Dirty Business: Culling

@Loveshaq put together an excellent post on starting seeds a few weeks back.  This post is something of an addendum to it.  I started my pepper seeds around the time that Loveshaq did, but my seeds are older because I didn’t use all of them from the past year or two.  This means they can take more time to germinate.  So far, between the eggplant and pepper seeds, all of the bell peppers, sweet red peppers, and jalapeños have sprouted.  The jalapeños were the only new seeds this year so they popped pretty quickly.  All but a handful of the eggplant seeds have sprouted and all but a couple of the green chiles have sprouted.  But these are older seeds so I’m willing to give them another week before giving up on the stragglers.  I might start another round of green chiles so I can have a longer harvest in the fall.

Now, because I was already working with older seeds, which don’t germinate as consistently, I had tagged each little pot with what was in there so that as each one sprouted in turn, I could transition them from the germinating tray (with the black dome on top and the heating pad underneath) to a growing tray under a light, without losing track of what was in each little pot.

The left is all the jalapeños, and the right is eggplant after just a few days from the initial planting.  No need to keep them in the dark where they can get leggy and weak, while the others are still trying to germinate.

By the way, the light rack is just something that Mrs. Butcher made.  We had a couple of florescent light fixtures from the shed behind the house (before we converted it into her studio), so she got some 1 x 2 furring strips and made a simple frame to hang the lights from.  As the lights burned out, we replaced them with grow bulbs.  The total expense wasn’t more than $15.

One of the things that I do when starting seeds—particularly older seeds—is that I will usually plant three seeds in each little pot.  This is particularly important if you’re picking up your seeds from the local hardware store, rather than from a dedicated seed supplier.  Just like older seeds from a dedicated supplier, the hardware store seeds don’t have as high a germination rate, so planting just one seed per pot can result in having a lot of pots with nothing growing in them.

So, here we are, about a week after the initial planting, and I’ve got multiple plants growing in each pot.  This is a good sign because it tells me that the older seeds are still quite viable.  But, this also means that if I leave multiple plants in the same pot they will crowd each other, which will result in anything from low yields to straight up death.  So, I need to cull some of the sprouts to make sure the plants that are left will be nice and healthy.

Here’s what everything looks like before culling.  One of the considerations when culling is to pull the plants that look weak or damaged.  At this stage, height is actually a marker of weakness.  The plants shouldn’t be leggy (too tall), so that jalapeño in the lower-left is going to get pulled in favor of the itty-bitty sprout in that same pot.  You probably can’t see it, but it’s in the upper-right corner of the pot and hasn’t fully broken through yet.  Also, there are two sprouts in the pot just to the right of the first one which should get pulled.  One still has the seed hull holding onto the starter leaves which is stunting its growth, and the other one is a bit too tall.  So, that third sprout will be the lucky winner.

Of course, there are plenty of situations where it’s just picking sprouts to cull for no other reason than there can be only one left in the pot.  In those situations, I try to shoot for keeping the sprout that is closest to the middle of the pot.  From here I’m just grabbing each of the condemned sprouts with my thumb and forefinger and giving them a gentle pull so I can get the plant and the root.  If I pull too quickly there’s a chance the root will get left behind.

After a couple of minutes of playing God, this is what it looks like:

Now these plants will have a solid shot at growing nice and healthy without having to share their space.

Here’s what they look like about a week later:

All the plants look healthy, are more-or-less the same height, aren’t leggy and thin or otherwise weak.  From here it’s just a matter of making sure the soil doesn’t completely dry out (but not keeping it too wet—you’ll get the hang of it) and lifting up the grow light a little bit as the plants get larger.  These will need to get transplanted into another pot at least once before going in the ground.

About butcherbakertoiletrymaker 580 Articles
When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.


  1. The week between Derby Day and Mother’s Day is the traditional planting time here. As urban gardeners we only have a trough garden and buy the plants already started. We’ve got around 20 pepper plants in the trough and a couple of tomato plants in pots. 

  2. Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t water my pepper starts when we went on vacation & I lost most of my pepper starts.  I’m back to germination for all but my purple cayenne peppers.  Great post Butcher!

Leave a Reply