There are gardeners and there are farmers. I could never be a farmer. I am insufficiently ruthless to be a farmer. My soft-heartedness even threatens to de-throne me as a gardener.

We’ve all read the instructions on those seed packets. “Plant in rows, x inches apart. Thin to y inches.” How delicate the term, “thin.” Those veiled instructions are telling you to murder the delicate babies you so lovingly planted, only a few weeks ago. I’m just not up to it.

In my gardening life I’ve followed the trail of the “square-foot” gardening experts, and their extremist wing, the “French-intensive” gardeners. This is, in part, because much of my gardening past was limited to confined areas, and because these method minimize the lethal practice of thinning.

The philosophy of square foot gardening is to sow each type of plant as closely as its species will allow, without crowding damage. Planted that closely, the vegetables form their own canopy, protecting the soil from drying out or over-heating, and the shaded cover minimizes weed growth. This method, while labor intensive, maximizes production per square foot. (Doubly so, if you double dig before planting, giving the soil “loft” favored in the French intensive method) (Admittedly, I’m not crazy enough to be a loyal adherent to double-digging.)

Instead of wasting most of one’s seeds to thinning, square-foot gardeners carefully only put a minimal number of seeds in each tiny hole, planting in a grid measured for the specific needs of the plant. Usually, I shoot for two seed per hole, but with tiny seeds, I often overshoot. (Carrots are my weak spot.) For example, squash plants are large and one plant gets more than a full square foot per plant. Pepper plants (depending upon type) get four to nine plants per square foot. Carrots…nine per square foot. It makes for tedious seeding, but the results pay off handsomely.

I have a 4 X 8 foot bed of carrots. I sometimes drop as many as five seeds into one of those tiny holes. I’m not greedy, but the damn tiny seeds stick to my fingers and–well, I occasionally over-seed. This then requires thinning. Sigh. I wait a bit longer than most on that. It’s not laziness; I just wait until I have a thinned baby carrot harvest that I can drop into salads, or munch on as a treat. The remaining carrots have plenty of time to catch up and fill out during a whole season. There are hundreds of carrots in there–I’m sure they’ll manage. I face a similar conundrum with beets.

The good news is that I love the tiny carrots–and they don’t die in vain–they fulfill the purpose of being eaten. Tonight, they’ll go into a delicious chicken stew, along with some “thinned” golden beets. It’s a variation on the theme of square-foot gardening, but one that works for tender-hearted folks like me.