Thinning plants in the garden has always been difficult for me.  I’ve just never been comfortable pulling up perfectly healthy seedlings.  It just feels wrong.

But even though I can be hard-headed about it, thinning is essential to growing healthy productive plants.  Plants need room to grow and they need to be free from close-quarters competition.  After thinning you can often see the beneficial results within just a day or two.  The surviving plants quickly fill the gaps and grow much faster than they did when crowded with competitors.

Sometimes the thinnings go to the compost pile, but whenever possible they go to our kitchen instead.

Last week I thinned out the beets and the chard.  Some of the chard thinnings ended up in delicious soup (along with spring garlic a/k/a garlic thinnings).  The rest ended up in some awesome salads.

Sprouts, beet thinnings and rainbow chard thinnings.  The tomatoes are store-bought.

Sprouts, beet thinnings and rainbow chard thinnings. The tomatoes are store-bought.


Another great salad.

Another great salad.


I don’t enjoy thinning, but I do enjoy the benefits of it.


22 comments on “Thinning

  1. Buffy says:

    I don’t like thinning either! But when I do it is usually a treat for the chickens.


  2. Bill, I think all gardeners have a difficult time with thinning out the garden plants. We just don’t like killing our baby plants that we have nurtured to life. In my mind I know it has to be done but I’m with you in feeling that it’s just wrong. But then gardening and homesteading in general is all about life and death. Soon I will have to dump all the grow light seedlings left into the compost pile. I started enough for several plantings just in case of frost which did happen. But now with that threat over and the plants growing well, the need for replanting is finished. That’s a tough thing for me as well. I’m still hoping for a chance to get all the rest of the planting done next week. Then it’s kick back and wait for harvest …. yeah right.

    Have a great thinning plants day.


  3. shoreacres says:

    This is the season when thinning is a hot topic on our garden shows. Usually, it involves citrus. People just don’t want to pull those oranges and lemons off their trees — then, they wonder why limbs on young trees break, or the fruit is golf ball-sized.

    I could be wrong, but it seems to me that “thinning the herd” is part and parcel of nature. Our gardens are artificial, in the sense that we water when it’s dry, feed and nurture when the soil tends toward depletion, and so on. Because we encourage such lush growth, we also need to take on the responsibility for performing one of nature’s tasks — thinning that growth.

    How’s that for an opinion from someone who hasn’t a clue? 😉


    • Bill says:

      You’re right about it being natural, even though it feels unnatural. I’ve discovered the same truth with respect to culling a herd of lifestock. We used to never do it. Didn’t feel right. Over time our herd weakened as a result. The kinder thing to do (to borrow Will’s thought) was to cull the weak and frequently sick animals. It seems to me that nature judges health and wellness by the overall condition of the herd/tribe/ecosystem, whereas it’s our nature to focus on individuals.


  4. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Those are beautiful salads, really a work of art, provided by nature. Enjoy your thinnings!


  5. bobraxton says:

    2014.05.09 Fri pract
    from close-quarters
    room to grow plants


  6. vpfarming says:

    Wow, those salads look delish.


  7. Leslie McConachie says:

    What a great idea! I agree with you and I just don’t thin out my plants. But if I ate the results of my thinning I would not consider it wasteful!


    • Bill says:

      I hate waste, so eating the thinnings has been a big mental help to me. And they are absolutely delicious. When they’re young and tender they’re great raw in salads.


  8. EllaDee says:

    Great idea. I’ll file it away for future gardening reference. Meanwhile I continue to part with cash at the farmers markets for the equivalent of your thinnings, in the form of micro and baby leaf salad packs. Would they sell at your markets?


    • Bill says:

      Yes, but our local food culture hasn’t gotten around to the microgreen stage. We sell them as “baby” chard/beets/lettuce, etc. In a few hours we’ll be heading out the market with quite a lot of them. I hope they sell. 🙂


  9. That’s not thinning, that’s picking baby greens for salad, isn’t it? 🙂


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