Algae, too much algae

I’ll start with the pretty picture. Not my house, not me, not Jacques. No, thanks to a blog buddy’s suggestion, I was able to escape my algal difficulties by going to a Fete des Plantes, just outside Niort. Is that a chateau or just a really big house? Anyway, I picked up some lovely drought-tolerant, easy-care plants that I have not seen in garden centers here. I am delighted with them. Also it was nice to see that these people, who have a front garden multiples bigger than my entire property, have it under control. It gave me hope. Someday my lawn will come.

And here are the algal difficulties. You are looking at the pond at the house that I am selling and, in the meantime, make Available for holiday lets. I’m not sure this is the best pitch for it, but anyway… The pond is part of the municipal drainage system and must remain. Normally it’s quite pleasant, covered with duckweed, to be sure, but pretty and frog-filled. I have been a little worried about it. The previous gardener would cut back the bushes and just let the branches fall into the water. This cannot be good, I thought, so I let that gardener go, but too late. His carelessness turns out to have created huge problems. Julien tried to clear the pond with little success. He says the bottom is sludge filled. Trapped in the sludge are huge, fat branches, rotting away. He says it would take mechanical equipment to clear it out but the straight sides of the pond — the whole thing is cement-walled and I think has a cement bottom — plus there is all that water — make it impossible to get anything down there.

I need to get the house ready for renters, so I went over to review the current state of things. Oh, it’s bad. Apparently the algae is bad everywhere this year but so what. This algae is trespassing on my pond and it has to go. So I put on my rubber clogs and a bathing suit and waded into pleasantly warm water, pool net in hand. Jacques loved it. Oh the gaseous smells, as I disturbed the pond bottom. Oh, the squelching sounds, the froggy croaks. And the sludge, he couldn’t get enough of it. As I netted tens of kilos of thick algae, thick enough to prevent my new water plants from settling, Jacques attacked the piles of crud, pawing and biting it. As I cleared a horizontal cement siding, Jacques would run out and sniff the debris. Then he figured out that he could safely step right onto the sludge and attack the algae while it was still in the water. Terrier heaven: my water-averse dog waded in up to his tummy. The muddier he got, the happier he was.

Despite Jacques’ assistance, I cleared maybe 20 square meters of algae from the surface, for which the frogs are grateful. I found that it is possible to clear algae faster than it grows, for which I am grateful. I am left with a whole lot more, out in the center, which is too deep for wading. Maybe I can head out there with a couple of little flat-bottomed boats, one for me and one for algae, and clear it out that way. So where can I find a couple of those?

The water is clear but brown, thanks to the sludge and rotting debris. I decided to try some pond chemicals, which worried Julien. He likes the frogs as well as I do and didn’t want them hurt. Then he did some calcs and realized that my chemicals — anti-algae plus a couple of water-clearing agents — won’t even dent the situation out there. The pond is just too big. We both hope they don’t dent the frogs, either, though they are so diluted that I think my little croaking friends are safe. The next step is apparently to find some activated charcoal. Maybe a ton of activated charcoal. Then I can clear that out.

Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Not many people dream of moving to France so they can clear massive algae infestations. I sure didn’t. However I’m finding that I like all these garden challenges. Gardens are low-tech, easily understandable. They tire you out, so you sleep extremely well. Once in a while something pretty comes of it. For the pond, especially, I find myself driving to places I would never otherwise visit, aquatic plants being rather specialized, so occasionally a bit of adventure is involved. I think about this as I sludge-proof my car seats, so Jacques and I can drive home, looking and smelling like Mrs. Swamp Thing and her little Swamp Dog.

No YouTube uploads of the original, just the campy 1982 remake. Sigh. You’ll just have to imagine.

29 thoughts on “Algae, too much algae

  1. Your pond looks enormous, but we use a product in our (much smaller) wildlife pond at home, called ‘Blanket Answer’. It works within a few days, but I have no idea if it would be any good on that scale. Best of luck

    1. Blanket Answer. That sounds great. Really, when you’re standing there in the store, it all looks like what you need. How nice to be able to get just one.

