Jeff Barr's Blog

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When Life Gives You Lemons — Keep the Seeds!

I have a reputation within my work for having a slightly off-kilter view of reality. I’ve always tried to look at things from a non-standard perspective, just in case there’s some insight to be had or something interesting to learn. Here’s one example.

A few months ago I was treated for a kidney stone. In the space of a single week I was hospitalized twice, anesthetized, and blasted with ultrasound to break up the stone. I still don’t know why I get these stones every 5 years or so, but I do know that drinking lots of water should decrease the chance that I’ll get another one anytime soon.

For a while I was drinking mineral water, but there’s some inconclusive evidence that these minerals can actually contribute to the formation of further stones. So I decided to drink plain old tap water instead.

After drinking 4 or 5 large glasses per day, the taste of water can get just a bit boring. In order to introduce some variety into my new liquid diet, I generally pick up a couple of lemons at the store every week. I cut them in half and squeeze the juice into the water.

After going through a bunch of lemons in the weeks following my treatment, I wondered (out loud) if the seed would germinate if planted. My co-workers (who are used to my crazy ideas) shook their heads and laughed. However, I did some searching and found out that lemon seeds will actually germinate.

I took four seeds and put them in paper cups, then set them on the window sill in the bright summer sun. I watered them regularly for several weeks, and made sure that they would be watered when I was away. After nearly a month with no results, I was about to give up. There were no signs of life in any of the four cups. About to admit defeat, I slowly (and somewhat sadly) put them in the trash. As I emptied out the last cup, I noticed something. That little seed had actually germinated. There was a small tendril, perhaps an inch long, extending out of the seed!

With my enthusiasm rekindled, I carefully replanted it and continued to water it every day. After a very long time the first tentative green shoots appeared above the ground. Now, some months later, the plant is almost 3″ tall, and has about 8 leaves. I’m careful to water it every couple of days, and I need to put it in a larger container sometime soon.

After further investigation, it turns out that I could have accelerated the process by soaking the seeds in water or on a moist paper towel. Perhaps I’ll start another one sometime soon.

My co-workers still laugh at me, but we’ve had some fun with this poor, straggling lemon plant. When I went away in the summer, they decided to have some fun at my expense. After leaving explicit instructions for watering, I came back to find a dry, withered plant. I knew that they had been really busy, so I shrugged it off and started digging into my email. I think I even told them that I could probably revive it with enough water. Turns out that I had been had. They went to the trouble of creating an exact replica of my plant, microwaving a weed to make it appear dead. The real plant was doing just fine.

I’m not sure if the plant will continue to thrive through the dark Seattle, winter or not. I doubt that it will ever produce fruit, but you never know.

Ok, so what’s the lesson here? I don’t have one, but I thought that this was an interesting little story, and I wanted to preserve it for posterity.