Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A volunteer experiment

Home made compost is great, not only because it feeds the soil while taking care of organic waste, but it also creates volunteers. We obviously don't make our compost hot enough to kill seeds, and we'll even use it before everything has broken down completely - ergo, there are many opportunities for volunteer plants to take shoot.


We've had pumpkins and tomatoes by the barrow full. Even the odd potato, which ironically did decide to volunteer in a "barrow" this year. Thus my experiment began for growing potatoes. By chance, another potato came up in a bed I topped with our compost, and it has since joined the barrow potato.

Potato volunteer

I've not had much luck growing things in wheelbarrows, but I'm not one for giving up after the first failure (or two) as I keep learning the more I experiment. Like some pumpkin seedlings which sprouted in another barrow. Rather than throw them all out, I tried transplanting some instead.

Kent pumpkin volunteers

I took a group of three which came up together, and planted them behind a shrub. One has taken off, another is waning (the yellow leaf above) and the second may survive. My strategy to plant them behind a shrub, is finding a "niche" I've seen them develop in the wild as their tendrils search for places to root. They always take root in shady, moist places, which allows their tendrils and leafs to expand out into the sun for photosynthesis.

Nature's trellis

As you can see, the shrub has shade behind it, which is normal for this time of year. By using a semi mature shrub, I don't have to worry about the pumpkin vine shading it out or strangling it. I have other plants in the garden which are still young, which I have to constantly prune the pumpkin vines away from. I also won't remove the grass or weeds. It all counts towards cover and reducing evaporation. The cool of autumn doesn't evaporate so much, but it can still kill tender seedlings.

I had another single pumpkin I tried transplanting in a more exposed site, but it died within 48 hours. So it helps if you can plant groups of seedlings which volunteer together, as well as finding a semi-shaded site to move them to.

We've been experimenting a lot in the garden, based on what we observe volunteers doing. Next time you see something sprout from the compost, ask yourself - where can I put this in the garden which would mimic optimum growing conditions? It might be that shady side of the house where nothing ever grows. Try planting a pumpkin vine which can travel into the sunlight, and it won't get in the way. Most out-of-the-way places we avoid because of the terrain or reduced sunlight, isn't a problem for plants which can travel by tendril.

Even though I cannot really eat potatoes (avoiding the nightshades) the rest of my family still does. I also want to see if I can tolerate home grown ones. I found that out with dairy. Whenever I eat it, I develop a cough. The exception is when I eat raw milk. I'm hoping its the same with the humble spud!


  1. Interesting post Chris. I love your experiments. I always wonder if the plants that volunteer in the compost bin don't end up having stronger survival traits. Another thing we have experimented with ourselves was that we leave tomatoes to rot on the vines and then harvest them the following year. We went three years without having to buy more tomato plants. I haven't seen any thing year but thats fine because I noticed that the offspring were finally starting to revert on the third year so we have planted new ones and will allow a new cycle to begin. With pumpkins, the Amish told me that sometimes the compost pile ones end up reverting to gourds on the first year. Mine did not. Its all very fascinating.

  2. I've heard of pumpkins cross-pollinating with gourds, if planted too close together. Seeds planted from that combination end up with bizarre offspring. I wonder if that's the same thing?

    Interesting note about the tomatoes. I've read that plants can only grow in their own residue so many times, before they cannot grow there any more. Maybe that's why plants are constantly on the move in the wild? They're trying to disperse themselves further afield, or risk building up too much residue in the soil.

    I hope you get some yummy tomatoes to eat from your new plants. :)


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