Survival of the Fittest

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By Broccoli Billy

Most of our garden catalogues do not list plant spacing with the pictured variety but do include a separate chart at the back of the publication. The “plant cultural” chart often is on the seed packet listing water, sun, spacing and other requirements for that variety. These are fairly precise requirements and should be a guideline for planting.

One of these requirements I find interesting is plant spacing. One of my northern gardening friends would plant his vegetables at about the same time as I would. His transplants would be set at the correct spacing, however when he direct seeded carrots or beets or spinach he would not do the proper thinning to maintain plant spacing. I visited him one day and we went to look at how his garden was doing to find his row of carrots six inches high and one-sixteenth inch apart.

The ensuing conversation I found quite amazing! “Wayne,” I said, “why haven’t you thinned your carrots yet?” His comment was “I don’t have the heart to kill all those plants.” Well I thought it best to leave that alone as that was his row of carrots not mine. I can remember going through those same thoughts myself. As we all know gardeners have a special love for their plants and harming or killing them is not included.

It has taken me many hard years and tough discipline to thin direct seeded rows. Naturally we over seed slightly to compensate for germination and natural death rates which is good practice. I can assure you if you have been a plant doctor all your life and refuse to properly thin planting you are condemning those plants to starvation!

Normally when I plant turnips I plant a single row and thin plants to about six to eight inches apart. I got the “brainy” idea this year I would make a wider hill and plant a double row to boost production for my vegetable stand. This practice is used with English peas with great success, however this “pea” is about one-fifth the size of turnips. I commenced to thin these rows in my normal fashion and thought everything would work out. It didn’t. The initial thinning set up the dynamic of “survival of the fittest” with the dominant plants shading the weaklings and stunting their growth. The dominant plants with larger roots sucked up most of the water and nutrition. In my opinion, the double row system for turnips produced less than a properly spaced single row, so there will be only single rows from now on. The case in point here is to pull those seedlings to proper spacing even if it is the worst thing you do in your garden!!

In my last warm season planting I found two interesting things occur. One of my 100 foot rows of red tomatoes had one plant that grew yellow tomatoes. Was it a variant or perhaps a mutation? I think it is possible the seed harvesting method did yellow tomatoes first, was not properly cleaned, and then harvested red tomato seeds.

The next occurrence was a cucumber plant in a 100 foot row producing only white cucumbers. These cucumbers were left on the vine to turn green but never did! I would think this plant produced albino cucumbers which are rare in nature. I did think of saving seeds but, being a hybrid variety, plus albino’s are sometimes sterile, quickly dismissed the thought. Besides, how many people will purchase white cucumbers?

This year’s cool season crops produced yet another variation! I planted 75 feet of a 100 foot row with Georgia collards which produced one huge plant. The catalogues list this variety to grow to 36 inches across, whereas this plant is close to 48 inches across. The entire plant is in proper proportion but being much taller and with huge leaves showing incredible vigor. It is questionable if production would benefit from this plant. Being open-pollinated, I will save the seeds if possible to trial in the future. Keep your garden eyes open!