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How Are Your Tomatoes Doing?

One of the bright spots for my wife and me in late March occurred when we realized: we could finally try our hands at a raised garden. After flying almost weekly for years, we now stared into months with no travel on the calendar.

A trip to Austin-iconic Shoal Creek Nursery and we were in business: four large-looking plastic raised gardens, instructions included, along with tomato, bell pepper and cucumber seedlings as well as two packages of green bean seeds.  Add in soil and fertilizer, and we were gardeners!

House in Austin

Eight weeks later we were very excited. By mid-May, the tomato plants were starting to put out their first tomatoes. While slower, the peppers and cucumbers were also showing promise.  And, after a bit of a drawn-out start, even the green beans seeds had turned into promising-looking plants.

We got good at monthly fertilizer and consistent watering (the plastic gardens have built-in water reservoirs under them). We heard encouraging advice and comments from neighbors who stopped to admire. I even watched some “how-to-keep-squirrels-from-stealing-your-vegetables” YouTube videos and built a PVC-pipe netted cage around the tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers.

Then it got hot. Indeed, by the middle of June, central Texas was flirting with triple-digit temperatures.  That’s when I discovered: our “four large-looking plastic raised gardens” –  were actually pretty shallow. These shallow gardens meant the plants could never really get deeply rooted.

House with Tomatoes

This second picture is from earlier this week, during the “dog days” of August.  The plants look bigger, but if you look closely you will see— not much good has happened.

In the middle of the picture is the single bell-pepper we’ve grown so far.  Tomatoes? – don’t get me started.  At one point in early June I thought we would have a bumper crop.  So far?  Maybe six small tomatoes have ripened.  We’ve harvested one pathetic cucumber.  And the green beans on the right side of the picture have been a total disappointment.

The problem wasn’t with the seeds or seedlings.  It wasn’t with the make-up of the soil or the fertilizer.  The roots simply couldn’t get deep enough to get out of the heat – with a water reservoir making up the bottom two inches of the plastic gardens, the roots could only grow about four inches deep before they hit a perforated plastic plate.

As leaders, the parallel is obvious.  Since mid-March, we’ve all been facing some incredible organizational and societal heat. Covid-19. The turning off of our economy. George Floyd and the surfacing of on-going social injustices. Peaceful protests and illegal looting. Stuttering steps to restart our economy. Debates over school re-openings. The temperatures seem to keep rising.  How do you and I lead well during times like these?

Driving our roots deep during this time

Fellow leader – if we are going to be the best leaders we can be during these hard days, we’ve got to make sure our roots go deep in three areas: spiritually, physically and relationally.

1.  Spiritual exercises

Earlier this year, Yale University published a blog with suggestions for self-care during the Covid-19 outbreak.  Included in their recommendations were these three spiritual exercises:

• Connecting with churches, synagogues or mosques that were offering on-line services. My wife and I have been able to stay up with our church through their Sunday on-line service.  The worship music has been uplifting, and the messages have been encouraging and insightful.

• Prayer The Yale blog mentioned that prayer can be a powerful way to process difficult emotions and to tap into gratitude for what one has.  I’ve used an app, “Prayermate” for the past several years to help me with a more consistent prayer rhythm.

• Reading spiritual texts and devotional books was the third thing mentioned as a helpful spiritual exercise.  I’ve found great comfort during this time by going back to some of my favorites: an old puritan devotional, The Valley of Vision and The Handbook to Leadership by Boa, Buzzell and Perkins.  My son-in-law and I also just recently started reading together The Way of the Pilgrim, an orthodox devotional.

Here’s the link to the Yale blog with other insightful practices:

2.  Physical disciplines

Several months ago, a humorous post showed up: we are all going to emerge from this shut-down in one of three states: a chunk, a drunk or a hunk.  We will have used our time to eat too much, or to drink too much, or to finally catch up on the consistent exercise we always seem to neglect.  I’m pleased to say I’ve got a disciplined wife who’s motivated me to get back on the work-out bandwagon with her.

Chunk, drunk or hunk.  The choice is ours. Leader – what are you doing about sleep, nutrition and exercise?

3.  Relational health

Spend time with friends.  Turn Zoom off and take a walk with a loved one.  Go for a drive on the weekends with family members.  Use social media to stay in touch with people you don’t get to see face-to-face right now.  Start an on-line book club.  Schedule a monthly virtual cigar-and-coffee gathering.

Whatever it takes, find a way to deepen relationships during this time.  In addition to a wonderful spouse, I’ve got a great daughter and son-in-law who text with us all day long.  I’m also a part of three virtual mastermind groups – people like me who are trying to figure out business during this time.  In the past few months, our friendships have grown even stronger as we’ve spent time virtually.  What do you need to do to find similar support?

How deep are your roots, leader?  What are you doing to grow them deeper during this time?