Dry Climate Vegetables


Here in Arrakis, I mean California, we’re in the midst of a terrible drought. And unfortunately, most of the seeds we buy for our vegetable gardens are adapted to require lots of water. One solution is to find veggies that have reseeded accidentally without supplemental irrigation. Here’s a short list of reseeding rogue veggies from our garden that have thrived with just the small burst of rain we got last month. New Zealand Spinach
The one I’m most excited about is New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides). It’s reappeared for at lest three years now. And for us it’s much easier to grow than (unrelated) spinach.


Fennel also comes back every year–so much so that if we don’t stay on top of weeding we’d end up with a fennel forest. I wouldn’t plant this if I lived on the edge of a nature preserve, but here in the middle of the city I find it useful. When in bloom it’s also host to an incredible array of pollinators.


This rogue squash is a real surprise. It popped up in a new raised bed and is already almost five feet long. I’m not going to let this one grow because I don’t have the space to take a chance with a, most likely, bitter squash.


I threw a bunch of expired mustard seeds from a friend’s pantry around the yard in the fall. This was a bit foolish. Mustard has popped up everywhere. I’ve been feeding most of it to our cooped up chickens.

It doesn’t rain here in the summer, so I suspect most of these plants will fade out if I don’t water them. And the mustard is already going to seed. My big regret with this unintentional garden is that I did not take notes as to when these plants sprouted. A little citizen science would really help when it comes time to figuring out when to plant things in our quirky, rare and changing climate.

What volunteers do you have in your climate?

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  1. Orach, orach everywhere! Hundreds of volunteers all over the yard and my neighbors yard. I wasn’t careful last fall when I pulled up the original 3 plants and the seed pods went flying. It is a tasty relative of spinach and the chickens do love it. The plants are a beautiful purple and green with heart shaped leaves. We’re in Berkeley so the weather is pretty mild with foggy mornings and warm afternoons.

  2. Red amaranth, which I do harvest. It’s in the yard, in containers, in the seams of the pavers. I let them grow to about 12″ then harvest for salad. Don’t think I’ll ever have to plant them again.
    We also use ‘instant compost’ – vegetable scraps that are run thru the blender. Well, seeds from the loquats didn’t get chopped up and we ended up with several plants in our container grown veggies. We transplanted one strong looking plant last year to it’s own pot and this year we put it in the yard. Hopefully in 3 more years it will be producing lots of fruit.
    We’ve also had a few tomatoes and peppers grow this way but they haven’t done well. Usually just a few peppers or tomatoes and then they die off – but they have been tasty.

  3. In my raised beds I have two tomato plants but I can’t remember what variety they should be. In the front yard there is johnny jump up, alyssum, and chammomile – no idea where all that came from. Crape myrtle is popping up from where we “thought” we removed it two years ago. We’re going to let it go and transplant it when it is big enough.

  4. Here it is pretty cold and the snow just melted. We have cool springs followed by warm dry summers and (hopefully) long frost free falls. First up is quinoa! And it is everywhere. I read it can cross with pigweed so we will see if it is really quinoa. It is closely followed lettuce, parsley and perennial onions.

  5. Mustard is great when mixed with turnip greens (or even collard greens, or spinach). If you cook it up Southern style, it freezes well, and the cooking water makes excellent stock. We don’t eat meat, so instead of the traditional pork bones, we usually add a little coconut oil, liquid smoke, and Better than Bullion. Yum!

  6. Wild mustard is the first edible weed that comes up in my Riverside (desert!) yard after any kind of rain. We got ours this year early (like everything else), starting in December and really taking off once we got some rain at the beginning of the year. Normally it starts in Jan/Feb as the first “weed” of the yard. Arugula is another good self-seeder – you will never have to plant that again if you let it go to seed! But our wild mustard is as good as arugula, and since it’s so VERY abundant, I just pick the wild stuff from the yard when we want a tasty bitter to go in our food. I’m currently experimenting with using is as a mulch since it’s all spent, too big to eat and has to be cut back. I may get two uses out of it, without even adding any water to the ground 🙂

  7. I am in the lower midwest, and nearly every year we have what I call ‘seasonal drought’. The rain shuts off for much of june, all of july and August. So spring tends to be wet (and I have to ignore the advice to not work or plant into soil that is too wet). I can get things established, and then I just leave them alone. This is a really tough part of the world to garden – terrible soil and uncooperative weather. The saving grace is that the hot dry august makes the tomatoes taste fantastic!!!

  8. my volunteer squash last year were amazingly yummy – while young – but i had hundreds of them and they got woody quickly – they were adorable little crook necks but took over that whole garden….i KNOW i didn’t get them all cleaned up in the fall and sure i will have more this season….i am not going to grow squash in that garden this year just so i know that any that pop up i can pull. my radishes regrow and i haven’t planted tomatoes in years but always have plenty and they sprout up everywhere including the sidewalk cracks.
    at my moms new yard, she got lots of mustard last year.

  9. Believe it or not, strawberries. I currently have a bed full of volunteer ever-bearing strawberries that I split up last year, and they are different from the variety I planted in the first strawberry bed and which have since gone by the wayside. But I have strawberry plants popping up everywhere in the yard. I also have some volunteer kale and occasionally get a volunteer turnip from time to time.

  10. The poke salet/salat is popping up over by one portion of the fence. It is good when tender but not so much when the neighbors over the fence allow it to get over six feet high! One year, I had potatoes, another I had an onion grow in the compost. Wild strawberries are prolific but disappear when animals eat them.

  11. Zone 7b – cilantro, dill, tomatoes, tomatillos, dandelions, stevia. Also have had several almond tree seedlings come up out of an old compost pile – I let two continue to grow and now, at the beginning of Year 2, they’re about 5 feet tall. I enjoy your blog, keep up the good work.

  12. For my mother-in-law down in north Georgia, rosemary (I wish I had that kind of luck…)

  13. Here in Adelaide, South Australia we have a very similar climate to LA. Veggies don’t grow well without piling water on. One that has done well this season is Brazilian Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo). It likes part shade and grows quickly in the heat but doesn’t wilt easily. You can eat it raw or cooked. I am waiting to see how it overwinters but early indications are good.

  14. I’m in Houston (subtropical Zone 9b) and while we get a lot of rain in spring and fall, the summers are unrelenting – my beds have already begun to dry up. So far the winners in my garden are lacinto kale (going on it’s 2nd year), egyptian onions, thyme and fingerling potatoes (in containers); everything else looks puny.

  15. Regarding the spinach – we have had it growing since I was a kid. I used to get sent out to bring some in to put in mom’s potato soup. We never have watered it and it has been a ground cover in garden and orchard areas for the last 60 years.

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