I hate thinning seedlings. Germination was really great this year in my 4 inch pots. Try as I might to plant only three or four seeds per pot, I had a little forest of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and tomatoes appear in almost every pot. Without thinning, The Tragedy of the Commons would occur in my little 4-inch plastic pots, each tiny seedling acting as an individual, using as many nutrients as possible for its own benefit. Without thinning: sickly, stunted plants emerge. So I discard the extras since I have no room for them. The little dying Broccoli bodies pictured here bother me, make me sad, break my heart.
The name, Tragedy of the Commons, originated in 1833 in an essay by economist William Forster Lloyd that featured a common resource: grazing land. Individuals acted for their own benefit; too many animals were grazed and the pasture was destroyed. In 1968 the idea of overuse of shared resources like a pasture was revisited by Garrett Hardin and is now discussed in the context of our atmosphere, lakes, rivers and soil. A famous modern example of a tragedy of our commons occurred in Canada. The Cod fishers on the eastern coast had fished for 500 years and believed that cod would always be there. But advancements in technology in the 1960’s made catching cod in enormous numbers easy. So easy that the entire industry collapsed in the 1990’s.
I have written often about the sentience of plants but have to say that this does not lead them to have any more regard for restraint than twentieth century cod fishers or eighteenth century shepherds. Plants merrily reproduce until drought or disease or lack of some specific soil nutrient kills them. It’s not hard to believe that we share about 18% of our DNA with plants, they are our cousins. https://www.koshland-science-museum.org/sites/all/exhibits/exhibitdna/intro03.jsp
And plants are as relentless as any human. I am constantly confronted with overcrowded beds of vegetables, irises and lilies; presented with fruit trees that sucker or grow too tall. I cut back, dig up and discard–thin out. Thinning extends to my livestock and my chickens. Country living seems to require as much taking out as putting in and this requires some steel in the soul of the gardener/farmer. I have to face the fact that overcrowding hurts us all and I thin. But that’s only on my little patch.
I have no idea how to think about this issue Worldwide. Human population was approximately 600,000 in 1700, and now it exceeds six billion. With factory raised animals and corporate farming, we have plenty for each and every individual. For now.