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Volunteering Vegetables -- The squash that won't go away...

 
steward
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A few growing seasons ago a volunteer squash appeared in my garden. It was a hybrid of unknown parentage. It was a pepo, so a nice summer squash. The thing that stood out about it was that it was super early and super vigorous. I kept it emasculated all summer long so that it could be pollinated with crookneck squash.

I saved the seeds from it intending to do a plant breeding project with it... I grew out the seeds last summer, and saved seeds from the fruits I liked, but didn't get them re-planted this spring. No worries, the plant reseeded itself. Wow! What a gloriously worthwhile trait: Self-seeding squash.

I ate squash from the plants for super tonight. It's the first squash from my garden.

And now the goals of the project have changed... Instead of re-selecting for crookneck shaped squash, I intend to select for volunteerism... A squash that I don't have to save seeds from and that will still show up in the garden year after year could be really clever. Especially if I can hold onto the earliness and vigor.

How about it? Anyone else have a vegetable that volunteers every year?



 
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Nice. How do you cook yours?

Side note: your landrace thread has me NOT caging my tomatoes. Guess what, they're flopping over and then growing straight back up. One in particular is doing a marvelous job of supporting itself. Thanks for the inspiration!

Another side note: I have a lettuce that's been volunteering for 3 years now. It always amazes me.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I have a limited repertoire for cooking squash, or any vegetable. They either get stir-fried, or added to a soup. Summer squash are typically fried in butter on high heat so that they scorch. Mmmm.

I have lettuce in my garden that volunteers every year. I first remember it in my daddy's garden when I was a child.

The tomatillos, and Swiss chard volunteer. Turnips often do.

I keep trying to select for volunteer tomatoes, but alas that one still eludes me.
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

I keep trying to select for volunteer tomatoes, but alas that one still eludes me.



We gotta talk.

One of my biggest most annoying 'weeds' are the volunteer tomatoes. One variety in particular is especially enthusiastic about volunteering, it even has some of the seed dormancy mechanisms like wild plants. Last year's plants were very popular with the bees. It's usually my earliest producer and a heavy cropper until the first hard frost. 20 foot spread, tiny tomatoes, but no bug or disease problems... yet, drought tolerant, and most importantly, TASTES GREAT FRESH OR DRY! There are so many things I love about this tomato, I am getting very excited about potential breeding projects.

I received the seed from my local seed library (pdf link). From their catalogue:

These tomatoes have an exceptionally sweet and rich flavour, especially for their size.
Because of their blight resistance they continue producing fruit long after other tomatoes.
Origin
It dates back at least to the 1880’s in the USA and originates in Hidalgo State,
Mexico. The Victoria Seed Library received these seeds in 2014 from the Seed
and Plant Sanctuary for Canada.
Growing
They can become huge - even up to 13 feet tall in the right conditions, so their
climbing vines need to be well supported. Time to maturity ≈53 days (to eat)




I usually just give each plant a tomato cage, they climb up through it, over it, and along the ground for about 10 to 15 feet in all direction. The only reason I use the cage is so I can know where to put water, not that it ever seems to want any.



This self seeding squash project is very interesting. We've had cucumbers volunteer before, but that was more a result of the human behaviour rather than the plant's. My grandfather use to pick the over-ripe cucumbers, put them on the ground, stomp on them in anger, then the seeds would dry down and hibernate until spring. It sure would be neet to have a squash that would self seed without so much intervention.
 
elle sagenev
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R Ranson wrote:

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

I keep trying to select for volunteer tomatoes, but alas that one still eludes me.



We gotta talk.

One of my biggest most annoying 'weeds' are the volunteer tomatoes. One variety in particular is especially enthusiastic about volunteering, it even has some of the seed dormancy mechanisms like wild plants. Last year's plants were very popular with the bees. It's usually my earliest producer and a heavy cropper until the first hard frost. 20 foot spread, tiny tomatoes, but no bug or disease problems... yet, drought tolerant, and most importantly, TASTES GREAT FRESH OR DRY! There are so many things I love about this tomato, I am getting very excited about potential breeding projects.

