Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

Chemical-Free Weed Control Circa 1930

by Leslie McManus

Tags: gardening,

If you’ve ever spent a hot summer morning weeding a garden, your mind has no doubt wandered to the fact that for all the technological progress of the past 100 years, the only truly effective (chemical-free) way to tackle weeds in the garden is through hand-to-hand combat.

With that in mind I had considerable admiration for the inventor of the cable weeder Jim Lacey writes about in the April issue of Farm Collector. Designed for use on fallow ground, the implement unfortunately has no application to either a vegetable garden or a flowerbed, other than its goal (with apologies to the pest killers) to kill weeds dead. (Read the article: “Chemical-Free Weed Control: Cable Weeder Did the Job in the 1930s.”)

When I read the patent description of the cable weeder (“which will not break off the roots of the weeds, but will pull them out in their entirety”) I was doubly impressed. Imagine a design so brutally effective that it not only gently coaxes weeds out by the root but then leaves them on the surface to die a torturous death in the blazing sun. It’s almost as good as a head on a pike! (Perhaps by now you are getting a good visual of my garden by, say, mid-July, when the charm of gardening is overtaken by the less amusing need for upkeep.) But I digress.

The cable weeder’s elegant function reminds us of the incredibly vulnerable essence of agriculture: It all starts with a tender sprout. It is almost impossible to reconcile the sheer tonnage of tractors and implements that has muscled its way across farm fields in the past century with the tiny seedlings of each year’s new crop. And yet, even the earliest designs were effective and productive in terms of their impact on the crop. The history of old iron is marked by equipment that was a mechanical failure or dangerous to operate, but the vast majority of equipment that did work performed capably.

It has been a long winter. Depending on where you live, planting is still a ways off. But the first day of spring is in sight and eyes everywhere are eagerly looking for the first tinge of green, the first shoots and buds. At my place, that early explosion of growth will likely result in yet another bumper crop of dandelions. So be it. Such small beginnings are emblematic of the miracle of life on the farm. Hand-to-hand combat can wait for another day.