  2. Lynn

    Wonderful post!

    Algae is reputed to contain many wonderful nutrients. You could dry the crop and sell it (are the French as crazy about micronutrients as the folks in California?) – investing the proceeds into your garden.

    Enjoy your new hobby – algae cleaner!



    1. Eew. It would take a lot of processing to disguise this stuff as something edible. I’m hoping it makes good compost. That’s where everything went, onto the compost pile. I’ll natter on some other time about how PrevIous Gardener’s habit of cutting the grass right down to the dirt, for years on end, has severely depleted the soil. The new mower tosses the cut grass right back onto the lawn and that does help but more is always more.

  3. It forms part of the local drainage system…any idea what goes in there?
    Make a dredge…a beam, a net and a cane on the top to hold the net, then one person per side of pond and dredge….it won`t be man enough for the logs, but it should clear the top hamper of algae.

    1. No, I have no clue what’s in there. There is no oily residue or anything. To judge by the quantity and sheer biliousness of the algae, I could be seeing the results of overfertilizing. If the water is coming from the lotissement — I see an underground pipe, no idea where to find the other end — that is quite likely.

      I love the idea of the dredge. It will scare the frogs but they’ll just go over to the neighbor’s pond for a day or so. Julien and his cousin could do that. They’d pull in the water plants, too, but those guys just float. It will be easy enough to pick them out and toss them back. They might even be able to do reasonably well with the big branches and logs, maybe even some sludge. Julien has been fairly conscientious, so most things down there are pretty old and waterlogged. Much of what I grabbed just fell apart.


      1. We had a problem with a big pond – though not concrete lined – in an earlier house. Part of the problem was water coming from a farm which was contaminated with nitrates.
        We dredged – had teenagers from Belgium visiting so that ws their holiday bliss supplied – and then we were able to keep it down ourselves with water plants, freshwater snails…and scooping it out evry week.
        No chance of changing French farming habits…the nitrates had made all the wells in the area unusable for drinking water too.

        1. I’m surrounded by agribusiness. Nearly all the crops are wheat and corn. I doubt very much that any of it is organic. That could do it. If the water snails will stay in the water, they have a new home! But no way can I clean that pond, from the bottom up, every week. Yikes. I think I’ll do it once, then hope my snails, fountain and plants help me fight back the mess.

          The whole neighborhood is on septic tanks. Could that be part of it?

          What a learning curve these places have put me through, with no doubt more to come. Now I know why some people won’t touch a place with a pond.

          1. If the septic tanks are working properly there should be no problem…but don`t rely on the fact that they have been inspected as meaning that they are O.K.
            The inspectors in our area were under pressure not to find too many septic tanks as posing problems as otherise the local council would have been obliged to put in a mains drainage system…so some side under the radar. My ex neighbour is still, I am told, without a septic tank at all…everything goes into the ditches around his farm. But he was and his son now is a deputy mayor.
            If you can get rid of the current algae a once a week skim might do the job…but I suspect you are right about the origins of the problem.
            Learning curve…more like a helter skelter it seemed to me at times.

          2. Wow. You are truly a mine of information. We have been required to upgrade our septic tanks, except that there is no enforcement. None. I’ve been wondering what is going on. But if the mairie is trying to avoid any sort of pressure to put in sewer mains, of course, it makes perfect sense that they’re not looking too hard for scofflaws like me.

            A once-a-week skim is not likely to happen. A couple of days ago I was wading in the French country muck. Tomorrow I’m going to Glyndebourne in Sussex for a little summer opera. Schedules, routines, they are not really a part of my life. Well, we shall see. I’ll have Julien make a dredge, then get his cousin to help him use it. We’ll go from there.

