Learning Healthy Leadership through Law of the Harvest

Working with the land is a great teacher of natural principles that are transferable to leadership.  The principles I have learned from vegetable farming can be carried over into our professional lives. 

Law of the Harvest 

Stephen Covey was a strong influence in the building of the consulting company ThreeWill. My brother (and co-founder) and I would take early walks before our workday to discuss the values of our future company.  One concept that stuck with me from reading Stephen Covey was the “Law of the Harvest.”  He shares the lesson you learn on a farm and you can not rush the process.

Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm—to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut.

Stephen R. Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

For example, if you want to harvest green beans.  There are some things you can do to shorten the time to harvest, but you still will need to wait at least 45 days to get green beans from the time you decide to grow green beans. You just can’t plant a green bean seed today and expect to harvest green beans from the plant tomorrow. As Steven Covey says, there is no cramming in farming.

Natural Laws on the Farm

In an instant gratification society (Amazon next day delivery and ordering fast food as examples) we can lose sight that accomplishments that you are proud of come through an intentional planned effort.  In vegetable farming, there are several factors that go in a well planned harvest.  I would like to share my experience with three of these concepts: Creating Fertile Ground, Planting Seeds and Tending the Field.

I will share some brief thoughts (these concepts can be their own posts) on these natural systems that occur in nature and then how that understanding can be translated to business and leading teams.

Creating Fertile Ground 

You feed your plants by feeding and caring for the soil.  In organic vegetable farming, one key way to do this is through compost. In addition to compost, you can feed the soil through cover crop to increase biomass and carbon in the soil.  Creating healthy soil will feed the plants and allow plants to have strong resistance to diseases and pests. This foundation of healthy soil is one of the key elements of a successful vegetable farm.

Planting Seeds

As simple as it sounds, you can’t have a harvest unless you start with a seed.  With planting seeds, you need to think about what seeds to plant based on your goals for the farm and what plants you are prepared to nurture.  One of the biggest challenges with farming is planting too many seeds and not having the time to properly take care of them.

Tending to the Field 

Removing weeds early. Walking the field to see when an area of the field is suffering or under stress.  Noticing the small things that could turn into bigger things. With farming, things can quickly get out of control if there is lack of care provided at early signs of stress or problems.  For example, when you find blight on tomato leaves, you want to remove the leaves early before that blight spreads further into the tomato plant causing you to potentially lose the whole plant.

Translating this to Business

Creating Fertile Ground Through Creating a Healthy Culture

A healthy company culture creates the fertile ground needed for ideas to “germinate and thrive!” The culture of a company can be compared to the soil on the farm. A heathy culture is a key foundational part of a thriving business. Just as poor soil yields unproductive crops, poor culture yields low trust, lack of common ground and overall can impact how your company can come together as a team and achieve challenging goals.

Planting Seeds By Casting a Vision

On a farm you sow seeds. In a business, you sow seeds through ideas, vision/mission and belief in your team. As mentioned in “Planting Seeds” above, you need to be careful to only sew the number of seeds you can tend to and nurture. It is easy to get overwhelmed with “sewing” too many ideas. It is better to have a business plan for the year that determines what are the right number of ideas (seeds) that need to germinate within your teams. Speaking from experience, a team can get easily get overwhelmed or confused if you plant too many seeds. Those ideas (seeds) compete with each other which will decrease the chances of that idea to come to fruition (or in farming terms – bear fruit).

Tending the Field through Understanding the Needs of the Team

Planting ideas (or seeds) in an organization can be the fun part. Coming up with the next great idea is exciting, but we all know the hard work is seeing that idea through to completion and getting good results. Seeing an idea through to completion requires showing up each day and “walking the farm.” Walking the farm to see what needs attention and to connect to what is working and not working through in person observations.

The plants of the farm can be in some way compared to the people of your organization. Your team needs the constant interaction to see what is working or not working along with getting a sense of what needs help before it becomes a true problem. For example, as a pepper plant matures it can get top heavy and topple over if you do not stake it. You want to do this same preventative maintenance with your teams. You do this by staying connected to your team members to be sure they are healthy and have the support they need to play their roles as they get their jobs done to the best of their ability.

Two Other Points of Comparison

Showing Up

Showing up is a key to the success in farming and success in business.  Expanding on law of the harvest and tending to the field, it takes a consistent commitment to see results over time.  It is the constant attention to detail over time that will show up in progress in the long term.  If you don’t keep consistent with “showing up,” then things can degrade.  You can get overrun with weeds or disease on the farm or have your business wither without attention to the health of the people in your company.

Embrace self governing systems

There is value in letting natural systems self-govern as much as feasible.  Creating an environment where plants use their natural ability to adapt to their conditions will help make the plant stronger.  You do not want to create dependencies to things that are available naturally.  For example, you do not want to provide fertilizers if nutrients occur naturally in well amended soil (usually through nature provided nutrients in compost).  Nature has a way of taking care of itself without our help (just look at an old growth forest).  There are times we just need to get out of nature’s way.  That also can apply to the people we lead.  We sometimes need to get out of the way and let them learn through natural consequences that reinforce what works and does not work.  If we shield people from failure, then they cannot grow from experiencing natural consequences.

In summary, I have reaffirmed what works in business through observing laws of nature and general experience that comes with the hard work of vegetable farming. These natural laws are not just limited to the farm, but carry over to our personal and professional lives. I would love to hear from others on how they see nature teaching them concepts or principles based on personal observations. You would be amazed to see what comes to mind when you stop and think about it. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. It does not have to be vegetable farming. It could be vegetable gardening, taking care of flower beds or just growing one plant on your porch. Looking forward to learning from others.

