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Embracing the chaos of self-seeding vegetables to boost your garden

 
gardener
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Self-Seeding Vegetables

A while back I published a blog post all about perennial vegetables--in the companion thread it was mentioned that self-seeding annuals and biennials can provide a lot of the same benefits. At the time I agreed but stated that topic deserved its own blog post. Well that blog post is now live!

This week's blog post - 11 Self-Seeding Vegetables to Save You Time and Money - is all about self-seeding vegetables.

The blog post covers 11 different types of self-seeding vegetables. Obviously, there are many more but I can only include so many in one post but I include some links to other sites that have their own lists with additional self-seeding vegetables. I want to make sure you all get the information you need to use self-seeding vegetables in your garden.

But working with self-seeding vegetables does require that you embrace a bit of chaos in your garden.

Gardening with Self-Seeding Vegetables



I love getting volunteer vegetables coming up early spring and sometimes even in late summer / early fall. But these volunteers are almost never where I would have planted them. They are just hear and there and perhaps in less than ideal spots.

It is a bit of chaos and depending on how you manage your garden this can be unnerving. Personally, I think it is awesome but then I tend to plant my gardens to be a bit chaotic!

But there are techniques to manage self-seeding vegetables.

4 Techniques to Garden with Self-Seeding Vegetables
1. Create a garden bed just for self-seeding vegetables.
2. Harvest the volunteers when they’re little.
3. Treat the volunteers as weeds.
4. Plant perennial vegetables and let the self-seeding vegetables come up around them.

Now that 3rd one might be making a few of you scratch your head. What I mean with that one is that say a volunteer tomato pops up in a really bad location. Just pull/cut it like you would with a weed and drop it as mulch. But if the volunteer has edible greens then just harvest it for your salad!

The 1st technique is one that I'm considering for a few veggies that just love to volunteer and can overwhelm a garden bed. Orach is one that can go a bit crazy, arugula is another. But if I make a garden bed just for these high producing self-seeding vegetables then I can get great harvests without worrying about my other veggies getting overwhelmed.

My favorite option is to add some perennial vegetables to the self-seeding vegetable bed that can hold their own against the volunteers. Just imagine a vegetable bed that you never have to plant after the first year! Just harvest and call it good. Sounds great to me!

But in most cases a combination of the 2nd and 3rd techniques is going to be your best bet. Harvest the volunteer greens as needed and chop-and-drop the other volunteers until you get a good spacing. But I recommend being okay with the volunteers growing outside of any formal plantings such as rows.

Embrace that chaos and nature will reward you with less pests and a greater harvest all for less work.

Do You Garden with Self-Seeding Vegetables?



So what about you? Do you let volunteer veggies grow in your garden? Please reply and share your answers below. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples Also, don't forget to check out my blog post mentioned in this thread.

I would also love to hear about any techniques you have for working with self-seeding vegetables. Please leave a reply below.

Thank you!
 
steward
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The approach I'm taking is to start planing perennial or self seeding annuals at the North ends of all my garden beds.  That way they can take over a bit at a time and I can still plant my normal row that follows my crop rotation schedule.  And if they get tall they won't shade smaller annuals (being on the North side).

 
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I usually let volunteer plants do their thing. My garden usually starts out neat and slowly descends into chaos. Volunteer plants tend to be pretty easy to care for, so I normally let them stay.
 
pollinator
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I let some things stay where they put themselves, but others I move after they come up. For example I put my polytunnel where I had had parsley the previous year, I didn't want parsley in the greenhouse under bush tomatoes (no light and no space) so I moved them all, now I have a little clump of parsley that is always there, self seeding happily, all I do is weed other things out of it.
Borage is another one that self seeds everywhere, I only allow it to grow at the edges of the veg garden as it gets huge and sprawls over everything killing pretty much anything else.
Strawberries don't exactly "seed" but I let the wild ones spread where they will, and only remove them if I want to plant something else there.
 
garden master
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I love the idea of having a separate bed devoted to just self seeding plants. I hope to have most of my garden like that eventually!

I've had great success with lettuce, and like you mentioned, you can thin the plants, if needed, and harvest at the same time!

