Thursday, August 21, 2014


Most of the party crashers in our garden are both uninvited and undesirable, i.e., weeds, but some of the unexpected sproutings are are ones we actually look forward to and hope for.  These are the things that we did once plant, that went to seed in the garden, and come back for a return visit once things melt and warm up.  We refer to these plants not as weeds, but rather as volunteers, selfless, altruistic vegetables that don't have to be asked to pitch in, but show up fairly reliably, ask for little in the way of cultivation, and give their all without reserve.

Purple mustard greens are probably the most reliable volunteers in our garden.  When we lived in Saint Paul I planted them once or twice in the late 1990s, and then enjoyed their complimentary contributions for a decade and a half.  When we moved to Wisconsin we wound up bringing some compost out with us from Saint Paul, and by golly, if there weren't purple mustard seeds in there, and so the cycle has begun again.

I really enjoy the look of radish flowers, so I leave those be when they bolt, and I like pickled radish seed pods, so I pretty much leave the plants alone until, well, to be honest, probably the next spring; I've got to be better about fall garden maintenance, which makes turning things around in the spring so much easier.  At any rate, my slovenly gardening had the beneficial consequence that in earliest spring we had daikon plants shooting up in a variety of spots.

Lettuce is a common volunteer if you leave the bolted plants around long enough, and in the herb world, dill is a reliable reseeder.  Tomatoes often pop up in our compost, but they rarely amount to anything.

But the volunteers that provide both the most entertainment and nourishment are the squash plants that frequently erupt from our compost pile.  Given adequate water and space, squash and pumpkins will grow like crazy even in mediocre soil, and so it's pretty amazing what they can do when they feed on a diet of pure, well-rotted compost.  In mid June we started to see the squash emerging from one of our compost bins; probably a half dozen or more vines developed and competed for space and light.  The ones that got over the top and into the yard or meadow are now doing very, very, nicely, indeed.  Here's a little tour of our magnificent volunteer squash explosion:

Looking east.  These are all coming out of a roughly 4 by 4-foot bin about a third of the way in from the left.

The largest squash by far, with 60-pound Lily for comparison.  She stands about 2 feet at the shoulder.  This must be a Hubbard; we had one that rotted in the root cellar.

I'm guessing delicata.

And maybe carnival? 

Hanging in the adjacent bin.

Another view of the sprawl.

The volunteer squash are luring a variety of pests away from my cucumbers.

Viny ambition.

Having surmounted the wood pile.

Kabocha in there?

There's a bumblebee in there, along with what I think of as cucumber beetles.  But the beetles don't seem to be doing any harm to the squash, and must in fact be helping with pollination.

There you have it.  I'll report back when things start to assume their eventual colors and ripen.

Text and photos copyright 2014 by Brett Laidlaw


Susan Berkson said...


Sara said...

So great, I love all the crazy squash! Celery, it turns out (at least the cutting variety) is a huge volunteer in my hoop house. Which reminds me that I should try and save more seeds for pickling next year. And the dill is always welcome.

Fred said...


Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

Squash year here too, Brett, mostly butternut thugh - but only the ones I did not plant and "erupted" (good word!) from the compost pile. The ones I planted are growing and producing much more sedately.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Susan, Sara, Fred, Sylvie: Thanks for checking in. I'm starting to think my volunteers are all hybrids of whatever came out of the compost, as nothing is looking like anything I recognize, even now. The really big one has developed some warts like on a galeuse d'eysine. It's changing color maybe a little toward a Hubbard-ish gray-green. Of course the big test will be if any of them are tasty. Will report when I find out!

Cheers~ Brett

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