Catherine Macaulay
Catherine Macaulay

Confessions of a Weed Whacker

by Catherine Macaulay


I detest weeds, if only on principle. Employing an aggressiveness better suited to a hostile corporate takeover than to a tidy country farm where fruit trees line the drive, weeds spread their greed via rhizomes, stolons, tubers, bulbs, seeds and tentacle roots, shooting them across the subterranean landscape in numbers too vast to count. By nature, they want it all—soil, water, nutrients.

Unfortunately, upon arriving here in Tryon, NC, I found every type of weed imaginable grubbing off my pastures—sedges, grasses, dicots, perennials, biennials and annuals. But then a brochure came in the mail from the Polk County Agriculture Extension Service,advertising an educational seminar on pasture management.

That morning, I arrived at the lecture hall ready to soak up all knowledge about ridding myself of these unsavory types. The woman seated behind the registration desk smiled at me, then politely inquired if I were licensed.

“For what?” I replied.

“To use the pesticide Grazon P&D.”

“No, I’ve been yanking up the bastards pretty much by hand,” I responded.

The woman looked at me blandly, then handed me a name card. Sticking it on my pink shirt, I proceeded across a crowded room dotted with a mixture of colored farmer’s caps. I took my seat in front, feeling certain that here at last I would find the arsenal of information I needed to keep my pastures weed free.

The din in the room settled as the lecturer took the podium and began his presentation. Hungry for every word, I opened my notepad and listened while he began outlining the latest control and suppression tactics. First off, he said, there is no eradicating the enemy. At best, one can only realistically expect to manage their numbers.

Got it.

Secondly, it’s important to take a soil test and see what condition the soil is in. The poorer the soil, the greater the chance for weeds.

Right. First thing Monday, I’d go to the Polk County Extension Office and pick up my free soil sample kit. More valuable information was provided. Clover or buckhorn plantain meant the soil was highly alkaline, whereas broom sedge, Carolina geranium and red sorrel were indicative of very acidic soil.

All right. Tell me more.

When it comes to weeds, timing is everything. A pre-emergence herbicide must never be confused with a post-emergence herbicide as the former will prevent future generations of weeds from emerging and the latter will control those weeds that have already emerged.

I felt myself slipping behind, but I still kept writing furiously as the speaker explained the active ingredients in the top herbicides, outlining their uses and formulations. Pesticides have become very specific today, being similar to the broad spectrum of antibiotics. The basic 2,4-D is a good staple in the weed-killing category. A selective, systemic herbicide, it will control dandelions in fescue. But that doesn’t compare to Grazon P&D, which, according to the speaker, is the best spray available, having the capacity to control all broad leaf plants, as well as summer annuals, winter weeds, square stems and dead nettle. But it does require a license to use.

Growing increasingly daunted, I nonetheless kept taking notes. That is, until the lecturer began discussing the finer points of applying these chemicals via a tractor’s spray system. I closed my notebook and put down my pen. I’d been thinking more along the lines of a deer spray bottle.

Having failed advanced pasture management, I returned home, feeling dejected. There was only one thing left to do. Walking into the barn, I fired up the lawn mower and headed out into the paddock, having no delusions about the state of things. Despite my efforts, the weeds and the chaos they invariably brought would eventually have their way again. It was just the nature of things. I mean, every sixth grader knew that the earth was whirling around a sun that was slowly burning itself out while continuing its trajectory through a galaxy being sucked into the quantum folds of its more aggressive next-door neighbor. The universe itself seemed only an interlude between the fluctuating powers of dominance.

It’s just ashes to ashes, weeds to weeds, and we—poor souls—are just here in between.

I took off across the pastures, engine humming, my mower blades uniformly beheading a million seeds of greed sown in a moment’s neglect. I had to admit, glancing over my shoulder at the newly-restored expanse of green, my pleasure was nonetheless sweet.


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© Barry Rosenberg