Monday, December 31, 2012

Strength Management

Strength Management

           As we enter a New Year it is often a good idea to review the way we manage our business, our staff, our teams as well as ourselves.   In doing so it may be a good idea to take an inventory of the strengths within each of those entities.   We are all born with a certain set of talents.  Talents that often are referred to as strengths.   Some of us are simply better at some things than others.  Our personalities as well as physical attributes play specific roles in developing those talents.

          Recently, I was privileged, as a few of you, to listen to an excellent presentation by Chris Keating, District Sales Manager with Toro Company.  Some of the following material came, with permission, from his presentation.   This information is provided as food for thought and to help you begin thinking about the strengths you have and those of your company.
Let the Rabbits Run
           Imagine there is a meadow.  In that meadow there is a duck, a fish, an eagle, an owl, a squirrel and a rabbit.  They decide they want to have a school so they can be smart, just like people. With the help of some grown-up animals, they come up with a curriculum they believe will make a well-rounded animal:  running, swimming, tree climbing, jumping, and flying.
          On the first day of school, little br’er rabbit combed his  ears and went hopping off to his running class.There he was a star.  He ran to the top of the hill and back as fast as he could go, and oh, did it feel good.  He said to himself, “I can’t believe it.  At school, I get to do what I do best.”  
The instructor said, “Rabbit, you really have talent for running.  You have great muscles in you rear legs. With some training, you will get more out of each hop.” The rabbit said, “I love school.  I get to do what I like to do and get to learn to do it better.”
           The next class was swimming.  When the rabbit smelled  the chlorine, he said, “Wait, wait!  Rabbits don’t like to swim.”  The instructor said, “Well, you may not like it now, but five years from now you’ll know it was a good thing for you.
            In the tree-climbing class, a tree trunk was set at a 30ยบ angle so that all the animals had a chance to succeed.  The little rabbit tried so hard he hurt his leg.
            In jumping class the rabbit got along just fine; in flying class he had a problem.  So the teacher gave him a psychological test and discovered he belonged In remedial flying. In remedial flying class, the rabbit has to practice jumping off a cliff.  They told him if he’d just work hard enough he could succeed.  
           The next morning he went to swimming class and the instructor said, “Today we jump into the water.”  “Wait, wait.  I talked to my parents about swimming.  They didn’t learn to swim.  We don’t like to get wet. I’d like to drop this course.”  The instructor said, “You can’t drop it.” “The drop-and-add period is over.  At this point you have a choice: either you jump in or you flunk.” The rabbit jumped in.  He panicked!  He went down once.  He went down twice.  Bubbles came up.  The instructor saw he was drowning and pulled him out.  The other animals had never seen anything quite as funny as this wet rabbit who looked more like a rat without a tail.  So, they chirped and jumped and barked and laughed at the rabbit.  The rabbit was more humiliated than he had ever been in his life.  He wanted desperately to get out of class that day.  He was glad when it was over.
             He thought that he would head home, and his parents would understand and help him.  When he arrived, he said to his parents, “I don’t like school.  I just want to be free.” “If the rabbits are going to get ahead, you have to get a diploma.” The rabbit said, “I don’t want a diploma.” The parents said, “You are going to get a diploma whether you like it or not.” They argued and finally the parents made the rabbit go to bed.  In the morning the rabbit headed off to school with a slow hop.  Then he remembered that the principal had said that any time he had a problem to remember that the counselor’s door is always open.  
              When he arrived at school, he hopped up in the chair by the counselor and said, “I don’t like school.” And the counselor said, “Mmmm, tell me about it.” So the rabbit did.  
             The counselor said, “Rabbit, I hear you.  I hear you saying that you don’t like school because you don’t like swimming.  I think I have diagnosed that correctly.” “Rabbit, I’ll tell you what we’ll do.  You’re doing just fine in running.  I don’t know why you need to work on running.  What you need to work on is swimming.  I’ll arrange it so you don’t have to go to running anymore and you can take two periods of swimming.”  When the rabbit heard that, he just threw-up!  
       As the rabbit hopped out of the counselor’s office, he looked up and saw an old friend, Wise Old Owl, who cocked his head and said, “Br’er rabbit, life doesn’t have to be that way.  We could have schools and businesses where people are allowed to concentrate on what they do well.”
Br’er rabbit was inspired.  He thought that when he graduated he could start up a business where the rabbits would do nothing but run, the squirrels could just climb trees, and the fish could just swim.  As he disappeared into the meadow, he sighed softly, “Oh, what a great place that would be.” 

             So how does this reflect on your company, staff, or personal life?    Are you a rabbit or a fish?  No this question has nothing to do with characters from Chinese Zodiac but with your strengths or those of your business.    When we can focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses we can develop successful and lives which translate into successful, efficient businesses.  The moral of this story is that everyone needs to be in the place they belong and using their talents or strengths efficiently to be successful.  Rabbits don't swim and fish can't run!

            Unfortunately, many of us spend a lot of time trying focus on our weaknesses and those of our teams instead of letting the “rabbits run” and the “fish swim” we spend excessive time trying to cross-train everyone.   “Trying to succeed in an area in which you are weak will lead to a negative self-concept.  When we focus on a weakness, it takes on a life of its own, and begins to smother our strengths.”   This low self-esteem, whether it is with individuals on our teams or within ourselves leads to low morale within the entire organization and spreads like wild fire.  Having the wrong people in positions they really aren't talented for is never effective.  Low morale within an organization is not productive and results in higher cost of doing business and often failure.

       As you make your New Year’s resolutions be sure to stop and look at your personal strengths, those of your staff members, as well as those of your company.  Where can you focus your energy and be most productive?  If you have a small company it may mean out sourcing or sub-contracting those tasks that you are weak in.  If you have a larger company it could mean restructuring the organization so that the right people are doing what they do best.    And yes it could mean encouraging individuals that have strengths that don't fit your organization to move on to positions where their strengths can be used more effectively.