Musings of First 6 Months in the Garden

Overall Experience and Accomplishments

What an incredible first six months in the new garden.  We moved onto the property June of last year.  We were able to get in some late summer plantings and fall crop that I planted in a 20 x 10’ plot until the garden fence was built.  That area expanded to a 105’ x 45’ plot after getting the fence built.

This has definitely been a year of building many things that fortunately will be one time investments of time and money.  Some of those investments were building out the following:

  • Garden Fence – A 8’ fence with three gate entrees that surround the 105’ x 45’ garden area. Two gates are 4 foot gates to allow wheel barrows to enter the front and end of the garden.  One gate on the side that is a double gate that provides an 8 foot opening in case I need to get large equipment into the garden.  Here is a before and after pictures (the one on the left with the cones is laying out the area; the top right is plowed area and initial small garden; and then garden after the fence was built).


  • Compost Bins – A sheltered 6 bin compost system that have 5’ x 5’ bins with a 10’ x 5’ shed at the end. Everything is built except the shed at the end.IMG_4177
  • Plant Beds and Walkways – 52 rows that are 18” X 30” and topped with 2-3 inches of compost including a central 5’ woodchip pathway through the center of the garden with 18” pathways between the rows. This required to move over 250 wheelbarrows each of compost and woodchips.



  • Drip Irrigation – Throughout the garden for each of the 52 rows there are 1 to 2 drip lines for each of the 30 inch rows. Each line has its own shutoff valve and there are 4 separate half inch leads to provide 4 zones that are needed to support the many feet of drip irrigation.

Wow, just reflecting on this makes me tired.  This does not include all the other tasks like seedling trays, planting seed in the garden and all the tasks that follow up until harvesting.

In addition to building out the garden, we had a centerpiece purchased for the garden.  This centerpiece is a hightop cement picnic table that has a look of wood along with an umbrella for well needed shade during the heat of the day.

Overall, very pleased with this year’s progress.  It has been a year of building things for the first time and investments that I will reap years of reward with vegetables grown in the upcoming years.

What Went Well

Shishito Peppers
This is one days harvest to red and green shishito peppers. Probably more than 300 peppers.

Peppers went especially well this year.  I think it is partially due to peppers seem to thrive in harsher conditions.  In particular, the Georgia Flame hot peppers and the flavorful Shishito peppers were bountiful (see the links for my seed sources).  For example, just last week I harvested over 200 of the Shishito peppers in one harvest and I have probably picked close to 400 before that.  I definitely over planted these, but I know these will be dependable vegetable as I transition into a Market or CSA Gardener.

As a part of expanding the garden, I got to experience the value of rich organic soil.  We had a small area that had darker (and apparently richer) soil compared to the rest of the garden.  The cucumber and asparagus showed big differences in health and size based on the quality of the soil.  This was not an experiment that I planned, but I was able to observe the difference higher quality soil had on the yield and health of the crop.  Below are a few pictures to illustrate this.  This has further inspired me to continue to focus on building soil through composting and letting the soil mature through following a no dig approach.  My goal is to have high quality organic compost incorporated in several inches of soil throughout the garden in 2 to 3 years of building soil through the no dig approach.

How rich compost has made a difference

What Were the Challenges

The key challenge this year was feeling that I was always one step behind with planting in the garden with all the other setup tasks that I had to intermingle with the planting.  I say it was a challenge and it was, but it was a fun challenge that energized me to get out to the garden frequently this year.  I looked forward (but at times anxiously) to get out in the garden to get past the next hurdle.

In terms of challenges with growing vegetables, I had a few challenges that are worth noting.  First was the massive infestation of Mexican bean beetles.  These suckers just would not let up after they entered the garden.  They got so bad that they would kill bush bean plants before they could get out the second set of true leaves.  Quite frustrating.

I also had some unsolved mysteries this year.  I had disappearing ears of corn and seedlings that appeared one day and were gone the next.  I am guessing that the ears of corn were victim to raccoons robbing in the cover of the night sky.  With the missing seedlings, I am guessing birds.  I cannot prove this, but tried my best with a trail camera in the garden.  I hope to eventually catch this on film.

What Would I do Different

For the first full year in the garden, I think things have gone better than expected.  You can always do better based on what you have learned.  That is the beauty of gardening.  That is, you can always learn and experience something new each year.

I do think I have a solution for both issues mentioned above (stolen corn and missing seedlings).  The issue with the corn might be solved by putting a simple perimeter fence made of deer netting to further protect the corn.  I have a second crop of corn growing now with some finished ears that have not been touched (yet).  For the disappearing seedlings, I will be putting down spun lace row cover over the seedling beds.  I also am growing seedlings in trays to get past the fragile seedling stage before putting into the garden.

One lesson, that I learned the hard way, was not getting my compost and wood chips dumped into the center area of the garden before building the 8 foot perimeter fence.  Big mistake that resulted in quite a bit of extra labor.  Also, I learned that I should have dump trucks enter my property when the ground is not soft.  If the ground is soft, have them dump from the street and have a bobcat move it to where it needs to be.

In summary, it has been quite the year for Iron Mountain Organics.  A year of building many foundational elements of the garden and I look forward to the extra time we will have to focus more time on the plantings.  I also expect that I will be putting more energy and time into creating a better environment that will invite beneficial insects into the garden.  This is the next big hurdle for me.  I will be sure to share with you all what I learn.

The Journey Begins

My dream is becoming a reality.  A garden that I can pour my heart into that will yield a harvest that will be good for the body and soul.  I look forward to providing healthy food for my neighbors and for the friendships I will build through this endeavor.

I am just at the beginning of the journey and excited to share what I learn and accomplish as figure out how to be successful in the garden.

The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.
– George Bernard Shaw