The Great Hunt – How I spent Day 43 of The Great Quarantine Squishing fungus gnats

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Greetings from the depths of “Shelter in Place,” aka “SIP”, aka Quarantine, aka the Pit of Despair, aka I am stuck at home with my 2 children under the age of 4 and I don’t know how much sanity I have left. We are on week 6+ here. And today, well today was a GLORIOUS day. I stood at my kitchen sink for 20 min methodically and obsessively killing gnats. Fungus Gnats to be exact. Did you know that those exist? I didn’t even know there were different types of gnats. Well I guess I assumed there were probably different types of gnats, but I didn’t know those kind existed. Or at least I didn’t before my Google search today of “how do I kill these obnoxious &*$!% in my house!” There might have been profanity (in my head), before I opted for a much more eloquent “how to get rid of gnats in plants”. And that, my friends, left me on the riveting research spree of how to trap these tiny, annoying jerks that have taken over my latest Pintrest fail. I spent a good hour of my day, catching, squishing, trapping, and plotting the death of these tiny little gnats that have invaded my kitchen window.

During Quarantine 2020, in the initial weeks of the WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING, I decided that we needed things TO DO. And with the panic over how to keep a functioning daily life, I decided that we needed to have an herb garden: logical, rational, forward thinking. Pat myself on the shoulder for my proactive stance. I don’t want to have to cross my fingers and hope that my online grocery delivery that I might get to pickup some time in the next decade will have the sprig of fresh basil or thyme I need. And trust me, I will end up with the packaged picked out for me that looks beautiful on top and is completely rotten and inedible once you open it. So, proactive me is going to plant this beautiful herb garden that I am going to put on my windowsill of my kitchen. That way, as I sit there with my cup of coffee or tea, looking at my hellions, I mean children, running joyfully in the yard (read: screaming like maniacs throwing pebbles and trying to eat worms and dirt) I will be embraced with the lovely scent of my fresh herb garden. Ah, the mental picture… my hair perfectly done, makeup fresh as a daisy, wearing a beautiful billowy dress (you know the ones that ONLY look good on complete waifs… which I am most definitely not), and each nostril full of the sweet aroma of peppermint, sage, basil, etc.

So, I do what any panicky person did at the beginning of all of this- I go on amazon and search for a seeds- BINGO! They sell them. Now, what to plant them in… HELLO PINTEREST! Now this cues into my “we need something TO DO” panic of the early days before Frozen (all of them) and Wall-E moved into my living room. When I was focused on structure and had “activities” for everyone (HA! Old me from 6 weeks ago had so much energy and naïveté. I miss her.) Well on Pintrest, I see the MOST BRILLIANT idea. Beautiful in that it will fit PERFECTLY with my mental image of my perfectly manicured hands (did I mention I haven’t had a professional manicure in 1.5 years?) cupping my mug of steaming tea as I gaze lovingly at this charming little window garden. What is so brilliant about it is not only does it LOOK beautiful, but also it can be a “learning” experience for my 3 year old. We can have this be a science experiment for him to learn about plants, food, etc. while I get my picturesque moment. Are you ready for the idea… it is to use MASON JARS as the pots! TA DA!! Clean, beautiful, crafty, and resourceful. My son can see the roots forming so he will learn all sorts of science-y things and impress his other preschool classmate when they return from the apocalypse. I will get a windowsill NOT decorated in chic toddler/preschooler painted terracotta pots.

My mason jar seedlings
My Mason Jar Herb Garden. See how cute they are?

I then spend the next 48 hours scouring the interwebs for the perfect mason jars (and cheapest) with the fastest delivery & for the right seed kit that includes my herbs of choice. Done & Done. I decided to use Garden Republic’s Herb Kit and have absolutely loved it. They offer support and replacement of any seeds that don’t sprout. Now… I wait patiently (if you haven’t figured out this already, I am not a patient person) for everything to arrive. And I dream a dream of my windowsill.

Now, I will note, I did hesitate for a hot second when I seemed to remember that drainage in pots for plants was kind of a thing. But hey, this random person on Pintrest did it, so it MUST be fine. Cause I have NEVER failed at ANYTHING I have found on Pinterest before (please excuse me while I catch my breath and pick myself up off the floor from laughing so hard). But again- remember, I am an eternal optimist… or blindly, stupidly, stubborn and don’t know when to quit. To-Mate-O, Tow-Mot-O.