I received the seed from my local seed library (pdf link). From their catalogue:

These tomatoes have an exceptionally sweet and rich flavour, especially for their size.
Because of their blight resistance they continue producing fruit long after other tomatoes.
Origin
It dates back at least to the 1880’s in the USA and originates in Hidalgo State,
Mexico. The Victoria Seed Library received these seeds in 2014 from the Seed
and Plant Sanctuary for Canada.
Growing
They can become huge - even up to 13 feet tall in the right conditions, so their
climbing vines need to be well supported. Time to maturity ≈53 days (to eat)




I usually just give each plant a tomato cage, they climb up through it, over it, and along the ground for about 10 to 15 feet in all direction. The only reason I use the cage is so I can know where to put water, not that it ever seems to want any.



This self seeding squash project is very interesting. We've had cucumbers volunteer before, but that was more a result of the human behaviour rather than the plant's. My grandfather use to pick the over-ripe cucumbers, put them on the ground, stomp on them in anger, then the seeds would dry down and hibernate until spring. It sure would be neet to have a squash that would self seed without so much intervention.



I do believe we may have to have a tomato seed swap. Your tomato sounds AMAZING!
 
elle sagenev
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I have a limited repertoire for cooking squash, or any vegetable. They either get stir-fried, or added to a soup. Summer squash are typically fried in butter on high heat so that they scorch. Mmmm.

I have lettuce in my garden that volunteers every year. I first remember it in my daddy's garden when I was a child.

The tomatillos, and Swiss chard volunteer. Turnips often do.

I keep trying to select for volunteer tomatoes, but alas that one still eludes me.




mmmm sounds like good squash. I will have to try it.
 
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Volunteer vegetables is one of the things that got me interested in permaculture.
I got ground cherries/tomatillos coming up all over the place and was reminded of the work I had put into growing tomatillos from seed indoors, transplanting, etc.

Now I also get turnips, radishes, mustards, lettuce, chamomile, asparagus, and the occasional squash, tomato, or other random.
I had a chamomile plant overwinter here and it turned into a monster. I hope it self seeds little monsters all over the place for me.
I even had volunteer buckwheat show up this summer.

I've noticed that obviously sheet mulching and other soil disturbances tend to reduce self seeding things. I haven't seen any ground cherries yet, which could be due to last fall's garden improvements.

I'm also optimistic on a volunteer squash that came up exactly where I would want it to from chicken bedding I used in a sheet mulched bed. I believe it's a Tennessee sweet potato heirloom type that has been a good yielder for me.

 
pollinator
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We also have volunteer tomatoes. They are so enthusiastic they even show up in places nowhere near where they've ever been planted. I presume birds and/or beasts are carrying them around. They are a small "wild type" tomato -- very small, very productive, very tasty. I'd be glad to share / trade -- send me a message if you're interested.
 
pollinator
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Veggies that volunteer reliably around here are okra, current tomatoes, tomatillo, chicory, purple sprouting broccoli, collards, kale, moschata squash, Cucuzzi edible gourd, asparagus, corn salad, and Jerusalem artichoke. Fruits that volunteer easily here are peaches, plums, apples, muscadines, and persimmons.
 
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"One of my biggest most annoying 'weeds' are the volunteer tomatoes. One variety in particular is especially enthusiastic about volunteering, it even has some of the seed dormancy mechanisms like wild plants."

Aha! Also called Matt's Wild Cherry! I love that one! It survives the first few light frosts with minimal damage at my place.
 
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Current tomatoes are a huge volunteer for me in Atlanta - I was evicted from a garden space a few years ago, took some of the dirt I'd built with me, and had current tomatoes sprout from a pot the next spring! This year I had to pull a dozen or more from all over the (new) garden space. Next year I'll plan ahead and pot up the extras to sell on Craigslist.

Collards, kale and Jerusalem artichoke volunteer reliably enough that we've corralled them into their own spaces and let them go crazy. I've also got some lettuce that reseeds reliably, pineapple ground cherries, and buckwheat. This year we also have what looks like a volunteer spaghetti squash. I'd love to trade seeds with others who have volunteering veggies!
 
