I don’t think I have weeded more this spring and summer than any other year. I’ve just thought about it more (weeding is nice because it’s a good time to think).
While weeding our garden and flower beds, I’ve pondered how I learned the task. I could not have been more than four when my parents let me start my “own” garden. My two most prominent memories are a) planting tomatoes one evening, only to come out the next morning to discover that my new plants had all been cut off at the ground by a cutworm, and b) wondering why my little brother liked the taste of dirt (and he must, if he’d try it more than once, right?)
But I digress. Motivated, I’m sure, by my indiscriminate “weeding,” my parents taught me the difference between good vegetables and bad weeds. Another important lesson: it is very important to get the root out, too. Of course, it is very easy just to pull the top of the weed off, or to pluck it off at ground level. Unfortunately, a garden weeded this way will soon need to be weeded again, and the weeds will only be harder to pull the second time.
Dirt should always be knocked off the roots, Dad and Mom taught me. I think this was for several reasons. First, if the dirt is left on, the weeds will more readily start growing again when they are thrown to the edge of the garden. Second, usually the dirt in the garden is better than the surrounding soil (due to careful enrichment of the soil through compost and manure), so it is important to keep the good soil in the garden.
Dad instructed me to use both hands, I remember, because if two hands can be used (especially for small hands!), one is more likely to get the roots. One should also grab the weed as close to the ground as possible, for the same reason.
Through experience, I learned the ideal conditions for pulling weeds. Slightly moist soil is often the best, although dry but not hard ground is also generally good. Wet soil leads to pulling up massive clumps of dirt that cannot be shaken off the roots, not to mention making a huge mess. Trying to pull weeds from ground baked by the sun is nearly pointless, as the roots almost never come out with the stems.
I don’t remember if my parents explained why it was important to weed, although I am guessing they did; they were good about things like that. Weeding is important because weeds, left alone, will choke out everything else. Weeds will drink all the water other plants need. They also grow taller and faster than most vegetables and block the sun, making it impossible for vegetables to grow and thrive. Tall weeds make it difficult to find produce growing on the plants. Moreover, a weedy garden looks untended and reflects badly on its gardener.
I think there are many analogies here to personal discipline and the Christian life. But perhaps I’ll leave that to my reader or for another time…