Monday, October 12, 2020

follow the gourd

One of the things that's kept me at a reasonable level of fitness during lockdown is Nia's love for running, which has acted as an incentive for me to get out and get some exercise periodically. I mean, I do have indoor options which I make use of as well, but it's nice to get out and get some fresh air while pounding the streets occasionally. Ordinarily we'd have the weekly parkrun (of which we have a choice of two in Newport) to go to, Nia having graduated around the start of 2020 from the leisurely kiddy-friendly junior one (2 kilometres) to the proper adult one (5 kilometres), but of course that's all been shelved during the pandemic as, even outdoors, lots of sweaty people in close proximity breathing heavily and coughing all over each other isn't a good thing.

This is a pity, as Nia clearly has a genuine aptitude for this stuff, and as the lean willowy type is perfectly built for endurance running (and indeed endurance activities in general). But we've made the best of it by finding some routes we can do from the house, including the nearly-parkrun-distance one we did at the weekend.

The second tweet here is actually what this blog post was meant to be about, though I seem to have digressed onto the running topic more than I intended to. No matter. The watermelon conversation started when we ran past a piece of squashed discarded watermelon on the pavement and I humorously speculated that it must have fallen off a watermelon tree, only to be scoffingly informed that watermelons weren't native to the UK, and was there actually such a thing as a watermelon tree? At which point I had to confess that I'd no idea what sort of plant a watermelon grew on. The Twitter thread went on to list some other fruity items whose parent plant and general appearance in their natural milieu aren't quite what you (or in any case I) might expect. 

Anyway, it turns out there is no such thing as a watermelon tree, and indeed a moment's consideration of the size and weight of a fully-grown watermelon will tell you that they must grow in contact with the ground in the style of, say, pumpkins - indeed it turns out that they belong to the same family of gourd-like plants, the Cucurbitaceae. As it happens we have a member of that family taking over a significant portion of our herb and vegetable patch at the moment; it's a pumpkin plant which we bought as a bit of a joke in the spring but seems to have thrived, and in the process spread itself out laterally, as these things do, right across the front of the vegetable patch, through the herb patch, through the decking railings and onto the decking. I'm going to need to be scrupulously careful about keeping the shed door locked or it'll be in there too. 

Obviously, it now being mid-October, what would be ideal, and give some purpose to the whole plant-growing exercise, would be for the plant to now burst gloriously forth with a select but shapely crop of pumpkins which we could use for Hallowe'en entertainment purposes (and, if supplies permit, perhaps some hearty soup afterwards). It is only in the last few days. however, that any sign of meaningful fruit production has been apparent, right at the tip of the plant up on the decking. As you can see it's all fairly minimal at the moment, but my experiences with growing courgettes tells me that these sneaky bastards can double in size overnight, so I'm not giving up hope yet. I just need to make sure I harvest them before this happens.

Going back to unexpected fruit/plant appearance for a moment, the two I mentioned in the Twitter conversation are probably worth noting here: firstly, the pineapple. Hard to say in hindsight what I was expecting, but a single upright fruit presented on a low-slung shrubby throne of frondy leaves almost certainly wasn't it. Even this is outdone by the humble cashew, though - neither the honest-to-goodness down-to-earth (literally) utilitarian rusticness of its apparent near-relative, the peanut, which just minds its own business under the ground, nor the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin matter-of-factness of a true nut like the hazelnut, just growing straight out of its parent tree like it was the most natural thing in the world. No, the cashew emerges into the world via a freaky space alien arrangement involving being extruded out of the arse of some lumpy apple-like fruit and just hanging there like a tenacious turd until harvested. 

The basic rule for both fruit and nuts is: whatever you might think you know is wrong, and, furthermore, knowing that whatever you might think you know is wrong won't help you, because you'll still be wrong anyway. Is a peanut a nut? No, you fool, it's a legume. Is a banana a fruit? No, you fool, it's a berry. Is the big clearly-a-fruit apple-like structure in the picture above a fruit? Is the smaller clearly-a-nut hard-cased thing under it a nut? No, and no, obviously. The apple thing is an accessory fruit and the cashew "nut" is the true fruit (of which the bit we habitually eat is a seed). Honestly, you can see why people just give up and eat crisps instead; at least you know where you are.

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