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Art projects involving Bermuda grass (aka "zombie grass)  RSS feed

Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Hi Sharon:

Thanks to the video on your ivy vine project in Canada, I have new hope regarding my arch nemesis - Bermuda Grass!

I live in the desert Southwest and one of our most problematic plants is Bermuda grass - it will aggressively take over any area that gets water so planting anything else around it is not an option. Usually we spend a year or so getting rid of the majority of it but it will always come back here and there. My question is, have you ever done anything with Bermuda grass? It can grow to be quite leggy when neglected and could possibly be woven into rope or bundled and bound, or...? I have a feeling that whatever application it is used for, it must not come into contact with soil because it has the ability to spread, it seems, even if it's deadish looking - which is why I call it "zombie grass". That and the fact that it is eating my brain trying to figure out ways of repurposing it.

I'm thinking one could use Bermuda grass rope to weave shade panels - we also need shade here in Phoenix.

When the grass is not long, people usually dig out the top part so it comes up in sod-like divets. I'm wondering if these could be used to build a sod chicken coop or other small structure to protect chickens from the heat. And chickens do like Bermuda grass.
Sharon Kallis
Posts: 58
Location: Vancouver British Columbia
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HI Jennifer,
I have never encountered Bermuda grass that I am aware of- it looks a bit familiar from the google images I saw- but is not one of the ones I deal with in my own invasive battles. I love your idea of trying it for a turfed green roof for chicken coop! As long as the chickens do like to eat it- certainly don't want to encourage it to go to seed and keep spreading! What struck me from the bit online I read, was that the seed head can be a purple tone- to me that makes it visually interesting for weaving projects... whenever you take something with subtle shade/colour shifts and regiment it in the process of weaving it can be astoundingly beautiful! So here are the few tests I first do with any material I want to play with to gauge its workable properties:
1- take a stock and snap it a few times- pull on it. Does it have a node it breaks at or does it take the tension?
2- wrap a blade or two around your finger a few times- does it fray and break or stay whole and just bend?
If it doesn't fray or snap into sections, then you have a fairly strong plant for working with. I would recommend starting with the coiling technique- one of my favourites for weaving. Be careful to not harvest it for basketry close to when the seed heads open- you don't want your basket being a seeding source- and if your material explorations don't give you hopeful results for working with it, try at other times of year- as seasonality is huge for harvesting and finding the right season makes all the difference- what might work great one week, suddenly doesn't, or what didn't work last month- suddenly does. How much sun, rain, what time of year- all that plays a role in how a plant responds. Also- it sounds like the roots can be quiet long, so if you feel inspired to work on the business end of the shovel, get digging and see how long you can manage to harvest the roots. Give them a quick wash, let them dry, then rehydrate in water -soak a short amount of time first, maybe 10 minutes to start, and then wrap in a damp towel, they might be fabulous for weaving with! Try them with a twining basketry technique. The reason you dry them first, is most fresh greens will shrink a fair amount as water leaves the plant. You can work fresh materials as tight as possible in your weaving, but then as they dry shrink they loose and sloppy- which is disappointing. Re-hydrating makes the plant flexible again for working, but doesn't plump it up to it's former size. The grasses look not so fleshy that massive shrinking would likely be problem, but you can try drying them and rehydrating too- and yes, I would try ropemaking with both roots and grasses....good luck!
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