An “I-Watering” Insight from Trying to Grow Onions

You will have to stay with me through a bit of personal gardening history, but when you get to the end, I believe the insight I’ll share will be worth it.

My wife and I both enjoy gardening, and we especially like growing vegetables. Her favorite is tomatoes and mine would be potatoes. Nothing beats the taste of freshly picked vegetables, enjoyed immediately without the help of ethane gas. There’s nothing as good as the taste of a tomato when it has just been picked off the vine.

While we each have our favorite crops, we have been trying to grow onions of a store-bought size for a very long time. Despite our efforts, we were not successful until this year. The previous results had been about the same regardless of the source of our supply. Would-be onion gardeners go into a feed store and choose between two bushel barrels—bulbs or sets. We have tried both with poor success, but typically have bought bulbs because they are bigger than sets, usually look healthier and, what the heck, they actually look like baby onions. Sets, on the other hand—usually sold in bunches—look like shriveled green onions and are much smaller.

By the way, whether at Tractor Supply, big box stores or your local feed store, there is not much to go by and certainly aren’t any planting instructions. You are likely to just see a sign that reads “yellow” or “white.”

So, for many years we put the bulbs in the ground in early spring, watered them well, added the right fertilizer and pulled them out of the ground in late summer. What we pulled out were basically long-stemmed green onions.

We were very frustrated with our efforts and truly believed we had been doing everything right—for at least six or seven years. We even had our soil tested and it was fine.

Out of desperation–you will be surprised at this–we turned to YouTube, only to find out there are millions of YouTube videos telling you how to grow the greatest and best tasting onions. Well, I’m exaggerating just a little—there are only hundreds.

Now we became even more frustrated and confused. As it turns out, there are many opinions, lots of “secrets to growing great onions,” and lots of things for sale that will increase your success. We finally came across an older gentleman from Mississippi who had great onions, simple advice and nothing for sale. We decided to give him a try.

His first bit of advice was to the point: most “amateur” onion growers plant their onion sets way too deep in the soil. Yep, that was us—as deep as we could, just the way we planted our tomato plants. What you should do is plant them as shallow as you can, but no deeper than one inch. Onions grow at the surface, not underground like potatoes.

The next tip he shared was to monitor their early growth. When the onions are well on their way, he advised using your finger or taking an old spoon to remove all of the surface dirt around the growing plants until you can see the roots. This helps the onions grow bigger as it’s easier for them to spread out.

The end of the story is that this past summer we harvested the largest and best onions of our growing careers. But the story doesn’t end here.

What follows is the promised insight for you to reflect upon.

What else in our lives might we be thinking or doing—with commitment and energy—that we may discover is not the best way or may even be the incorrect way of achieving our goal or sought-after accomplishment?

An onion can make people cry, but there’s never been a vegetable that makes you laugh.



Proverbs 15:15

All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.


Can't Not Do

Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love

Josh Levine (McGraw Hill Education, 2018)

If you are interested in organizational culture and how to improve it, you will enjoy Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love.

Josh Levine, a well-known author and educator, has written the book with an ingenious twist. Each of the chapters unfold the primary components of culture as well as serve as a handbook that includes a Quick Start section, providing a number of exercises the reader can use to strengthen the particular cultural component under consideration.

While I highly recommend the book, it fails—like many other management/leadership books—to address the reality of the many organizations that are primarily or significantly staffed with hourly wage workers, many of whom work on a shift model basis. Quite frankly, managing, leading and improving organizational culture is more difficult with deskless employees than communicating with knowledge workers. Nevertheless, Levine offers many valuable insights and practical tools for improving any organizational culture.

The author organizes the book around the six essential organizational components of culture: purpose, values, behaviors, regulation, rituals and cues. Rather than going through each of the components, some examples of Levine’s thinking are offered below. As a precursor, think about this observation: “Relationships are the synapses of culture.”

With respect to the importance of continuity between individual and corporate values, the following is noted:

“…the greater the divide between an individual’s values and those of the organization, the harder it will become for that person to make good choices. If the difference between the individual’s and the organization’s values is too far to bridge, most likely the person just isn’t going to thrive there.”

In discussing the importance of behaviors, Levine makes the point that “an organization is the accumulation of every choice made by every employee.” This leads to a suggested imperative:

“It is the very definition of a leader to increase the number of good choices made throughout his or her organization. Behaviors that move the business closer to its goals—those that are honest, build trust, and improve team performance—are noble, but that doesn’t make them easy. Like in our personal lives, it takes energy to consistently made good choices.”

I really liked the author’s insights regarding the importance of recognition, and this includes recognizing and reinforcing positive, value-driven choices. He does a nice job of explaining the four kinds of recognition. In the Quick Start, he makes a suggestion that is readily obvious but seldom carried out—identify and list all of the recognition programs that are in place across an organization. Then ask, “Is the current approach adequate, rewarding the right behaviors?”

While I have done a lot of reading regarding the dynamics of culture, I do not immediately recall any that identified “cues” as a matter of cultural importance. According to Levine, cues “are the physical and behavioral reminders that help employees, managers, and leaders stay connected to the future.” The “Cues Checklist” he provides is a very helpful tool.

Until next time,

Art Dykstra

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