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Embracing the Chaos of Self-Seeding Vegetables

 
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Sometimes a story of something done wrong can help others avoid a foolish mistake.  This is a story of my own foolishness and a friends intelligence.

Several years ago I bought a few triple crown blackberry plants (a trailing blackberry, thornless with big, deliciously sweet berries).  I planted these down by my pond (I figured I wouldn't need to water them there and I'ld let them grow 'naturally') and kind of forgot about them.  Each spring I would wander down to my patch and dig up new plants (from where the trailing ends come down to the ground) for anyone who wanted some.  Come July I would wander down and pick a few gallons of blackberries.  Other than that, I completely ignored them.  I try to justify myself that at the time I had 17 people living in the house, and was busy as a one legged man in a butt kicking contest, but it was probably mostly laziness on my part.

Contrast that to my friend.  My friend was putting in a community garden a few years ago and he asked me one spring for 100 blackberry plants.  I dug up 100 good strong new plants in the spring with maybe a gallon and a half of dirt and roots each.  He planted these plants in rows, with the plants five feet apart, heavily wood chip mulched and on a good trellis system and has really been concientious (he and 4 or 5 other men have cared for the these and the rest of the community garden and do an amazing job).  I ran into him yesterday (we only run into each other occasionally).  He's expanding his blackberries into 4 more rows and I asked how many blackberries they got last year.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when his wife answered "a little over 100 gallons.  My black berry patch is getting too big and starting to move into my orchard and I'm only getting a few gallons each year.  (I'm hoping part of the difference is that the possums, deer and racoons are harvesting my patch pretty heavily, while my friends community garden is not near woods and he shot the rabbits that ate all his blackberry vines the first winter).

Lesson learned!  It's not necessarily bad to do things "naturally", but sometimes that just translates to "lazy and foolish".  

This week I'm repenting of my laziness and starting a trellising system and moving a bunch of my blackberries to an area less vulnerable to wildlife and where I can treat them more like a crop and less like wildcrafting.  Once I get it put in I doubt I'll have to spend much time each year but I'll have a way more productive than my current system.
 
Mick Fisch
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lambs quarters comes up heavily each spring in my garden.  I purposely leave a few to go to seed.  My wife, who has a much more finely tuned pallete than I do, prefers young lambs quarters to any domestic greens we grow or buy.  We steam them and eat them with a little butter and salt.

Cat tails shoots in the spring are really nice (taste like cucumber).  Break them off as low as you can and peel the outer leaves until you get to tender stuff.  We eat them raw.  Think about the water quality of where you are getting them.  

I hope one day to have a spot I can have a cat tail patch where it won't spread.  I understand there is a hybrid variety that only spreads by the roots, so that should be containable, although "mostly sterile" sounds like the lead in line to some kind of comedy or bad joke.  ("Mostly dead is different than all the way dead.  Mostly dead is still a little alive.  When someone's all the way dead, well, there's usually only one thing you can do.  Go through his pockets and look for loose change."  One of my favorite lines from "The Princess Bride".)

This concept of self seeding in a garden really has me excited.  If you have enough room for a bed to not be in constant production it could really reduce the work!
 
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In Edible Paradise, Vera Gruetink recommends letting vegetables self-seed, because:

vera Greutink wrote:Letting vegetables self-seed is even easier than saving seeds to sow yourself and it provides many of the same benefits. You don’t need to keep buying seeds and the plants will adapt somewhat to your soil and climate.., self-sowers have a few additional advantages. For one, you do not need to worry about when exactly is the best time to sow. When the circumstances are right, the seeds will automatically sprout. Furthermore, the enormous amount of seed most plants produce is in itself an insurance against failure. Just one plant will often produce the equivalent of many seed packets. Seeds can be lost because they’ll rot or be eaten by critters, but there will still be enough to ensure the emergence of the next generation.



I also like what the One Yard Revolution has to say about Self-Sown Annuals, too!



From the video description:
"Self-sowing annuals are a key part of our do-nothing gardening strategy.,,, These self-sowing annuals are currently growing in the garden: arugula, amaranth, claytonia (aka miner's lettuce), collard greens, giant red mustard, greens, kale, lambsquarters, lettuce, mache, mustard greens, parsley, red orach, [and] spinach mustard greens"
 
pollinator
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In 2011-2012 I planted parsnips, turnips, Siberian kale, and daikon radish among other things. Then I left for a few years of field work in California, Nevada, Utah and Montana and when I came back in 2016 they were still growing in the garden in varying degrees of abundance- and still are! Since I have added some California native edible annuals including miners lettuce (actually a species complex of which I have two with two variants of one), red maids, and native golden chia and they all volunteer reliably in Montana. Orach seems to volunteer reliably, so does corn salad. I got a packet of New York hardy corn salad three years ago and its volunteered since in the same spot, but this year I found a patch in my parent's hayfield four miles from my garden that has probably been feral or wild for decades- collected some seed. Lettuce volunteers reliably if I help it a little by providing yearly disturbance. I think I've found a strain of Austrian field pea that volunteers reliably. Amaranth was reliable for three years but not the fourth. Tomatillos are reliable.

