, we’re also putting up a greenhouse. This is taking me days because the pieces are poorly marked and there are a lot of pieces missing. The company is good about sending replacement parts but I’m still waiting for some critical pieces before I can move forward. I have my structure supported with some flimsy sticks in the hopes that it won’t fall apart with the wind. Maybe on my next post I’ll have a completed greenhouse to share with you.

Winter has pretty much shown up on the farm and the koi pool temperature is around 58 degrees now. Everyone is still eating, no one looks ill – just waiting for a bigger pond…