Sharon Covert, “Walking the Beans”

“‘Walking the Beans': My Memories of Weeds, Soybeans, and Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s on an Illinois Farm”

by Sharon C.



Drive through rural US farmlands today and you will probably see fields and fields of beautiful soybeans and corn.  Around the outside of the fields you may see weeds but you will probably see very few weeds within the field.  Farmers do not like weeds in their fields.  There are many reasons to not like weeks within the field but two big reasons are that weeds “steal” the moisture from the crop and “crowd” the plant and roots so crops, in this case soybeans, do not develop as desired and can cause a decrease in yield.

In the 1950-1960’s a very common practice used to “clean up” a soybean field was called “WALKING THE BEANS”.

First, the weeds were removed from the field as much as possible using a cultivator.  (This is a piece of farm equipment that is attached on the underside and back of a tractor.)  This cultivator works somewhat like a garden hoe but on a larger scale.  The cultivator works well but only between the rows.  The problem was with the weeds within the rows-between each of the plants?

This is where the “fun” began!!!

To remove the weeds within the row we would “WALK THE BEANS”.

Early morning, about daylight, in late June or early July.

1.    Get out of bed.
2.    Put on some light weight clothing
3.    In kitchen, breakfast, make lunch-get thermos with ice water (very important)
4.    Take some cutting device—long handle hoe, or homemade–long handle with cutting device attached for cutting weeds from between plants in each row
5.    Get in the truck—Time to head to field and get started

Facing an 80 or 160 acre field of soybeans with varying amounts of weeds and just a hand held hoe was a daunting task.

Each year, this summer chore of “clean up” was done in soybean fields all over the Midwest.

We would start on the left or right side of the field and select four or six rows for each trip across the field (number of rows depended on how dirty (many weeds) there were in the rows.  Then we would start walking and cutting out weeds from the assigned rows.  If we were lucky, we had a good friend on rows to our right or left so we could talk with them as we worked to help pass the time. This  “clean up” job was done by farm families or for fund raising by church youth groups, 4-H clubs, and local FFA chapters.

The temperature would get hotter and hotter as the sun got higher in the sky.
Finally several days later, you were finished!  The field looked great!

Next morning, there was always another 80, 160 or even a 240 acre field that “needed to be cleaned up”.

Time to “WALK THE BEANS” again!!!

Today, we can spay that same field and our weeds are gone but your soybeans are strong and vigorous.

Can you understand one of the reasons why “Round Up Ready Soybeans” were so quickly adapted in the U.S.A.?

State: Illinois
Time Period: 1950s, 1960s
Themes: Personal Experience, Labor, Technology