          3. The dredge I suggested would be fine for the thick algae…but I am not sure if it would cope with the heavy stuff in the sludge at the bottom. Still, no doubt your chaps can adapt.
            Who caretakes the place for you ? Looks after the lettings? Could they not keep things in order with the pond once cleaned up?
            Watch it when you come to sell…a diagostique of the state of your septic tank will be required and if it is not in the current norms there is a time limit for a new owner to make good…thus monetary adjustments on the sale will be on the order paper.
            The mairie doesn`t want to know now…but the notaire will certainly want to know then.
            And you are a foreigner…
            Enjoy Glyndebourne!

          4. I have a group who handles the advertising, insurance and all. Julien and I do the actual work at the house. Sure, we can do it. I’m actually kind of getting into it. As for the septic tank thing, it just sort of rolls over. The new owner is supposed to upgrade within a year but no one checks. Then the next new owner, etc. If the tank were actually faulty, I’d break down and replace the thing but we’re talking 15-20K to replace something that works just fine. My French realtor, who knows every relevant thing and every relevant person, thinks it can just slide indefinitely. I wish summer rentals would earn enough to give the house the upgrades it deserves; so far they barely cover the basic expenses.

  4. Glory be – that made me laugh! Particularly the terrier turned algae assassin. However, I appreciate that you are probably less amused than your readership. I’m so sorry, I have nothing of any note to add …. I wonder if one of the wildlife conservancy organisation in Britain would help. I know nothing about them here but for example BBONT which is the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Nature Trust might well have some good advice because they are used to doing things on a larger scale than average garden pond. Please don’t hurt the frogs.

    1. Osyth, my beloved husband died, right before my eyes, with the paramedics there, thinking they could save him. It look me years to get to the point that I could think back to that without crying all over again. Believe me, after that, algae is nothing. I’m glad you liked the post. I spent some time wondering how to make such a distasteful mess as amusing to you guys as it was to me. Glad it worked.

      My internet research tells me there is nothing for it but to dredge the pond. Helen, bless her, told me how to make a dredge big enough that can be used to go deep enough to get most everything out. Then, back to internet, get the brown out using activated charcoal.

      When I get to clear water, I have to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ll may do more of my own pruning; I have found that I am more careful than Julien. I’ll make sure Julien understands the need to clear out the cut branches. I’ll take Susan’s suggestion and add a solar-powered fountain, to keep water moving and aerate the water. I’ll put the water plants back in, to suck the nutrients from the water, and add more plants; that algae does so well in part because it has no competition. I can do all that without chemicals, fortunately. Then it’s mainly a matter of paying attention and seeing the dredging as potentially an every-couple-of-years part of the maintenance.

      I’ll do a search on BBONT. Thanks. I often find that Google doesn’t always turn up the best information on a topic, just the most popular pages. So I’ll dig a little deeper.

      1. I would not insult you by attempting to empathise with that dreadful day and all the days you spent trying to go on with life. So I won’t. I can sympathise of course, and my heart quite literally bled when I read that even though I knew a little before. It is, quite dreadful, quite wrong. Life, this life makes no sense at all to me, so often. What I am heartened by is the amount of good council you have had from good people who want to help you with the pond. Certainly the rotting wood must be removed if possible and Helen is quite honestly one of the most knowledgeable and downright practical people I have ever come across and I am sure her suggestion for constructing a dredger will work. Aerating the water is, indeed essential. We had a number of large ponds in the house I grew up in. My father used something he called oxygenating plant to keep the blanket weed at bay. They were put in cradles and lowered into the water rather than planted, I recall and the blanket weed would simply fall back like a defeated army. A fountain would be a good addition too. You know all this, of course. But the fact is that having lived through what you have lived through, the weed stands no chance. I send you my warmest wishes for success and the hope that you will find a buyer for the place sooner than later. I am sure you will, having taken a sneaky peak at it – it is lovely and will make somebody a lovely home be it familiale or secondaire. Bon courage and chapeau to you. Both meant from the heart.

        1. Sorry about the death rant. I don’t fall apart any more but clearly I’m far from over it. My point was simply that something like that gives you a sense of perspective. I need to scale it back. I’m boring myself.

