Wednesday, August 13, 2014

on not being dictator of my own nation (and other weedy matters)

Weeding is taking up almost all of my time on the farm these days, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. No sooner do I get a bed weeded, than new weeds seem to rear their ugly heads again. (Ugly heads? Here my bias shows. Some weeds are actually quite beautiful, when viewed objectively. Not that I can do that.)

I think many farmers, myself included, tend towards a particular kind of perfectionism. We are detail-oriented folk. We want to organize our farm, grow our plants, harvest our produce, and market it all just so. We want to be dictators of our own tiny nations. Benevolent dictators (of course!), but dictators nonetheless. Weeds represent the resistance army to our rule.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I tackled (once again) the weeding of the winter squash section. I wanted to pull every single weed and bring each bed back to the state I imagined: peaceful vines of squash, growing unimpeded across the surface of the soil. But I quickly realized the impossibility of that task. Nature does not love a vacuum, as they say, and every inch of that beautifully unoccupied soil would soon become home to another weed. So instead I narrowed my focus to the most pernicious weeds. Canada thistle and yellow nutsedge, for sure, because they're noxious and the District requires us to control them. The rest of the weed control priorities, though, are up to me.

I quickly added all the other thistles to my hit list, because they're prickly and annoying. Wild brassicas had to go, because they can harbor pests and diseases that'll also attack brassica crops, like cabbage. Chamomile seems impossible to eradicate (the last farmer let it proliferate, and now it's a big problem in the northern section of my farm), but I can at least pull the flowering plants to minimize seed production for future years. But lots of other weeds, even those that are especially tempting because they're easy to pull, I had to let go.

It wasn't easy. To aid my practice I took up the mantra of an old boss, who used to say, when we were getting too nit-picky, "Perfection is the enemy of good enough." Every time I caught myself obsessively trying to remove every weed from the area, I would repeat it. Perfection is the enemy of good enough. Perfection is the enemy of good enough. Perfection is the enemy of good enough. I repeated it a lot.

Some sections warrant a more thorough weeding. Direct-seeded things like cilantro, for example, are crowded enough as it is and appreciate any extra room I can give them. (It also makes harvesting a lot easier later.) Some crops are widely spaced, and if I tackle them early and often, it's a quick job with a hoe to keep them clean and weed-free. But once a crop and its weedy neighbors have gotten to the point of anarchy, there's no time to be a perfectionist. That's when it's time to focus on the biggest problems, and let go of the rest.

It can be a tough lesson to learn, but I really don't have a choice. Farm dictators don't have enough hours in the day to rule their nations. In the end, the weeds will always win. Best to choose the ones I can live with. Then I can focus my energy on tearing the hell out of the rest.

bad: chamomile smothering part of my beet planting
good: orderly rows of cilantro
good enough!

No comments:

Post a Comment