Talk Dirt to Me

Peaches on Apple Trees

One of the great aspects of working in a biology lab is the diversity of lab personnel. I have shared bench space with colleagues from Brazil, Korea, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, India, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Bahamas, Turkey, Portugal, and even, briefly, Canada.


One of my favorite scientists was a little whirlwind from Mexico that I’ll call Dr. X to preserve her anonymity. She was little (a good bit less than 5 feet), and was managing as a single mom in a new country (that’s the whirlwind part). Dr. X is currently a professor in Mexico City, but when I knew her she was a post-doctoral researcher at our local university. She is a plant biochemist, and a gifted one at that, but what I valued were her insight into character.


In particular, I sometimes became irritated with other lab personnel. They did many irritating things, mostly unintentionally. I once expressed exasperation that a different post-doc, we’ll call him Dr. Lazy, didn’t remake a reagent he had finished. When you go for a reagent and the bottle is empty, you have to make it -- sometimes in the middle of an experiment. A pox on Dr. Lazy. Dr. X smiled patiently and told me: “don’t expect peaches from an apple tree.”


I hope she doesn’t have the phrase trademarked, because I use it all the time. Dr. X often corrected my course during the first year of my graduate studies. When I was using my mouth more than my brain, she gently redirected my energies. I hope she’s doing well, and could probably still use her redirection.


I was reminded of Dr. X recently when a neighbor remarked on some “alpine” strawberries Fragaria vesca that I had recently transplanted. They had been growing right beside our house and had not impressed me. My neighbor mentioned how healthy they looked. I said “I wish they grew big strawberries.” She looked at me a bit curiously, “aren’t they alpine strawberries?”


Well yes but...and I remembered Dr. X. Essentially I wanted the plants to be something they weren’t. I love that they are everbearing (give fruit starting in spring and last into the fall), and are difficult to kill. But even with a pretty big bed, you seldom get more than a handful.


This, though is changing. I mentioned that I transplanted the berries. They were in piss-poor soil along the foundation. I dug them a new bed and added lots of compost and dried blood. Now surrounded by fresh straw they are pumping out the most delicious little strawberries I’ve ever had. True, the texture is not quite as firm as a the standard strawberry, but the flavor is far superior.

I suppose the lesson is to expect apples from an apple tree and learn to like them, just treat the tree right and maybe make cider.


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