Thick skins and blossom-end rot

We ate the first tomatoes from the garden this week. I ate one in the morning—alone, furtively—after crawling out onto the roof deck to water the plants that aren’t really supposed to be there in the first place. It was the first thing I had that day, before coffee, before water or breakfast, before wiping the sleep out of my eyes. The tiny tomato was already warm from the hot sun, and sweet and bright-tasting, like it looks.

It’s always the Igleheart Yellow Cherries that ripen first, maybe because they’re yellow and small.

The next day two more were ripe and I brought them in so E and I could each have one. These were cool because the sky was dark and dizzly.

The skins seem thicker and tougher than other tomatoes, even the ones I get from our CSA or the farmer’s market. I wonder if this is because they’re growing in upcycled plastic kitty litter buckets on a fully exposed, hot, reflective rooftop, and are under-watered more often than not, so they have to develop extra thick, protective coatings. That, or we eat them immediately, before the skins have time to subtly soften, degrade, break down.

Someone requested I do a garden update because my last one was such a downer, and soon after everything started doing pretty well, actually. The tomato plants grew tall and bushy, and put out little yellow flowers, and then hard green fruits, which are only now starting to turn colors.

I successfully coaxed catnip, thai basil, and dill into life from seeds (don’t ask me about the thyme or the parsley or any of the other herbs that didn’t take). Then all these little caterpillars found the dill and I…just let them hang out because they didn’t seem to be doing any harm. Then they became larger caterpillars and the next thing I knew they had eaten all the lacy fronds leaving just the bare stalks behind, which was sad. But I left the pot alone for a few days and now it seems the fronds have started growing back; we shall wait and see. Oh and the only pepper plant I successfully sprouted was there one day and the next had just—vanished, a victim of a bird or squirrel rooting around for seeds.

But the tomato plants—my darlings—are for the most part doing well. Especially the Igleheart Cherry, the Black Cherry, and the striped Bumblebee Cherry varieties. The Beam’s Yellow Pear Cherry tomatoes are once again suffering from blossom end rot, which means they’re going brown and mushy from the bottom up. This can happen either from a lack of calcium or irregular watering, I’ve read, but the other varieties are growing in the same soil/compost mix and are watered as often and as irregularly and they haven’t suffered that fate. I just think it’s just a frailer variety.

There’s also a mystery tomato plant, which was a volunteer in the pot I originally meant to grow lettuce in. The fruits on that plant are big and bulgy and there’s no way it came from any of my seed packets, so it must be from seeds of a CSA tomato last summer, via the compost pile. Anyway, these tomatoes are also suffering from blossom end rot, sadly. I don’t generally grow full-size tomatoes because they tend to not do as well in containers as smaller varieties. Still, looking forward to seeing what the fully ripe fruit looks like, even if I have to trim off the bottom.

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What I’m reading

Saharan dust storms regularly cross oceans and even help fertilize the Amazon rain forest, but the cloud this year is the largest in 50 or 60 years, and could fuel algal blooms, starve ocean life of oxygen, and decrease air quality during a respiratory disease pandemic. Must read: A re-examination of the rhetoric of “invasive species,” murder hornets and land stewardship. An artist-gardener plans to grow an orchard of franken-fruit trees on Governor’s Island in New York, with multiple types of fruit grafted onto a single trunk. The case for growing food in New York City’s public parks. A thorough primer (if you still need it) on how social media is changing “our” relationship with public land and wilderness; interestingly, the writer reports rates of engagement on Instagram are going down, which is fine by me. Why you should never ask for directions while vacationing in Maine. Another must read: You may know the benefits of green spaces, but blue spaces can be even more beneficial.

Pinch of Dirt itineraries

Quick reminder that paid subscribers can send me their requests for Pinch of Dirt itineraries anytime. Readers can expect the next installment on (or around) August 1. I have a couple things to choose from already, but I’ll need more itinerary requests for the fall!