I get volunteers of carrots, tomatoes, amaranth, arugula, mustard, ground cherries, this past year even a few fava beans, and others but don't consider them reliable yet.

I suspect that more diverse populations like a segregating F2, a breeder's grex, or a landrace style population will have components that show a greater potential to volunteer successfully. I tend to save the seed of volunteer vegetables preferentially in the hopes that the capability can be encouraged.

Some areas of my garden are managed now for the volunteer populations. I essentially just weed them.

 
pollinator
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In my Mediterranean yard the best self-seeders are definitely:

1. Spinach. It even grows on the lawn.
2. Coriander/cilantro.
3. Rocket/aragula
4. Parsley

A warning though: completely neglecting the area means the weeds will flourish and they’ll outcompete the vegetables. I left some areas of yard completely neglected and it turned out with mostly giant weeds.
 
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@Tim Kivi - In your place, I would research just how many of those "giant weeds" are edible. I've been expanding into that a lot this fall and have been adding many of them in small quantities to soup so my family doesn't complain and yet gets some benefit from the micro-nutrients. My next approach is to decide if any of them are edible by my ducks or chickens. My third approach is to chop and drop them to feed my herd of micro-organisms. My forth approach is to yank and compost the ones that really will take over - creeping buttercup, Morning Glory are two that I do try to keep under control.
I've just been reading an interesting book that quotes an American farmer who's been planting "no-till" and low poly-cultures (short-lived, nothing taller than sunflowers) for years. The increase in beneficial insects has been an unexpected byproduct (his goal was carbon sequestration in the soil), and an entomologist that visited commented that many insects eat weeds seeds as part of their diet, thus with time and careful management, the "weed" load by his definition became naturally controlled. He's dealing with *far* more land than I am - somethings scale up, but other things don't - but with observation, I'm hoping I can use some of these ideas to keep more of my "weeds" in check.
 
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I am looking into increasing the perennials & self-seeding annuals to my garden. The key is managment of the plants, self seeders should be put in small beds, so they are controled in their on little world. Perennials like the tree collard/kale can be planted in the end of a small bed, to grow & regrow year after year. Sunchoke can take a garden bed, so put them in a 4 X 4 raised bed, if a sprout show up in the path, dig up the ofending tuber & eat it. Horseradish the same thing, all these plant puts out a lot of greens for the compost bin.
 
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Joe Grand wrote:I am looking into increasing the perennials & self-seeding annuals to my garden. The key is managment of the plants, self seeders should be put in small beds, so they are controled in their on little world. Perennials like the tree collard/kale can be planted in the end of a small bed, to grow & regrow year after year. Sunchoke can take a garden bed, so put them in a 4 X 4 raised bed, if a sprout show up in the path, dig up the ofending tuber & eat it. Horseradish the same thing, all these plant puts out a lot of greens for the compost bin.



Asparagus is a perennial too, and if you plant it from seed or from crowns of common varieties, not all-male varieties, it self seeds prolifically, and produces a lot of green material for mulch or composting.

I grow several different annuals in the cabbage-mustard family so it might be hard to depend on self seeding, because the cotyledons all look the same: arugula/rocket, mustard greens, kale, turnips, radish, leaf radish, mizuna, B. carinata, not to mention all the larger ones that I would actually prefer to plant at good spacing in a bed, maybe with small greens or quick plants around: broccoli, etc.

Also, several of these are actually the same species and would cross with each other, so if you want to use your own seeds, it's best to let only one variety in each species go to seed each year. The seeds last several years, at least 4 or 5 if storage is good, so you can save all your broccoli seeds this year, and all your cabbage seeds next year, and your red mustard this year and green mustard next year, etc etc. Rather than letting everything go to seed together and possibly cross and reseed something not very useful.
 
William Schlegel
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My miners lettuce and red maids are in their fifth year since I planted them in 2016.

Parsnips and Siberian kale date to 2011.

Turnips and radish may show back up later it's too early for them.
 
Joe Grand
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My Mary Washington never had seeds that came up, some one gave me some other crowns, not sure what they are, but I eat off them every year.
I can not wait till I can get Fall asparagus spear, fresh asparagus in the Fall, mmmmmm!
I am trying to find a balance between full sun for asparagus muched with wood chips & wine cap mushrooms in the same bed to compost the chips in the shade.
Not sure I can do both, but it is worth a try.
 
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