I think the baby plants scream when I ruthlessly pluck them out of the ground. I know it has to be done. It is my job as a gardener to be a creative, even divine force. The choices I make about which of the little seedlings get to swell into tastiness, into full fruit and seed producing maturity, are irrevocable. My choices shape the future of plants in my garden through pollination and seed harvesting. The lucky ones spaced properly apart for effective growing survive. The particularly lovely, big, and cheery looking guys make it. A lot of not-yet, never-will-be plants will die though, and their unique random genetic mutations die with them. It pains me every time I tug on their little bodies and feel their tiny roots rending.
I have already this spring killed baby radishes, peas, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, eggplants….and it isn’t just the vegetables who get it either. Zinnias, poppies, nasturtiums, wild bergamot, calendula: no one is safe. My seedling book says that I am doing no one any favors by letting them live too crowded. The book says unthinned seedlings will be stunted and weak. But thinning. It has such a Malthusian feeling.
Yesterday I thinned the peas. The tiny roots of the rejected seedlings clung desperately to the soil. I thinned the radishes. And I must admit that in an act of god-like absorption, I ate those tiny baby plants (and again, Malthusian!). I hovered over the beets, but they are too small for thinning. I can’t yet determine which are weak, which are unsightly, which are destined for the compost. The whole row of beet sprouts sighed and shivered in relief as I stood and walked away.
I told the spouse about my worries. That I think the little baby plants shriek and fight to live. The spouse patted the dog and looked at me over the garden fence. He reached over and snatched a tiny radish plant from its tidy row. His teeth crunched a little on the tender leaves. “They’re just plants,” he told me, and wandered off with the weed trimmer. I looked at the empty spot where that radish used to be and now was never going to be again. I really thought I heard it scream.