NO more Ms. Nice Guy

P1010236It has taken me years, but I believe I am a happy plant murderer now.

Perhaps it is a matter of scale:  scale up one’s garden considerably, there’s not much wiggle room for the slackers of the garden world.  If a seedling looks stunted compared to its fellows, then I pull it.  If half a tomato plant’s production of fruit has blossom-end rot, then I kill it.  If I don’t need any more broccoli out of a perfectly fine plant, then I uproot it.

And with this newfound bloodlust (okay:  if plants don’t have blood, should I say chlorophyll-killing lust?), I am a happier person.  I don’t have that groaning maternalistic impulse to save all seedlings, nurture all volunteers.  It’s liberating, this new relationship with my Felco pruners, these limber muscles normally utilized solely in weed-pulling.  I can now happily lay waste to any garden bed, regardless of contents.  And I did so recently!  All but the paste tomatoes are history, as are the eggplants, okra and tomatillos.  Whee!

This is so contrary to my upbringing and training that it’s quite remarkable.  But it’s a point of evolution most gardeners undergo, I suppose, especially we gardeners bent on year-round food production for our households, because succession planting and efficient use of space both outweigh the needs of any one individual, ailing plant.  And seed-saving likewise does not favor the slackers, the malingerers; instead, it’s all hurry-up-and-grow.  Then:  Quick death in my hands.

I would hate this to be a general policy toward everything, but accepting the full mantle of Plant Grower, Nurturer and Compost-filling Killer is not a terribly heavy burden on my shoulders.  It did take me a long time to get here, though.

14 responses to “NO more Ms. Nice Guy

  1. I’m with you!! I extend it to “stuff” in the house. Not drastically, but I’m a get-rid-of-er, not a keeper, these days. Six people, smallish house. . . no other choice, just like year-round gardening.

    Off to draw up a succession plan for the beds.

  2. I’ll second that emotion. A gardener does what a gardener must. Time marches on, etc.

  3. I’m still working toward that chlorophyl-lust. Getting closer though! And the memory of a time when it was hard to kill bugs is a fuzzy and distant one. Strange how nurturing living things (plants, ourselves) involves some killing, and a level of comfort with the role of The Reaper, huh?

  4. Well the basic principle of life is that death is essential to life. W/out death there would be no life. But I too have problems getting over the sentimentalistic notion of prizing every individual bit of life. Leopold once commented on prizing the life of populations over the lives of individuals. At any rate, I found it much easier this year to do in the potato beetles – I want my German Butterballs!! And I hadn’t thought of reacting to blossom end-rot that way – thanks for the suggestion.

  5. Hail Kali, wielding her life-giving knife! *grin*

  6. Nope, I’m not there. HOWEVER, grasshopper disposal is holding a certain appeal this year. My shop garden, my beautiful, impressive shop garden has been overrun with grasshoppers. I actually had a passing thought about tossing them into our nearby lake for fish food.
    I need shop peeps.

  7. How long exactly to reach that wisdom state? I am looking forward to it….

  8. Oh wow, I hope I can get to that state, and soon! Working in a plant nursery seems to have put those chlorophyll maternal urges into overdrive.

  9. I’m okay with pulling the plants as soon as the season is over and/or they are not the productive ones…. likely because I hate seeing drooping or puny plants. My problem is with the seedlings in the spring: I am *horrible* at thining the seedlings as they start getting bigger, maybe that feeling that I chose the “wrong” one to keep and that the one I thinned out would be the “perfect” producer…. sigh. Something (more!) to work on. Any way that you choose which to thin?

  10. Wow, very timely post! I’m currently agonizing over a couple late pepper and tomato plants. They still have ripening fruit, but I need the space. I guess they’ll just have to ripen on the counter, ’cause now the plants are history! Thanks!

  11. I will NOT have slovenly tomato plants in my yard come New Year’s Eve. Like I usually do. They DAID. (Actually, we’re nurturing some greenies at the moment, but they’re on the doomeded list soon.)
    Brava. Happy Fall.

  12. Stef, I hear you too. Although I am not exactly the person who fills the house with stuff (that role falls on the other adult here), the one great consolation is he’s a great declutterer, too. But foodstuff! Well, I doubt I will ever declutter enough in that category to ever satisfy Tom, but…food’s pretty damned important. This time of year is a good one to pitch all that’s not useful.

    Ed, I laughed when I read your post about the same thing. Great minds, you know? I hope your fall garden is terrifically bountiful.

    Oh yeah, Milkweedy. I do think our training basically makes us deny the other half of life (death, of course) and how important death is to us. Compost! We’re all just compost, after all… But with time, believe me, you’ll be able to pull up the prettiest plant.

    Dennis, we could definitely be more productive if we did think collectively and not obsess on The Individual. Of course personally I do tend toward socialistic tendencies, and yes, I do think universal health care is a damned good idea, but: goodness, pull the beans and that one lone wimpy tomato plant if they’re done, as the green manure needs time to grow before the frosts of October! Get ON with it already (this is me giving myself a pep talk, incidentally). Common Good! But yeah, some individual tomato plants are just prone to end rot, and even with compost tea and eggshell mulching, it’s sometimes easiest to just bid the plant adieu.

    Absolutely, Emily. End one thing, start another. No slacking!

    Pamela, shop peeps has an appeal, don’t you think? Or at least one or two? Goodness, yes, the grasshoppers and crickets have been numerous this year. Especially in the greenhouses, flying about, scaring the heck out of me.

    Sylvie, perhaps it’s just like living with a deadline: in my case, frost. Out with the still-living, in with the new, need that space, especially considering how long it takes things to ripen in this soft light and cool evenings of autumn.

    Goodness, d.a., that would do it. Then again working in a nursery is really JUST about the babies, isn’t it? So maybe your urge is good (at work, at least)!

    MC, re: thinning: it depends on the plant. Carrots, for example, are easy, as it’s a matter of perfect spacing. Any brassica thinning should always favor the strongest plant. Tomatoes, well, I have a hard time there, too, and I kick myself every August when I am buried in the things. And all onions are saved. SO, yeah, I guess it depends!

    Hi Simplesuburb, yeah, those tomatoes will ripen on the counter, and sometimes the peppers will too but usually they just dry out (at least, that’s what they do with me). I have a hard time killing peppers mainly because they do love to take their time ripening, and I love red bell peppers above all others. Good luck.

    Thanks, CC. I think dead tomato plants are so sadly skeletal that I gladly pull them, poor little scarecrows. But yes, I would think looking at them on New Years would be a bit of a drag: then again, I wouldn’t be able to see any of ours as we’re generally snowbound from Christmas to March. But, they Is daid, say goodbye already!

  13. Ha! I just did that same crazy plant massacre today with my plants! Everything was just nuts, tomatoes were all hidden and getting moldy and half eaten by who knows what. My pile is not half as big as yours though… btw, would you happen to know if placing all the waste materials in a black plastic trash bag and allowing it to bask in the sun for a week or so might make “potentially” blighted tomatoes ok for compost…? think it would kill all things within?

    Organic matter is a terrible thing to waste…


    • Hi Stephy, my infantile understanding of the creature that causes the blight would lead me to believe that just getting it off your property after firmly solarizing it within the black plastic lawn/leaf bags (firmly tied) is the best option for you. If you don’t know if it was blight, I would still err on the side of “blight” than “not blight” as your compost pile will doubtfully be hot enough to kill the things. I understand your need for more compostable matter! Believe me, I am not above picking up bags of leaves when I run into town, but…this blight could be around for years if conditions permit (weather and coming out of the compost). Hope that helps!

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