Archaeologists spend a lot of time thinking about the origins of gardening, and eventually agriculture. What makes a person start caring for a set of plants? What makes them start to intentionally grow them? We know that people in several areas around the world independently came to the same idea of caring for plants (and food animals) starting about 12,000 years ago and some not until the very recent past.
Most of the plants you grow in your garden wouldn’t survive to produce fruit without your help, then need weeding and pruning and stakes and pest prevention, etc… And the fruit they produce would not be as big as they are if we hadn’t intervened and done some cross breeding and selection for certain traits. Corn was a grass. A GRASS. And look at that cob now. That is generations of selection you see on that stalk.
Some plants are pretty resilient though, and some people speculate that may have given rise to some types of gardening. Cucurbits are notoriously successful without intentional planting. They include squashes, pumpkins and all sorts of melons. Some people speculate that when folks ate wild squashes (or other cucurbits) and threw the seeds away, the next year they sprouted back and people thought it was convenient to find them right there in the trash pile near the village, so they then started caring for them. This is one possible way that people started to get ideas about gardening. But since it happened so long ago, it’s hard to say.
Here’s the compost pile behind the Central Michigan University Campus Grow Gardens. On the right I’ve circled every cucurbit plant growing in that particular compost pile. On the left – two very successful fruits that are growing ON the compost pile. No one is caring for them, watering them or tending them. They’re just that productive. Cool enit?