by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I really don't know why it happens. Starting with the same three to four seeds per pot, in the same planting mix, kept in the same environment - and one little pot has lots of seedlings, the other little pot has none. Now, if I were formulating a scientific hypothesis, I'd guess that maybe when one brave seed sprouts it produces some sort of happy enzyme or hormone - something that says, "Oh boy! It's great to be alive! What a wonderful place to put down roots and raise a family!" The other seeds in the area hear that (feel that? smell that? or just soak it in?) and think, "Me too! I need a place to reproduce lots of little seeds too! This looks like a great place!"
Meanwhile, over there, across the tracks in the bad neighborhood (even though there is no difference I'm aware of), the same seeds, the same packet, stored the same way - those seeds never sprout. Not a one! I don't know why. But it happens quite often.
Or maybe it's like my bar tending days. I spent years living in a mining town high in the Colorado Rockies. I held a lot of different jobs; sometimes seasonal work like construction or in ski resorts; sometimes some free-lance artwork of one kind or another, other times I'd tend bar in one or another of the many different places scattered along the main drag of town. Common knowledge among bartenders, especially in a small town setting, is "crowds draw crowds." When it's really slow, someone might start to come in, see that the bartender is the only one there, and decide to go check out what's happening down the street instead. So if you do have that one customer that braves the empty bar, you try to engage them enough to stay. If it's just one customer, get out the cribbage board; once you get another brave one in the place, get the two of them playing each other, three - challenge them all to a game of pool. Crowds draw crowds; the more people in a place, the more people will want to be there too. More people equals more tips, somebody is going to play the jukebox, and that makes for a much better working environment. Maybe seeds are just sociable like that too. I don't know.
Whatever the reason, when my little seedlings get their first true leaves, they'll do better if I get them separated, transplanting those that have sprouted each to its own little space. The wind and sun outside are too drying for such tender little plants - this is a job that usually takes place on my kitchen counter. Too, my kitchen holds the perfect tools for such a job - tools just as small as those seedlings. A dinner fork is my spading fork, a chopstick my dibble. First, I water the plants well - this is going to be stressful enough without the threat of drying out too. I prepare the new planting hole. Holding it by a leaf, never that thin, weak stem, I tease one small seedling away from the others, lifting roots and a bit of planting mix with the fork, and move it over to any empty space.
When I have enough small plants moved around, I can then take the scissors to the extras. Snipping excess plants instead of pulling them gives the ones left room to grow with less disturbance to their roots. If the ones I've moved have more than a couple of leaves, I'll snip a few of the bigger ones too - that way the roots can get settled back in without having to provide for too many leaves up above. Yum! It looks like I've got enough for a salad for dinner tonight! **Note: I'm eating the thinnings from cole crops: cabbages, kales, and choi - don't eat leaves from tomato, eggplant, or pepper plants.