I've also had really good success with cucumbers and pretty good success with squash!
 
pioneer
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Hi Daron,

Another great post!

I am with Steve, I think one of my new expanded beds will go for self seeders.

Now I will have a new perennial bed and a new self seeding bed.

So much work! So little time !

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
pollinator
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I have had contests for space in my garden, I let the squash and beans / tomatoes fight for space / dominance.    

After spreading seeds all over my property, I have found there are a few areas that grow some plants best.     I take the largest seeds from the previous year and I plant in those areas where the grew best the year before,  those plants that were small / etc are cut up and fed to the worm bed or used to fertilize other plants by digging a hole next to the plant and puting th small cut up squash / pumpkin in.

I have also started using an old bed liner of a truck for my chicken tractor,   I pull it over weeds and the heat of that thing kills the weeds underneath,    Then I move it again and plant cover crops or vegtables from other areas in the weed destroyed by the sun spot.


 
pollinator
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I have another that I love to let propagate itself:

Alyssum!

It looks great, smells great, and tastes great(mustard greens/broccoli flavor)

Good for if the wife/husband wants a dedicated flower garden/planters or "presentable area" - mix them in under the roses, etc.
 
gardener
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Maybe *your* self-seeding vegetables come up in the bed, but mine are much more free-spirited - in the paths, in the lawn, in the bucket that was abandoned... just about everywhere except where I intended them to be! It does make me watch my step until they're big enough to eat.
 
Mart Hale
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Jay Angler wrote:Maybe *your* self-seeding vegetables come up in the bed, but mine are much more free-spirited - in the paths, in the lawn, in the bucket that was abandoned... just about everywhere except where I intended them to be! It does make me watch my step until they're big enough to eat.




I have learned to put a block of firewood next to plants I want to save  so that I don't step on them.    I normally put a chunk of pumpkin under the firewood to feed the roots of the plant ,or any other leaf from comfrey.
 
Daron Williams
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Mike – That sounds great. I was just thinking about planting a row of orach on the north ends of my beds and letting them come back year after year in that area. They would also work as a bit of a wind break 😊

Dem – Always a great way to do things. My gardens do the same thing 😊

Skandi – Nice! I realized after I wrote the post I forgot to mention transplanting the volunteers. Perhaps in a future post I will mention that option. As you mentioned it is another great technique to get the most out of self-seeding vegetables!

Steve – Yeah, I’m thinking about making a few smallish beds like that and just let the self seeding plants have fun. I might through in a few perennial veggies too 😊

Ralph – Thank you! Good luck and please share pictures of your new bed if you find the time to make it 😊

Mart – Nice! Thanks for sharing! Have you found your plants doing better year after year since you are saving the seeds?

Dustin – I just learned about alyssum being edible! It surprised me and now I want to get some growing again so I can try eating it! 😊

Jay – lol! Well now your harvesting time can be a bit of an adventure! 😊

Thanks all for the comments!
 
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I have several herbs that self I have to pull as weeds. I leave the occasional one here and there in the garden to self seed again. Now that I am growing seed with biennials, I have some of them as volunteers as well.
 
pollinator
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Once in a while, I get volunteer tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, or I miss an onion or two while harvesting. But because I do a little cleanup of the garden for the sake of my chickens, it doesn't happen very often. [Once in a while, They miss a squash seed, but as soon as it is green, they go for it!] Also, since tomatoes, squash and pumpkins are often hybrids, the quality of the volunteer is lower. I can use the onion, so I keep it for sure.
This year, I plan to go big into placing plants at the altar of my trees in the orchard. We know that "Nature abhors a void" so I'm through trying to keep the area surrounding a tree "clean". If and when I get a volunteer, why not transplant it there?
Last year, I had a yellow flower about 3 ft tall growing about 1 ft away from the trunk of an apple tree. I never knew what it was but I noticed that my bees liked it, so I didn't remove it. [no, it was not mustard. I know mustard is invasive here and honey bees make a honey that sugars barely one week in the jar!] It made a seed receptacle that looked like a crown.
I didn't know what it was and I may never know, but how about flipping the paradigm, and instead of removing everything that messes the looks of the garden we forced ourselves to keep it and destroy it only after we identify it and determine that it is bad for the goals we have? A kind of "First do no harm" approach.
There is close to one of the buildings a little patch of a short plant that keeps coming back year after year. It makes a rosette of roundish leaves that taste good. I thought it might be mache, although I don't remember planting it ever, anywhere. It seems to wander on and on, so it spreads like a short vine and never gets higher  than 4-5". I saw smallish white flowers after frost again last year. That day, it was too cold for my bees but something keeps finding it and pollinating it after frost. It is a little in the way, but I'll make an exception again: It tastes good and I see no good reason to remove it.
I bet we'd have more pollinators if we were no so obsessed with having a clean garden.
 
