Some people celebrate Christmas in July, for a sense of holiday cheer during one of the year’s hottest months—at least in the Northern Hemisphere. However, scientists in Antarctica, where it’s currently winter, are celebrating summer’s seasonal produce in the freezing cold.
At the continent’s Vostok Station, less than 1,000 miles from the South Pole, Russian researchers were able to grow eight watermelons in conditions not well suited to the summertime snack, The Washington Post reported over the weekend. The largest watermelon grew to 5.11 inches in diameter, while the heaviest was a mere 2.2 pounds.
The fruits’ “taste and aroma are not worse than” those of your regular old watermelon, Andrey Teplyakov, a geophysicist at the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, which runs the station, said in a translated statement, according to the Post.
To grow the watermelons, the researchers planted them without soil in a greenhouse at the station in early April. They used a combination of soil substitute, fertilizers, and special lighting, and hand-pollinated the fruits in late May since they didn’t have bees or other pollinators handy. By July, the first watermelons had begun to grow.
“Naturally, all polar explorers were happy to remember the taste of summer,” Teplyakov said. “Even the observation of seedlings, growth, appearance of fruits and their increase brought positive emotions.”
This isn’t the first time scientists have grown produce in Antarctica, despite the continent’s bone-chilling temps. (Vostok Station recorded Earth’s lowest-ever air temperature in 1983: a terrifying minus-128.6 degrees Fahrenheit.) Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs have all flourished in greenhouses in the past. And next, researchers are going to see how crops like berries and cucumbers fare.
The research is all part of an effort to grow plants at Russia’s polar stations, The Washington Post noted. And while it’s quite impressive to see these sorts of fruits and vegetables sprout up in one of the coldest places on the planet, the experiments are also meant to see whether produce could be grown at future stations in space.
So maybe one day aliens will be chowing down on cosmically grown watermelon and tomatoes.