Home composting has benefits beyond turning plant-based food waste into a rich soil amendment. Most home compost piles reach temperatures sufficient to break down plant scraps and shredded leaves, but do not get hot enough to kill all seeds. A happy result is compost volunteers – self-sown perennials and vegetables that are super easy You Can Grow That! plants.
On the 4th of each month, C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening urges garden bloggers to champion the virtues of gardening in You Can Grow That! posts. All of this month’s, as well as previous posts, can be found at the You Can Grow That! website. Since starting You Can Grow That! in October 2012, dozens upon dozens gardening and growing ideas have been shared. It’s worth the visit to You Can Grow That! to dig into the brains of gardeners with a passion for encouraging others to green up their thumbs.
Many have written about the virtues of composting. A web search of the topic reveals many good tutorials on how to compost. What often goes unmentioned in composting discussions is that home compost piles frequently sprout unexpected volunteer plants. I find these surprises one of the best side-benefits of composting.
Over the years I’ve come to expect volunteer Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) since I add spent Lamb’s Ear flower stalks to my compost each summer. I use these volunteers to fill in any holes that develop in my Lamb’s Ear borders and to add a touch of fuzzy gray texture to other perennial beds. I do the same with Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Foxglove and Lamb’s Ear volunteers, along with the ever-present sedum and a self-sown mullein also do a nice job of prettying-up my compost bins.
Here are my full, and fully decorated, bins in early June. Hidden under the outer and top leaf and stick layers are mounds of ready-to-use compost that, shortly after this photo was taken, was dug out and used to fill newly-built raised vegetable bed. But before removing all the rich compost I set aside the two squash plants that sprouted from the top layers of the compost bins.
I was intrigued to find out what type of squash would grow from these volunteers so, once the raised bed was sufficiently filled with compost, I transplanted the squash volunteers to the front of the raised bed and added plum tomatoes to the rear.
In a very short time, it became obvious these were heavily vining squash, so I added some upward supports for them to grow on.
Their flowers bring a flurry of bee activity and they have revealed their identities. One is producing delicious yellow summer squash and the other is acorn squash.
Allowing these compost volunteers to grow in a non-compost bin location has provided and promises to continue to provide virtually free food with minimal effort.
All I had to do is have a compost pile, recognize my volunteers as squash, and allow them to continue to grow.
You don’t have to be an experienced gardener to do this … You Can Grow That! too.