pollinator
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I love self-seeding vegetables (I am a lazy gardener).
Swiss chard and Lambs'lettuce are the best growing self-seeding veggies here. I try Kale too (not yet succeeded).

Someone mentioned Borage. Yes, that's a good self-seeder ... but I don't eat that as a vegetable, I don't like its taste. I use it like others use Comfrey, as a chop-and-drop-mulch.
 
Mart Hale
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Daron Williams wrote:Mike – That sounds great. I was just thinking about planting a row of orach on the north ends of my beds and letting them come back year after year in that area. They would also work as a bit of a wind break 😊



Mart – Nice! Thanks for sharing! Have you found your plants doing better year after year since you are saving the seeds?


Thanks all for the comments!




What I have observed is that what makes the most difference is the soil I put the seed in.     I have compared the sized of seeds from my louffa plants from the orignal to the full grown ones and they were about twice the size as the parent seeds.      Getting the nutrients water and right growing conditions for the plant makes worlds of difference,   I sometimes have people look at the same plant and believe it is another kind of plant because the health is that much different.
 
pollinator
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I must admit I'm really bad at not doing enough of techniques 2 and 3.  I seem to have a really hard time just killing the edible plants that volunteer in my garden, even though I know they are all crowding each other, hurting the potential productivity of the whole.  To make things worse over the years I've learned about all sorts of wild edible plants causing me to see even most "weeds" that sprout up as volunteer food.  I must commit to being better about harvesting and thinning them when young this coming season!
 
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:
Last year, I had a yellow flower about 3 ft tall growing about 1 ft away from the trunk of an apple tree. I never knew what it was but I noticed that my bees liked it, so I didn't remove it. [no, it was not mustard. I know mustard is invasive here and honey bees make a honey that sugars barely one week in the jar!] It made a seed receptacle that looked like a crown.
I didn't know what it was and I may never know, b



Sounds like Calendula 🌻....oh wait 3 feet...hmm maybe not
 
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I have a traditional garden for the time being and I tend to poke holes with a discaded handle of shovel with a pointy end then sprinkle the in expensive like carrots around rather then make myself sore not picking the area then rake it over the area.

Too my surprise more then in the walking area of the rows that were un fertilized then on the row made for it. To the point that I had to walk on the slant or the row to avoid the crops. : D


Life sure is funny sometimes, it felt like the garden knew I have limited time to work on my feet (chronic inflammation sucks) and was mocking my best efforts.lol
 
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I've got claytonia sibirica self propagating into just about every patch of more fertile loamy ground I've made here, and I prefer it to just about every other salad green.  It is more stem than leaf, and needs to be chopped into like 1 inch pieces, but I'd say it is only defeated in succulent-raw-veggy texture rating by purple sprouting broccoli.  Claytonia sibirica's taste is very mild, wiki states "it is long-lived perennial, biennial, or annual" but it seems to only grow in a spot for a year here.  I'm not sure if it is propagating and migrating via seed or roots, but yum, and a do-nothing gardening success outside of pulling a few plants which crowd it occasionally.

My #2 escaped self-seeding annual here is an Asian mustard green called komatsuna.  This is about the only plant I find to be tastier than dandelions that will grow in the very heavy almost brick-colored clay here which has very little organic matter.  It is hardier than claytonia sibirica in terms of soil quality, and is as hardy as claytonia sibirica in terms of our normal winter lows (~18 f), being buried in snow or enduring weeks of heavy overcast.  Komatsuna needs to be cooked briefly, otherwise it's kinda hot (or very hot if starting to flower.)  

