Crops may fail, ponds dry up, locusts arrive – but weeds endure. As much a certainty to the farmer and gardener as death and taxes, weeds remain a link between today’s sophisticated agricultural operation – complete with herbicides and advanced technology – and the traditional farm practices of a century ago.
Two articles in this issue, uh, dig into the topic. Bill Vossler reports on Steve Ringen’s restored check-row planter, an implement that enabled cross-cultivation; Clell G. Ballard takes a close look at a Little Farmer hand-push cultivator designed for use in the farmer’s garden.
While gardeners and plant lovers are quick to note that a weed is merely “a plant in the wrong place,” from this corner that seems a position overly sympathetic to something that is both an aggressive opportunist and an unwelcome arrival.
As I pull purslane from my vegetable garden, carefully placing every remnant of foliage and root (no matter how microscopic) in a bucket destined for disposal in a nearby hazmat depository where the purslane will probably thrive, I consider the fact that I never encounter, say, a cherry seedling pushing up out of the soil, or an unexpected heirloom pepper plant emerging to join its hybrid cousins.
Au contraire, Pierre. Most of what springs up unbidden is nothing more than a nuisance and nothing less than a direct threat to that which we have planted and protected from wind, downpour, cutworms and rabbits.
In that context, I like to imagine the thrill that must have washed over the farmer a century ago when he caught wind of a newfangled invention: the check-row planter – an implement that offered the promise of both beautifully straight rows and comparatively simple cross-cultivation.
Despite our appreciation for antique farm equipment, the sheer toil exacted in the process of farming more than a century ago is beyond our comprehension. Man and beast faced relentless toil in clearing fields, planting, cultivating, harvesting, processing and storing. Mankind has always found the time and energy to engage in mischief but it is no surprise that there is a good deal more of it today, when such labor is a dim memory for most.
And weeds? Despite our best efforts and most advanced processes, they continue to burst forth with vigor. The technology has changed dramatically, but the bane of the farmer’s existence is the same today as it’s ever been. The more things change, the more they don’t! FC
Leslie C. McManus