Richard's Ramblings June 5th - Plant Spacing and Thinning

The white umbels of the cow parsley provide a wonderful natural flower show at this time of year, ribbons of lacy white flowers along the hedgerows, until you get to the strip of sprayed verge. How anyone can think a strip of dead, brown vegetation is more attractive than head high white flowers is beyond me. Thankfully the practise seems to be dying out (or the people who do it are). I tend to assume that the sort of people who do this probably wear their socks in bed and maybe have a closer relationship with their cousins than many of us would feel comfortable with- but that could just be my prejudice. However, many of us are guilty of what I think is excessive tidiness in our own gardens. People who would never use herbicides in their veg patch happily use them on their driveways. Maybe getting use to a little bit of untidiness is the price we need to pay for more ecologically sensitive gardening.

Though this laissez-faire approach to gardening does not always extend into my kitchen garden. There are times when strict discipline and order is required, when the plants need to know who is boss. I’m talking about plant spacing and thinning. For the novice the idea of pulling out all nearly all of their carrot seedlings to leave one every two inches is horrific. Well if you’re not man (or woman) enough for the task then take up crocheting instead because it has to be done! To ensure that we have enough plants in a row we have to over-sow to allow for poor germination and losses (a huge problem in the cold wet spring this year). It is obviously important to not massively over-sow as then you are down on your hands and knees pulling out carrot seedlings for hours. Ideally you would want one or two plants every inch, thinning them out to one every two inches (for large carrots); any closer than an inch and you will have tiny carrots with lots of leaves. So be ruthless and pull them out and throw them away; but throw them out a long way from your carrot bed as they attract in the carrot fly. Correct spacing is vital for all crops, so get out there thinning and enjoy the thrill of being master of your own veg patch! 

Thinning of apples and plums can also be essential. This can be very hard to do as you are pulling off perfectly formed baby fruit, but again be tough and ruthless! Leaving too much fruit on a tree results in small tasteless fruits, so for a tasty harvest keep an eye on them. Fruit trees naturally drop some fruit over the next few weeks but after that check what is left. Plums, in particular, can set so much fruit that not only are the plums small and tasteless but the branches can actually snap. Plums should be spaced every two inches along a branch, so any closer and you know what to do and apples should have one, or at most two, fruits per spur.  Maybe we need to be a fascist in the kitchen garden but please be an anarchist in the hedgerow.

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