For more information contact your local Cooperative Extension Center and ask for the Commercial Horticulture Agent.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A New Chapter: CALS Strategic Plan 2013

A New Chapter: CALS Strategic Plan 2013

Want to be a part in making input into the future of NCSU's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as well as Cooperative Extension?  Then you might want to read this article and consider coming to one of the listening sessions listed in the article. There is also a survey that you can fill out online at any time.

There is a listening session near you!

For more information contact your local Cooperative Extension Center and ask for the Commercial Horticulture Agent.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Tree Pest Alert

Some of you are selling Christmas Trees and may have customers come back wanting to know what to do with the tiny critters that decide to wake up on their trees once they are warm and cozy in their homes.

December 20, 2012

From: Steve Frank, Extension Entomologist

Uninvited Holiday Guests: Part 1

Christmas trees like other crops have many pests that feed on them. Also like other crops, they are grown outside. Thus, many insect species may be unfortunate enough to stop for a rest just as the tree is bundled up and trucked to your local box store. Every year people report arthropods that have hitchhiked into their house on a Christmas tree. Here are a few of the most common.

Cinara sp. aphids feed on Christmas trees and are sometimes present at harvest time ( These critters feed on tree sap and are often mistaken for ticks once inside a house. They are easily distinguished from ticks because they have 6 legs whereas ticks have 8. In addition they are round whereas ticks are flat. These aphids cannot survive long without a living tree and will soon fizzle out as the tree dries.

Spruce spider mites are another Christmas tree pest that could come in on your tree. You would have to be looking very hard to see these guys. They are very small.

Spruce spider mite. Photo: Ward Strong, BC Ministry of Forests,

Cooly spruce gall adelgids are Christmas tree pests and super interesting ( They have a complex life cycle in which they alternate between two hosts. The produce galls that look like cones that actually contain hundreds of young aphids.

It is important to remember that all of these pests feed on live trees. The will not set up shop under your couch or on your dog. As the tree dies so will they. If there are more than you can handle then return the tree and pick a new one. It is very unlikely you would get another infested tree even from the same dealer.

Uninvited Holiday Guests: Part 2

We discussed arthropod pests of Christmas trees that people find once they bring trees into their home. In this article we will discuss arthropod hitchhikers that do not feed on Christmas trees but were unlucky enough to be on one when it was cut, bundled, and shipped. When you get home with your tree these critters may wander off and startle the kids or amuse your cat but will not cause harm to people or become permanent residents of your home. They do not want to be there any more (probably way less) than you want them there.

Many arthropods spend the winter as eggs that their parents laid in the fall. The eggs typically hatch when warm weather comes in the spring. However, if the eggs are on a tree that you place in front of your warm yuletide fire they will hatch (please don’t put your Christmas tree near a fire, yuletide or otherwise).

Spiders frequently lay eggs on trees and hitchhike into homes on Christmas trees. Spider hatchlings get around in nature by climbing to the top of plants and ballooning on silk threads. Essentially they get blown around and hope to land in a good spot. In your living room there is probably not much wind (though Grandpa always complains about the draft) but they will still string silk around the tree as they try to catch a breeze. Eventually they will give up and crawl off the tree where you might spot them on the wall.

Praying mantids are a fun insect to rear. The egg case looks like brown foam from which hundreds of small mantids emerge. The young mantids are an inch or so long and very quick. They climb all over and really freak people out who aren’t expecting them. Young mantids are hungry, voracious predators so maybe they will eat the other bugs you didn't know you had. A lot of bugs live in your home no matter how clean it is. Our friends at can tell you all about this.

People also report adult and larval lady beetles or green lacewings. Of course people often find Asian multicolored lady beetles in their house that come in through vents and cracks to spend the winter. It is possible that adult or larval lady beetles of other species could be hunkered down for the winter on your Christmas tree along with green lacewings and their larvae. Green lacewings are beautiful delicate insects as adults and predators as larvae. They are very cool to watch and to feed if you happen to have some other bugs lying around.

As we mentioned yesterday, Christmas trees are a natural product grown outdoors. Any insect that happened to land on a tree and get bundled up will emerge in your living room. Other things we have found include bark beetles, psyllids, stinkbugs, weevils, and moths. Just vacuum them up. It is very unlikely any human pest, like ticks, or structural pest, like termites, would ever get transported on Christmas trees. So don’t worry. Watch the cat go crazy and enjoy the wildlife.

For more information contact your local Cooperative Extension Center and ask for the Commercial Horticulture Agent.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Nursery Crops Website/Portal

New Website for Nurseries
Dr. Anthony Lebude

NC State Department of Horticultural Science has introduced three new information portals for commercial nursery crops (Fig. 1), landscape and floriculture.  The sites are intended for growers and Cooperative Extension Agents in North Carolina.  The portal covers the main areas of production, for example, water, substrates, IPM, cultural practices, diagnostics, plant choices for problem areas and more.  News and upcoming events are kept current and there are wholesale prices listed for common green and hard goods in the green industry to gauge their average in the state.  Use the portal to learn about a new challenge to the green industry at your own pace.  For example, there are primary documents that tell the whole research story about a new production practice but that may be too technical for you, instead you might read an extension article that makes the information more practical for North Carolina growers, or read a similar article in a trade publication that might be more broad-based for the southeast, but contain many of the same concepts. There are photos to describe the practices and in some cases videos and podcasts to show you some of the concepts being used in production.  As always, there are links to other relevant information on important topics.
To access the information visit:

Thank you!!

For more information contact your local Cooperative Extension Center and ask for the Commercial Horticulture Agent.