Reseeding Vegetables for the Warm Season

So what edible/useful plants pop up in lead contaminated soil along a hot, dry alternately sun-baked and deep-shaded south side of a house in Southern California? After dumping a load of compost along our side yard, mother nature is doing her own food forestry experiment. This month the following things popped up out of that load of compost:

  1. stinging nettle
  2. cardoon
  3. tomatoes
  4. nasturtium
  5. fennel
  6. sunflowers

Elsewhere in the yard, New Zealand spinach has popped up on its own. I doubt the stinging nettle or nasturtium will hang on for long (it’s out of season for those plants here).  But I’m willing to bet that the tomatoes, New Zealand spinach, fennel and cardoon will take. Because of the lead, the only thing I would eat of that bunch are the tomatoes (fruit usually does not take up heavy metals). Still, I think bio-activity in the soil in the form of microorganisms and plants will, over a very long period, help remediate that contamination.

More and more, I’m drawn to vegetables that easily re-seed themselves and grow without any fuss. And knowing when to plant things can be tricky, so watching nature’s own timing can provide important clues. I’ve taken to moving some of these self-seeded plants to our raised beds. And I’ve pledged to take better notes (this blog post, for instance) to keep a record of what comes up on its own and when.

So tell us where you are and what’s sprouting on it’s own this spring in your garden?

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  1. Last year I had a lot of volunteer basil. It’s not doing its magic this year. So I put out some seeds I saved from last year. It’s strange, because we had a very mild winter. But perhaps more seeds got strewn the fall before last.

    I had a turnip overwinter unnoticed and it bolted and is flowering all over the place. It also keeled over sideways but didn’t seem to mind it.

    The one sunchoke I planted last year as an experiment, even though I dug it up and took the seeds off, has multiplied into about 6 of them anyway. I fear it may someday take over the mint patch, but it will have to compete with the bishops weed. Bishops weed is edible as a green until it flowers, then it’s a laxative. These three plants then will always come back, and what’s better, they’re not likely to be stolen by hungry neighbors when the SHTF because they won’t recognize them (except the mint) as food.

  2. If you leave sunflowers in the contaminated soil, can you eat the sunflower seeds? If so, this contaminated soil seems like it could serve a purpose.

    Can you eat edible flowers from plants in contaminated soil? If nothing edible should be in the plot, then maybe it could be a flower garden.

  3. This is only our second year of growing veggies, but I did have one tomato plant come up in the raised beds we constructed last year. It did better than any of the sprouted on purpose plants. I transplanted the seedling to our North garden area where we built 4 more 4 x 10 raised beds this past winter. We live south of Charlotte, NC and used to live in Long Beach California.

  4. Amazingly I had six avocados sprout in my hot steamy pile of compost. Unfortunately we are out of their zone, so I don’t expect a tree anytime soon; still, i find it interesting and i wonder if the soil processes in a compost favor hard shells and nuts, typically difficult to sprout seeds.

  5. PP–forgot to say that the sunflowers that self seed in our yard are a native variety with small flower heads–not the kind you eat. That being said, I don’t know the answer to your question. Will do some research.

  6. This year I can’t even count the number of tomatillos that are appearing almost daily. I’ll let a few grow and kill the rest (that is so, so sad since they are trying so hard).

    I’ve also had two volunteer SunGold tomato plants and expect the Currant Tomato plant I put in the garden three years ago to once again show up in unexpected places.

  7. We had 18 volunteer cherry tomato plants this year, from all the ones the squirrels dropped (or pooped out). Some had to be thinned, but the rest I spread around the garden. We also have a fair number of volunteer squash plants coming up in the compost pile. We are in Decatur, GA.

  8. Here in St. Louis we had such a mild winter that more things overwintered than ever: chard, mustard, arugula (wild and cultivated), sage, thyme (lemon and German), oregano, rue, sorrel and even cilantro. I have lots of fennel coming up all on its own from an intentional planting two years ago. I have left everything where it stands and tucked my new plantings in around them. I am especially loving this patchwork of old and new. I actually wrote a blog post about it a couple weeks ago:

  9. Volunteers are so fun. Their zest and stick-to-it-iveness just make me grin! I am overrun with pear and cherry tomatoes that I’ve let run wild, ( can’t bring myself to thin too much) lots of sunflowers, wildflowers and basil too. We are just south of Phoenix, AZ. Summer is in full swing here and we even had a freak rainstorm the other night so all the plants are happy!

  10. Lots of volunteer potatoes. I was late putting these ones in last year and they were small, so I must have missed more than I thought!

    Also some nasturtiums, hollyhocks, salad leaves, a tomato, 2 seakale plants and an unidentified squash I found sprouting in the compost heap. I’ve potted it up to see what I get. At the very least the chickens will eat it!

  11. We’re in the PacNW and this spring we’ve had invasive blackberry, English ivy, and poison oak. From what I can tell, the blackberry and ivy are thanks to the birds/squirrels, and the poison oak is from (purchased) compost. (Guess how we discovered the poison oak… sigh.)

    • Oh no. Ouch! Actually the exact same thing happened to our friend Nancy last time she visited CA. She moved an armload of poison oak-spiked mulch…in short sleeves. It’s a threat I’ve never thought of before, but I bet this happens a lot.

      On the bright side, blackberry leaves can be used for both dye and medicine.

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