Gardening is a wonderful activity, good for both the mind and the body. It relaxes us while at the same time stimulating our minds. It keeps us moving and doing light exercise with the bonus of healthy, homegrown produce as the result. But, let’s just be honest about it — gardening is work.
So, when a gardener can find natural advantages, he or she should take them, and self-seeding crops are definitely a sly way to get more crops without having to grow or buy seedlings. In a nutshell, these are annual plants that grow to maturity, form seeds, drop them, and new plants readily germinate.
Self-seeding gardens, of course, allow crops to simply grow like wild plants do. They often aren’t as tidy as conventional rows. They aren’t necessarily as precise as many of us are accustomed to. But, they can be extremely productive and a real treat for a time-strapped gardener.
So, what should we plant?
Perhaps the most popular fresh herb in the garden, basil is a favorite for its flavor. Savvy gardeners also know that it makes a fantastic companion plant for other crops because it repels pests and attracts pollinators. After harvesting leaves for a month or two, let basil go to flower, and it will self-sow for another round.
Like basil, garlic is a good companion plant for most crops as it, too, is good for repelling pests and pulling the pollinators. Both the greens (like chives) and bulbs can be eaten. Garlic self-sows very easily. Simply leave the bulb in the ground, and each clove becomes a new plant. (Also try multiplying onions.)
Dill is an underutilized herb with a fantastic aroma and taste. As is the case with most herbs in the garden, it’s helpful with keeping insects off of other crops, and in the kitchen, it needs to appear far more often than with pickles. Dill will really jazz up a pot of pulses or pasta. (Also try cilantro.)
Arugula is a very easy plant to grow, makes a fine ground cover (living mulch), and provides harvestable leaves very quickly. After a few weeks of harvesting leaves, let the plant do its thing, flower, and reseed. Arugula will continually pop up in the garden to provide more salads. (Try this with other leafy salad crops.)
Mustard is a double-impact crop, providing both seeds and greens. The mustard family is not a shy plant and will often show up in fields as weeds. For those who enjoy eating mustard greens and/or making DIY mustard at home, mustard is a fantastic self-seeding crop to include in the garden.
Nasturtium is an awesome, colorful addition to gardens. It’s often used to distract pests away from other plants. Not only is this plant beautiful, with colorful flowers, but also the flowers, leaves, and seeds are edible. Let some seeds fall to the ground, and it’ll likely grow anew.
Like nasturtiums, sunflowers will distract pests from the vegetables, and it’s tough enough to withstand attacks. Aside from being pretty flowers, obviously sunflowers are nice food, the seeds at least, with quality fats and proteins, to harvest. Those seeds also mean more sunflowers!
Akin to quinoa, amaranth is a protein-packed seed treated like a grain. It’s also a beautiful, tall flower with edible leaves and lots of value in the garden. Amaranth will readily sow itself, and members of its family — also edible — actually behave like weeds.
Radishes are a great companion plant for many things, and they have a quick turnover from seed to vegetable. If some of them are left to flower in the garden, they’ll drop new seeds and start anew, repeating the cycle for more and more radishes.
Anyone who has grown potatoes likely knows that they have a habit of returning as volunteers the next year. That’s because any potatoes left in the ground will often grow new potatoes. Heck, potatoes left in a cupboard too long will start to sprout.
Tomatoes are full of seeds, which is why they are known to be insane volunteer plants. Tomato plants are notorious for springing forth from home compost because rotted tomatoes have deposited hundreds of seeds in it. Let some of the tomatoes rot in the garden, and new plants will sprout where they are wanted.
Pumpkins are ready right about the time the weather starts to get cold. They are great for storing over the winter. But, if a few are left in the field, the fruits will decompose in place and deposit new seeds in time for growing next year’s lot. (Fall squashes will do the same.)
Gardens are great spots for experimentation. And, while its soul-soothing to have neatly maintained, cultivated spots, so too is it amazing to set up nature to continually provide new crops on its own each year. It’s a great cause to dedicate a little garden space to.
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