Once everything arrived, I pulled out my gardening gloves (which last on my hands for a whole hot 30 seconds before I toss them aside and just stick my hands in the dirt), pulled out my old leftover gardening soil from previous failed gardening attempts (yes, my best friend did ask how old it was… no, I did not fully grasp the importance of this), and got to work. That whole beautiful daydream of my 3 year old and I lovingly planting the seeds- yeah, that was crushed weeks before (more on that to come in The Hunger Games: Tukel Edition). So I let my type A self take over and let the 3 year old run around like a banshee. His contribution to the effort was to dump his 50 small cars in the grass an hour before the gardener came. That was a fun scramble of hoping and praying we found all the cars before the lawn mower came. And yes- I have a FANTASTIC gardener who takes care of my yard and plants — he protects them from me.

Now, my initial potting method was one of my standard gardening Hail Mary’s. I filled the jars with dirt, toss in all 15+ seeds, and then cover with dirt, dump water, and Ta Da! I gardened! But a moment of clarity hit- these are small pots and I don’t want a forest of basil growing in that small opening. I also actually WANT basil so it matters to me that I get this right. Also, I had just had the lovely experience of trying to repot other seedlings and sorting out a mess of roots. So I dug out all but 5 seeds and put them back in the lovely little package. I kept with that method with all 10 herbs. I carefully covered them with soil (and had JUST ENOUGH of the old soil finish them all), gave them a wonderfully indulgent drink of water and placed them in their new homes. Now, you may be wondering why I didn’t just ask my Gardener to get me some small herb plants and new pots/dirt from the nursery. Cause that, my friends, would be logical… and easy… and I am bull headed. I am an independent woman who had a successful career and an MBA, and I CAN DO THIS! I CAN GROW PLANTS. Also, I now feel a strange little twinkle in my gut every time my kids watch Wall-E. When the Captain talks about Pizza Plants, I fear I might be looking into our collective futures if I can’t figure out how to do this.

Plus, there is the most amazing sense of wonder, beauty, and accomplishment seeing those first little green leaves opening up to the world. I get so excited every time. My husband asked me if I was compensating for not having a 3rd child or a dog. Possibly. But I also get SO excited about all nature (except spiders) that I am just not going to think about his hypothesis too hard and live in my excitement.

Within a few days, VICTORY was mine! The herbs were sprouting. I am a GARDENER. I had a NEW hobby and I was starting to look into a raised garden bed — cause I am going to CRUSH this thing. Go Big or Go Home!

Now, this would also be a good time to mention that my Best Friend (remember the one who questioned the soil I was using) is a horticulturist. Like trained, went to school, knows her stuff, legit gardener. And she is GOOD at it. So it was around THIS time that I am asking her for advice. Yeah, I know- BEFORE I embarked would have been the right time to ask these things. But hey, I am learning. And isn’t the whole thing about science is you start with a hypothesis, then you set out to prove it using trial & error. Well, my hypothesis is I can grow plants. I can be a gardener. We are now in that whole trial and error phase. And man, there is A LOT more to this than I ever knew. And it is SO much fun to figure it out. With each failure, I am learning so much on how to overcome. With each wrong thing I do (which is EVERYTHING), I am finding out all the ways to fix it. And all without being able to leave my house!

So fast-forward 4 days, I notice these little gnats. I ASSUME they must have been fruit flies coming from a halo orange or something (cause there is ALWAYS ONE that gets stuck at the bottom of the bowl and starts to rot before you can find it. Or is that just my house?). I scour the orange bowl and find the culprit. This is highly annoying because we had just gotten them delivered the day before, but toss it out and assume we are past it. Even mention the annoying little fly while I am on the phone with the Bestie. The next day there are a few more gnats. They are all congregating next to my lovely little herbs that are all growing except Peppermint and Cilantro. Peppermint I am annoyed by, Cilantro- I don’t even like. It is there just so if I have to kill one, it can be it. I kill and capture the 4–5 gnats that are there and move on. The next day, there are roughly 3 more. Again- seek and destroy. Well today, I went over and there were now 8 gnats. And I got PISSED. Like REALLY PISSED, y’all. My first thought was to get my kids one of those ladybug habitats and just release them in my house. I was so fired up that THAT was a GOOD idea. Luckily, I realized 1- I would then have Lady Bugs annoying me instead of gnats, and 2, do ladybugs even eat the gnats? So common sense prevailed, and after killing the ones I could capture, I went to the interwebs.

