Self Seeded Gardens, Pumpkins, Lettuce, Tomatoes And More
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We have been eating lots of greens this year. I didn't plant them, they just came up from last year's plants, that I allowed to go to seed naturally.
Lettuce was the best, we had several varieties of lettuce big enough to eat before most people even got their gardens planted. Last fall I allowed a few plants to mature, they flowered and set seed. When the seed looked mature I just shook the plants over the garden where I wanted the lettuce to grow. Some of it sprouted in the fall, and I covered the young plants with leaves before the snow fell. They survived the winter and started growing as soon as the ground warmed up a bit.
Lettuce is a relative of the dandelion, and the seeds look similar, though smaller. It is easy to tell when they are ripe, they are little puff-balls and float in the wind.
We also have several other varieties of greens, including rocket, also called arugula, and some Japanese varieties, all from last year's plants. Free seeds! Parsley, cilantro, and onions and all kinds of beans also self-seed very easily.
One drawback to allowing vegetables to self-seed is recognizing the sprouts as useful vegetables, and not hoeing them out as weeds. Since you have little control as to where the seeds fall, it is easy to have different types of vegetables sprouting all over your garden. Keeping the weeds out can be a chore, since nothing is in neat beds or rows. You will have to learn to recognize what your baby vegetables look like.
I advise tilling the soil as early as possible in the spring, making your beds and rows where you want them long before you start planting, when it is still chilly. The tougher vegetables will sprout far earlier than you might expect, and generally are much hardier and cold tolerant than store-bought seeds. Besides, if they die in a late frost, you still really have not lost anything. Simply weed the areas you want clear and leave the rows and beds alone.
Allow anything that sprouts in the beds or rows to grow until you can identify it as weed or vegetable. At that point you can pull the weeds, and any vegetables that need thinning. You almost always end up with different sorts of vegetables all growing together in the same bed, not the neat monocultures of traditionally seeded crops. This is a good thing. No one bug or disease will be able to kill off your whole crop.
We had a lot of pumpkins last year, and I threw the innards from Halloween onto the garden and spread the chunks around. Dozens of pumpkins sprouted and I just left them to grow. When they got bigger I thinned out the weaker-looking ones and left the ones that looked good. We sold about thirty pumpkins at a garage sale this fall, and gave away quite a few more to neighbors family and friends as gifts. This will be the third year for these. This winter I have already thrown out lots of seeds, left over from Halloween, and from the squash we grew last year. I also carefully saved seed from the best squash and pumpkins (the same plant, actually, just different varieties) and will plant them to try to get a really large crop next year.
Since squash and pumpkins cross-breed very easily, next year I could end up with some rather unusual looking pumpkins/squash. The squash were an heirloom variety a friend from church gave me, they look like small, thick-fleshed pumpkins. I expect they will make a good eating variety when crossed with my pie pumpkins.
Tomatoes will also grow from last year's plants. This can be hit-or-miss, as they don't always come back as the same variety as you had before. Sometimes I get great tomatoes, and sometimes they are tough and tasteless. In that case just pull out the plants that don't produce well as soon as you see the quality, and plant other vegetables in that space. We had good results the last few years, some really excellent tomatoes, but one plant had tasteless lumps not even worth cooking. Cherry tomatoes work the best, but large tomatoes will also reseed. Again, I just squash some tomatoes onto the ground in the summer and fall, and the next spring hordes of little tomatoes came up. I thin out any that look weak, and sometimes transplant a few if they are not where I want them.
Tomatoes will often sprout in the fall, and I have tried several times to get them to produce indoors over the winter, with little success. They live, and even grow, but don't set fruit. This is due, I am sure, to the low temperature and lack of strong sunlight. Tomatoes are a tropical plant, and require plenty of light and heat to do well. If you are going to do tomatoes indoors, use a sun lamp. Tomatoes will live several years if protected from the cold, and I have transplanted them back outdoors and gotten good tomatoes fairly early in the summer that way.
Last year I decided to try growing peaches. I threw the pit of every peach I ate out onto the garden. This year I have two peach trees growing. I hope they turn out to have good fruit. It can be a toss-up with fruit, whether seed-grown trees have good fruit or not. I learned this trick from my Grandfather, who always had peach trees growing in odd corners of his farm.
Last fall the lettuce and greens are already re-seeded and have sprouted. Some we eat right away, some dig up and put in pots in the house for fresh winter greens. I bring onions indoors in the winter as well, and we get a nice green garnish and flavor in cooking from the green shoots. Most will stay in the ground and start growing again next spring when the warm sun returns.
Save money on seeds, and develop your own 'heirloom' varieties.