volunteer management

When I got my first volunteer, I felt like I must be doing something right. What else to do but welcome these green, enthusiastic friends of the cause?

But as any experienced manager knows, volunteers are not really a something-for-nothing equation. If you can’t be bothered to figure out the right placement for them, it’s better to say, “No, thank you.” If you invite them in but do not give them the conditions they need to thrive, not only will their contributions be negligible, they will likely get in the way of the operation you’ve worked so hard to establish.

 Last year, I learned this lesson the hard way. This year, I’m trying to do better. The first unexpected recruits of 2010—self-seeded cilantro—showed up in the weedy, unplowed side garden starting in March. I redistributed these volunteers to the ends of the garlic row, to the kitchen garden, to the blueberry patch, and to various friends’ gardens.

Two years ago, when I ran out of steam for preparing and planting the big bed, I threw out some mixed gourd seed to cover the back third. This volunteer seems to be an offspring of that experiment. Last week I relocated it to the cucurbit area to keep it from strangling the garlic. Also, since last year I’ve been trying to keep like with like so that I can practice some simple rotation.

I’m not (yet) terribly strict about segregation of types, though. It’s becoming obvious that I didn’t harvest the potatoes thoroughly enough last year, because they’re popping up in what is now home to squash, melons, cucumbers. Some of them I showed the door, but I’m allowing a few to stay; there’s tons of space up there, and besides, it probably will not be a terrible thing if they slightly slow the production of yellow squash. Also, I don’t really have anywhere else to put them. Maybe next year I’ll get smart and leave a space in each section—kind of like having an extra cubicle or two—so I can appropriately relocate the inevitable surprises of 2011.

The latest unexpected arrival isn’t, strictly speaking, a volunteer. Last year I put a lot of time and energy into creating an asparagus bed at the very back of the garden. All the books—and all my gardening friends—warned me not to succumb to the temptation of harvesting any the first year.  Turned out that wasn’t much of a concern, because I only saw one or two spaghetti-sized sprouts in 2009. So when I arrived one day in May 2010 to discover that my kind neighbor with a tractor had already taken it upon himself to plough up the entire garden—including the shy asparagus—to make it ready for this year’s planting, I wasn’t all that upset. I had already given up on those sad crowns. What a nice surprise to see a few survivors last week!

Even though the asparagus is coming up exactly where and how I originally intended, I had moved on, so it presents the same quandary as a volunteer. For now it seems like there might be room for everyone to coexist and be productive. We’ll see….

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2 Comments on “volunteer management”


  1. […] occasional striped bug. The main problem now is density. Not too long ago I realized those potato volunteers up front really had to […]


  2. […] the shadow of the compost pile, for a late-starting volunteer, it’s still spring. Small green fruits have only just begun to swell on the vines, which show not […]


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