I thinned out our radish seedlings this weekend and I was rife with guilt again. I've mentioned before how thinning out seedlings makes me sad and this time was no different. I feel like I'm killing something that's trying its best to grow and thrive in our garden, when we don't get a lot of growing and thriving going on. We seem to focus on wilting, shriveling and dying. I assumed I was the only nutjob who feels extremely sad pulling out baby plants to make room for others, but then I read an article I found online in The Washington Post by Barbara Damrosch called "Call It Guilt-Free Darwinism."
Apparently thinning guilt is not as uncommon as I thought. Gardeners enjoy nurturing their plants, but sometimes it becomes so excessive that the guilt of thinning is just heart-wrenching for some. The article says that some people don't even like to prune for the same reasons. I laughed at that until I remembered my reaction to my aunt's scalping of my tomato plants and then it wasn't so funny.
"...keep motherly love out of your mind and Darwin at your elbow."
I'm a fan of Darwin's theories and survival of the fittest makes sense in nature, but it's hard when you're the one looming over a line of cowering little green plants trying to decide whose time it is to go and whose time it is to live.
Damrosch talks about her friend who had major thinning guilt:
"Recently she had a breakthrough while thinning late-planted lettuces. By holding her finger at the base of the one she was saving while she yanked a few of its neighbors, she was able to focus on protecting the survivor instead of mourning the castoffs. The finger trick lessens that tug on the roots of the plant left standing, and it helped my friend to see thinning as a positive act. Just as with pruning (another tough-love garden skill), she was giving her plants a better chance to be productive by removing competition from their beds."
So that's it. Eliminating the competition to increase the survivor's chances of thriving. Well I eliminated a TON of radish competition this weekend. I left their limp little corpses to one side…and now they haunt me when I go to the garden.
It made me wish we had a compost bin set up so at least their deaths would be put to good use - you know, the whole Lion King "Circle of Life" thing? Maybe I'll keep looking into one of those rotating metal compost bins until I find one that's got the right price. And before anyone suggests an open wooden compost bin, please know these three things. 1) I have dogs, one of whom loves to dig and one of whom loves to eat crap 2) I have two boys who love going where they shouldn't 3) Farmer B doesn't build stuff and neither do I - see my pea trellis for proof. So I'll continue my search for one of those barrel bins so I can thin without a guilty conscience.