My vegetable garden was a failure this year. I just didn’t have the oomph to manage it in a way that would make it impressively productive. It was probably because I had too many hard-core infrastructural projects going on in our somewhat newly established backyard garden, carving out the pathways and stairways and terraces required for our sloping lot. It is work we should have properly farmed out to landscapers but that fell to our own hands, more through attrition than ambition. This drained all of my outdoor energy away from the tending of plants.

My inattention rendered my edible garden a comedy of errors. I got no zucchini, even though I carefully planted seeds in a mound of our own rich, black compost. What gardener gets no zucchini? It is the easiest thing in the world to grow. You are supposed to complain of the problem of abundance, and seek out non-gardeners who will absorb your surplus. I once overheard a Master Gardener colleague quipping that he was embarrassed for the people he saw buying zucchini in the grocery store. I blushed every time I placed it in my shopping cart this year.

In fact, the zucchini seeds I planted may have germinated without me ever recognizing them, because that lovely compost I used was full of cucurbit seeds from last year’s garden, and they all sprouted vigorously. Cucurbit seedlings look pretty much alike, whether they are zucchini or yellow squash or pumpkins or cucumbers. Amidst all the beautifully leafy, squashy plants that ensued, I had no clue which were the ones I had intended. So I let them all grow, figuring I’d weed out the ones that failed to produce zucchini.

That none of them produced zucchini is, I think, a testament to the vigor of non-hybridized seeds. On one plant, we got something that sort of resembled zucchini—it was green, it was somewhat elongated—but it was more bulbous and rough hewn. It was edible, though, and it tasted good; we ate it and I thanked the plant for its service. Some of the others produced what I thought were yellow squash, and the fruits were edible as long as you picked them when they were still thumb-sized. But if you let them go (which I did), the plants became a tangle of vines that tossed up a plentiful array of gourds in all sorts of colors and patterns: yellow with orange stripes; yellow with pale green butts; a piebald of dark green and yellow. I had my turn feeling embarrassed for the people who bought fall décor in the grocery store.

The one desired cucurbit I got in abundance came up only in places I did not plant it: pumpkins. They were everywhere, their gargantuan-leafed vines taking over the garden long before they produce any fruit that solved the mystery of their identity. And they were coy about that; the first green fruit was so well camouflaged under its foliage that I did not even notice it until it was the size of a soccer ball (that’s a dead giveaway about how lax I was in tending my garden). By the time it started to flush orange, it was a giant. Okay, nothing like the obscene monster pumpkins that win prizes, but I’ve never grown anything as big as this garden volunteer. It spared me from having to buy our Halloween pumpkin.

But its little cousins—they popped up everywhere, their vines snaking under the fruit trees and through the meadow, splashes of orange color suddenly appearing in the herb garden and under the frosty green catnip. Some were tall and skinny and pale, while others were short and squat and richly dark. I harvested the whole lot of them and lined them up on my front walkway to guide the Trick-or-Treaters. They made their way into pies and scones and holiday side dishes. Most of them ended up in my garage, turning it into my winter larder. I’m saving some of the seeds to purposefully plant next year.

I’ll paw through the compost first, though, to evict next year’s would-be volunteers.