Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lawns Are a Pain in the Grass

Confession: I hate having a lawn. I hate mowing. It’s an activity that adds a lot to a carbon footprint. But where I live in rainy Hilo it’s easier and possibly greener to have a lawn than fight one. There are probably a dozen different types of grass around my place, including Kikuyu, Hilograss, Bermuda, and the rest of the usual stoloniferous species that always seem to creep up to the house, climb into shrubs and pop up in flowerbeds faster than mold on bread.

I’m not obssessed with my lawn. The previous owner of my house was definitely into American Green, however. The lawn was perfect when we moved in. Not a single weed in sight, it was an emerald carpet that could make a Mauna Kea Beach resort greenskeeper weep over its lush poetry. “Behold,” I announced to my family when we moved in, “you will never see this lawn look this way again.” When it comes to lawns, I keep my promises. I don’t water, use fertilizers or weed-and-feed, or anything like that. I just mow and whack. Sometimes the rain prevents that for a few weeks, too.

spp. is a nitrogen-fixer that can enrich poor soils. Depending on whom you talk to, it is loved or hated in the grassy landscape. My friend Debbie Ward in Kurtistown has an organic fruit orchard and she’s happy when she sees desmodium growing on her farm. However, the Swifts of Mother Goose Farms in Kona found desmodium to be a persistent weedy pest while they were starting to grow certified organic coffee. Luckily, they discovered geese love desmodium, and – bonus! — geese droppings make great fertilizer. The farm saves money on pesticides and fertilizers, plus grows sustainably.

However, my pal who lives in residential Hilo is old school. He won’t put up with desmodium and admits to bringing out his cache of chemicals. My cavalier attitude is too much for him. He warns me: “If you don’t get rid of desmodium right away, the lawn mower picks up the seeds and spreads it around to other areas of your yard.” Do I listen? Nah. I even leave the clippings on the lawn so that I’m returning 3 percent of the nitrogen back to the soil. At least that’s what they used to tell us in turf management class.

A manual push mower is a good idea if your lawn isn’t too big or sloping. An electric mower has fewer emissions, but ultimately it depends on petroleum power. And here on the Big Island, our lots are, well, big. As we move toward more sustainable practices, the latest technology for the 21st century is solar powered lawn mowers and tractors. Those seem like a smart options for sunny Hawai'i, although they aren’t widely available here just yet.

My current favorite music to mow by: The entire OK Computer album by Radiohead. Pleasantly droning metal sounds to drown out another layer of droning metal sounds. Although Radiohead's "Bodysnatchers" track from In Rainbows is also pretty good, too.

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