“I am not the one” and other miracles

29 11 2011

I thought that the miracle heyday had passed – about 2,000 years ago. Then yesterday I think one might have occurred in my nursery because I can only credit divine influence on what happened.

On arriving at work yesterday morning the weekend’s duty foreman called my attention to some tomato seedlings that were showing quite alarming symptoms of what he thought was a nutritional deficiency. One look at them made me think otherwise; to me it looked like herbicide damage. The symptoms had appeared over the weekend which was too quick for a nutritional problem and it was highly localized. I walked around a bit and found the symptoms elsewhere including on the weeds although I was assured that they had not been sprayed with a herbicide. I asked Brian who has vast experience what he thought. He suggested heat damage but that did not gel as the timing was wrong for the heat wave we’d experienced some 2 weeks ago, and besides, we’ve had heat waves before and they have not affected the seedlings. I was still suspicious of the herbicide but could not see how anyone could have applied it, even with intent, accurately enough to only affect 8 trays of tomatoes and not the brassicas right next to them. I called on Stewart who is a herbicide expert and happened to be passing by. He agreed to call in.

On arriving back from town Tony met me with a container of clomazone (a herbicide that I was going to use on the sweet potatoes) and told me that it had been used in the nursery last Thursday. I could not believe it. I had never authorized anyone to use it for anything as I wanted to supervise the application. I asked the weekend foreman about it but he came back with the stock “I am not the one” – a reply that anyone who has ever managed anything in Zimbabwe will know well. He could see a crisis coming and was distancing himself as quickly as possible.

Stewart arrived and confirmed that the damage was typical of clomazone. When the other foreman came back from his lunch break he confirmed that he’d authorized the use of the herbicide on the weeds beneath the racks where the seedlings are grown. I asked why. “It said herbicide on the container” was the reply. I pointed out that I had not authorized its use and got the same reply. This was going nowhere. I asked how it could have got onto the tomatoes (and some other seedlings) with such accuracy and was told we’d had a strong wind the afternoon after the weeds were sprayed. I was incredulous. We certainly had a new branch of physics developing here (those pesky neutrinos from CERN taking a detour?) – or a miracle. How could herbicide that had dried on the weeds in the morning have got onto the seedlings in the afternoon? To me it seemed more like criminal negligence or even malicious intent but how to explain the localized effect? Clomazone is what is called a pre-emergent herbicide i.e. it is designed to kill plants as they emerge from the seed. It is not very effective on seedlings that have already emerged and it is not effective on all types of plants. The damage appeared to be restricted to tomatoes and lettuces of a certain age.

I know I will not get to the bottom of this and I have a better chance of bringing a case against the Divine than finding out what actually happened. In the meantime I will have to replace the damaged seedlings. Stewart thought they might recover but I cannot take the chance. The company of course will have to foot the bill.

Clomazone herbicide damage on tomato seedlings

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