Volunteers in the Garden, the Good and the Bad

I don’t know about you, but I could easily spend a lot of money buying plants and seeds for the garden. We still don’t have a good set-up for starting seeds early, so most of what we plant is purchased as starts or varieties that we can direct sow. Buying those plants that are a several weeks old can really add up. Unless you have volunteers in the garden.

This year is the first year we have had so many strong, healthy plants volunteer in the garden. I was excited to see mullein pop up in late winter. Then, as things started to warm up, we had some kale and spinach pop up. A month or so, when the warmer weather was here to stay, we had cilantro, marigolds, pie squash and tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes. So many plants, that we did not buy or plant – or at least, intentionally plant. Time and money saved.

But, oh the tomatoes. There is a reason my husband refers to them as weeds. They illustrate the good and the bad of volunteer plants. We had at least 50 plants popping up all over — not always in the rows or well spaced. After selecting strong plants and thinning for placement, we have many great looking tomato plants. We also had some sort of squash coming up in the orchard. I’m not sure how that happened, but from the looks of it, a fruit had been dropped here and many of the seeds sprouted, in one place, like a huge mutant plant. It was not a viney type like the winter squash varieties we plant, nor did it look like zucchini. As it grew and produced flowers, none were female. These seeds could have come from a crossed squash fruit or from a hybrid plant that was reverting to one of the parents.

This helps to illustrate the need for good seed, true to its type, not a hybrid, if you plan to save the seed for sowing in future years. Just because something was a great fruit doesn’t mean that the seeds will produce the same. Most, if not all, of the tomatoes are heirloom varieties. They are already growing small fruits. These should be true to their parent variety. If you intend to save seeds, be sure of how the parent fruit was pollinated. You may even wish to hand-pollinate to ensure you are getting what you want.

Do you save seeds from you garden produce? Do you encourage volunteer plants? Do you hand-pollinate to have good seed stock? It is so fun to watch things grow and see what you get. The experimenting is just as fun.

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