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There’s a monster in my yard

October 22, 2013

Guest post from Jamie Gluvna

It’s 6:30 AM on a late-July morning. Mom and Dad are rushing around the house, grabbing their lunches and travel mugs of coffee, then leaving chore lists for my brother and me. I roll out of bed, dress, grab the notebook and a pen and head to the backyard. What was originally Dad’s idea of summer entertainment is now so fascinating that I don’t mind dragging myself out of bed when most other nine-year-olds are sleeping in.

I hike my leg over the hip-height black fence. There is a monster in this backyard—or at least, we hope there will be soon. Its leaves come up to my belly, and I push them aside to reach the nearest yellow-orange flower. I gently push back the petals, just like Dad taught me. This flower is a male. It has a simple flower structure in the center called an anther, and it’s covered in yellow dust—pollen. I swipe my paintbrush across the surface, filling the brush with pollen. I approach a female flower, which has a more complicated structure inside, and instead of powdery pollen, a clear liquid. The structure is the stigma, and the liquid is nectar. With the paintbrush, I dust as much pollen as possible onto the sticky stigma. I write down the date in my notebook under “Pollinations.” Next week, I’ll check to see if the area under the female blossom is growing larger, like a golf ball instead of a marble. I cross my fingers.

Next, I measure two beach ball-sized fruits on another vine and write down their sizes. Unlike the doorjamb in our kitchen marked with our heights over many years, this notebook holds just this summer’s measurements. One yellowy-beige fruit is growing very fast, and the other is growing steadily. I note this with a sigh, break off the faster-growing fruit, and toss it in the compost. If it grows too quickly, it will have thin walls and later it could burst. Leaving just one fruit per plant ensures there will be enough energy to grow a single, giant monster.

Fast-forward to October. Now, there is a monster in the backyard which can’t be missed. A giant pumpkin peeks out above the black fence. Six neighbors help us load it into our van, then we hit the road.

Later that night, we return with a cash prize and a plaque: “Ohio’s Largest Pumpkin, 1996.” The subtitle reads: “557.5 pounds.” Dad yells for me to go grab the small shovel and a saw. Now, we have a monster on our porch—the biggest jack-o-lantern anyone has ever seen. But, I also grew within myself another “monster”, a thriving interest in plant biology which has since fully shaped my career.

JG pumpkin

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