in the garden.

if i have no idea what’s inside that soil, i’m not eating anything that grows out of it.

It’s a blow to the gardening ego when you have to Google why your plants have algae.

That’s right.


On my soil.

Probably in my soil.

Most likely under my soil.

How did it get there? If you’ve been following along this summer, I think it’s safe to say that you and I both know that I don’t know much about what I’m doing.

Until now, all I knew about algae is that I have an allergic reaction to it every summer when we go to Minnesota, and I go into the water. I discovered this fun fact about nine or ten years ago when I joined my husband at his family’s lake property. I went into the water, and three days later my legs broke out in a horrible rash. I refused to go swimming after that. I insisted that enduring the sweltering humidity and fifty-thousand mosquitos—eager for the chance to make me a West Nile statistic—”are way better” than that rash. Summer after summer, my itchy misfortune was dismissed by everyone as a fluke—a one-time deal.

“That’s never happened to us,” everyone said, “it must be from something else. Just go swimming.”

So, two years ago, I decided maybe they were right, and I went into the water. Three days later, my legs broke out with another itchy rash. It had to be the algae­—everyone’s favorite lake water organism that lives on the weeds, but settles on the velvet sandy bottom, patiently waiting for someone to churn things up, like me. Someone with no business in Minnesota lake water. Someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest where the waters are too cold for a person to swim in without having a natural layer of blubber and a blow hole.

There’s not much rocket science to algae and gardening.

[it appears that this soil also seems to be surrounded by Thanksgiving stuffing.]

Fact 1: You will see a tint of green sprawling across the surface soil like a fungus fairy just blew by.

Fact 2: It’s not going to kill your plant right away, but it will compete for water and nutrients until, eventually, it’ll suffocate your bell peppers. It’s the worst kind of co-dependent relationship your plants can have.

Fact 3: Algae on the soil surface is not only an indication that I need an overwatering intervention and maybe even rehab; it means something isn’t balancing right in the soil. pssssst, there’s too much water.

So what does one do for algae? Well, I can’t set the garden on fire because it’s hot and dry here; the fire danger is set to “everything is kindling.” I don’t feel like my legacy should be on par with Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, so, that leaves four other options:

1. Water when the soil surface is mostly dry.
My soil won’t be dry until next March. If there was a fire in there, the soil would go unscathed.

2. Scrape off the layer of soil with the algae.
And toss it on the ground so you can grow more weeds, faster.

3. Don’t let plants sit in a pool of water.
See #1.

4. Sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surface.
This didn’t work, but it did make the greenhouse smell like breakfast.

Initially, I blamed our well-water for the unwanted plant growth because it’s loaded with minerals that make our water so hard it makes granite feel soft. Then, I blamed the high-quality soil I bought from the nursery because the other plants that used Miracle Grow from Home Depot didn’t have algae on the surface. After I realized that the plants with Miracle Grow soil also had algae on the surface, I blamed the greenhouse. Gradually, I worked my way through blaming everything from bugs to weather, to the state of Colorado, to climate change. I finally succumbed to the fact that it was me. I gave my plants algae.

The things that were completely my fault were:

  • keeping these plants in a greenhouse in 95-degree weather.
  • keeping these plants in a greenhouse past May.
  • overwatering—the theme of this year’s garden.
  • starting a garden.
  • all of the things going wrong with this garden.

I don’t know why I chose gardening for a hobby this summer instead of knitting or baking. A knitted scarf would never wilt on me from heat exhaustion. A chocolate marble bundt cake would never grow algae—unless I soaked it in water, buried it in soggy soil, and threw it into the oven on broil; basically what I’ve done to these plants.

If I have no idea what’s inside that soil, I’m not eating anything that grows out of it. There have been aphids, stem fungus, now algae. Also, I’ve seen those earwigs hanging around the panels like the stoners used to hang around the dumpsters behind the high school cafeteria, smoking cigarettes. No way. Anything I grow now will be for bragging rights only, and even then, I’m not sure who I’m bragging to. My streak with this garden is far from impressive outside of the fact that it’s still alive.

With two months left of gardening to go before the season puts both me and the garden out of our misery, I’m well on my way to inadvertently growing a moss farm. At this point, I’ll take it. Anything left alive come October 1, I’ll consider a success. Next summer, I’ll take up knitting, and hopefully, I won’t be the first person who has to Google why my scarf has algae.

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