Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Bermuda Grass Lawn

Our home before we moved in.

The soil located on the property has been used for years as a lawn. Now, I am not a fan of lawns. In fact, I have a strong opinion against lawns because they usually require chemical treatment and water piped in from outside of the area. I loathe golf courses. I think it is obscene and a crime to lavish water on lawns and to build golf courses in the desert.

The majority of the property’s lawn is occupied by Bermuda grass. Some people, like me, prefer the name “Devil Grass”. The Bermuda grass was surviving without any extra care except grooming during the monsoon season. I couldn’t find fault in it in that way. It is a plant after all and I admire survivalists. For half of the year it looks dead but once the rain hits in July it jumps back to life. If you were to offer it some chemicals and water it would be green year round.

At first I assumed that the Bermuda grass was put in place by a previous homeowner for the sake of convenience or in an attempt to recreate a lush lawn like those that are popular in other parts of the country. Then it came to my attention that Bermuda grass is used in ballparks in warm climates. The historical Warren Ballpark sits across the street from our home so maybe the seeds migrated and took over the space with no encouragement from the occupants.

The Warren Ballpark is the site where the historically unjust Bisbee deportation took place. As I gaze to the south, I sometimes reflect on the fact that in 1917 a crime was committed against the population of Bisbee right there on the site that is in front of me. Let me share with you an excerpt from an overview of the historical event provided by University of Arizona:
On June 24, 1917, the I.W.W. presented the Bisbee mining companies with a list of demands. These demands included improvements to safety and working conditions, such as requiring two men on each machine and an end to blasting in the mines during shifts. Demands were also made to end discrimination against members of labor organizations and the unequal treatment of foreign and minority workers. Furthermore, the unions wanted a flat wage system to replace sliding scales tied to the market price of copper.

Snip - July 12, 1917

The vigilantes rounded up over 1,000 men, many of whom were not strikers -- or even miners -- and marched them two miles to the Warren Ballpark. There they were surrounded by armed Loyalty Leaguers and urged to quit the strike. Anyone willing to put on a white armband was released. At 11:00 a. m. a train arrived, and 1,186 men were loaded aboard boxcars inches deep in manure. Also boarding were 186 armed guards; a machine gun was mounted on the top of the train. The train traveled from Bisbee to Columbus, New Mexico, where it was turned back because there were no accommodations for so many men. On its return trip the train stopped at Hermanas, New Mexico, where the men were abandoned. A later train brought water and food rations, but the men were left without shelter until July 14th when U. S. troops arrived. The troops escorted the men to facilities in Columbus. Many were detained for several months. (Sheila Bonnand, 1997)

Train Leaving for New Mexico. Deportation of I.W.W.s    July 12, 1917

To this day, there remains a hard feeling within the Bisbee community over the event. To illustrate this fact, several years ago a member of the community proposed a memorial for the deportation event. The proposal went through a long and contested battle before gaining approval. While the placement for the memorial was intended to be by the ballpark, eventually it found a home in the cemetery next to James Brew. James Brew had shot a Loyalty Leaguer (vigilante), after giving a warning that he would shoot anyone who tried to take him. In return, James Brew was shot on the spot. The fight for justice carries on. Solidarity forever. Occupy Everywhere! In my case it is my little piece of dirt.

How do you deal with the problem of removing Bermuda grass? I have had previous battles with Bermuda grass on a smaller scale before, so I knew that it was unlikely that I would ever be able to completely eradicate it. Some people use Monsanto’s Roundup as a solution. In fact, I had a confrontation a few months after I moved into the home. A well-meaning neighbor was spraying Roundup on the grass that was thriving in the cracks in the road in front of her house and she decided to continue on to the front of my home. I was dismayed because I had observed her frequently tending her yard and I thought we might share the love of plants. Although, I was looking forward to having a neighbor to share gardening experiences with, I had to introduce myself to her by requesting that she discontinue spraying the grass in front of our home. She was very apologetic and expressed that she thought I would like to have the grass eradicated. I very carefully explained that I appreciated her intentions but that I aim to be an organic gardener and I was concerned about the health of our wildlife and watersheds. She quickly said that the label stated that product was safe for the watersheds. I looked at her, took a breath, and pointed out that the company that makes that claim is Monsanto. Based on what I know about Monsanto, the company cannot be trusted. Next, I suggested that she should research the company’s practices online. I didn’t want to go on a long rant because I had hoped to build a relationship. She admitted that her husband hates her using Roundup and that he shared my views about the chemical. Whew. She understood where I was coming from but I wonder why she is still using the damn product. Thankfully, we maintain a friendly relationship even though it had a slightly rough beginning.

