Memorial Day weekend has come and gone again. We're quickly speeding into June and things cannot get done around here fast enough. Sometimes it seems as if we're running a marathon that never ends.
The garden has an overabundance of weeds again this year, but there's one weed on this farm that cannot wait which leads me to my next ramble down Memory Lane: Farming Edition.
Last Thursday afternoon, I was on my way up to Mom's to fetch the 574. Carl and I had some dreams about fixing up the lane bed and an unruly old gnarly juniper needed to go. The best way to achieve these dreams of ours is with a tractor and a bunch of chains; that way there's no stumps to deal with.
As I walked down the lane toward Mom's, I noticed yellow flowers growing in the hayfield on our west fence line.
Yellow Rocket. My arch enemy.
If these plants go to seed, in time the entire field will be infested with the weed. Oh, no, this will never do.
My father had an obsession with all the weeds on this farm but anything that blossomed yellow was especially hated. Back in the day we didn't spray our fields for weed control; most weeds were controlled by tilling or in the case of a hayfield you didn't want to drive equipment into, hand-pulling.
My earliest job on the farm was 'pulling mustard'. (Mustard will be blooming next, in June. Yellow Rocket comes first.) Dad would send me out into the field with a promise and a stern warning, "I'll pay you a penny a plant for every one you bring home BUT they all better have roots on them, don't go out there and just yank the tops off and expect to be paid! No roots, no money."
I would sally forth out into the alfalfa field and scan the green field for yellow flowers; going from plant to plant, covering acres of ground in search of my income. The hay (or oats) could be way over my knees and make walking difficult, sort of like wading in the surf of a bizarre green lake.
If we had a bad year (or a good one, depending on whose side you're on) I would barely make a dollar for my troubles and I could carry home the carcasses with ease. But some years Dad would purchase oats and alfalfa seed that had the weed seeds included, and then I'd have a bumper crop. I'd have to make heaping piles on the fence line to come back for with my wagon because they were too heavy to haul across fields.
By the time I got back to the barn, I'd be soaking wet from sweat and the dew still in the tall alfalfa. My tennis shoes would be making squishy noises as I plodded down the barn alley. I remember solemnly bringing the weeds to Dad for inspection. I always laid them out in piles of fifty.
"How many you got there?" he'd gruffly ask.
"I counted 223."
"223, you sure?" He'd squint his eyes and look at the piles, kicking them apart with the toe of his workboots, scanning to make sure I had the roots.
"Well, I suppose you can count that high," he said. "You got all the roots out? You didn't just bust them off?"
"No, I got all the roots, you can see them there."
"223, well, that works out to what? $2.23? At this rate I'll go broke paying you to pull the damn things," he'd say as he gave me two dollars from his wallet and dug for change in his bib overalls.
"Here's fifty cents, you can keep the change."
"Did you want to count them?"
"No, I don't want to count them. I'll take your word for it. But you better be telling the truth about getting those damn roots."
Fast forward fifty years, and look who's still pulling the damn weeds. I couldn't help thinking Dad was watching me as I went wading through the alfalfa field in search of the telltale yellow flowers.
Luckily, neither Yellow Rocket or mustard have very deep taproots and they do pull fairly easily if the ground is damp. Usually in late spring, we've had enough rain to make pulling the buggers less of a chore, but up until this weekend, we'd had three weeks of dry weather and the ground was as hard as a rock.
I was cussing them out as I'd pull and the stem would break off. "No root, no money," I could hear Dad's voice in my head. I had my trowel on me and went after the blasted roots with a vengeance. There, take that, gotcha now.
After forty-five minutes of pulling weeds, I checked my phone for the time and knew Carl should be home from work. I called and asked him to bring the lawn mower and the trailer so we could load up the weeds to take home for burning. Carl came up to meet me driving up the creek bottom where the hay is sparse so we didn't trample down any alfalfa. Once he arrived, we worked for another half hour before we were done and Carl headed home with a heaping trailer full of yellow blooms.
Carl tossed them on the burning pile for me when we got back home.
"Did you count them?" he asked.
"Did you count them?" he asked.
"No, I didn't."
"Looks like some of these are missing their roots," he said as he inspected the haul.
"The roots are there," I said, "I dug them out separately."
"Well, don't expect to get paid twice for roots and stems. That's not how the system works," Carl said.
"Yes, I know."
No roots, no money.