Strange Fruit

by Ed Williams
Myers Park Baptist Church, Friendship Garden leader 

A few days ago I was at the Friendship Trays HQ talking about the mystery squash growing from the compost heap at the Friendship Garden. Here’s a note I wrote to the Rev. Chrissy Tatum Williamson, our Minister of Faith Formation, who was interested in mentioning this phenomenon in a sermon:

We throw vegetable scraps and leftovers from the church into the compost bins alongside the garden, and some environmental stalwarts bring in scraps from home, too. Usually in the spring some of the seeds take root. I wait until I see what they are to determine whether to pull them out or let them grow.

Last year a vigorous vine emerged. I didn’t know what it was so I let it grow. It grew in all directions and eventually covered a significant part of Myers Park. It produced gigantic (20 pounds or more), pumpkin-like fruits that were the deep green the color of acorn squash. I took one home to let Marylyn determine whether it was edible. She cooked it, and it was great, tasting like a cross between acorn squash and pumpkin. We took a hundred pounds or more to Friendship Trays. One of the cooks, a native of Peru, said it reminded her of something that grew there.

This spring a similar vine emerged. I assumed it would bear the same fruit, but it didn’t. This year’s model has the same pumpkin shape but is a deep orange. I took a couple to Friendship Trays. The chef later told me it tasted like cucumber, and (like cucumber) couldn’t be cooked as you’d cook squash. Also, she said, they didn’t need all that many 20-pound cucumbers

She explained that sometimes squash and and similar plants will cross pollinate and create seeds that produce something new. I looked it up. Sure enough, summer squash, zucchini, pumpkins and some kinds of winter squash – members of the Cucurbita genus – can be cross pollinated by bees, creating seeds that are different from either of the parents. Apparently that’s what happened.

I‘m letting this year’s crop of volunteers mature. Sometime soon I’ll take one to Friendship Trays and see what it’s like when it’s fully ripe. If Friendship Trays doesn’t want ’em, come Halloween we’ll have some great jack-o’-lanterns, if they hold up that long.

Meanwhile, look in the compost bin now and you’ll see what I assume are small ornamental gourds, also growing from discarded stuff somebody put in there.

The predictable outcomes of gardening are greatly satisfying – plant a potato, get a lot of potatoes – but the surprises add to the joy. I may not know what Nature will produce in the compost heap, but Nature does.

You don’t always get what you want… but sometimes Nature gives you something even more exciting. Pictured here: last year’s ginormous gourds from Myers Park Baptist Church’s Friendship Garden.