Allen Wilson: Now is the time to thin vegetables

Question: I planted my first vegetable garden from seeds this year. I am surprised about how thick the plants are growing. Do I need to remove or replant some of them to make more space for them to grow?

Answer: Thinning some vegetables is very important. Other vegetables can be thinned just by harvesting some at an early stage.

The most important vegetable to thin properly is sweet corn. A corn plant needs about two square feet to grow properly and mature one or two full size ears. Without that much space, many plants will not produce ears. So if your rows are two feet apart, thin plants to one plant per foot of row.

Most root vegetables need about two to three inches of space to develop full size. But I always intentionally plant my beets thick, because I enjoy the greens (steamed like spinach) as much as I like the roots. I am already eating the greens from seeds planted three weeks ago. Use immature plants of full size onions as green onions. Carrots will develop much straighter roots if thinned to two inches.

I thin most leaf vegetables with scissors. I cut off clusters of leaves, leaving about an inch of stem. The remaining stems will produce another set of leaves for re-harvest in about three weeks.

I don’t thin beans or peas anymore. I have found that they produce the same amount of pods whether plants are an inch or six inches apart.

You may be disappointed that your broccoli heads are only two or three inches across when they are ready to harvest. Pick those first heads with a short stem and they will produce side sprouts for the rest of the summer. Pick the side sprouts twice a week. If some sprouts get over ripe, just snap them off so plants will continue producing new sprouts. If sprouts are allowed to flower, plants will stop producing new sprouts.

Cabbage will sprout several small heads if you cut leaving part of the stem. If you want larger second heads, simply snap off some of the sprouts.

Summer squash is best when fruits are three to five inches long. If you leave larger fruits on, plants gradually stop producing new fruits. Larger fruits can be used for zucchini bread.

Make second plantings of quick maturing vegetables

About a month to six weeks after my first planting, I make second plantings of many leaf and root vegetables. By the time my first planting is over ripe and going to seed, I have a fresh new crop of spinach, lettuce, beet greens, radishes and green onions. Beans and peas are also good to make a second planting. In most cases a one or two square foot area will produce enough for two people.

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