Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Life support grass

Seriously, could we possibly have picked a worse plant for our yards than "grass", even if we tried?

I mean the stuff is so sickly, it has no prayer of living on its own in our local climate. It requires massive amounts of life support just to barely eek out an existence.

I'll admit, with all the life support, grass can be truly beautiful. But the price we pay to reach that beauty is ridiculous.

We dump hundreds of gallons of water on the stuff, every night, using sprinkler systems now built standard into the ground for new homes. This of course leaches all nutrients from the soil. Worse, grass is nitrogen-leaching: it removes nitrogen from the soil. So we must dump on loads of fertilizer to put it back.

Being on such luxurious life support, the grass grows like it's in a jungle, and so we are forced to mow it, at least once per week. While leaving those clippings in place would make great natural fertilizer (after all, this is where all the fertilizer went!), it's not pretty so we truck the clippings away and dump them somewhere else.

Of course, lots of other plants thrive, too, even better than grass. We like to call them "weeds", since they are not grass. And so we must dump toxins over the yard to kill them. We dump separate toxins to kill all sorts of bugs. Sometimes, from too much water, a fungus develops, so we dump something else on to kill that.

All this stuff we dump on the yard likely endangers our kids, us, and our pets, but somehow we don't seem to care. It also kills off the worms that'd naturally aerate the soil, and so we must do our own forced mechanical aeration. It messes up the pH balance, so we dump yet more stuff on (lime, sulphur) to fix that.

In fall, when the leaves drop on the weak grass, we must quickly rake or blow them off, because the grass dies off quickly if it's left covered by leaves.

After winter, which the grass barely survives, some of it has died off and turned brown. This is fully natural, and that dead grass would normally serve as nature's fertilizer, yet we don't like the color, so we dethatch and reseed.

These practices don't end with grass, of course. We truck in loads of mulch, the lipstick of modern lawn care, each year. We spray all sorts of toxins on the trees, the bushes, etc. Terminex shows up, spraying all sorts of other toxins. People with blowers show up and blow every last little thing off the asphault of your driveway.

This whole ritual is now commonplace. It's assumed, accepted and expected practice. If you don't subscribe to the life-support grass movement, people think something is wrong with you. How did we get ourselves into such a mess?

Can't we, instead, find a plant that has no trouble surviving in our natural climate, with zero life support? Why did we all fall in love with this sickly life support grass, anyway?

For example, crabgrass thrives. It's very hardy, grows with no additional watering, takes care of seeding by itself while grass never succeeds in seeding itself (presumably it's been selected and bred not to). Clover is another example, and has the advantage of being nitrogen fixing (the exact opposite of grass): it extracts nitrogren from the air and puts it back into the soil. This is why it's such a dark green even without fertilizer.

Surely we can do better.

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