Epitaph for a Peach

Epitaph for a Peach by David M. Masumoto Read Free Book Online

Book: Epitaph for a Peach by David M. Masumoto Read Free Book Online
Authors: David M. Masumoto
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    Abunai Kusa: Dangerous Grass
    Most of my peaches and grapes are grown without herbicides. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about weeds and can identify most of them by name. I have developed a friendship with some, while others continue to fool me.
    Most I no longer consider weeds. I call them “indigenous growth” (it sounds more scientific than “natural grasses”) and try to ignore them. The majority disappear quickly, dying in the summer heat. Others only require a quick pass with a blade, their shallow roots easily submitting to my tractor and weed cutter.
    But there are a few that remain weeds. One is johnsongrass. When I see that weed, I can’t help but think of my baachan, my grandmother. She called johnsongrass by a special name, abunai kusa. Abunai means dangerous and kusa means grass: dangerous grass.
    She called it dangerous not because it was poison to humans but rather because it was poison to a farm. Johnsongrass is a voracious grower and spreads rapidly and deeply. Uncontrolled, it grows and monopolizes sunlight, suffocating vines and choking roots. It is almost impossible to kill johnsongrass. The only means of control is to chop off the stalks and stems and dig up as much of the roots as you can. Even then, when the new sprouts emerge, you have to repeat the process.
    â€œYou can’t ignore them,” Baachan said. “They dangerous. Abunai. ”
    And to a struggling farmer they are dangerous. The land means everything, and johnsongrass is a poison, a special poison to the land.
    New herbicides can now kill johnsongrass easily. When my grandparents farmed, they had a different relationship not only with the land but also with their weeds. Some weeds were indeed abunai, and I realize they can remain dangerous for my peaches, my farm, my family—my dreams.
    Cooking Bermuda
    I found a way to kill Bermuda weeds without an herbicide or destroying my back. All it requires are a tractor, fuel, and time. Farmers may have tractors and fuel, but time is becoming increasingly rare.
    I discovered this system quite by accident. In one block of vines where I did not use herbicides, I had to experiment with alternatives in order to control a small patch of Bermuda. Dad told me to watch Bermuda like a hawk. He warned, “Once it’s established you have to work doubly hard to destroy it.” For my father and his generation, that sort of intensive labor was work; my generation considers it purgatory. The thought of doubling my efforts lodged in my mind and translated into hours of shoveling and a sore back.
    I recall seeing Baachan as she stooped over a shovel, working her hands, pulling stubborn roots, slicing and stabbing the weeds, leaving a series of small piles of drying turf behind her. For hours she’d work, then stand and trudge home for lunch, leaning forward as if walking against the wind, her back bent and shoulders hunched.
    My God, I thought, that’s why all those old folks from farm villages walked that way. It wasn’t just age, it was from hours stooped over a shovel. It was from Bermuda. I was determined to find a different way to attack my weeds.
    I found a compromise position between the generations. I kill Bermuda by disking it again and again and again and alternate that with days where the 100-degree heat does the work for me, cooking the nasty weed.
    Bermuda poisons a farm. I read that it was allelopathic, like chickweed, literally carrying a noxious poison as it spreads, killing competitors in its path. Bermuda grows as a thick mat, and once it is rooted you can barely cut it with a shovel. Even then, you will probably miss a portion that will lie dormant underground until life-giving water comes along and presto, the green will return with new sprouts and shoots.
    Herbicides work well against Bermuda. Some burn like a liquid fire, searing the weed’s green leaves and stems. Others kill in a systemic fashion. Sprayed on green growth,

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