Laura Zoeller

Column Laura Zoeller

Laura Zoeller is a farm wife and mother who has been blessed with a wonderful and funny - life.

Water a curse, blessing

July 22, 2013

All week long at work, people kept bringing in branches from their tomato plants.

“What is causing this,” they would ask, referencing the yellowing leaves, the black spots and the withering tendrils. (Though difficult to determine what issues may be causing the damage, this request is far preferable over the jars and containers of bugs that are occasionally brought in for a similar reason.)

To the best of my limited knowledge – and with the help of the encyclopedia of plant diseases we keep under the counter – we determined that many of the plants were suffering from a some kind of blight.

According to the immense tome, blights thrive in warm, wet, and humid conditions. Sound familiar? This entire summer has been a blight’s dream!

Sadly, I informed them that often there is no cure for the blight, though removing the diseased plants and treating the unaffected others may prevent a total crop loss. With several fungicides as options, most folks left pleased with our honesty, if not with our solution.

On my day off, I decided I needed to spend the day in my own garden. I had been picking broccoli and freezing it earlier in the week and was pretty certain there were a few more heads ready. I also was fairly certain that the green beans would need a once-over within a day or so. But I was hardly prepared for the sight that met my eyes when I walked into the vegetable plot.

A damaging wind had blown over more than half of my corn, and I saw the telltale signs of blight on my own tomatoes. My nearly 70 plants were almost all infected with the yellowed, spotted leaves, and the tomatoes were showing signs of damage as well.

It was with a very heavy heart that I began to pull up stakes and remove the diseased plants from my garden. Over and over, for nearly an hour, I undid the hours of work my daughters and I had so painstakingly performed only weeks before. When it was all over, there were five plants remaining.

We immediately treated them with fungicide, in the hope that they will pull through.

I also had to remove two more zucchini plants because of water-logged ground – and really, who can’t grow a zucchini? Several brussels sprouts, a cabbage and two broccoli plants also succumbed.

What a lesson in humility!

You see, generally, I take a lot of pride in my garden. It is larger than most non-commercial plots, it is kept weeded and well tended, and it produces an abundant harvest … most years.

I had definitely kept it well-weeded this year. (An hour with the cultivator twice a week did double duty for the garden and my cardio workout.) I had tied all of the tomatoes to stakes twice, and I had a small chicken tractor with two hens living in the garden, helping keep it bug-free as well. It was a shining star.

But, no one is immune from a bad year. And while the garden is suffering a little from the wet weather, we are still blessed by the abundance of water. We haven’t had to haul any for the house, nor go to the coin laundry, as we have in past, dry years.

I guess that is the takeaway here. Regardless of circumstance, there is a silver lining to be found if you know where to look. Today, I’m looking in a pile of dead tomato plants and seeing water.

Laura Zoeller can be reached at



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