August 17th...”IN MINNESOTA DAYS, WHAT CHORE ON YOUR FARM SEEMED OVERWHELMINGLY LARGE?”
“Son, today you’re gonna walk the beans.” When my father, Russell, shared my chore for that day, my mouth hung, open-jawed, in amazement! Other farm families may have called this endeavor “weeding” or “hoeing”, but on our farm, it was simplified to the term, “walking the beans”. Why did we have to “walk the beans”? Here’s why.
It was considered good farming practice to alternate your field crops at least every other year. By doing so, this method, called crop rotation, would give soil the opportunity to “rest up” from needing to give the same nutrients to the same crop all the time, thus depleting (or starving) the soil of the mineral foods it had in its potential to nourish a given planting to its best performance.
The only drawback to this way of farming was that unwanted volunteer plants (from the previous year’s crop) would germinate and begin growing “wild” into the current crop, which in this case was a field of soybeans that Dad had planted earlier that Spring.
In our father’s days of farming, near Kiester, Minnesota, herbicide usage (which are chemicals that kill weeds) was still in its infancy, so most farmers would remove weeds and unwanted volunteer corn by hand. Of course, it wasn’t just “me, myself and I” that walked the beans, oftentimes my dad and big brother would join as a trio of weeding troubadours. Some farmers would hire a whole crew of young folk to form a line across a field and be like a human machine as they’d chop, pull or hoe out weeds and corn from the soybeans.
Entering the first row of soybeans, we’d have our tool of choice with us and began walking down those seemingly endless rows that resembled green corduroy fabric across the ebony-rich landscape. When we’d come to a renegade corn plant, or milk weed, etc., it was either chopped out by a long machete knife, pulled out by hand or was dug out with a hoe. The major philosophy behind “walking the beans” was to keep your bean field clean of any weeds or corn so that when harvest came in the Fall, it would be a “pure” gathering of the best beans so that our dad could then sell that cash crop to the local grain elevator in Kiester.
If we ignored the unwanted volunteer corn in our soybean field, it (and other weeds) would overtake and ruin the purity of the field in that the harvest that Fall would NOT be purely soybeans only. The cleaner the field, the better the yield at harvest time.
Soybeans, when they’re young, resemble Garden Peas. In Asian countries, people eat these young beans and they’re called, Edamame. On our Minnesota farm, though, our father waited till the soybeans reached their full maturity and had dried inside their pod to a hard, golden yellow before harvesting them in the Fall months. There are so many uses for soybeans in our world; from food to eat, soy candles and all the way to being used in facial cosmetics. So you see, this was an excellent cash crop for our dad to plant almost every year.
From one end of the spectrum, the chore of “walking the beans” was so overwhelming for this young farm boy. The sheer size of the many acres that Dad had planted seemed endless. On the happier end of that spectrum, though, being out in that field was like being on the waves of a giant “green ocean” on those perfectly windy Minnesota afternoons. Looking across those endless rows of corduroy green, I could enjoy the undulating effects of the prairie winds as these “green waves” would flow and bow to the bidding of that wind. It was as if the giant, invisible fingers of God, Himself, came down in His wind to caress these acres that He had brought to life there on the Noorlun farm as He had done for many decades in the life of our family.
As I look back, I’m deeply grateful for the exercise that toughened my young boy body and the opportunity to help Dad to make an agricultural living to support this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.