Dear County Agent Guy

The weeding season


It’s time for us to gird our gardening loins and wage war against a relentless army of evildoers. Yes, it’s weeding season once again.

They say that a weed is just a plant that has no apparent purpose. Well, they are full of hooey. This is the type of rationalization that will enable the enemy to gain the upper hand. Start making excuses for dandelions — begin to say that it’s not the crabgrass’s fault; it simply can’t help itself — and the terrorists will have won.

Events conspired to give the weeds a head start in my garden this spring. By the time I got around to tilling our plot, the weeds were running riot, partying like there was no tomorrow. For them, there wasn’t.

Rototilling is a great way to become intimately acquainted with your garden’s soil. In some areas, the dirt was hard as a cow path; in others, it was fluffy as a featherbed. It dawned on me that the cow path areas had been packed last summer by my footfalls. Cows aren’t the only creatures of habit.

Rank after rank of the enemy fell before the tiller’s merciless tines. Take that, you pernicious pennycress! Liquidate those loathsome lamb’s quarters! Quash that quack grass! Terminate those thistles! There’s nothing like massacring a mess of weeds to help a guy work through his anger issues.

Tilling the garden was a huge event when I was a kid. Dad would hook our John Deere B tractor onto our two-bottom plow and pull into the garden. As we kids gathered to watch, Dad would yank the trip rope and the plow would bite into the earth. We would amble along behind the plow, marveling at how cleanly it flipped the soil, playing with the shiny slabs that had rolled off the moldboard.

The leftover furrow was ready-made for planting potatoes. Simply toss in the seed spuds, rake some dirt and presto. You might call that lazy, but I maintain that we were simply being efficient.

Planting potatoes brings to mind a story I once heard. An elderly farmer related that he and his father planted 10 bushels of spuds one spring during the Dirty Thirties. They slaved, sweated and carried water throughout the scorching summer, and in the fall, they harvested … 10 bushels of potatoes.

“But it was our own fault,” lamented the old sodbuster. “We should have planted more.”

Legend has it that Paul Bunyan sowed a mess of potatoes one spring. A drought set in, but Paul labored so furiously in his potato patch that his sweat irrigated the field. He harvested a bumper crop of potatoes that autumn and saved his logging crew from starvation.

I like fresh veggies as much as the next guy, but there is no way I’m going to work that hard.

The other day I was out driving when I spotted something in the road ditch. Investigation revealed it to be a white straw fedora that was only slightly beat up. This was a first for me; I never find anything of value.

I’m not a hat wearer. I won’t don a stocking cap until the wind chill has plummeted to the point where it could cause the ears to instantly crystallize.

The fedora fit perfectly, which I took as a sign. It’s a dapper chapeau, the sort of headgear that Don Draper might wear. Maybe Indiana Jones would sport such a lid if he were a gardener. Indy’s leather satchel would be full of sweet corn seed; instead of a bullwhip, he would carry a coiled garden hose. He would cut a striking figure even though his holster holds a garden trowel instead of a pistol.

Grandpa Nelson always wore a straw fedora in the summertime, a topper that cost perhaps $1.29 at the general store. He chose the kind of hat that featured a green cellophane visor in its brim.

Grandpa often took me to task for going bareheaded in the hot, summer sun. Pointing at his shaded brow, he would declare, “Ten degrees cooler.”

He would then doff his straw hat to display his sweat-free forehead. I was young and thought that I knew everything. I regarded Grandpa’s advice as annoying and ill-informed.

I’m wearing my found fedora while working in the garden and have discovered that covering one’s head indeed keeps the noggin cooler. Plus, the hat looks snazzy. It’s the type of topper Dick Tracy might have worn had he been drawn to horticulture instead of a comic strip constable.

So, for the next several months, I’ll be locked in a pitched battle with those wicked weeds. The good guys always wear white hats.

Jerry Nelson is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry works for Dairy Star as a staff writer and ad salesman. Feel free to email him at [email protected].


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