Mike Turner
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Parsnips are also a prolific self-seeder around here. The main problem with them self-seeding in the garden is that they are a plant that causes phytophotodermatitus. This, combined with their large (8 foot high, 3 foot wide)blooming size and random placement throughout the garden, makes the garden a labyrinth to negotiate when trying to get around while avoiding contact with the plant. Sweaty skin is especially vulnerable to this dermatitis.
 
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For years my self seeding Italian Tree and another unnamed racket ball sized tomato fought of grape vines,sunchokes kiwi and bind weed to give me a effortless harvest.
Last year I heavily mulched that bed with fall leaves.This summer, no tomatoes,but the grapes are doing great.
My yard is swimming in torpedo radishes, which grow fast and then bolt. They get huge but are too hot to enjoy any way we have cooked them so far. Gonna try pickling them next. Mean while the greens are good and the seedpods are excellent!
 
pollinator
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Last year I returned to my garden after last gardening in it in 2012. I found that Parsnips, Turnips, Daikon Radish, and Siberian Kale had managed to survive in my absence. They all continue to thrive this year. Additionally this year I have Peas, Spinach (just a few plants), Arugula, Red Mustard, Green Mustard, Tomatoes, Tomatillos (for some reason the volunteers are few and none are as big as some of the seed I saved and direct seeded), Dill, Orach, Amaranth, Lettuce, Devil's Claw (just one so I seeded it some friends yesterday), Sunflowers, Miner's Lettuce, Red Maids, California native annual clovers (weak stand, was weak last year too), Barley, Blue Globe Gilia, and California Poppy are volunteers in my garden. I  currently have carrots, true kale, phacelia tanacetifolia, new york hardy corn salad, and cilantro blooming in my garden. I wouldn't be surprised if next year they join the corps of volunteers.

I have two patches of Michael Pilarski's Friends of the Trees Society scatter seed mix that have come back from last year. They account for some of the increase in volunteering species and honestly if I did an inventory of them and the rest of the garden I might find my volunteer list incomplete.

I've also excluded perennials. If perennials are included I can add Potato, Sunroot, catnip, showy milkweed, and fireweed. I also have several volunteer seedlings of golden current and a few apple tree seedlings in the garden I plan to let grow for a bit till they are big enough to transplant back out into the land of shrubs.

I used to get volunteer squash all the time, they would grow directly out of the compost pile where I composted the squash guts. Haven't had that happen in awhile probably because I deliberately seed saved so much of my squash seed and I'm currently using one of those black plastic compost tumblers which may be overheating the seeds.

Last year I saved seed for lots of stuff that I haven't had to replant! I'm thinking about doing a big "scatter seed" style patch in the empty spots where some melons didn't germinate well.

I'm also wondering if I could garden a big chunk of my garden by weeding alone. Maybe just with ocassional rototilling or mulching to supplement the weeding.

I'm fascinated by the scatter seed patches I already have and I keep wondering about the plant ecology of them. A few things have dropped out of the mix, a few more have germinated or matured that I didn't notice last year, and a few are either more or less abundant than last year.

I will also say my Garden's ecology includes voles, deer mice, and pocket gophers. They move plants around, sometimes they harvest the seed, and they create a small amount of disturbance that allows things to survive sometimes without me. They ate most of my carrots overwinter and I suspect all of my beets and chard, one large vole is currently very busy in my pea patch but so far its damage there has been somewhat minimal.  
 
pollinator
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Butternut Squash !    No effort to grow, and bug free in my garden.   One year I had a few that didn't ripen before frost so I just left them laying on the ground.  By midwinter they were falling apart and next spring tons of seedlings.   Now in the fall I scatter the seeds around the garden (2000 sq/ft), let them do their own thing and after planting my spring garden I selectively remove butternut seedlings that might be in the way but leave some to become my green mulch around other veggies.  Prolific and LOVE it for canning soup.
 
pollinator
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Interesting thread.

We kind of sort of keep a volunteer salad patch. Not a patch so much, I guess, but salad stuff volunteering here and there.  I'd like to be more intentional about it, but haven't put in the work yet.  But it always makes for a fun and rewarding pre-dinner scavenger hunt.  Currently ours includes:

Amaranth, Elephant Head -- Maybe less in the "volunteer" category and more in the "going to try to take over the garden."  Last year, though, we hardly harvested any, as the plants were completely defoliated by some big or other.  But it's coming up strong again this year.

