Learning to Embrace Weeds

When I was a young child, my family took a road trip to Illinois to see my aunt and uncle, who have a large scale soybean and corn farm.  Forty years later, there are two things I remember vividly from the trip.  The first is how flat Illinois is.  Kentucky is full of hills, and you can never see very far off into the horizon.  In Illinois, we could sit on the porch and see the rain coming 10 or 15 minutes before it actually arrived.  The second thing I remember is being in my uncle’s soybean field when he pointed out a weed.  The weed was an oat plant.  I knew he must be mistaken because oats aren’t weeds.  I loved oatmeal for breakfast, and my grandmother made awesome oatmeal raisin cookies.  (Shout out to my Mimi.  God rest her soul.)  How could oats be considered weeds?  My uncle went on to explain the definition of a weed.  A weed is any plant that grows in a place you don’t want it to grow.

That definition came to my mind once again when we began keeping bees.  Society conditioned me to believe that dandelions were weeds that should be eradicated from the yards of all virtuous people.  A yard full of dandelions, so I once believed, was a sign of laziness.  I soon learned that beekeepers view dandelions differently.  Dandelions are a very important early source of food for hungry bees, and dandelions are eagerly welcomed in a beekeeper’s yard.  Dandelions are good for humans too.  All parts of the dandelion are edible, and dandelion greens are an excellent source of fresh, nutrient dense food that is free to anyone willing to bend down and pull it from the ground.  Even the dandelion tap root is useful because it aerates compacted soil.  Why did I ever consider such a useful plant to be a weed?

We are quick to label plants as weeds, and then we work to permanently banish those weeds from our yards and our gardens.  In many ways it is tempting to treat people in the same way that we treat plants.  Challenging people get labeled as “weeds” and then we work to keep them out of our lives.  What if these plants and these people just haven’t found a space where they can be appreciated for what they have to offer?  In any given situation, don’t we all have the capacity to be a weed or a flower? 

This summer, I had many opportunities to meditate on weeds.  (I meditated on the topic of weeds.  I wasn’t meditating on weed.  There is a difference.)  I was confident that I had the winning formula for keeping weeds out of my summer garden.  I placed large sheets of cardboard and thick layers of newspapers covered with mulch in the garden pathways.  My intent was to keep weeds out and soil moisture in.  I am still confident my system would have worked were it not for the tornado that came through in early summer.  My weed suppression system was not designed to withstand tornado strength winds.  The morning after the tornado, the garden looked like a newspaper stand exploded.  Papers were everywhere except in the pathways where they were supposed to be blocking out weeds.  The following days were filled with rain keeping me from working in the garden and allowing the weeds to take hold everywhere.  I couldn’t keep up with the weeds after the tornado.  That is why I never posted a video of this year’s summer garden.  I was embarrassed for you to see all the weeds.  To make matters worse, the excessive rain caused all the early tomatoes to have blossom end rot, so the first red tomatoes I picked were tossed over the fence into the field.

Early planting of the summer garden – See the nicely arranged paths?

One morning I was so frustrated, I sat on the porch with my mother and had a good old fashioned fit.  “It’s all ruined,” I said.  “I spent all this time and effort on the garden, and now I’m not going to get anything from it!”  It was a sad little pouting session of which I am not proud, and mom did what she has done for my entire life.  She talked me off the metaphorical ledge.  She’s good at it because I gave her so much practice when I was young.  (I’m fairly certain that by today’s standards I should have been on anxiety medication when I was a child, but nobody heard of childhood anxiety in the 1970s.  The phrase “mental health” was never used.  You were either “afflicted” or “normal”.  There was no middle ground, and I’m still not sure if being “afflicted” meant you had a physiological condition or if you were possessed by a poltergeist.) 

As the summer moved forward, some strange things started happening in the garden.  Some of the weeds turned out to be pumpkin plants, tomato plants, and zucchini that sprouted from the mulch.  I compost garden scraps, and some seeds made their way into the composted mulch I spread this year along the paths.  I had a bumper crop of pumpkins thanks to the “weeds”.  Even though grass was growing around the gladiolas, the blooms were unaffected. 

One of many vases I shared with family and friends.

The tomato plants that produced early rotten fruit went on to produce baskets of beautiful tomatoes.  I preserved 30 quarts of sauce, ate tomatoes until I had sores in my mouth, and still gave away bags of tomatoes to family and friends.  The garden produced consistently and continually showing that when a tornado comes along and wrecks your plans, God still provides what you need when you need it.   

Tomatoes waiting to be canned, cooked, or gifted.

What weeds are growing in your life?  Are they really weeds or just useful plants looking to find the right place?  Maybe you are worried that weeds are threatening all of your plans.  I don’t know what you are going through now, but I encourage you to take a fresh look at things.  I harvested a lot of tomatoes this year that were growing in crabgrass, and they still tasted sweet.     

One morning’s harvest and a photo bomb by my dog.

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