I have never enjoyed thinning seedlings. I don't like the feeling that I am playing God by deciding which plant will live and which will die. What if I choose the wrong seedling to pull? What if I thin too much? But like many aspects of life on the farm, everything comes full circle, and since we've been raising chickens, I have to admit that thinning is far less painful.
When you plant from seeds, no matter how much you space the seeds out, it seems they all crowd into one spot. Crowded plants jockey for sunlight, water and nutrients from the soil and as the vegetables grow, they will be stunted unless they have enough room, so thinning is necessary.
Spare the largest, strongest, healthiest-looking seedlings and carefully pull out others, being careful not to disturb the roots of the plants you're leaving. As the vegetables grow, continue to thin periodically to allow the growing vegetables enough room. (Note: It's often recommended to use small scissors to cut the tops off those seedlings you're removing, but I really like to give the chickens the roots too - they're super nutritious, so I pull gently and carefully and only snip with shears those seedlings that are literally in the same hole as another I want to keep.)
Weed at the same time you're thinning and collect all the weeds and thinned plants in a pail for the chickens. The seedlings and weeds are packed with nutrients and your flock will love them.
I also prune any bug-eaten, wilted, broken or yellowed leaves as I'm thinning. The chickens don't mind a few bug holes! You can give them carrots, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, all kinds of greens including, chards, kale and lettuce, peppers, melon and cucumbers. They will also enjoy sunflower, marigold and nasturtium seedlings, as well as culinary herbs trimmings. Just be sure to avoid the nightshade family: tomatoes, white potatoes, rhubarb, and eggplant. The leaves and stems are toxic. Also skip the asparagus since it it said that too much asparagus can taint the taste of eggs.
So next time you are out in the garden and need do some weeding and thinning, share the nutrient-rich bounty with your chickens. It's only fair considering all the beautiful eggs they lay for you.
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