If you are new to gardening or still on the fence about getting started, you may not be familiar with the term “volunteers” in a garden setting. In this case, we are speaking of volunteer plants, not volunteer gardeners, which is a different topic entirely. Volunteer plants may just grow seemingly on their own in an equally seemingly unexpected location. They probably got their start from a plant the gardener let go to seed, or from a ripe fruit, vegetable or herb that was left in the garden for a while. Still sound confusing? Let me give you a few examples.
I often let one lettuce, arugula, kale, mitsuna or other plant go to seed to collect and save to plant the next year. However, if all those seeds are not collected, they will be the first greens to pop up the following spring. No, they won’t be in a neat, straight row, but they will be fresh and green. I usually see them as a gift! But yes, they can be a messy start to spring gardening as well.
Last year, we had a very healthy squash pop up in the compost pile. Why not just let it grow and see what it will produce? We knew right away it was a winter variety when it sent out vines, in every direction. They climbed the fences and the tools leaning against the garden shed and grew down the stair rail. We harvested and ate a few of them, but they were not as tasty as a butternut or acorn. We decided not to let another rogue squash plant get loose this year.
A friend had a bunch of volunteer zucchini appear in a clump. She dug them up and transplanted into a neat and tidy row in a new zucchini bed. They were very pleased with the results.
This spring, my salad garden was struggling. Something was eating the seedlings (roly-polys?). Soon there were lots of seedlings growing everywhere. Volunteers! Lots of dill and cilantro. Perfect, we would eat those or use in pickles. Later there were two tomatillo plants. What are the odds there would be two? The first one won’t produce without a second one. We made tomatillo salsa today. And, of all things, half a bed growing thickly with parsley. And two weeks ago, there were cherry tomatoes hiding between everything else. The remarkable thing: none of these plants had grown in this bed before. Maybe the seeds had somehow found their way from the adjacent compost pile.
So, what to do with so much parsley? It dries easily and will retain its color and flavor when stored in a glass jar in a cool dark place. It goes well in any potato or egg dish and adds color to mashed potatoes. And because it is a rich source of vitamins like A, C, E, K, B6, B12 and minerals including potassium, iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium, why not put it in just about any hot dish. I accept this as a gift.