No, volunteers in the garden are not a hoard of people showing up at your place to pull weeds, the volunteers I am writing about are the plants that pop up in the Spring that you did not intentionally plant. This year in my garden I have a few mystery squash plants that sprang to life in a compost pile in my greenhouse.
As an experiment I put a compost pile in the greenhouse to keep it warmer in there during the cold months, it worked, it was warmer, but it didn’t get hot enough to cook the seeds of the veggie scraps I threw in there. So now I have a ton of volunteer lettuce, Winter Density, (I know what type of lettuce it is because I put the compost pile on a 7” raised bed that I let that lettuce go to seed in), but I do not know what type of squash is growing. Even if I knew the type of squash I threw in the pile, I’m sure that the resulting hybrid plant will not revert to the same type. I grow a lot of different types of squash, pickles, cucumbers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, yellow squash, Hubbard, watermelon, cantaloupe, and butternut squash; all of them cross pollinate. If the plant cross pollinates the fruit that year will be what you planted, (if you planted cucumbers you will get cucumbers) but the seeds from that plant will be the hybrid, so if you plant those seeds you will most likely get some kind of a mutant fruit/vegetable. One year a grew a pumpkin that crossed with a spaghetti squash, it did not taste good at all; it looked like a stripy greenish-orange oblong squash with stringy insides. I’m sure you can get some pretty crazy combinations!
Not that I am at all lazy, of course, in the Fall last year I let a lot of my plants rot where they grew. I am trying to let my plants compost in place if they are disease and bug free. So, in my carrot bed this year I have volunteer tomato plants, I don’t let them grow with the carrots, I’ll pull them out as I see them.
I apparently didn’t harvest all of the potatoes because I keep finding volunteer potatoes in a lot of the beds, I let them grow, fresh potatoes are awesome, right up there with fresh garlic! Speaking of garlic, I lost track of several heads last year under the three sisters I planted in my long-raised bed, well, I found them growing this Spring in clumps. I dug some of them up, divided the clumps and planted them individually around the perimeter of my raised beds to help keep out bad bugs and critters. A few of the clumps remain! I pulled up a clump last night and grated some of the individual stalks and bulbs and made garlic bread, yummy!
In between my raised beds I have rock walking paths, they get full of weeds; I should have put down landscape fabric before dumping all the rock in the paths. I pull more weeds from between my beds than in my beds. Along with the weeds, they also get volunteers: dill, lettuce, tomatoes, asparagus, cilantro and chamomile, I usually let them grow, except for the tomatoes. If the tomatoes are a type I want to grow, I’ll dig them up and plant them in a raised bed, if not, in the compost bin they go!
I find that the volunteers are just as hearty as the planted plants, if not more so. Besides, they’re free!!
Lost garlic bulbs found this Spring.