Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Growing Food: Calling All Volunteers

In my garden, I welcome the chaos that volunteer plants bring. If it will come up on its own, I will let it grow. This is how I end up with potatoes in my cabbage bed, or carrots in . . . well, every bed.

The only edible watermelon we ever got out of our garden was a volunteer that grew in the compost pile. The only reason I have hollyhocks is because they self-seed and come up wherever I water. 

Our environment is hard enough to grow plants in that I reward any plant hardy enough to grow on its own. This means, of course, that my garden is somewhat chaotic, but it's not as if I'm ever going to have a catalog-worthy garden anyway. Besides, I like to look at it as delightful surprises at every turn. Look, there's a garlic plant in the green beans! Or, hey! A tomato plant under the clothesline!

You never do know.

Anyway. This year's volunteer award goes to the lettuce that has come up in the tomato bed. I was just thinking it was about time to mulch the tomatoes, and then I see dozens of lettuce plants coming up all around them. They self-seeded from the carpet of lettuce A. produced last year by shaking around lettuce plants that had gone to seed.

See all those tiny lettuces coming up around this tomato?

Am I going to mulch over volunteer lettuce? Of course not! It's a whole salad in one garden bed! It will, of course, make it slightly harder to weed and water, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to make for dozens of heads of lettuce.

So tell me, my fellow gardeners: Do you embrace the chaos of volunteers, or do you insist upon order in your garden?


Anonymous said...

Here getting carrots to germinate has often been a bit of a challenge. Your volunteer carrots amaze me. I do have potatoes coming up in peas and kohlrabi; if the are tiny. I try to transplant them just because they are so valiant. Chickens have done a number on my lettuce, but they are so lovely that I leave them. Volunteer pest eaters? Mil

Mary W said...

Yes, I leave the volunteers. We get tons of wildflowers that way, including blue-eyed grass that came in some lawn seed years ago. I never could get nursery-bought plants to grow, but what we have now pops up everywhere.

Daisy said...

I get loads of volunteer dill - all over the backyard! I stop everyone from pulling it because I will use it to make pickles. After pickles are canned, they can pick the volunteer dill if they want it.

JP2GiannaT said...

All the volunteers. The only thing I worry about (and I'd welcome any input you have on this) is how it might affect saving seeds.

I discovered a volunteer baby watermelon today, actually. Made me very happy.

Kristin @ Going Country said...

JP2: I don't worry about it. In fact, we have actively encouraged hybridizing in our squashes and save the seeds of the best-tasting and interesting-looking ones. Now we have our own strain that handles our conditions well. The fancy name for this is, I believe, a "land race."

cabinart said...

I usually try to transplant my volunteers. It is too hot for lettuce in the summer, so I carefully put the volunteers in pots and move them to the shade. I won't be transplanting what looks to be volunteer cucumbers. That sort of plant (melon-types) usually shrivela and dies for no apparent reason, especially when I spend money for them at a nursery. Maybe we have an airborne virus. It is all a mystery, making me super thankful for farmers.

Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

My biggest problem with volunteers is I don't have enough experience to identify that those tiny things are lettuce and not weeds. I have to let things get really big before I can tell for sure if I wanted them or not.