Last week in our children’s garden group, I asked the children how they knew when a weed was really a weed. “After all”, I said, “if soil is basically dirt that is in the garden, and dirt is soil that has made it’s way onto the kitchen floor, then what are weeds? Are they real, bonafide, good for us plants? Or are all weeds just plain old bad?”
We had a few puzzled looks, and a bit of speculation, but then work continued along as we pulled wayward crabgrass and errant blades of grass from the garden space.
And nothing more was said… until we came to a few misplaced tomato plants.
Are they weeds? Should we pull them? Tomato plants don’t belong in the middle of a flower garden, do they?
The answer, of course, is both yes and no.
Yes, they are technically weeds. No, we should not pull them. And yes, tomato plants do not usually belong in the middle of a flower garden.
But it isn’t as easy as all that, is it?
There are other answers to give to our little gardeners as well:
These errant tomato plants can be called ‘weeds' if our definition of a ‘weed' is a plant that grows where it isn’t wanted. Especially because it was never our intention to plant tomatoes in the middle of a bunch of flowers. But these wayward plants can also be called ‘volunteers’ - a very special breed of plants that ‘volunteers’ to bring us extra and unbidden, free, food. And although we can almost always count on these volunteers to show up where we don’t want them to be, most often, volunteer plants are stronger, more vigorous and just plain old better plants than the ones we intentionally plant.
These are just great plants. In fact, every spring, we search for new volunteers in eager anticipation!
But how did we tell the kids to deal with our unplanned garden guests?
We can try to transplant them (we transplanted 9 volunteer tomatillos, 5 kales, and countless tomato plants already this year ourselves), or we can just keep them where they are - happy and misplaced - either way, we are most often grateful that they popped up unannounced in the first place. We sure can't wait for our 'volunteer' mid summer tomato sandwiches!