Lambsquarters -- Not quite cultivated, not quite wild.  These put out enough seeds that, with disturbed ground, there is always plenty.

Sylvetta Arugula -- A perennial, I know, but it flowers and spreads and comes up in new places each year.

Arugula -- Sometimes comes true, but it seems to cross with other brassicas and make something different more often.

Carrots -- Both cultivated and wild (Queen Anne's Lace).  I like to add young greens to salads.

Wood Sorrel -- Like lambsquarters in that it isn't quite wild, and not quite cultivated.  A perennial too, I believe, but seems to volunteer from seeds.


Apart from that, it seems that we're always finding squashes of one kind or another, some growing in places that make me wonder how they got there.  (Dropped seeds?  Eaten and deposited by birds?  By deer?)  And they always seem to produce.  The cows leave them alone, too, when they're growing somewhere the cows have access to, and as long as the chickens don't peck too deeply we'll get mature fruits (albeit with some pretty scars).
 
Susan Pruitt
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Another thought as I've read more replies.   I too, have found that the more I mulch the fewer volunteers I get in the spring.   And since I've added chickens to the mix they cleanout their favorites like buckwheat (chickens are absolutely MAD for buckwheat).  But I still get amaranth and tomatoes and squash popping up in random places.   So I'm thinking about the separate seed saving patch idea but instead of saving all the seeds to store, just let everything reseed itself in place and then transplant seedlings to the main garden in the spring.   Still a bit of work but eliminates the "keeping moist but not wet until germination" challenges that I struggle with in our crazy variable spring weather here.
 
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This year I have squash at the old compost pile and a ton of dill!  I have also had tomato volunteers in the past but not this year.  I have been meaning to set aside a bed just for greens to reseed but it's a project I haven't gotten around to yet.
 
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Many: Scorzonera, leeks, swiss chard, curly mallow, marsh mallow, sow thistle, dandelion,  spiny sow thistle, plantain, earth chestnut, chick weed, bitter cress, false dandelion, mustard, turnip greens, Alexander's, mints, shepherd's purse.
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We get volunteer bindweed. Isn't that sweet?
 
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Amanda Launchbury-Rainey wrote:We get volunteer bindweed. Isn't that sweet?



Made me laugh...thanks.
 
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I've been trying to encourage Borage to self-seed, and it worked last year. I have both a purple and white flowered version. I use the small leaves in soups - can't say it particularly adds flavour cooked, but I figure any green that goes into my two fussy eaters who insist they aren't, is a good thing. The flowers are definitely popular with the bees, and I've seen the plants covered in the late fall, so that's a bonus. So much of self-seeding seems to be finding a place the plant is happy. I like that idea of making up a seed mix I can just toss over an area and see what happens. Deer pressure is *very* high, so until I can redirect them away from things I actually want to keep (yes, they eat potato and squash leaves even though they're not supposed to!) or get so much growing that any damage they do doesn't actually kill the plant, it's hard to trust the experimental process - is it the deer or lack of self-seeding that's the problem??
 
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I had a lot of cucumbers and a handful of summer squash self seed last year.

I didn't feel so bad about not collecting the seeds like I should have after that, and like was mentioned above it's automatically selecting for self seeding plants!
 
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In my opinion the easy way to make self-seeding squash is to feed squash to pigs on mass then spread the manure and boom squash everywhere. Same goes for tomato's if you have the climate for them. In Ontario Canada I grow voulonteer cherry tomato's every year. But in Puebla Mexico at 2000 m above sea level even if you plant tomatoes it's iffy whether they will grow any. I stopped trying to grow them there years ago. We still get a couple lb off the odd plant but it's not really worth trying to grow them .
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Joseph, is this C. pepo continuing on with it's self seeding for you?  
 
