Joe Wouldn’t Hoe

In my 20’s I shared a house on the east side of Detroit with three other single, semi-employed guys. We became the “The Lakepointe House.”

Ralph Bedard made loud sex, wrote poetry, and crafted flutes by hand from discarded bamboo.

Doug Ferguson (dulcimer) work-studied while finishing a degree at Wayne State University – history? Bob Cameron (guitar) drove a UPS truck as a fill-in driver and tried to keep his VW Beetle running.

I solo’ed as a folk/rock singer, guitarist at bars and coffeehouses across Michigan: Union Street Oyster Bar (Hi, Tom), The Ark (Hi, Rick), … It was the tail end of the 70’s singer-songwriter era.

In The Lakepointe House we jammed a lot. Songs from across the 60’s & 70’s folk blues spectrum, as well as our own creations. Bob penned this favorite and in our diaspora we’ve shared it to all corners of our worlds.

It is many years later and it is August – a perfect time to sing “Joe Wouldn’t Hoe.”

Joe Wouldn't Hoe
By Bob Cameron, c. 1975

Joe wouldn't hoe the ground around his corn
He would stay in bed all the morn
The weeds grew high, up to the sky-eee
But the corn stayed down around his knees.

He got up in the spring to plant his crops
All the while thinking that he'd rather not
This corn he said is just too much work to keep
And with that thought in mind, he promptly went to sleep

[thanks, Doug, for the two next verses]

He went out one bright August day
Hadn't been out there since May
The weeds were wound around the Milky Way-eeee
But the corn was down around his knees

He went to the fair when it came
Farmers there kicked him out in shame
They said "We're not gonna share the blame-eeee
For the corn staying down around your knees"

Folks round there, their thoughts revealed
They thought his corn was an abandoned field
They thought his farm was an auto dumping lot
And when the harvest came, he had a bumper crop... get it?

Now every song has a moral they say
Weed your corn or you won't make hay
Spend some time or you're gonna pay-eeee
When the corn stays down around your knees

Ajuga: weed of woe

I’ve never cared much about managing a lawn. The reward/effort ratio seems backwards to me. In fact, I harbor a conspiracy to reduce and replace grassy areas with (you guessed it) more garden. We on the home management committee periodically debate this topic.

Discovering the verdant pest

One spring, around ten years ago, I discovered a new member of lawn flora with a viney habit and spikes of small, blue flowers. Like everything else in the lawn, this was not my doing. It began to spread.

Spiky blue flowers of Bugleweed (ajuga reptans)

Spiky blue flowers of Bugleweed (ajuga reptans)

When I happened upon it in a plant catalog, my viney newcomer got a name: Bugleweed (ajuga reptans). This dainty looking plant is for sale!

Check out Dave’s Garden – people buy it, sell it, trade it and propagate it! Please don’t.

It continued to spread.

Consequences of ignorance

As I ignored it, the ajuga was emboldened to form denser patches, entirely displacing the turf in some spots. Still, lawn is lawn. What, me worry? But then it turned nasty. Its runners crossed the sacred boundary between lawn and garden and never looked back. It had my attention now. “Invasive” is too genteel a word for this mindless marauder.

Bugleweed (ajuga reptans) thrives in my lawn and garden

Bugleweed (ajuga reptans) thrives in my lawn and garden

The enemy within

De-ajuga-ing is an art form. You (easily) spot an invading runner and you very gently pull — it breaks if you tug too hard, which misses the whole point, and risks further colonization at the break point. Like a hydra.

So, you trace its path carefully and gently lift it from the soil and usually end up with a stringy yard or two (meters) of connected stems that extended from the original clump or runner.

I often let the weed pile sit on the patio til it bakes to death. Much safer than adding it to the compost pile uncooked.

If you don’t mind the Sisyphisian nature of it, this activity can continue for as long as you like because the stuff is everywhere. De-ajuga-ing can even be satisfying, the way most weeding can be. But don’t expect to eradicate it. Pure folly.

When I’m in the thick of gardening-in-the-moment (see Hyperfocusing…), I might just as easily be extracting ajuga runners as pruning, de-bugging, or planting.

Roses are red, violets are blue (or white)

I fondly remember spending my weeding time de-violet-ing. Those were simpler times. While I still pull the occasional violet clump, it’s like greeting an old friend with whom you once had a quarrel. Closer. Will I ever feel the same about ajuga? Heavens, what a thought.

Share a comment about your weed of woe!