What’s the Deal with Weeds?

  
 Lately, there has been a lot of brouhaha around RoundUp being used on farms.  It has been used on farms, homes, and in landscaping for decades.  Thanks to the manipulation of the media and “organic” science, it’s at the forefront of farm talk.  

So why do farmers use herbicides on their farms? 

I remember my dad telling me a story about his first venture into growing papayas.  He had heard of an old Japanese man who grew the sweetest papayas in Waiahole Valley.  He decided to go and visit him to learn what he did to grow them that way.

My dad asked him, “Ojisan, what makes your papayas so sweet?” The old man simply said, “The sun must hit the ground.  My dad was puzzled by his response.  He thought to himself, what does that mean?

Like many Japanese men, the Ojisan (grandfather) was one for little words.  He didn’t go into a lot of explanation but just repeated that the sun must hit the ground.  As my dad observed his field, there was very little weeds and the trees were planted some distance apart.  With the trees nearly 10 feet apart, he could see the maximal exposure of each leaf towards the sun.  He could also see that by planting it this way, the sun hit the soil.  

My dad took this advice to his own field to try out.  He kept the ground free of weeds with Roundup and planted them as the man instructed.  Plowing the weeds isn’t good because it disturbs the shallow root system and the microorganisms in the soil.  Too much weeds fosters too much moisture in the soil making the roots prone to rotting.  The weeds also compete for nutrients and stresses the crops.  Stressed roots create multiple problems for fruit production.  He simply grows a cover crop then later plows it in to prep his field.  When the crop is well composted in, he preps it for planting.

With just a pinch of fertilizer, my dad carefully planted he evenly plotted the field out.  He learned that he needed specially bred seeds from the University of Hawaii to grow the best possible fruit.  He learned from my grandpa’s first venture into farming that you can’t simply save seeds and plant it.  

My grandpa had saved seeds from a Big Island Kapoho papaya to find that it produced golf ball sized papayas after months of tending to his field.  He had planted over an acre of this papaya only to have to destroy it.  My dad surveyed the field and shook his head in dismay since he had learned from his study of agriculture the importance of selecting the right seed.

When it was time to plant his fields, careful planning went into undertaking this endeavor.  My dad had money invested into land and equipment that needed to be paid off with the crops he grew.  He carefully tended his crop and followed the advice of the old man.  

Tending a crop means going in and taking a backpack sprayer and spot treating the weeds so that they don’t overrun his field.  This is a far cry from the alleged “dousing” that farmers are accused of.  The weeds must be kept down or the young trees can’t compete against these fast growing things.

After several months, the trees will flower and fruit.  It takes about a year before a field is ready to produce fruits.  A farm isn’t an instant money maker unless you are a farmer.  

When it came time to harvest the first fruits, he could see the difference in the consistent size.  Then he cut into the fruit and tested the sugar content.  Sure enough, the reading gave a brix of 14-15, indicating a very sweet flavor like no other.

My dad’s pride came when customers fell in love with super sweet papayas.  The consistent sweet flavor created a following of customers for decades.  Many flock to the markets seeking his papayas.  It’s this simple act that has kept him farming for life.

It’s easy to get scared of the things you read on the internet about what farmers do.  The reality is that Google can’t tell you everything about their practice so.  There is science in everything that we eat and that same science in the way farmers farm.  My dad uses his knowledge learned in textbooks and via observation to grow those tasty fruits.  It takes precise actions and careful cultivation to get a product that consumers will eat.  There’s science being practiced in every aspect of growing and preparing a single papaya before it ever gets to the store.

In everything that we eat, there is science.  You might not see it or realized it isn’t even labeled.  The base ingredients have an array of science incorporated in how it’s grown and processed.  Not many people sit there and think about it. If you like what you eat, thank that farmers who grew it for you.  They deserve our appreciation.

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