Thinning vegetables

Many vegetables have small seeds that are difficult to sow one at a time.  As a result, you invariably end up with too many small plants close together, fighting each other for the same space, air circulation, and nutrients.  In the case of beets, multiple seedlings almost always arise from each seed (which is really a clump of 4-6 seeds).

Here is a list of vegetables that often need to be thinned out:

  • Beets
  • Carrots and parsnips
  • Lettuce and other greens
  • Turnips and rutabagas
  • Various herbs, such as basil and cilantro

For greens and herbs, simply pull the plants out by the roots.  You can use these plants whether they are big or small.

For very young root vegetables, snip the tops off the extra plants; they will die back naturally.  Throw the tops into the compost.

For older root vegetables, wait for a day when the soil is quite wet, and slowly pull on the tops until the root emerges.  Keep a small spade or stick handy to gently dig out the root should the tops break off, leaving you nothing to pull.  Ideally, though, you should minimize disruption to root vegetables.  Carrots, for example, may fork is moved (although their shape does not affect their taste).  I gently pack the soil back around the side of the carrot that is bared when its neighbour is pulled.

Leave enough space for each plant to grow comfortably without pressing up against any others of its kind (or any other neighbours).  This will vary according to the type of plant.

Want to reduce the amount of thinning you have to do?  Try making your own seed tape.  Although you may find more gaps in your garden (where seeds along the tape did not germinate and did not have backup seeds to fill in), at least you will have less precious seedlings to pull.

How many years are vegetable seeds likely to remain viable?…. If you’re not sure how old your seeds are, then test their viability by sacrificing a few seeds for a test. Place them in-between damp paper towels and seal them in a baggy, and put the baggy in a warm spot such as a furnace vent. Keep the paper damp until the seeds germinate. If few germinate, then seed them more thickly when you plant them in the garden.

Eastern Ontario planting calendar

If you live in plant hardiness zone 4b, then in Canada, you live in one of the greenish yellow areas identified here:…. If you live in this zone in the United States, you live in one of the blue zones identified here:….
Following is a brief outline of the gardening calendar for zone 4b. For complete instructions, always refer to the instructions provided by your seed distributer.


  • Start leeks, seed onions, and celery indoors. You may wish to start peppers too, to give them an extra bit of a head start.


  • Prune your fruit trees before they develop buds.
  • In early March, start eggplants indoors. Later in the month, start broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and watermelon.
  • Start herbs such as basil, parsley, sage, and thyme in flats indoors. After the seeds germinate, put them under grow lights for 14 hours a day; keep the soil moist.


  • You can sow the following types of seeds directly in your garden as soon as the ground is workable: Brussel sprouts, peas, and onion sets. Note: Peas and onions don’t make good neighbours.
  • Start Swiss chard indoors.
  • Plant strawberry bushes and blackberry, raspberry, and fruit trees.
  • After the danger of frost has passed, uncover your strawberry beds.
  • Later in the month, sow the following types of seeds outdoors: broccoli, cauliflower, leek, cabbage seeds, carrots, peas, potatoes, and radishes. Note: Radishes don’t like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.


  • Thin the root and leaf crops that you planted earlier.
  • Move the broccoli and cabbage plants that you started indoors into your garden.
  • In early May, start cucumbers and melons inside.
  • In later May, after the threat of frost has passed, you can move the cucumbers and melons outside along with the pepper and tomato plants, and sow parsnip, corn, kale, beans, and summer squash seeds. Note: Corn is not friends with eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. Beans don’t care for peppers either.


  • Move your celery, eggplant, and pumpkin plants outside, and sow sweet potatoes.

– All summer long –

  • Plant lettuce and other greens, radishes, and green onion sets.


  • Plant garlic in mid-October, about three weeks before the ground freezes.

That seedy neighbourhood

AKA, what can I GIMBY?

Before we rush out to get some seeds, we need to consider our growing conditions, such as the amount of sun and type of soil.


If you have full sun, you are lucky. 🙂
If you have a lot of shade–well, here are some plants for you:….


Most plants do well in loam soil. Loam is a combination of sand, silt, and some clay. It’s porous enough to allow water to be absorbed and roots to grow, and contains more nutrients and humus than sandy soils. Silt is the second best choice. It’s also suitable for most plants.
If your soil has a high proportion of clay, it’s heavy and not very porous. Vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower may do well, but, over time, you may want to add compost and other materials to it to improve it:….
If you have sandy soil, then root vegetables are your friends: carrots, turnips, radishes, onions, and garlic. Sandy soil tends to dry out, blow away, and leach nutrients. You’ll need to add a lot of compost, mulch, and other organic matter to it if you want to improve it.


Do you have any fences that plants such as beans and cucumbers can climb? How about an deck on which you can place some herb planters? Herbs like oregano and mint can run wild if put in a garden; it’s best to keep these contained.


Previously, we mentioned plant hardiness zones, which you can use to determine if a vegetable or fruit will thrive in your climate. But, you don’t really need to refer to these zones if you buy from your local seed supplier’s catalog. If you’re shopping on the internet, by all means, keep your plant hardiness zone in mind!
Your local seed supplier grows plants on site, and offers only those varieties that thrive where you live. They may also have tips for specific plants or varieties. Seeds sold in chain stores may be bought for entire regions or countries, rather than being selected for specific climates.
Here’s where we get our seeds:
  • Local seed suppliers that specialize in organic heritage varieties.
  • Seed exchanges, which you can attend to exchange or buy seeds from local gardeners. Here in Canada, now is the time to go!
  • Last year’s plants. Peas, beans, squash, corn, peppers–many plants produce seeds that are easy to collect and keep for the next year.
Happy seed collecting!