Talkin’ Trash!

You know the old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you?!”   Old sayings aren’t always right!

When we first moved to Vero Beach, I noticed this sign along the many canals criss-crossing our neighorhood.


Being new to the area, the word “lagoon” meant zip to me. I didn’t know where it was, or why it was important, but since I”m not one to willy-nilly toss Diet Coke cans or candy wrappers in watery ditches, the sign didn’t apply to me!  Or so I thought until I heard about the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program and its effort to save this beautiful natural resource:

Vero Beach section of Indian River Lagoon

You are looking at our local section of a lagoon that stretches 156 miles along Florida’s Atlantic coast.  In 2011, an area 30 minutes north of here exploded with a super algae bloom, killing sea grass and marine life.  I was shocked to learn that excess nitrogen and phosphorous in garden fertilizers plays a major role in algae development!

Prior to beginning Master Gardener classes, my extent of fertilizer knowledge consisted of the 3 numbers on the packaging, the first two being nitrogen and phosphorous. I had  2-7-7 for cacti/succulents; 11-35-15 for orchids; 18-18-21 for vegetables; 8-14-9 for african violets<—this being a total waste of time and money–I never met an african violet I didn’t eventually kill! I used 10-10-10 for everything else!  I applied them “sort of” on a schedule, but not really. If a plant looked “off” I mixed up a watering can and doused it, and I doubt I was the only injudicious person on the street!

Which means every time it rained, all this excess fertilizer flowed down the canals and into the lagoon, picking up grass clippings and palm fronds along the way. Before you know it, nutrient-loading encourages algae, which then consumes oxygen and blocks sunlight, killing sea grass and fish.

Moral of the story? Trash isn’t always Diet Coke cans and candy wrappers—trash can also be too much of a good thing!

In the future, management of the lagoon’s biodiversity will depend on solid science, reliable data and public outreach to educate the people living around it. Thankfully, the Smithsonian Institute in Fort Pierce and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch are focusing on the relationship of water quality with seagrasses, macroalgae, and phytoplankton.  This research should help local policy makers with new guidelines for fertilizers and their proper use near canals.

Before I close, I have a few quick pictures to share.

Some of you may not be familiar with epiphytes.  I took one down from a tree today for a few close-ups:

Tillandsia Fasciculata

Although it looks very much like an air plant I shared with you before, this is a different variety of tillandsia, known as fasciculata.   She is about to be a mother for the first time:

Baby FasciculataTillandsia babies are called pups.  For optimal protection, pups always grow on their mother’s underside near twig-like “roots.” These roots are the hooks by which she attaches to some other structure, usually a tree or wooden fence.  Although you cannot see them in pictures, tillandsias have microscopic hairs along the entire length of each curvy leaf;  the hairs attract the water and nutrients she needs to grow and reproduce.  I find these plants so fascinating.  If you’d like some quick facts, check out this link.

And last, but most exciting to me…take a look at the first zucchini growing from round 2:

Zucchini from Round 2

I hope I make it!!!

I hope so, too!

Until next time…..


14 thoughts on “Talkin’ Trash!

  1. Yes, this is also what is causing the algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico–all that fertilizer from the factory farms lining the Mississippi. And did you know some of the fertilizers are actually made from petroleum products? This is what I have been reading. Scary stuff. We’re buying more and more food from our local farmers…we do what we can. And we don’t use any fertilizer, not even on the lawn. We’re not vain enough to need a perfect lawn–it’s green enough! 🙂

    Well done with the post. Congrats on the pup!

    • I didn’t realize the petroleum angle in this problem..will be looking for more info on google as soon as i finish this reply, so thank you! I like that you’re reading my blog!
      oh! and regarding your “it’s green enough” theory: I’m in agreement there, too! I don’t treat for weeds in my lawns the way many do..If the overall look is “grassy” when mowed, I’m happy…undulating shades of green are fine by me. If little wildflower heads pop open between mowings, I like that, too! I Pretty & natural-looking does it for me.

  2. Great post, as you say it’s not always the most obvious things that cause the problems. Last year we were in Charente in France on a picnic and the pond had the bloom too- in this case caused by famers, but as you say we home gardeners need to think too.

    Oh and looking good on the courgette flower! Crossing my fingers 🙂

    • thank you, Claire!!
      When you see a bright green body of water, even if you didn’t know a dang thing about nature, you’d sense something’s gone terribly wrong, no? it looks “sick” for lack of a better word.
      Another contributing factor for our lagoon’s pollution, is the population explosion since 1970–where once there were 50,000 residents there are now 200,000+. Basically, building has outpaced the management of the area’s resources and now the counties are scrambling!

  3. It never ceases to amaze me that people can grow zucchini in the states this time of year!! I could only dream of doing that here in Boston 😀 It’s also wonderful that you have such a large amount of epiphytes in Florida – and that they’re growing right in your backyard. Florida sure is a whole different can of worms.

    • oh believe me! I grew up in Everett and lived in MA my whole life. I was shocked when I got here in December ’09 and saw a tree in my new backyard in full bloom! I still have to pinch myself when i see things growing when the calendar says january!

      A few things i miss though:
      Wan winter light at sun up…you know….that “silvery” glow?
      the scent of lilacs wafting in my kitchen window
      orange and red leaves in fall

      thanks for checking out my blog!

  4. It’s good to have an awareness of the consoquences of our actions. Amazing to see courgette in flower…about another month before we can think of planting them in Ireland.

  5. Over use of Fertilizers has been a well known problem in the UK for a long time and has been addressed in law and local agreements with the farming community. I don’t keep Orchids (bit too unpleasant here in London) but I do some vegetable gardening and one of the best ways to return Nitrogen to the soil without resorting to fertilizers is to grow Runner Beans! A food crop that really helps your soli too 🙂

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