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I've had various volunteers. Tomatillos, tomatos, ground cherries, potatos, beans, buckwheat, & cilantro come to mind. Nothing too unusual with any of that. With any luck my unharvested remote pumpkin patch will sprout on it's own this year. My favorite volunteer is peanuts. Not so much because of the peanuts (awesome as they are) but the story behind it. Before moving to TN I researched what new things would grow here & what would not. Due to different soils & climate, etc. The state university ag department said that one particular type of peanut would grow here. Seemed worth a try. A long time resident farmer here said there was zero chance of any peanut ever growing here. So I planted some TN Red Valencia peanuts in his corn crop after it died from neglect. Never harvested that batch. "Wild" peanuts still there three years later. Seems to be getting thicker too.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Greg Martin wrote:Joseph, is this C. pepo continuing on with it's self seeding for you?  



I didn't continue working on that particular project. And I have changed my habits, so that I don't get as many squash volunteers in the garden.
 
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When I was making my daughter's raised garden bed, I shoved in a bunch of food scraps, including (I guess!) a squash. I was doing the Ruth Stout mode of composting. I think it was her Halloween pumpkin that'd we hadn't gotten around to carving until February *insert embarrassed emoji here*.

Yesterday (April 2nd), I noticed some little squash seedlings! Pretty sure those usually aren't supposed to get planted until June in my area, but there they are, self seeding all by them happy selves!
 
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This will be my third growing season on my farm.  I had several volunteer tomatoes near my back deck that must have been from the previous owner. I didn't recognize the variety and there wasn't anything remarkable about them. I used them for sauce and the chickens found them and wiped them out quick. Last year, a different variety came up in the same spot. They were yellow with pink bottoms. I researched and think they were Marizol Gold. Other than the color, they were not special.  I also had cantaloupe growing among the potatoes. Must have been seeds in the compost because I have never planted it. They weren't very tasty, either. Chickens!  I had some other squash volunteers in my compost heaps. They were delicata. I let them flourish. One ground cherry volunteer also came up where I had planted them the previous year.  I hope to see more of that this season.  I usually let volunteers do their thing unless they are interfering with something I planted.  My Calendula, Borage and Dill were planted once and have been coming up on their own. As my garden matures I hope to see more volunteers!
 
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One of my projects this year is building up a container herb garden on pallet tables in my permaculture zone 1, which is the area directly outside my front door where the plants will get tended every morning while I wrangle my rescue dogs as we come and go on their morning pee/poop walkies.  I'm slowly moving and transplanting things from my more developed gardening area across the yard, where stuff tends to get neglected and not used as much.  

So this morning I set up two new containers and went to the place where my wood chips get dumped  to get buckets of soil -- there's a lovely five year old pile of composted wood chips full of earthworms and soil life of all kinds.  But it has a weed cover, which I tucked into with both hands and started throwing over my shoulder.  Mostly giant ragweeds about two feet tall.  

One of them felt "wrong" and smelled familiar as it went past my face and over my right shoulder, so turned and looked behind me.  Sure enough, the "giant ragweed" on the ground was actually a beautiful volunteer tomato plant that I had just uprooted on autopilot.  It rained last night so it came up with a nice root ball and was in good shape -- and the funny thing is, this tomato volunteer was in nicer shape, growing in the shade under an oak tree, than any of my starts or purchased plants this year!

It was quite far from my garden area so no telling what kind it is.  Best guess is yellow cherry tomato, based on the closest plantings last year.  Or whatever unpredictable thing grows from the seeds of Juliet salad tomatoes, a hybrid which I grow a lot of all over the property.

It was so pretty I had to give it a space, so I put it in a seven gallon bucket in good soil and moved it to the container garden.  We'll see what I won eventually I guess!
 
Dan Boone
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Update with a photo of my pretty volunteer tomato from yesterday.

I know I use a lot more repurposed plastic containers than many permies prefer to do. The bucket is drilled for drainage; the wheelie cooler is not. It’s very handy (like a dolly) for moving the container plant around. It also works a little like a wicking bed; keeping a few inches of water in it keeps the tomato container watered for several days longer in hot weather than it would otherwise last. And it keeps the sun off the sides of the tomato bucket. This combo works almost twice as well in my climate as the bucket alone.
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Volunteer tomato in bucket in salvaged wheelie cooler
 
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