Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Volunteer vegetables

Volunteer pumpkin vine overtaking other vegetables  

While volunteering is generally a good thing, how about those volunteers in the garden? You know how it starts, a bean sprout growing in the onions, or tomato plants coming up before you have even planted garden. Do you let volunteer plants grow, transplant them or give them the hoe?

If you want nice neat rows and no mysteries, the hoe is the solution. The sooner that you get rid of volunteer plants, the less water and space they can take up.

If you are willing to work with nature and enjoy a few surprises, volunteer plants can be allowed to grow either where they occur or elsewhere. In an irrigated garden, they certainly can grow where the water is applied and they will almost certainly die where the water is not applied so that gives some decision to the matter.

Occasionally volunteers sprout before we even plant garden. If the weather remains mild, you can transplant such volunteers and get a head start without the work of growing seedlings indoors. One of the drawbacks of allowing any volunteer to grow is the possibility that if derived from a hybrid it will not be true to the original plants. While you might get an interesting even heirloom type of vegetable, you might not. Basic identification can even be tricky. While tomatoes are distinct from the seedling size other types may need to grow quite large for complete identification.

Some plants, particularly vining ones such as cucumbers and melons, don’t tend to transplant well. I have tried relocating them and generally lose them. This can pretty much eliminate the option of transplanting.

Suppose you do let them grow. How’s that working for you? I have tried it the last couple of years and I can’t say that I recommend it. Presently, I have a couple of pumpkin vines smothering the onions and lettuce. I am afraid in time they will take a lot of water away from the planted vegetables and also shade them. Last year I had a lot of volunteer pole beans come up. I hoped that they would be bush beans and be manageable. Pole beans, as the name implies, need staking. I not only had more than enough pole beans, the garden just got really confusing to navigate and water.

Another type of volunteer can come from composting. I actually had a honeydew melon come up that way. Alas, the one melon that approached maturity was bitten off by the dog. These types of volunteers are particularly likely to be from hybrids and thus the exact strain unknown.

Next year, I am resolving to either transplant or give them the hoe…but may let the pumpkins continuing growing this year. My main problem with allowing them to grow is the irrigation needed. It is a challenge to keep the intended vegetables watered without allowing volunteers to remain and compete for water.