I Smell A Weed

Published on: 08:54AM Jul 27, 2013

 A customer was at the dealership this week buying sweeps for a row cultivator. He had a field of soybeans where water hemp had defied two passes with a sprayer, so he was dragging out the cultivator to "apply some iron" to deal with the problem. I joked that if the cultivator didn't do the job, he always had the option of grabbing a hoe or corn knife and "walking" the beans. He assured me that walking beans was NOT an option, no matter how bad the weeds got. 

Which got me to thinking about the thousands of hours I spent walking beans when I was younger. That evening I was doing some yardwork and had to pull a few stray butterprints that had sprouted around the Anderson estate. (I call it butterprint, you call it velvetleaf, either way it's still a weed...) I'd almost forgot the pungent odor of crushed butterprint leaves. Which reminded me of the smell of cocklebur, which reminded me of the feel of sunflower, and suddenly I was reminiscing about a part of my farming experience that I never thought I'd reminisce about.

There was a time when I could identify the majority of common farm weeds blindfolded. Butterprint (velvetleaf) has its namesake soft leaves and unique smell. Cocklebur leaves also have a special aroma when crushed. Sunflowers have rough, hairy stems that will leave the inside of your forearms raw if you have to pull lots of large ones--I remember cutting the toes out of old socks and wearing them as sleeves on my forearms to prevent "sunflower rash." Foxtail has its trademark bushy seedheads, smartweed has smooth, waxy leaves and low-growing stems that contribute to a unique type of backache, and pigweed just felt like pigweed, for some reason.

This all reminds me of a family legend about the time our family was driving to town with the car's windows down on a hot, humid summer evening. As we cruised past one of our recently-walked soybean fields, Dad abruptly said, "I smell a weed." He slammed on the brakes, put the car in park, clambered over the fence, waded about 50 yards out into the beans and plucked the lone, offending butterprint. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure that light-colored butterprint in the sea of dark-green soybeans caught the eagle-eye of my weed-hating father, but from that night on, the Anderson kids always sniffed the air for weeds as we drove past our bean fields.