So this is what I learned:

  1. I am an over waterer. There. I said it. I am SO scared of the plants being without water, that I over water. I think I have an ingrained fear around this. I am the person who walked around San Francisco giving out snacks I kept in my purse (even when I was pregnant and I NEEDED those snacks). And the sign that says “Hungry”- man, sucker punch right to the gut! My friends still like to remind me of the time I promised them homemade pomegranate cupcakes, but on my way to meet them, I gave them to a small child on the street. I told them they could enjoy an extra glass of wine that night instead.
  2. Plants need adequate drainage. Yeah- there is a reason for that. BUT, you can use things like mason jars if you DO NOT OVERWATER. See lesson 1.
  3. Too much water, then mold will grow in the soil. And you know what else comes with the mold- fungus gnats. Their larvae eat the mold. Whole circle of life, baby.

There is good news to all of this!

  1. The gnats are harmless, annoying but harmless. They will eventually start hurting the plants if left untreated, but that is more because the mold starts killing the plants. So basically, think of the gnats as your buddies cause they are alerting you to the problem of mold being in the soil. High five, little dude! Sorry I am now going to have to squish you.
  2. They are VERY common. So get over your shame. You are not a disgusting person who is breeding pet gnats. Unless you are, in fact, breeding gnats for pets. Then you might want to look for a new hobby since gnats only live for 24–48 hours. That must be a very depressing pet to have.
  3. Both the mold AND the Fungus Gnats are easily killed, I mean treated, with basic household items.

Here is how:

  1. Cinnamon! Yes- that lovely aromatic spice that is good for your heart and on your French toast. Sprinkle that on the top of the soil and it kills off the mold. While it won’t kill the Fungus Fly Larvae, it will kill the larvae food supply and you will starve them to death.
  2. Dry the plants out. Don’t water them. Let the soil dry out. Let me repeat this for the other recovering over waterers out there — Do Not Water Them. When that happens, the mold will die and so will the larvae. Make sure not to dry out your plants too, though.
  3. Hydrogen Peroxide mixed with water: 1part peroxide, 4 parts water. This kills the mold! AND it kills the larvae. But make sure to do this AFTER the plants have dried out some. You hear me over waterer in the back? I am talking to you.
  4. Fungus Gnats Traps: Warm water, Apple Cider Vinegar, Sugar, and couple drops of Dish soap. The first 3 ingredients attract the suckers, and the soap traps them. (Side note: can I tell you how awesome dish soap is? I might have traumatized my 3 year old with it and he thinks we are stuck in quarantine while the Dr.’s and nurses wash everything with soap. But that is a whole other story.)

There are several other methods that I know the All Knowing Google will tell you should you find yourself dealing with these annoying flying pests. But these are the ones I decided to try first.

2 things to note:

  1. If one plant is infected, most likely any that are close by (or in the house with it) will also be infected with these Fungus Gnats. So just get on it and treat them all at the same time.
  2. If you don’t want to deal with it, OR your mold problem is a serious issue, then best to uproot the plants and remove as much soil as possible and just start over.

So today, after my Internet intelligence mission and my huntress skills maxed out killing as many as I could capture (and let me know if you need an overview of those skills. I got pretty good at it and developed some expert techniques for seek and destroy). I put the above methods to the test. I removed any mold I could find. I was surprised to notice it on the wooden name stakes that came with the kit identifying the herbs. It was an important part of my overall aesthetic, though I am now re-evaluating a perhaps better method for this. I sprinkled that with cinnamon as well as the top of the soil of each herb. All the herbs now have a fragrant reddish brown hue to them. I set out my trap (already caught 1 little bugger), and have vowed to not water for a few days. I am suspecting the biggest culprits may be the 2 dormant herbs, but will keep a very watchful eye on them.

My basil seedlings sprinkled with cinnamon
My Basil seedlings covered in Cinnamon.

I am Lily. I am 38 years old. I spent my 43rd day of Quarantine hunting Fungus Gnats.

How are you?

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