The thing I hate most about gardening is thinning the seedlings. It just feels bad to have to kill something you grew! Trust me though, it is very important. Last year, I was stubborn and refused to thin them enough. I ended up with carrots the size of toothpicks and beets so small they could pass for Barbie doll food. The moral of my story is this; if you don’t thin your plants enough, they will not grow very big. So, as unpleasant as it may be, you must do it in order to get the healthiest crops.
I learned the hard way that you need to be very careful when thinning your seedlings. It is NOT a good idea to just pull out the ones you don’t want to keep. This can disturb the roots of the plants you do want to keep, and they may die like some of mine did.
The best thing to do is to pinch or cut off the seedlings you don’t want to keep just above the dirt.
There are varying opinions on when to thin your seedlings. I chose to wait until they had their first true leaves and then tried to keep the strongest looking plants. My husband advised me to get rid of some of the taller ones because they were too ‘leggy’. I would have kept the tallest ones thinking that height equaled strength, but this is not always the case. Look for overall health of your seedlings to include color, leaf production, and stem strength before thinning them. You may even want to thin them to 2 plants per pot for now. That way you are more likely to have at least one good plant from each pot when they are ready to go outside. I only kept one plant per pot and unfortunately lost some of them.
After you thin the seedlings, you are likely to see the remaining plants grow much more quickly. Mine grew so fast, in less than a week, that I had to repot them already. Some of them were still quite ‘leggy’, so I placed them far enough down in the pot to be able to bury some of the stem. The cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower seedlings were too tall to hold themselves up. They all just lay there getting tangled with each other. It was a mess!
Be sure to use a good potting soil that has fertilizer and nutrients in it. Make sure to water them after repotting also. We used the little peat pellets to start our seeds, so I was able to plant the whole ‘container’ into the new pot. This way there wasn’t any shock or root disruption.
We repotted them into 3” peat pots. I would not recommend planting the whole pot in the garden like it says you can. We did this last year and the pots are actually still in the garden and have not decomposed much at all. To ensure proper root growth, either remove the pot entirely or at least remove the bottom so that the roots can get through.
Caution – Cats and Other Hazards
We ran into a few problems with our seedlings. Number one, as I mentioned, was that my heavy handed thinning resulted in some plant deaths. Number two, however, is much more sneaky and difficult to deal with. Our cats think the seedlings are there for them to munch on. They destroyed some cabbage plants before I caught them. And even as I repotted last night, they would sneak around and try to eat my seedlings when I wasn’t looking! We ended up getting a large domed tray to keep them away. It is also important to remember that some plant leaves are poisonous. Be sure to keep them out of the reach of pets and children.
The time is approaching for outdoor seeding. While some things I’ve read say that we can sow our outdoor seeds in the beginning of March, most of the information indicates that the end of March/beginning of April is better. I ended up asking a friend who gardens in Oakwood how soon he would recommend planting the spring crops. He told me that he works his compost into the soil the beginning of April to prepare, and he plants his seeds later in the month. I’m going to go by his advice since he is pretty local and has more experience than I do. So, we’ll have to be patient just a little bit longer! I’ll post another article before then about getting the soil ready and some different approaches for plant placement.
The seedlings that I started indoors will begin the hardening process soon and will be ready for transplant in April and May.
It’s Not Too Late!
It is not too late to start your own garden. An article published March 16th, indicates that food prices are on the rise. Follow this link to read it. It may just convince you to join in so we can garden together!
Check out these resources to find more information about gardening.