I’ve just come inside from inspecting the germination success of my carrots, parsnips and beetroot and I estimate it to be around 100 percent. So why am I not jumping for joy? No doubt it has something to do with my loathing of thinning and ‘fine weeding’ as it is known in the gardening world. Both of these tasks involve hours of patient attention, all the while bent double and crawling along between narrow rows where moving just a centimetre or two in wrong direction means crushing delicate seedlings. It’s tedious, demanding, uncomfortable work and as if that isn’t enough, it also commands a great deal of skill. But it must be done, and if you don’t wish to repeat the procedure just a week or two later, done well.
I always wait until the soil is damp (not wet) to thin and fine weed (fine weeding is simply removing the very small weeds that appear at about the same times seedlings are 4-5cm tall). Try these tasks when the soil is dry, and the young seedlings and weeds will snap of at the stem leaving you frustrated, and a mass of roots which continue to grow. I first weed between the rows of seedlings so I can clearly see the plants I will later thin. To fine weed, I use a three pronged hand tool. Beginning at one end of a row, I press the hand tool into the soil and give it a firm tug toward me (a tug, not a rake). This loosens the soil without covering the weeds. The fine weeds can then be pulled cleanly out of the soil without breaking off. Once I have a clear area of soil which I can kneel in without pressing weeds into the ground, I carefully work my way along the row, collecting the weeds in bucket. These fine weeds, composted between thin layers of lawn clippings and a little crumbled soil, make such a high quality seed raising mix that I always devote a separate compost bin to them rather than tossing them into the general pile of vegetable matter and kitchen waste.
Immediately after fine weeding, I thin the 4-5 cm high seedlings so that those remaining are around 3cm apart. Again, I use my three pronged hand tool, pressing it into the soil parallel to the seedlings and giving it a gentle tug toward me. This loosens the seedlings without dislodging them but ensures the ones I want to remove come free of the soil without snapping off. These seedlings also go into my high quality compost bin.
When all the fine weeding and thinning has been completed, I meticulously mulch between the rows (right up to the stems of the seedlings) with pine needles. This is a satisfying task because it ensures I will not have to weed these rows again.
Finally, I scatter slug bait between the rows of seedlings and, with a rather satisfied flourish, unfurl the netting which keeps my pristine garden covered and free from digging blackbirds, escapee chooks and marauding rabbits (those troubled by carrot fly will want to use a mesh to cover the rows rather than an open netting). With the tasks finished, and my back tired, I am somewhat grumpy (and certainly ready for a cup of tea) but I know without any doubt that my supply of root crops is guaranteed.
Don’t delay your own thinning and fine weeding, no matter how bothersome you find it. Though you have my sympathy as you tackle the task, remember that, done well, it’s worth every arduous minute you put into it. And when all is said and done, what’s a slightly tedious afternoon compared with a year’s supply of handsome home grown veges.