One of the benefits of growing plants indoors in compartmentalized seed trays is that no thinning is needed.  We sowed one seed per compartment and they either germinated or they didn’t.  No effort or thinking is required.

The planters outside are another matter.  The smaller seeds—the carrots and turnips—were sown “thinly”, a qualitative term meaning closely spaced but not touching (the only quantitative definition I’ve found says to space them at three to four times the size of the seed).  Small seeds are difficult to place, however, and in practice they can wind up clumped together.  Consequently, when they germinate, the sprouts are literally on top of each other.

The larger seeds—the beets and radishes—are easier to place but some of them still end up too close together.  If nothing is done about them, they will hinder each other’s growth and stifle root development.  And for these vegetables, whose roots are what we eat, that would mean the failure of the crop.

So, we thin.  Or, to put it more harshly, we cull, pulling out the weaker seedlings so that the stronger ones can thrive.  Where there is no obvious choice, we remove seedlings to result in a uniform spacing.

And actually, I do not pull the seedlings out.  Doing so would loosen the soil and could damage the roots of the nearby seedlings that remain.  Instead, I use a pair of small clippers to cut the seedlings off at the soil line, leaving the ground undisturbed.  The beheaded roots will stop growing and, as they decompose, add organic matter to the soil.  In the case of the peas, the roots are especially enriching (they can be grown as “green fertilizer”).

The seedlings are still very small so I only thinned the most closely spaced ones.  After I was done, there were no spaces between sprouts smaller than a half-inch or so.  When the seedlings get larger and again start to encroach on each other, I will thin them at least once more to achieve a spacing closer to three inches for the turnips and beets and one to two inches for the carrots and radishes.

I did not attempt to thin the carrots yet.  Their seedlings are still small and frilly and I can barely see them let alone clip them.  When they get a bit larger, I’ll take a stab at them.  I also left the pea shoots.  They are already spaced at about an inch (their final spacing will be four inches) and are almost big enough to stir-fry but not quite.

Tonight, we will enjoy the first produce of the garden (Micro-greens?  Nano-greens is more like it) on slices of buttered bread.  Such delicacies are one of the main reasons I enjoy keeping a garden.