Learning from Weeds

I know that it’s said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but I would like to add another item to that list: weeds.

Even if you live in a concrete jungle, weeds are going to find a crack somewhere. They’re in your lawn, in the flower bed, creeping along the pathways, and especially…in your garden. Turn your eye away for a moment or two, and there they are. Add a little rain and a little sun, and they’re out with a vengeance.

The weed seeds “float through the air with the greatest of ease,” come in on the compost, and creep their way in from the edges. They tangle and smother and outproduce the plants I’d like to see growing. And they are quite proud to reach heights taller than myself, spewing about their seeds for even more weeding fun for next year.

I must admit that weeding is one of my least favorite farm activities, possibly because it never seems to be done until you finally just give up or snow flies. Over the years, we’ve utilized old hay or plastic mulch to help smother out the invaders, but some crops still need the exposed soil, like picky carrots or ambitious radishes.

Today’s weeding project involved delicately teasing weeds out from beds of young carrots. We’d weeded the bed before planting, but sure shootin’ you couldn’t tell now! Lamb’s quarter, pig weed, little grasses, clovers, and purslane were crowding out the tiny little carrot fronds. It was a brain surgery version of weeding!

A host of tiny, rust-colored skipper butterflies flitted about, landing on me, the weeds, the bucket, the ground, curious and completely silent. We wore our bug nets over our sun hats, as mosquitoes nipped at our ankles, elbows, and buzzed about our faces. Where’s a dragonfly when you need one!

And as I knelt in the soil, pulling away and hauling bins of the refuse off to the eagerly munching pigs, I thought that weeds really do have some important life lessons for us…even if they are incredibly annoying and time-consuming.

1. Weeds remind us of purpose. If the garden plants grew as well and as fast as the weeds did, there would be no need for a gardener. But then, where would the pleasures of planting and harvesting be?
2. Weeds remind us to be attentive. Put it off, and the mess just gets worse and harder to make right.
3. Weeds remind us to be thorough. Many of our interns over the years thought that weeding was just about getting the green part off. Oh no! If you don’t get the roots, they’ll be back three times worse.
4. Weeds remind us to be discerning. A baby spinach can look remarkably like grass. Pay attention while weeding and know your species at all ages and stages or you’ll weed out your crop too.
5. Weeds remind us of goals. Even if you don’t like weeding (like me), you won’t get that tasty strawberry or beautiful broccoli without going through this process.
6. Weeds remind us to take it slow. If you hurry through weeding, you’ll surely be back sooner than you’d like. Use this time to think on things and enjoy the day as much as possible.
7. Weeds remind us that everything has its place. Some things are a weed in one spot and an enjoyable flower in another! It’s about orchestrating who goes where for the best balance.
8. Weeds remind us of the satisfaction of accomplishment. Even though my back and knees and hands and shoulders may be sore and aching at the end of a stint of weeding, I can look back and see the cleared space and almost hear the garden plants sighing in relief.
9. Weeding reminds us of the satisfaction of labor. If I’m frustrated about something, weeding can be a therapeutic way of getting out that negative energy. Can’t you hear the weeds scream when you pull them?
10. Weeding reminds us to get out in nature. If I hadn’t been weeding, would those cute, tiny butterflies have landed on my knee and investigated my finger? Would I have seen the double rainbow after the storm shower came through?
11. Weeding reminds us that rewards don’t come easy. As much as we’d like to think we deserve a great garden, we still have to work for it. But, in the end, the harvest is that much more satisfactory for having been won.
12. Weeding reminds us that gardening is not for wimps. Labor of love is an understatement! Going to the grocery store is a cakewalk compared with gardening. But I must say there’s nothing quite like eating something you grew yourself.

And so, with the sun setting in tones of gold, I hauled out the last bin of weeds from the high tunnel and tried to stretch out my back. A new wave of rain clouds were rolling in, promising fresh moisture for the hopeful little carrots. The bed isn’t finished, so there will be a weeding rematch soon. See you down on the farm sometime.