Walking Beans, Pulling Crabgrass…Just the thing to make everyone want to click through

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When I was in middle school, my parents started a new endeavor on the farm. We’d always raised corn and soybeans (and hogs, cattle and chickens), but now Dad started growing seed beans. In other words, he grew the seeds that farmers would plant next year.

This meant the grain that was harvested had to be very, very clean (weed free). So every summer, we had to walk the bean fields and pull shattercane and cocklebur and cottonweed.

We were not given a choice. My parents paid us, but the work was not optional. We would eat supper and then go straight out to the fields. We worked until it was too dark to see anymore, whatever the outside summer temperature.

We’d take 5 rows apiece–3 when it was really bad–and work our way from the road to the tree line, where we’d wait for everyone else to finish their row. Then we’d reform for the pass back. Except when there was a bad patch and you stuck a surveyor’s flag in the row so you knew where to come back to, and we’d all converge on the patch and work together.

Sometimes it was just us. Sometimes we had neighbor boys working with us. (It was more fun then.) We had weed hooks and gloves and water bottles. We sang, we talked movies.

And of course, we groused and complained. Which is why I remembered this job this week.

Because this year, I am reclaiming my lawn from crabgrass. Or, more accurately, I am in Year One of reclaiming my lawn from crabgrass. Until about the 4th of July, I thought I was doing really well, but, um, nope.

So July 2020 has been all about pulling crabgrass. Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of crabgrass plants. Mixing it up: pull, then spray some killer, wait a few days, then start pulling again. (Being a green person, I don’t like spraying, but occasionally one must bow to reality.)
Two weeks in, I realized I couldn’t possibly win this battle without some extra labor, and I made my boys start pulling crabgrass, too.

They are not happy about it.

It didn’t take too much complaining before I began to wonder how much of the same I dished out to my parents. Then I started thinking how my kids have never had to develop the emotional stamina to do a job they didn’t like for longer than twenty or thirty minutes. Well, except for the approximately triennial Cleaning Of The Toy Room. Which is hell for everyone.

In any case, I realized that what I learned from walking beans was a lesson I have often needed in adulthood. So I no longer feel guilty about putting my foot down and hauling them outside to help fight the unwinnable war. In the long run, it’ll be good for them.

And what else are they doing, anyway?

Of Walking Bean Fields And Mowing Lawns, and Teaching Kids A Work Ethic


Photo by infomatique, via Flickr

There’s a repertoire of “farm kid” stories that country kids have to have: loading, unloading and stacking straw and hay bales is on the list (check), and some great animal stories that are not universally appropriate to share (check). For a lot of people, detassling corn is one of Those Stories. I never did that, although I heard about it a lot.

We did, however, walk bean fields. You don’t walk just any bean field. We walked bean fields because my parents were growing soybeans for seed, and the seed companies wanted the product much cleaner—i.e.., weed-free—than the average. The row cultivator helps, and so do the herbicides, but sometimes there’s nothing to do but pound the dirt.

My parents hired us—actually, “hired” is probably not entirely accurate, as we were not given a choice in the matter; on the other hand, they did pay us—to go out on hot summer evenings and spread out, each of us covering three to five rows, depending on the density of the weeds, and pull weeds. Our main enemies were cottonweed, cuckleburr, and shattercane.

Oh, that shattercane. Shattercane is like dandelions, only with a slower life cycle and a whole lot bigger. And it looks a lot like corn. Let one plant go and next year you have hundreds. Sometimes we had to abandon our own rows and go help someone else who had a patch. Some days the ground was wet, other days it was really dry. Sometimes things uprooted easily, sometimes they didn’t.

I complained a lot. In my head, I complained almost nonstop.

I remembered this on Friday evening because Alex had to mow a neighbor’s yard. You would think, based on his reaction, that he’d been sentenced to life in prison. We didn’t give him a choice; a job is a job is a job, and we had a break in the rain. And to his credit, once he got that initial “tween” reaction out of the way, he didn’t complain out loud. But I could see the complaints in his head. They were voluminous.

It got me to thinking that when we’re kids we always think we’re being better behaved than we really are. I figured my parents didn’t know how bad my attitude was while walking beans, because I was hiding it out of respect. But on the other side of the parenting coin I am certain that they knew very well how bad my attitude was.

In any case, I’m grateful to my parents for the early lessons in work ethic, because they’ve served me well, however much I loathed them at the time. (Gardening, canning, processing chickens, loading hay, weeding garden, mowing lawn…) Now the trick is, to find the opportunities for my own city-dwelling kids…