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Weed Seeds

Wild birds perch on bare lambsquarter limbs, picking off the tiny black seeds. Lambsquarters, the weed, is closely related to quinoa, the grain, one of the latest health crazes. Quinoa is mostly grown at high altitudes in the Andes mountains, and won't pollenate in typical summer heat, though in the Boonville breeze it seemed to prosper one summer as an experiment at the old Boont Berry Farm, impressing me with both frost tolerance and the tenacity to grow without irrigation.

Normally I would be loathe to allow lambsquarters or any weeds to go to seed, but the last season I was without a tractor from July through the end of October, watching in horror and embarrassment as the enemies of agriculture reared their defiant heads. Hopefully I will never let that happen again, though after a week of solid snow-cover and temperatures dipping below zero at night, thousands of starving songbirds are probably gratefully devouring those capsules of DNA, as the preferred grass seeds are all buried under a foot of cold white stuff.

Staring out the window, I decided to dump a bucket of ground up, GMO corn and soybeans meant for hog feed under a tree in the front yard, and watch the various species of birds duke it out like miniature, winged gangsters fighting over a street corner.

"Your pig still alive?" asked my buddy over the phone.

"Yeah -- she's made a nest in the straw on the east side of the old chicken coop."

"Anything exciting going on at the farm?"


"Can't say much is going on at my place, either -- actually I'm in Seymour, have to do a piss test for my new job."

"Oh yeah? You got one of those kits?"

"No. I haven't smoked any weed for 41 days. Should be okay."

"41 days in the middle of winter?"

"Yeah -- I been drinking a lot of water. And beer."

"I bet. That sounds harsh."

The lingering snow outside motivates me to do nothing except check out seed catalogues, making the orders for the new season. My favorite companies are Johnny's Seeds out of Maine, and High Mowing Organic out of Vermont, though the strong demand for untreated, seedless watermelon seeds (I know that sounds like a contradiction) drove me to contact Harris seeds, more of the classic roadside stand company from way back, specializing in crops like sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelons, and pumpkins. All three companies offer my new favorite cucumber variety, the Silver Slicer, an organic, open-pollenated strain developed by Dr. Michael Mazourek at Cornell University. I planted a bunch of those last year, and their crisp texture and general flavor blew everyone away -- the best for fresh eating as well as great for pickling. Am still enjoying the white-to-yellow cukes out of quart mason jars, my first ever home canning done without a girlfriend or some other person in charge.

Gradually I am coming to terms with the reality that an eccentric organic farmer past 40 years old in the year 2015 is probably never going to meet his "match." Especially now that I host "Hoefest" at our farm, which immediately leads everyone to believe that I am some kind of womanizing pimp, it's hard to imagine what kind of remarkable person would overlook an exaggerated, mostly fictitious past like I got on my romantic resume, settle down and live the simple life happily forever after, together. Throw in the fact I live with my 17 year-old redneck son and his friends, and my other two boys are hunting and gathering with a bunch of mid-to-upper class white people supposedly gone primitive on the big island of Hawaii, and you got such a mixed bag of emotional turmoil it's not worth unraveling. The dating game in rural America scares me, literally, like a horror movie. Most all the single women age my age and younger are hopelessly strung out on a combination of pills, heroin, crank, and crack. They give me nightmares. I've seen outrages too lewd for print enacted in public. I don't want to go out anymore, and if I stop by the bar in town I only stay for as many drinks as necessary to bullshit with everyone. Reluctantly I have to avoid the women entirely, except for the old ladies who probably did coke in the 70's but never got into methamphetamine, so they're still sane enough to carry on a lucid conversation over cheap beer.

Instead of hitting on babes, I end up in conversations with the few farmers who have time to sit in a bar for a minute. I don't just mean "time" in the sense that these "farmers" are busting their asses, milking the cows. "Farmers," these days, are more like CEO's. They dictate orders from an office. Most of those guys are way too important to sit at the bar and just bullshit with the average Joe. One of the younger farmers, though, is known as "Squiggy." I would say he's about 55 years old, which puts him well below the medium age of today's farm manager or whatever you call the man at the top. Squiggy never got married, farms with his mom and dad. At church as a kid I used to think he looked like Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy.

Squiggy is the local weed expert -- I mean weeds like Palmer Amaranth and Mare's Tail, not the Mendo variety. "Palmer Amaranth is going to take over," he says. His theory is that some of the bigger farmers brought the superweed seeds up from Alabama, on hay equipment. "It comes back from the roots. Even if you pull them -- which means you have to wear gloves on account of the spiny stems, you can't just throw them on the ground. They'll re-root and go to seed. They're resistant to almost every herbicide."

He says we're seeing them on the roadsides, first, after the seeds blew off hay equipment. "We're gonna have to go back to pasturing. Something's gonna have to change. Monsanto's not going to save us."

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