The Weed War

One of mankind’s oldest wars, outside of killing and maiming each other for fun and profit, has to be the one fought against nasty critters that eat your food and nasty plants that crowd your food out of your garden. Though we keep coming up with novel ways to beat them, they, like the proverbial bad penny, always come back.

Here in the Great Northwet (sic), a class of weeds has adapted to such an extent that there is simply no way we can win. In fact, they may exterminate us if we aren’t careful. These are the bittercresses, the most-prevalent-in-my-yard of which looks like this . . .


. . . and the next-most-prevalent-in-my-yard of which looks like this.


Now, most people would probably think, at least of the top one, “Gee, that’s kinda cute. What’s her problem?”

And they would be wrong. Dead. Freaking. Wrong.

A little natural history. These babies grow, flower, and set seed all year long. They do not die off for winter (at least, not here). They just keep growing. They grow fast, and they are so far beyond prolific as to make prolific look barren. They fling those seeds onto every square millimeter of earth within six miles of them. You may start out with one innocent-looking little weed, and you turn your back, down a glass of water, turn back again, and it has suddenly become a platoon of weeds, gathered around the central progenitor and, though still trying to look innocent, obviously eyeballing the next perimeter they want to take, and heaven help you if you’re standing within that perimeter, ’cause the buggers’ll take you, too. I have even—and I am not making this up—seen one growing in a bit of dirt caught in the leaves of one of its larger brethren.

Thanks to the Broken Ankles Incident™, I couldn’t get outside to clean out my garden last fall. That meant that this spring, not only is an entire summer’s worth of dead Stuff lying around that needs to be pulled out an’ thrown down the coulee, but the weeds, henceforth called the Evil Encroaching Bittercress Army (EEBA), have had eight full months of unmolested reproductive time.

Ever the oblivious optimist, I peered out the front window last month and noticed that the entire center raised bed seemed to have a nice hay crop going already. When I pulled on my boots and staggered out there (yes, Snaotheus, being careful on the steps), I realized that it had been claimed, staked out, conquered, and overrun by EEBA advance guards. Oh, ca-rap, I thought. I’ll never catch up with them.

But, gamely, I donned my gloves, got my trowels and rake sharpened, and advanced into enemy territory.

You would think that, since these buggers have a fairly shallow root system and are not difficult to pull up, they wouldn’t be hard to eliminate. But you’d be thinking without sufficient understanding of their forethought, malevolence, and determination.

You see, in previous years I have tried raking them out of the dirt. You can’t. Then I pulled them up, left them in a pile, and expected Nature to do her job: Rot the buggers and turn ’em into humus.

The EEBA has other plans. When you toss one upside down onto the dirt, it waits ’til you look elsewhere. Then it wiggles and rocks and strains until it turns itself sideways. Then two of its seven hundred sixty-three thousand roots touch the soil, snake back into it, and voila! the wretched thing continues to grow. If you throw it onto inhospitable surfaces, say, like concrete, it will do this anyway. . . the roots will slither out two or three feet and still find their way into soil.

If, by chance, it cannot turn itself sideways, then its roots deploy the Hah! We’re Not Licked Yet! strategy, in which they stretch and strain and wander blindly about in the air, taking advantage of the fact that Gravity Is Our Friend even if you’re an evil entity, freakin’ stick an outlying patrol into the ground, and live anyway.

Lest you think I jest, please know that I do not. I have seen these expletive deleteds still growing and green when they are completely upside down, with what appears to be the entire root ball in the air, and when they are isolated on concrete with no soil within two feet.

As if that weren’t bad enough, once they’re stressed they put all their energy into—wait for it—making seeds, so that with their last dying gasp they pop their pods and pepper the area with their pestiferous progeny.

This year, I determined to Win This Battle. (Note that I don’t even consider winning the war.) I took a garbage bag outside with me, pulled ’em out, piled ’em up, and stuck the blighters in the bag. Surely, I thought, they cannot, cannot make seeds and spray them around when they’re imprisoned in a plastic bag.

It’s a good thing I decided to do this, ’cause they’ve really refined the root-seeking-ground tactic over the winter. Several of them, when I turned around quick and eagle-eyed ’em, had already sneaked a root or two back into the soil and were sucking up life-giving nutrients even before I raked ’em up and shoved ’em into the bag.

This seemed to work pretty well. I’ve had to pull up a few escaped POWs that had hidden under the leaves of strawberries and other things; because their flower stalks are so thin and unimpressive, you often can’t see them until they’ve already done the sex act, and then you have to use a rapid-deployment blitz strategy or you’re lost.

When the garbage guys took them away, I heaved a sigh of relief.

But on the way back down the stairs, I had that eerie feeling you get when you know Someone Is Watching You. I turned around, squinty-eyed, and glared back toward the garage.

I’ll swear I saw two of them run around the corner.

Posted by wordsmith


That ain’t all. We (the people who participate in the American food economy) have created strains of herbicide-resistant weeds that are now spreading rapidly through industrial farms. Get out your hoes get get ready to go back to hand labor agriculture.

Ummmm, prolly no deal there, darlin’. You’ve just reminded me I need to spray for carpenter ants, though. 🙂

I will trade you weeds for bugs.

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