Gardening PDCA

The do phase of PDCA (plan/do/check/adjust) usually gets the most attention. Even if people don’t like change, they eventually get on board during the do phase and try to improve their function, process, or work activities. It often happens, though, that after changes are made, many move on to the next problem or opportunity and fail to follow the PDCA cycle to the check and adjust phases. For one activity that I annually seek to improve — vegetable gardening — I prefer the check phase.

Each year in late November and December, I receive seed catalogs from across the country. I set them aside until New Year’s Day, when I begin to plan what will be planted in the months ahead. Like most planners, I have high expectations for what my plan will bring and how the coming season will be better. An ex-Toyota executive once told me that PDCA really starts with adjust, since you’re adjusting to some problem or opportunity, otherwise you’ve no reason to plan. So I refer to my notes from the previous gardening year (last year’s adjust phase) and review what worked (e.g., early harvest, abundant fruit, tasty) and what did not (e.g., stunted growth, low yields, bland). Everything looks delicious in the catalogs and on websites, and my garden-gemba notes guide and restrain my seed purchases.

Next is the do phase, which has it pleasures, but it’s also a lot of work — not unlike any meaningful do phase in companies everywhere. I place my orders, purchase resources (potting soil, containers, labels), and gradually get seeds sprouting indoors. As the snow piles up outside, I toil in the soil, listen to broadcasts of spring-training baseball, and time the development of plants for when the weather breaks in Ohio. Some seeds fail to sprout and others grow too quickly, and I make mid-course corrections (mini-PDCA cycles common during the do phase). Most plants grow as they should, after which they are slowly acclimated to direct sun, breezes, and chilly spring evenings while still in their containers.

With warmer weather, the do phase turns into manual labor: tilling the garden (by hand for the exercise and to keep earthworms alive); planting; fertilizing; and weeks of weeding and watering. Obstacles along the way include slugs, bugs, plant diseases, and my own mistakes. Larger garden problems — deer and rabbits — are thwarted with eight-foot fences and chicken wire. This year my greatest nemesis is the cute-but-still-rodent chipmunk.

The gardening do phase never really ends, as weeds and predators are constant until the snow flies, but eventually the check phase does begin:

  • Snap peas, greens, and onions were harvested in late spring.
  • Peppers, herbs, and garlic (the latter started the previous autumn) were picked in mid-July.
  • Beans, squash, eggplants, zucchini, and tomatillos (i.e., fresh green salsa) will ripen by August.

Today I checked the first tomato of the season (Sun Gold variety). If you’ve ever had one, you know how good checking can be. The first tomato also gets me wanting the many tomato checks to come: uncooked, highly salted tomatoes mixed with fusilli, basil, black pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice; roasted tomatoes and garlic tossed with penne pasta; and, when overly ripe fruit fall en masse to the ground, a slow-cooked sauce of tomatoes, garlic, onions, and herbs into which spaghetti and parmigiano reggiano make magic that reminds me of my grandmother.

Check, please!

George Taninecz, VP of Research, The MPI Group

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