These two hardy self-propogating plants thaw out and keep on growing like no problem, as soon as they get just a little sun and above freezing temperatures.  They also will survive being encased in ice by freezing rain for days...something else that can happen here.  The kale survives the freezing rain and being buried in snow, but it has died back to the growth tip and/or gets most of its leaves stripped as a result.  

These two plants seem to be the current winners for late winter/early spring greens in my location.   Winter sunlight is a wild card here; some years you get quite a number of continuously clear days and you can be eating them in mid February, other years (like this one) they spend weeks buried in snow and have only gotten a few sunny days, and haven't managed to grow much by early march, but are still alive and well and waiting patiently.

Another thing I love about these two plants, is about the time they are starting to flower and be done for the year, the purple sprouting broccoli is starting to put out.  That one tends to grow perennially in a spot it likes, but it is also an autumn-starting, 18 F or buried-in-snow hardy, self-seeding escapee.  The texture and flavor here...best Brassica ever.  In the running for best green vegetable ever, I think it's only competition are artichokes and cardoons...asparagus and a course chopped Mirepoix close behind in 4th or 5th place.   Try as I do, I have yet failed to get any significant amount of carrots, onions or celery come up from seed-tossing, or go self-seeding escapee when left to their own devices.  

 
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:We know that "Nature abhors a void" so I'm through trying to keep the area surrounding a tree "clean". If and when I get a volunteer, why not transplant it there? Last year I had a yellow flower about 3 ft tall growing about 1 ft away from the trunk of an apple tree. I never knew what it was but I noticed that my bees liked it, so I didn't remove it.

I didn't know what it was and I may never know, but how about flipping the paradigm, and instead of removing everything that messes the looks of the garden we forced ourselves to keep it and destroy it only after we identify it and determine that it is bad for the goals we have? A kind of "First do no harm" approach.

I bet we'd have more pollinators if we were no so obsessed with having a clean garden.



I was a student of Bill Mollison Father of Permaculture in Australia. One of the things that always stuck with me was his trying to get through to people to not obsess over "neat" when practicing permaculture, rather try working with nature, and nature at it's most productive is messy. We certainly do get more pollinators and less pest problems if we 'mix' rather than 'match' our plantings. I also find that the best, strongest plants are the self-seeders, - the ones I want to save and swap seed from.

Thanks Cécile, a great post.
 
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I often get volunteer squash and tomatoes from my compost, if they are in a good place I encourage them, if in a bad place I move or toss.  Last year some volunteer acorn squash did so well I saved the seed to plant this year.  Also have some patches of amaranth and arugula that self-seed every year, I encourage them and move the seedling as needed.
 
Daron Williams
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Hey all! Sorry for the long delay getting back to you all. Been great reading through all the comments! I had almost 200 bareroot plants show up in the mail and I have been spending all my time trying to get them in the ground. But that is done so now I’m back here trying to get caught up.

Jotham – Nice, great to hear!

Cécile – Interesting and good luck with getting the volunteers going around your trees. That is also a good point about chickens eating most of the seeds. I know a lot of people use chickens to clean up their gardens.

Inge – Nice! Chop-and-drop is always a good use of volunteers if you don’t want to eat them 😊

Mart – Very true, thanks for the comment.

David – Just got to eat more of them 😉 But I have the same issue—I really hate thinning and a big part of it is that I don’t like removing the plants. But transplanting them is always one option.

Christine – lol, I guess the garden is just wanting to grow all over!

John – I really like claytonia too. I have a bunch of it growing in a hugelkultur bed hedgerow along the edge of my property along my zone 1. Just a few plants last year (1st year) but now it looks like it is spreading. It grows as a perennial here. I will have to try out komatsuna sometime. Thanks for sharing!

Annette – I agree! Thanks for the comment.

Mk – Nice! Arugula is almost too good at self-seeding here. I just need to find a good spot for it to do its thing. Thanks for sharing!

----------------------

Thanks all! And again sorry for the delay--the bareroots just could not wait since it is still getting below freezing here at night. But they are all in the ground so I can finally catch up on other things!
 
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