“Mowing the lawn, I felt like I was battling the earth rather than working it; each week
it sent forth a green army and each week I beat it back with my infernal machine….
I ruled a totalitarian landscape.”
– Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
A week ago on Friday, being a diligent homeowner and wishing to stay in the good graces of the Poo Bahs who run my neighborhood’s Home Owner’s Association, I mowed my lawn. Since I typically perform this task on a weekly cycle during the summer months, I fully intended on mowing my yard again on this past Friday.
Fueled by large bands of moisture pouring northward out of the Gulf, rain began to fall here last Wednesday. As of Sunday afternoon, the rains were still falling. Given our recent history of summer droughts, this is certainly not a bad thing. But when combined with the fact that I heavily fertilized my yard in the early spring – I find myself faced with an ever thickening growth of luxuriant, emerald green Bermuda grass which is going to be a real bear to mow, if and when the rains ever decide to subside.
These events caused me to reflect on the summer, many years ago and in another town, when my wife had the County Agent come out and take soil samples from our lawn. Based on his thorough analysis, he provided us a recipe for a customized mix of fertilizers, lime, ammonium nitrate, and other additives which would turn our patchwork quilt of seasonal vegetation into a lawn worthy of the cover of Southern Living magazine.
The week before we were to leave on vacation, all of the ingredients arrived. Much to my amazement, the bags filled one side of our two-car garage. I just couldn’t imagine that we needed that much fertilizer, but when questioned, my wife assured me she had ordered the supplies using the information given to her by the County Agent.
Buoyed by her confidence, I got up early on Saturday and began to spread the mixture over our yard. By mid-afternoon, I’d spread so much fertilizer on the lawn that it was beginning to look as if we had experienced a freak mid-summer snow storm. And there were still many more bags remaining in the garage.
I stuck my head into the house and called to my wife, “Dear, am I supposed to spread all of this stuff or is some of it to be used later in the summer?“
”No, spread it all. It’s how much the County Agent said that we needed to put down. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s right! “
Enough said! I completed spreading the mixture on the yard and eagerly shifted my attention to completing preparations for our vacation trip to Disney World with our two sons.
I will never forget the sight that greeted us as we turned into our driveway on returning home from a week at the Magic Kingdom. Our lawn had been transformed from a scruffy, earth-toned patch into a thick, jade green expanse of incredibly healthy grass. The stuff was at least eight inches tall. It was so tall that as soon as I finished unloading the car, I went out and mowed the lawn.
For the next two months, the grass continued to grow at such a rate that I had to mow the lawn twice a week just to keep it under control. I could swear that I could hear it growing as I lay in bed at night.
I was wearing my lawnmower out, not to mention myself, from the exertion of mowing the grass every three days. Neither my wife nor I had ever seen anything like it.
By the time autumn arrived, the speed with which the grass was growing had tapered off to the point where I could return to mowing it once per week.
One evening, I noticed that my wife was sitting on the sofa poring over a folder containing several sheets of paper.
”What are you doing? ” I asked.
“I’m just going over the information the County Agent gave us last summer about our lawn. You know, I may have made a mistake when I ordered the stuff to put on the yard.” she replied.
”What do you mean? “
“Well, when I was computing how much ammonium nitrate to buy, it looks like I moved the decimal point one place too far to the right.“
Being a wise husband, I just smiled as my suspicions were confirmed. The bad news was that I’d spread something like ten times as much fertilizer on our yard as was needed and as long as we didn’t let the Environmental Protection Agency find out; we would probably avoid prosecution. The good news was that I, and all subsequent owners of that home, would never have to fertilize that lawn ever again.