Upon arriving to the farm in May of 2015 with my friends and fellow interns, bright eyed and eager, we were exposed to the insanity that is twitch grass. The ‘Twich’, as it is known, is the slow degradation of your sanity caused by interactions with twitch grass. It creeps up on you, like its roots and ensnares your mind the way it chokes out your vegetables and herbs. The Twitch cannot be stopped by gloves or respirator or other personal protection for it is a unique and sinister phenomena, transmitted directly into your mind and soul.
For those of you who haven’t heard of twitch grass, you have. It is literally everywhere. Commonly known around the homestead as Twitch grass and is also known to take on other names such as quick grass, quitch grass, dog grass, quackgrass, scutch grass, witchgrass and mother f***ing twitch grass. Hardiness zone 0 (citation needed), I swear this stuff will grow on Mars if left alone up there. You know that sharp leaf you but between your thumbs and blow on to make that obnoxious honking noise when your mother makes you go play outside? That’s twitch grass. It uses children as hosts to prey upon the minds of their parents.
The Twitch encroaches.
Here at the Homestead , we had three large gardens that had been taken over by this stuff. Before anything else, we had to take it all out. Which is much easier said than done. You see, you can’t just pull it out, oh no siree! If you try it will just break at the root, leaving the entire rhizome intact and happy. For those of you who don’t know (because I didn’t at the time) a rhizome is a root that can send up a new shoot whenever it god damn feels like. Alright, I shouldn’t hate on all rhizomes because that’s what ginger is, and ginger is delicious. But I digress. You could rototill all the grass (which, in our ignorance, made perfect sense) but all that does is shred and nicely distribute those roots whose only goal in life is to shoot up new grass stocks. So for that garden, we sifted through every square meter of soil with out hands, pulling out fragments of these white, hairy cables. The soil was sandy so the roots were pulled out easily enough but it took the four of us days to hand-sift that garden. Since it was within a week of our arrival, we were mostly sane if not mildly frustrated.
But, ever patiently the Twitch brews.
We began on the second garden. With our newly lost naïveté, the Bee Garden looked a lot more daunting. Nix the rototiller, we all agreed. This time, we are going to hand bomb it. Spaces in hand, and eyeing the now-chest-high grass, we dropped the tips of our shovels on the soil, prepared to plunge the spade into the ropey network of roots, and with a tiny hop landed on the top of the blade.
The shovel stopped dead. I had hit a rock just below the surface. Reposition the shovel and…
This continued for the entire garden. Our only solace was knowing that if and when we finally got through the layer of baseball-sized rocks, we were privileged with lifting a 30 pound mat of dirt and grass, shaking out the soil and hauling the roots and shoots over to the compost pile. Wax on, wax off. This is when the Twich began to manifest itself. It started fairly inconspicuously by causing bouts of swearing and blisters on the hands. Then, a tired and sore back and body begins to set in. Soon, your entire vocabulary has been reduced to grunting and profanity. An intern lost in the throes of the Twich will erupt spontaneously and frequently into episodes of hysteria as their shovel fails to sink into the ground for the 9th try. Even when we managed to pass through the rocks and thought we had cut a piece out, the ubiquitous rhizomes still had a death grip on Mother Earth. By the end (and there was an end), I am not exaggerating here, we had removed 13 billion rocks from the garden.
But the Twitch wasn’t done with us.
An angiosperm is a plant that produces flowers and reproduces in that fashion. Flowers have pollen. Lots of pollen. Grass in an angiosperm. So, when the quackgrass decided to spread open their lovely purplish flowers in early July, my self and many other were completely incapacitated from allergies for about a week. Although we had rid out gardens of the hell spawn, it still grows everywhere, ejaculating clouds of its angio-sperm into the atmosphere. I flicked a flower for fun and it exploded in a dusty way all over my face (one of many lessons learned that summer). Ever have allergies so bad that the roof of your mouth and your inner ear canals itch? Mother f***ing twitch grass.
The Twitch evolves.
The summer grew hot and lazy and ponds were drying up and our detwiched gardens were starting to share up delicious baby zucchinis. Watching the sun set over Lake Huron is always blissful, and there is always a breeze on the lake front, playing with the tall grass. Seeing the wind ripple though it like seaweed in the tide makes you forget about the sifting, and the shovelling, and the hauling and the sneezing and well, just about everything else. You can feel the shape of the wind as it pulls and tugs on the stocks, you can’t help but smile when you see the grass rustle and part as the dogs wrastle around in it while the turkeys pluck, and pop and hoot to each other. I would take walks through the fields at sundown, just to run my hands through the grass and listen to it speak. Fascinating really that it could both cause so much discomfort and frustration one month and induce peacefulness the next. ‘Grief and appreciation’ a teacher once told me, ‘are two sides of the same coin’. I was to find that most things on the farm that summer shared a similar duality.
OK, time to end this post, I’m starting to get mushy. The moral of the story here is this: Sheet mulch your goddamn gardens because it’s no fun watching your friends Twitch out. ☯