Walking The Walk

SoybeansBy The Metric Maven

Mini Bulldog Edition

One of the ways a young Iowan could earn money long ago was to “walk the beans.” This phrase is a euphemism for pulling up all the weeds along the rows of a soybean field by hand. When a soybean field was relatively clean, one indeed did spend a reasonable amount of time walking. I’ve never been good at identifying plants, but I learned about a few when they were considered weeds. I could recognize mustard and of course the unwanted  stalk  of field corn sprouting here and there. The one plant that was a real pain was the Morning Glory. Their flowers were always white and they wrapped themselves around the soybean plants like a 1950s SciFi plant monster. It took a lot more effort to remove them than it did for other weeds. The Morning Glory and I did not get off to a good start.

A few years later my significant other informed me she had planted flowers in the back yard to brighten it up a bit. I thought it was an excellent idea.

MM: So what kind of flowers did you plant?

SO: Morning Glories.

My face clearly expressed anxiety when processing the information. All I could say is “well, they are such a good weed I’m sure we will have them forever and never have to plant any again. For a number of years they grew everywhere and with the tenacity of a bionic octopus they wrapped themselves around many square meters of slats in our fence. Then one year, they mysteriously disappeared. I thought they were just dormant and expected them back the next year. They never returned.

I had actually made peace with the poisonous plant and missed the purple, pink and white addition to the back yard. While in a hardware store obtaining parts I saw a display for seeds, and two of the packages contained Morning Glory seeds. Here is the front of the packages:

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I was immediately surprised that the pricing is in grams, and grams alone. I was also suspicious they had been imported from another country. There was no alternative Ye Old English measure as is on almost all US products. Then I noted the length of the expected vine is described as from eight to ten feet. It was clear purple flowers are twice as expensive as their multicolored alternatives. I looked on the back of the package and to my amazement the company who packaged the seeds is in the city of Broomfield, Colorado only a “stones throw” from where I reside and at one time worked.

Why grams? Well it might be because ounces are an unsatisfactory unit for quantities with a mass this small. The one gram package would have to read “0.0353 ounces” (avoirdupois), which is a bit awkward. What Ye Olde English alternative could be used? Oh, my, the grain could be used. This would work out to about 15 grains of seed. The grain is generally not even seen as a unit in the US. I could easily see a person snipping off the top, pouring the seeds into a small bowl for soaking, and expecting to have 15 seeds. I’m sure this might generate some calls of complaint to the company. Even in the non-metric United States, sometimes rationality overcomes impractical tradition and the metric system is implemented.

The seeds are planted, now I just need to see if they grow.


The Metric Maven has published a new book titled The Dimensions of The Cosmos. It examines the basic quantities of the world from yocto to Yotta with a mixture of scientific anecdotes and may be purchased here.


3 thoughts on “Walking The Walk

  1. Why grams? Because law!
    It is a curious requirement of the UPLR. While model legislation from NIST and NCWM, it is incorporated exactly or approximately in the laws of most states.
    See section 10.10. Packages up to and including 7 g must be labeled in SI units, from there to 225 g (8 oz) in both grams and ounces. It is one of the (few) exceptions allowing SI-only in place of dual labeling. Note that if <1 g, it would have to be labeled in milligrams due to largest whole unit and rule of 1000 rules. The prefix must be chosen to put the numeric part in the range 1.00 – 999.

    10.10. Packaged Seed.
    – Packages of seeds intended for planting with net contents of less than 225 g or 8 oz shall be labeled in full accord with this regulation except as follows:
    (a) The quantity statement shall appear in the upper 30 % of the principal display panel.
    (b) The quantity statement shall be in terms of:
    (1) the largest whole SI unit for all packages with weights up to 7 g; and
    (2) in grams and ounces for all other packages with weights less than 225 g or 8 oz. (Amended 1995)
    (c) The quantity statement for coated seed, encapsulated seed, pelletized seed, pre-planters, seed tapes, etc., shall be in terms of count. (Added 1972) (Amended 1975 and 1993)

  2. I’ve done my share of bean walking, now days it’s a lost chore due to genetic engineering and btw my garden gets overrun by morning glory every year, I planted the seads five years ago!

  3. On a non-metric note, I try nearly every year to grow the so-called “easy to grow” morning glories.

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