at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

2015: The Volunteer Garden

Now that it's nearing the end of August, I suppose it's time for a 2015 garden update. One of the things I've learned to love about gardening is how each year is so different. The first few years, I found this very frustrating: what grew well one year didn't grow well the next. However, I've learned to instead appreciate the things that do grow -- especially the surprises, which this year was full of. My mainstays did not do the best this year.  Lettuce grew okay, but not great. Radishes didn't produce much. For the first time, my carrots did not grow (I think the seeds got washed away!). The nice neat little rows that I had last year were not existent this year. The green beans grew pretty well, and some of the plants got huge!! The peas also grew well for the first time in a few years, so that was exciting. The tomatoes did not do as well as I'd hoped, but I've gotten some -- at least enough for salsa, bruschetta and a small batch of tomato sauce so far. Cucumbers were abysmal, as usual. What was most fun about this year were all of the surprises.

I've had a LOT of volunteers this year -- a volunteer is a plant that grows on its own, not planted by the gardener -- either re-seeded from the previous season's crop or perhaps dropped in by a bird. I first heard the term as something my great-grandmother used to refer to in her garden. Come to find out, it's a commonly used term, and one of the biggest joys and banes in gardening. With my plant hoarding tendencies, I have trouble sometimes deciding which volunteers to allow to grow and which to pull up, as some are better classified as weeds than food (such as my cilantro infestation or the great carrot takeover of 2013). This year, I let quite a few grow. I found a lot of tomato plants growing as I was doing some of my later season plantings and weeding. Usually, the volunteer tomatoes don't germinate until kind of late in the season and they don't have a long enough time to produce much before the weather gets cold. This year, however, my volunteer tomatoes were doing better than the ones I planted on purpose! You can see below my wild tangle of a garden and the wooden stakes for the tomatoes. All of those tall and oddly placed stakes are holding up a few volunteer plants. Mostly cherry tomatoes...and one plant that is...extra-large cherry tomatoes(?) or some other unidentified tomato that's not quite like anything I've planted.

Wild Garden - Summer 2015 -Volunteer Tomatoes and Squash
Hey, look! Earlier in the season my garden had some semblance of order...
Delicious Tomatoes, Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes and another, unidentified type...
The tomatoes were only one part of the problem leading to my garden looking like a wild mess this year. One other "problem" was that I decided I want to do some seed saving -- as a way to work toward a self-sustaining garden. So, I let my arugula and lettuce go to seed. I realized at some point that I had way more arugula plants than necessary for seed saving, so I dug some up. Even so, I had too many and they grew large enough to takeover what should probably have been a pathway by that point. I have pulled them all up as of a couple weeks ago and gotten a lot of seeds saved -- more than I will need for next year, that's for sure! But, the other day while I was out in the garden, I noticed patches of what I thought were weeds growing. Turns out they were baby arugula! So, I may get volunteer arugula as a fall crop.  I already harvested some as microgreens to top a grilled pizza!

Tried a Pear Cheddar pizza with arugula microgreens. Results = delicious!
Of course, the biggest disturbance my garden design got this year was the squash. I have a habit of tossing my fall decor (pumpkins, gourds, squash, etc. that doesn't get eaten) into my garden at the end of fall. I try to keep it in one corner, because I know that a few of them will sprout the next year. Usually, I have a few plants that grow well, and have had a few pumpkins and mini-gourds before. But this year....this year the squash have gone bananas! I know what I mean. They are everywhere and blooming and growing like crazy. Plus, I am now 2-years squash bug free! The squash plants just wind and weave their way through everything, and are even poking out of the garden fence. One plant has crossed the garden path into the perennial garden. And, I've just let them be. I had to look up the type of squash that I have the most of, because I didn't know what it was called. Apparently, it's delicata. Perhaps you've seen these before.

I have a bunch of these growing and will be harvesting & finding ways to cook them soon!

I also have what I think are a couple of different types of pumpkins this year. I've only ever had a few in the past, and never quite in season. I hope these bad boys will be ripe for Halloween!

Pumpkins!! I think these may be small / pie pumpkins. We shall see.

I also found a bunch of the little mini green gourds I had growing a couple of years ago. They are so fun! Oh, and one more surprise amongst the squash...

Look at this little guy! I don't think I've ever seen a white frog before. Anyone know what he is?

In other garden news, my russet potatoes have trended the same way for I think the third year in a row. I plant them fairly early (too early?), after my early spring greens. They start to grow great, and then before they can flower, they die off. I'm wondering if it's blight. The leaves kind of looked blighty. Is that a word?  Only one of the russet plants flowered. All have died, and I've dug up a few, which are small, as I'd expect.

My first crop of mini russet potatoes.

However, thankfully the russets weren't the only potatoes I planted this year! A little later in the season, I had some purple potatoes that had begun to sprout. So, I plated them! They have taken off, flowered, grown fruit (yes, occasionally potato plants grow fruit, but don't eat them - they are poisonous!). I'm only guessing that they are also growing some big and delicious tubers. The plants are still strong and green with cool purple stems. I'm guessing they'll be a real fall crop this year.

Purple potato plants. Check out the cool dark stems!
 Oh, and remember my onion experiment? I had a bulb that sprouted in my fridge. Not supposed to happen, right? I had eaten most of the onion, and then stuck the remaining portion of the bulb in some water to see what would happen. Well, the roots starting growing and the green tops shot up, so I planted it in my garden. It's not supposed to grow a new bulb, I don't think? It's supposed to flower, which it did. I would have harvested the seeds, but there was the whole dog-bunny-deer netting incident (don't ask) whereby the tops got crushed and the plants started to die. Anyways, after the plant completely died, I dug it up to see what was under ground. Here's what I found:

Onion with three segments - grown from sprouted onion.

I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't this. The three segments were growing together almost like garlic cloves within the same bulb. I haven't tried eating them yet, but they look like they would be good to eat. I haven't found much information on this. I only found one website that mentioned onions forming segments like this if you let them overwinter and grow again in the spring. Of course, now I can't find that page again. If you have any insights on onion growing, please let me know! I've never grown them successfully before.

Following up on last year's biggest surprise, the apples seem to be doing well this year! We'll probably make another batch of cider with them.

Wish I knew the variety -- any guesses? Kind of looks like golden delicious in this picture.

And last but not least, I had one final surprise in my garden that I just discovered last week: mint. I did not plant mint in my garden, but there it was, growing right outside the garden fence by the arbor. I've heard mint grows like weeds and it must be true. I had some potted mint a year or two ago that must have found its way into the ground somehow.

Surprise mint!
Well, that's it for now. Thanks a mint for stopping by and checking out this year's garden progress! Now, I think it's time to go make a mojito!

Share this:


Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!