A Love Letter to Weeds
Today was a great day for witnessing a lot of hard work come to fruition – or vegetation, in this case. We harvested carrots today, which also happens to be the first vegetable on the farm I weeded. When I was shown to the rows to weed, I wasn’t even sure where the carrots were. The majority of the weeds had not only grown in high numbers but had, in fact, outgrown the poor little carrots. The carrots were in big trouble; they grow considerably slower than the weeds surrounding it and because of these competitive go-getters, the carrots could soon be crowded out, cast into the weed’s shadows, and deprived of necessary nutrients. If we were to have let the weeds go and not intervened, today’s harvest wouldn’t have been as lovely and pretty as it was. Luckily for those carrots we were able to pick around there fragile stems and leaves, alleviating them of their very greedy, smothering neighbors thus ensuring their success in fulfilling their destiny – into your CSA bags and down to Manhattan. What glory!
There are a few different approaches when dealing with weeds that I have noticed on the farm, and they fall into two categories. The first is the mechanized – or let’s say the more ingenious – tractor-oriented de-weeding, and the second is the old fashioned, bare hand method, sometimes with the assistance of a metal tool.
Sometimes the hands are gloved in order to avoid blistering. We are humans with opposable thumbs, after all. This method is, of course, time consuming and a bit strenuous for those who must endure its rigors. This time can be passed pleasantly, talking with coworkers or getting very lost in one’s own thoughts. There is a certain rhythm to weeding, or maybe it’s more like a groove. Either way my groove or rhythm has been slower then my coworkers’ but I believe all the practice I’ve been getting is dramatically improving my pace.
The first method approaches the weed from a more preventative standpoint. There are a number of different pieces of equipment Bob can drag behind the tractor and essentially till in the weeds between the rows, which eliminates an enormous amount of work for us humans. This is often used when mulch is absent.
When it is possible and needed, I think mulching is the most effective for the farm. A black biodegradable plastic is used to wrap over each row of crops before transplanting. We can also spread some hay around the veggies, smothering potential weed seed banks beneath and allowing moisture to remain longer to help prevent evaporation. More water for the plants you want and less sun for those you don’t. The only issue with the plastic is the necessary hole that must be punched to make room for the transplant and weeds, being the opportunists that they are, make great use of this edge and begin to grow wildly. In this case, we the humans must work our way down the rows and pull them all out.
I have developed a level of respect for the weed. In fact, I am in awe of them. They are an amazing reminder of nature’s drive and ability to propagate. It’s easy to get existential or metaphysical thinking about the weed but I won’t try. Remember they do allow the mind to run when pulling them out. I think I remember either reading this or listening to this somewhere (sorry there will be no proper citation for this statement which may or may not be accurate or even based in reality. I could have dreamt it…) that industrial farmers are beginning to see weeds develop resistance to herbicides meant to kill them and leave their genetically modified friends alone. These farmers have had it easy, so to speak, with the weed but the weed, within however many decades, has been able to adapt to it’s artificially harsh environment. The weeds have outsmarted the scientists who designed this toxic chemical. An amazing feat in my estimation. Unfortunately, I’m sure a new more toxic chemical will be on its way soon. This is turning into a love letter to weeds so I better cut myself off before I get carried away. Enjoy those carrots!