Seed-Boxes Which We Eat as Vegetables
When the seed-boxes of plants are ripe we call them "fruits." I daresay it seems strange to you to call a pea-pod a fruit. But if you think of all the other fruits you know, you will find that they are all seed-boxes.
The apple is the seed-box of the apple-blossom. The gooseberry holds the seed of the gooseberry plant. The nut is the fruit of the nut-tree. The acorn is the fruit of the oak.
In peas and broad beans we eat the seeds out of the fruit. But in French beans and scarlet-runners we eat the whole fruit, seed-box as well as seeds. If you walk round a kitchen garden I think you can find one, and perhaps two, vegetables of which we eat the whole fruit.
In most gardens there is some corner where the dead leaves and rubbish are heaped up to make a hot-bed. Earth is thrown over the heap, and cucumbers and vegetable marrows are grown there. You will see at once that cucumbers and marrows are fleshy seed-boxes, for they are full of seeds.
Have you ever looked at the flowers of the Vegetable Marrow? They are as large and beautiful as many garden flowers. I want you to notice something curious in them.
If you look at several flowers you will see that they are not all alike. They all have a pale green cup, with five long points, and a grand yellow crown. But some, which are very big, have the beginning of a young marrow just under the green cup while others, which are smaller, have nothing but the stem under the cup. In a few days the young marrow will have grown bigger. But the flowers which have no marrows under them will be fading away.
Look inside the fading flowers. You will see some curious twisted pouches full of yellow pollen-dust, but you will not find a sticky knob in the middle. Then look at the big flower at the top of the young marrow. Inside that flower you will find some sticky lumps, and most likely some yellow dust on them. So you will know that these lumps are the top of the seed-box. But you will not find any dust-bags in this flower.
So you see that the vegetable marrow has its dust-bags in one flower and its seed-box in another. How can the yellow grains get from one flower to the other to make the seeds grow?
Here the insects help. We found them troublesome when they spoilt the turnips, but now, they are going to be useful.
Inside each marrow flower there are some juicy folds, which the bees and flies love to nibble, to get the sweet juice. When they press into the flower to bite the folds they rub against the pouches and carry off some yellow grains on their backs. Then they go into the bigger flower to bite the folds, and pass the sticky lumps on their way. The yellow grains stick on to the lumps, and so the ovules of the marrow get the pollen-food and are able to grow into seeds.
The Cucumber flowers are of two kinds, like those of the marrow. Perhaps now, you can guess why the gardener is careful to open his frames every day. He must not only let in the fresh air. He must also give the insects a chance to fly in to the flowers. For if they did not come, there would be no one to carry the pollen from one flower to the other. Some gardeners pick off a flower with dust-bags, and rub it against the sticky lumps of the large flower, and so do the same work as the insects.
Pumpkins, melons, and gourds have two kinds of flowers like the cucumber and marrow.
There is one more fruit which we eat as a vegetable, but I am not sure if you will have it in your garden. It is the beautiful tomato, which looks like a deep red apple. If you have not got it you should try to grow it. Cottagers often grow it in Devonshire, even when they have only a sandy path to plant it in.
Sow the seeds in a box in February, put a piece of glass over it, and keep it in the kitchen where it is warm. Then when the little plants have two or three leaves on them, put each plant in a small pot with some very sandy earth.
Keep the plants well watered, and in May put the pots outside the house in a warm corner. As soon as they are a little hardened you may scoop a deep hole in the bed, or path, under a sunny wall. Fill it with manure and earth, and put the plants in out of the pots. They will grow against the wall and give you fine tomatoes. Only you must be careful to keep off the slugs and snails, for they love the sweet tomato juice as much as we do.
When the fruits are big, if the weather is not warm enough for them to ripen out of doors, you may pick them and put them on the kitchen shelves and they will turn red and be fit to eat.
Bring the two kinds of flowers which grow on the vegetable marrow plant—also those of the cucumber. Bring in the fruit of a marrow, a cucumber, and a tomato.