          There were oxygenating plants at all the nurseries. I thought oh, how nice, but they looked like aquarium plants, so I didn’t really want any. However if they were all that effective for your dad, great tubs of them are going in, just as soon as we get the pond cleared out. Water snails are a good idea, too, as long as they stay in the water. I was wondering about a plecostomus — I think that’s how it’s spelled. We had them in the aquariums we had as kids. They ate nothing but algae and kept the glass sparkling clean. They are hideous, truly the Swamp Fish among all the flashy betas and neon tetras and all. They are the color of sludge; I can just imagine how they will terrify the unwary visitor. Heheheheh. I’ll have to check that out.

          Sell the house? From your lips to God’s ears. It’s a delightful house but nobody needs two. I could hold onto it but at this point I’d rather have the money. Along with everything else, I’ll add a few water lilies, hope they drive someone into a Monet-induced “gotta-have-it” frenzy.

          1. Please, please don’t apologise. The death of your husband is not something to ‘get over’ … he was your love, your life, your best friend, your sparkling hero. How do you get over losing that? You don’t is all. You find a place in your heart for him to coexist with the life he would want you to have – a life that is valuable and that you enjoy. But that place will never be without pain. It can’t be. Those ugly fish we had in our tank too … hell they were ugly but hellishly efficient too. Snails, yes but I have no idea if they venture out into pastures terrestrial. The oxygenating plant Daddy had was probably water moss on a quick google search. It is British by the looks of things. Which would make sense. You must have water lilies … their inner (perceived) Monet will certainly drive them to buy!!! IOU an email from a gazillion aeons ago … there is more 😊

          2. So the plecostomus needs water at 50F, at least. I’m not into transferring the guy to an aquarium every winter, so before I buy one I’ll drop a thermostat into the water and see what it says. It might be okay. I’m finding that the best sites for pond info and products are English, so I need to either get things set up before Brexit hits or pillage the info and hope to find the same items for sale in France.

            This is a fun project because it has defined limits and is manageable and relatively affordable. I’m at a point with my own house where every next step is into five figures. So, time to offload the surplus house.

          3. That’s quite well above freezing so you might be OK indeed. I am pretty certain you will find Britain much better than France. There are certain things that I have found pretty hard here. The other alternative might be Germany if Britain allows itself to continue to be bulldozed by the mad witch in charge. Best that could happen there is that she finds herself with a coup on her hands (which could happen) and is forced to take note of the olive branches that both Macron and the Germans are offering in terms of actually halting the process. I’m sure you will crack this … you are not a woman to allow a carpet of slime stop your plans!!!

          4. Carpet of slime. Oh no, don’t get me started on politics again… Whatever you can say about May, she’s better than Trump. I hope she takes note of all that voter’s remorse out there, and tries to find a way to undo the whole thing. I don’t know why she’s being so hard-nosed about it. Every day I read about problems in Ireland, in Gibraltar, etc. Really, just say “oops” and back away from the Brexit.

          5. Trump is pretty special. She should of course back out but from the get-go, having announced herself as a Remainer she has banged on like a stuck sound-bite ‘the people have spoken’ hmmmm 4% difference with a poor turnout and ‘hard Brexit’ … my husband says it is all about wanting her place in history, I think she is a puppet for the real powers behind her. Whatever she is, she is wrong in my view and she does, indeed need to eat humble pie and back away

          6. The real powers behind her? Someone benefits from this? I wish there were a trip to Grenoble in my future. I’d love to discuss this over lunch — it would take a long one!

  5. Hilarious post. I visualised every slimy second. Bet Jacques needed full deep clean after that.
    Clearly idiot who dropped branches in is main culprit.
    Re solutions, is there some sort of algae eater out there?

    1. There are chemicals, but the pond is so big. I’d need to buy them in bulk. I like Helen’s dredger. I need to talk to Julien about that.

    1. Yes, the pond needs aeration. No question. I’ll look into a solar-powered fountain. That’s a great idea. There are also pond plants that are sold as aerators. I wish there were a good way to get the water to flow more. It is clearly built to handle a constant flow of water. Meantime, you are right, a fountain would at least add some sort of movement.

Comments are closed.