Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weedy wheat overtakes suburban lawn

Last fall, Brian and I did some re-landscaping of the backyard, leveling a bit of space behind the house so we might be able, one day, to put out a table and eat dinner with the chickens for company. The process involved a truckload of topsoil, moved via wheelbarrow, then topped with grass, clover, and wildflower seed mix...and covered with straw.

Straw, in the classic sense, is grass stems, the part left over after the seed has been harvested. If it has seed in it, that's a bit of a shame, because that seed isn't needed for the function of straw. Straw is horse bedding, to be used and pooped on and mucked out. But for whatever reason, the straw we used had a fair number of heads still on it, with live seeds.

I watched the wheat seeds germinate, beneath the straw covering we so lovingly provided. I watered them, hoping to just get some ground cover before winter hit. Since we did the landscaping fairly late in the summer, we probably even followed the wheat planting guidelines, which is to plant the crop after the passing of the Hessian fly free date, meaning that our wheat crop shouldn't have any infestations of a fairly brutal insect pest. The wheat - and the lawn grass and clover - grew well, and through this winter we seem to have lost very little of all that soil we brought in. We definitely succeeded in establishing this new bit of lawn.

But the wheat is an odd sort of problem. It's winter wheat, now ready to grow like - well, a weed - to set seed and harden up, oh, about midsummer. And though I have my vegetable garden nearby, this spot wasn't intended to be food, it was intended to be lawn - just more exercise for me and my reel mower. Instead, I have this food crop, growing not only in the back of the house, but near the boundary between us and the next door neighbors (not the nice ones, either), and at the end of the driveway. I've mowed it twice so far, reluctantly, feeling vaguely that it must be some sort of sin to mow a food crop when plenty of hungry people don't have enough to grow wheat on purpose, much less enough land to try to grow decorative grasses for leisure.

This week it is rainy. Perhaps it will keep raining (climate change models do predict increased rain for this area), and perhaps I won't be able to get out and mow again, to do my suburban duty on time. Perhaps I'll be forced to watch the wheat grow until it is too tall for us to tackle, and we'll get a citation from the zoning board for our overgrown lawn.

I would be forced, then, to testify in court one of two absurd positions: 1) the wheat, one of the staple crops of world agriculture, is a weed, and I was negligent in allowing it to exceed the legal 8" height for lawn weeds, or 2) the wheat is not a weed, and I had the audacity to grow a grain crop in my front lawn. Either way, the legal implications of prosecuting me are fascinating; the story could be front page world news of the weird, either way, about the craziness of the U.S. and our insane culture of lawns and food.

It's rather fun thinking about it while I watch the spring rains outside.


Sheila said...

Great post I love the idea of wheat in the lawn on the bad neighbors side - and fabulous new photo of you! I wonder where that came from :-)

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