Last month’s column was about my first paid job as a “weeder” of strawberries at the ripe old age of 14. This month, I decided to go further “into the weeds” on the topic.
According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a weed is defined as, “A plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth, especially one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.”
I also noted that there were other definitions for the word “weed” that I will not dwell upon in this column.
Every farm should be known for something: great produce, outstanding yields, soil erosion prevention, wildlife habitat, great customer service, etc. Our family farm, the Gar-Den-Roh Farm, featured a high quality, robust weed population. For some reason, my parents did not want to be known for this and were determined to remove those obnoxious weeds despite how healthy and plentiful they were.
If all the weeds were somehow successfully removed, Gar-Den-Roh Farm would have to come up with something else to be known by. That sounded like work. Therefore, I spent time resisting the urge to weed.
My initial training in the art of weeding involved the use of a hoe. My loving mother doled out the training in a practical, hands-on method in the middle of her massive garden. My normally patient mother would grow quite agitated when her son indiscriminately operated the hoe too near her healthy vegetable plants. I frequently had to explain to my mother how the garden must be infected by those pesky cut worms.
At some point, I graduated from Mom’s “weeding the garden school”. I then entered advanced training with the Farmer, Dad, in his soybean fields. The Farmer’s training was direct. While pointing at various plants, he would say:
“That, that, that, that, and that is a weed. Cut out the weeds.”
“This is a soybean. Don’t cut out the soybeans.”
“In summary…Cut out the weeds. Don’t cut out the soybeans.”
My normally patient Father grew more agitated when his son indiscriminately cut out the soybeans instead of the intended weed. I tried the cut worm story, but the Farmer apparently knew that cut worms only fed on the young corn plants.
Eventually, my training advanced to the point where I graduated from the garden hoe (which could chop my toes off) to the bean hook (which could yank and slice my toes off). Upgrade!
In the heat and the sun of July, I would enter the soybean field with my bean hook and follow the long rows of soybeans, removing various weeds that included velvet leaf, giant fox tail, giant ragweed, lambs quarter, morning glory, milkweed, pigweed, hemp dogbane, cocklebur, jimsonweed, smartweed, and volunteer corn. There were probably more types of weeds pointed at by the Farmer, but I lost track and concentration during the weed lecture after the first dozen weed types or so were pointed at.
As I walked back-and-forth through the soybean field (half-mile rows with the worst), weeding six rows at a time, I frequently pondered a future in which weeds were no longer the bad guy and that weeds could live in harmony with the good guy crops.
Perhaps that future is close… milkweed is now cultivated for Monarch butterfly habitat and butterfly food. Hemp production was legalized in Illinois last year. Morning glory flowers and vines can be found in many urban gardens. And who knows what weed may be adapted for the future of energy production?
Nowadays, my weeding responsibilities are limited to my 16’ x 24’ garden and an ever-growing and expanding group of flower gardens. Each time I head out to the garden, I feel this nostalgic tug-of-war from the training of my youth: should I bring a hoe or a bean hook to take care of those rascally garden weeds? Ha! Maybe I’ll use the garden weasel!
The happy conclusion to the story is that Gar-Den-Roh Farm was never renamed “Weed Patch Farm” despite the lack of enthusiasm and skill put forth by eldest son, Bob, and somehow the Farmer and his wife were able to successfully farm and garden, as well as feed and clothe a family of seven for decades.
P.S. Dad pointed at the morning glory as a weed. I will never plant morning glory in my flower gardens because I spent way too many years trying to remove them from the soybean fields and gardens.
P.P.S. I have concluded that the standard bean hook pictured above is just the right length and design for a social distancing tool to ensure that people do not encroach upon your space.