Thatch, water reed, or fragmites is a plant with a tough, woody stem and a distinctive feathery tuft at the top. It is recognized as an invasive in the Chesapeake Bay, growing in shallow wateror wetlands and choking out other plants. It grows thickly and does not provide much useful habitat compared with native species. Some people value it for flood management.
Fragmites can be harvested in the fall after it browns off for the winter. In Ireland, where fragmites is grown and harvested for thatch, there are small machines which cut the reed, bundle and tie it. Thatched roofs are made with bundles of tied reed about one foot in diameter, which are pinned, fastened down with steel dowels, and then the ties are cut and the thatch shaped with an instrument called a leggett. In this country, thatch is harvested by hand.
It takes a lot of thatch to do a roof, and harvesting is labor-intensive. Because we pay our workers fairly, it is cheaper to import thatch from Turkey than it is to cut and bundle locally. At Greenbuilders, we are committed to local products wherever possible, and to buying US made. So, on a recent weekend, we headed out to the Maryland Agricultural Center to harvest fragmites. “Come on out!” they said enthusiastically. “Take all you want.”