138 / 365 – Weeds

KAREN OPPDAHL

Planting took weeks. And if we’d had a good spring, as soon as it was done, you had to be weeding, weeding every acre. A few years, like last year, it was so wet, you had to worry about the seeds rotting in the ground. Carl worried about that. He would tell you he didn’t, but you’d see him, before he drove out to where the tractors were that day, he’d walk the furrows in the field nearest the house, which is usually where we started, since it was higher ground and dried out first.

But then it was weeds. You have to get them early so they don’t shade the grain shoots and crowd them out. We went through this every year, every year for almost fifty years. Each season a new worry, as if we had never done this before. Maybe that’s why we always did so well, because Carl never went into a season thinking he knew everything about how things should be done. That’s why we were able to grow the farm so much over those years. We did well, didn’t spend too much, and planted more.

Of course that made the work unmanageable if you didn’t get bigger machines. I said one year, “What’s wrong with that tractor.” It was the first thing we bought, before we even had a decent house. He needed a bigger tractor than his father had had. It was the war and we needed as much grain as we could grow. It was our second or third year and Carl was able to buy another section from the bank, a section that someone had had to leave during the drought. So we had to have a new tractor. That one lasted a long time, but then I remember, oh, twenty years ago maybe, we needed a bigger one. Then we needed bigger ones more often. At planting time, at harvest, they’d be out from before dawn until after dark. Now my son he says they have computers on tractors and combines, so you could practically drive them without seeing.

But there was no machine for weeds. That was manual work. My mother told me when she was little everyone in the family had to hoe the fields. She said that’s why they kept having kids. She was third out of eleven. Boys and girls, they needed them in the fields. She said it was right as school got out, and kids from town might be dreaming of summer days and playing at the lake but she and the other children from farms out our way knew they were just going from math and writing to working the long rows with their hoes.

We didn’t have such a large family, just three boys and our daughter Kristin. And we had more land than my grandfather had had. We had to hire migrants. Men passed through in those days, looking for work, come through in the summer and swing back through in the fall. Some of them were from Mexico, like you hear about. Most of them weren’t. Just men, young men from Chicago, maybe, or the Twin Cities. The big cities in the midwest. Some of them were just out of the army. Most of them you probably didn’t want to hear their stories, from the way they talked. I didn’t like having them near the house, near the children. We had a bunkhouse out on the next section, way away from here. An old thing made out of concrete blocks, with a metal roof. I think it had been a shed before Carl fixed it up and built bunks in there out of some old lumber. It wouldn’t keep you warm in winter, but nobody was there then. I’d have to clean it out, once or twice during the early summer, and at the end of the season. It was always a mess. I don’t know how people could have lived in there. You really don’t want to know the details. Just terrible, though. I had to get Kristin to help me, and the boys when they were younger. It was such a mess in there, with garbage and bottles and just, filth. They were afraid of it.

The last ten or twenty years, we switched to chemicals. We just had too much land, it would have taken too many people, and Carl thought he was getting too old to manage them. I know there are people who are concerned about chemicals. They say they aren’t good for the land, the environment. They’ve really improved them since that DDT they outlawed. I’ve heard people back in cities put more chemicals on their lawn than we have to put on our grains to keep the weeds down. And golf courses, they say those are the worst. The chemicals are expensive. I think the chemical companies make more money now from farming than we did, than my sons do. But people really couldn’t farm with out them now. It’s too much land and really you couldn’t manage all those people. This time of year, nobody would be able to sleep.

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