I decided that I would take a multistep approach. First, I waited until July for the rains to soften the dirt to make the digging process easier (I’m 50 yrs. and feeling it lately). Round 1 - dig down the depth of my shovel and turn the soil over. Rake and pick out the grass and roots as much as possible. Let the hot summer sun roast the disturbed earth and burn the grass debris that I missed. Round 2 – allow enough time for the survivors to begin to recover and then repeat digging process in just those spots. Round 3 – begin adding topsoil because I have hit the layer of clay soil at this point. Continue to be diligent in removing any survivors. I’m hopeful that the amount of surviving grass will be less in time.

Several folks had noticed me digging the grass up and made the suggestion that I throw down an old carpet over it instead. I gave the response that I’m concerned about the fact that most carpet materials are made from synthetic fibers (polyamides (nylons) and polypropylene) and that it would most likely be toxic for the soil and plants that I want to use in place of the grass. Many people pass by and voice admiration for my efforts but I get the feeling that the quiet ones think I’m crazy.

In late July, the operations manager from the city’s Public Works department took an interest in my activity. He was leading a team to improve the ground levels to promote the flow of the torrential rains to the drains to prevent flooding. I explained to him that the grass had built up in the years (2 inches) and that the water wasn’t being allowed to sink in the soil but flowed instead on the sidewalk. Then he noticed that I had placed some rocks in front of a drainage outlet to appear like a riverbed. I explained that I was attempting to subdue the grasses that promoted soil and debris blockage to the opening and to encourage the monsoon water to flow into the canal as intended. He was impressed with the functionality and decorative effect.

He then pointed out that I was digging on city property and he asked me about my plans. I explained that I wanted to lower the level of the soil to below the sidewalk so that the water would puddle and sink in instead of it flowing down the sidewalk. He liked that idea. Then I went on to say that I wanted to plant local flora, aka cactus and wild flowers in the plots closest to the street and a mixture of plants that are drought tolerant in the plots toward our fence. He didn’t feel that the city would approve of the cactus. It would be a liability for the city if someone were injured from brushing up against a cactus. I wondered if he had noticed the century plants, barrel cactus, yucca, ocotillo etc. decoratively placed around town. Since I had pointed to the closest hill to illustrate the landscaping idea, he also sternly warned me not to take anything from the mining company’s land.

Anyway, I was already aware that the land between the sidewalk and the road was city property. After a short period of discussing what is the city’s property and what was ours, I pointed out that everyone on the street had customized the land in front of their homes. We had a thoughtful discussion about that historical fact and how he was concerned about telling some homeowners that they will have to remove their trees because the tree roots will eventually destroy the sidewalk. I became worried over the fate of the desert willow that we had recently planted but he gave his approval for that type of tree.


Well, I had to laugh at this sudden concern about the sidewalk. The sidewalk was in poor condition in front of our home and it was evident that it had been that way for half a century. He looked down toward the sidewalk and noticed for the first time the level of decay and the outright hazardous shape the sidewalk was in. The Bermuda grass had grown over it to such an extent that it had hidden the deterioration. My attempt to cut the grass away from the cracks made the problem quite visible. Without thinking, I told him that we were planning on hiring someone to restore the sidewalk (I also wanted to dig up the grass thriving under it). We figured that the city had limited resources and we wanted to contribute to the cause. He objected to that idea and said we would have to get permission from this and/or that city department. He then began to get animated and called a member of his crew over for consultation. The operations manager’s work force is comprised of the incarcerated. The orange suited crewmember consulted was obviously valued for his knowledge and in the course of the conversation let out the fact that his boss had him for 25 more years. I don’t know all of the details but I have the opinion that the taxpaying and jobless citizens in this country are not benefiting from this arrangement. The operation’s manager stated that he wanted to put the sidewalk repair on his schedule and also added the removal of the Bermuda grass for the reason of improving the drainage.

Later, we were told that the sidewalk would be repaired by the end of the year (2011). Also, we were advised to stop the landscaping project until then because his crew needed space to work in. Our thoughts were that it would be a long time for that project to fit into the city budget. We thought that we would probably just do the repair eventually and suffer the consequences for doing something that needed to be done and that would save the city money later. I decided to continue working on the project at my own slow pace, keeping in mind that the sidewalk repair project would require some room to maneuver.

Within two weeks the crew brought in a backhoe. The grass, three to four inches of its root system and soil were removed. The first battle with the evil grass is completed. For all the issues I have with the city’s logic, in this case, I am very grateful for their assistance with the dirt I occupy.


  1. Great Beginning! I'm impressed...this is going to be an interesting project.

  2. Excellent work, Taylor! I'm so proud of the fabulous job you did here and the fact that you are sharing an extremely beneficial project. Looking forward to more articles.