Have you ever wondered what your garden might do without you? In your absence would it wither and die, turning to dust or would it go rampant and smother your home in vegetation?
I've been wanting to read "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman where he imagines a world without humans, and how soon it takes for our presence and infrastructure to disappear as nature reclaims the planet.
On the website there's an interesting animation, "Your House Without You", that shows how the process might go.
But where am I going with this train of thought?
I've long been fascinated by self-seeding plants in the garden. And when myself and others write and talk about them, it's usually centered on flowers and grasses. Gardeners concentrate on harnessing the power of these volunteer plants, or eradicating them due their prolific nature.
Not much is said about volunteer vegetables. (UPDATE 10/13 Well, I take that back. I just returned from hearing Diane Ott Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange talking about the origins of their heirloom seed mission. She showed photos of her gardens with self-seeding lettuce and radishes welcomed in her flower beds) Oh yeah, maybe a late-season tomato plant, like the one cropping up in my perennial bed at this late date. But we usually plant our veggies new with each season.
But you gotta love it when a squash decides on its own where and when to grow.
For the past few years I've been barely tending a small potager, nudging it along while it manages to produces enough veggies, herbs and a little fruit to supplement a few meals every week during the summer. With each year its seed bank increases and so does its yield.
I didn't start out to make this garden self-sustaining, or an example of permaculture, I don't think it qualifies quite, but I've found that using a gardening style somewhat akin to that old-fashioned parenting style now referred to as benign neglect, it's a satisfying way to reap a few edibles with minimal effort.
With a permanent growing mulch of strawberries, bolted spinach and mesclun now seed themselves, intermingled with self-seeding cilantro in late spring followed with dill and Italian parsley. Nasturtiums, signet marigolds and kale add color, pungency and texture. I'm hoping that the beets will follow the example of the radishes and spring up next year on their own. Wouldn't self-thinning beets be great?
I add a new variety of pole beans each year, and by now there's a succession of "Blue Lake", "Kentucky Wonder" and "Emerite" that germinate and produce at different times.This is simply done by letting some bean pods dry and fall to the ground. Sometimes I move the seedlings closer to the copper tripod at the middle of this patch. This year some beans also ran horizontal along the twig rabbit fence I built. Those seemed the happiest.
The tripod and fence help to give this self-starting garden some design, but otherwise I call it a hot mess by late summer with its tangled abundance. It might be a form of square foot gardening sans any organization. Weeds are few, choked out by the thick plants that grow without rows. All I do is paw around and find goodies to eat. It's like a little treasure hunt each time.
It some ways it doesn't seem right to be rewarded for such slacking in the garden.