Post 75: My Black Pearls


They couldn’t be blueberries! I’d never seen blueberries in the desert, or for sale in a Tucson farmer’s market, or in anyone’s garden in this town. And I certainly hadn’t planted them in my garden.

I went in closer. The plant was loaded with little fruits, purplish-black, the size of blueberries or even slightly smaller, in clusters of two or three or five. When I tried to pluck one, it squished between my fingers. Seeds came out. They were unmistakably tomato seeds: tinier than any tomato seeds I’d ever seen, but teardrop-shaped and embedded in a slippery gel envelope like the tomato seeds I knew. I was sure enough of the tomato identity—strange as it was—that I popped one in my mouth.

Yes, it had a definite tomato-y taste, but with more sweetness and an overtone of something all its own. It was delicious.

What it was doing in my garden was a mystery. True, the year before I had bought four packages of four heirloom tomato seeds. But none of the pictures showed little black balls. The seeds grew into yellow or orange or black-streaked fruits, pear-shaped or big and fat. Judging from the way the tiny ball had split open at my touch, spilling its insides, it must have been very skilled at spreading itself around—so perhaps its parental seed had made its way into one of those commercial heirloom packages. It was the only explanation I could think of.

There was more evidence of this little tomato’s reproductive success the next year, and the next, as it began to come up by itself all over the yard. The plants definitely exhibited weed behavior, but I didn’t pull them. Their smallness and tendency to split in my hands made them a pain to harvest, but I admired their spunk—the way they came up on their own, and in places that got no supplemental water. I liked the sugar-sweet taste and whatever those unique overtones were. In the summer, now, I make a rich tabouli with them, needing no other tomatoes, using the pungent parsley growing right alongside them.

Bowl of tabouli with lemon slice
Bluetom tabouli with parsley from the same garden bed. I use quinoa instead of bulgur wheat (less starch). This tabouli lacks the red accents of our more familiar tomato, but I exempt myself from the color-variety rule in this case, in order to enjoy the pure bluetom flavor.

The chickens are crazy about them, too, never failing to retrieve a single one out of a bouncing handful thrown to them. If it’s late in the season we’ll break off a few loaded branches for them so they can pluck their own treats right off the stalk. Let them do the work.

I like to grow my own food, but I’m not good at it. (When it comes to raising tomatoes in our increasingly hot climate, other gardeners I know have given up, too.) In general, I’m not scientific or careful, and I don’t enjoy planting seeds. In sowing them in their furrows, I always forget where I left off—most are small or dark, almost invisible once they hit the soil. And when I’m finished, nothing looks different; the walkways still need sweeping and the pile of prunings is still there. So I like it when stuff—edible or beautiful stuff—comes up on its own. Like my artichoke plant, which sprouts from its roots every winter (though it doesn’t like freezes or hot summers, so it doesn’t produce well here). Or the nettle patch, which seeds itself and gets bigger every year. Sometimes a few specimens of chard or kale or parsley make it through the heat and revive in the fall. These events let me get by with sowing less seed. So I appreciate them and encourage them and make use of them. I feel like the before Eve, who could just pluck food from all around her, and less like the after Eve, steering her plow behind the backside of an ox, forehead sweating. In this desert we’re banished from the Garden every summer. That’s why I don’t mind taking the time to pick the little blueberry tomatoes.

They are tomatoes, though I’ve actually heard them called huckleberries. Crush one between your fingers and the difference between berry and tomato becomes obvious. Their six-syllable name, however, is unwieldy. Blue-ber-ry-to-ma-toes. We just call them bluetoms.

Bluetoms get impossibly small—the size of a map-pin head—in the summer, and even I don’t bother picking them at that stage. Then the plants die, too, of heatstroke. But their offspring are waiting to sprout again in the fall. And my gardens fill with amaranth—beautiful Hopi red-dye amaranth—which is sometimes the only thing I plant for the summer. I’ll harvest desert edibles, and visit a farmer’s market, or the grocery store. Alas. You should learn hot-summer gardening from someone more successful, in person or from books and videos.

For anyone who wants to try growing blueberry tomatoes, however: Give me your address and I’ll send you some seeds.

Rebel Hack

How to Keep People From Stealing Your Bike

I remember the details of every bicycle of mine that got stolen. There were four. The first disappeared from a sea of bikes in front of my college dorm. It was locked, but the lock was cut. The second one I had parked at the bottom of the staircase leading to my second-floor apartment. (“You don’t have to lock it here,” my boyfriend said, “it’ll be fine.” The third one I had parked way in the back of the back yard, hidden (I thought) in some bushes, bordering a dead-end alley. Well, I realized—all you need is a single exit to make off with a bicycle. The fourth should have been safely parked alongside other bikes in front of a movie theater. But when I came out I saw that my lock was locked around the pole, all by itself—useless—with no bike attached. My fault. But I’ve had my current bike for ten years. I attribute this at least in part to the strategies outlined below.

You’re meant to laugh. And to consider treating your bicycle with a little less respect.

1. Mount your rear bike rack crookedly. My back-tire clamp just naturally went on at a slant. Someone mentioned to me, laughing, that there’s a way to do it correctly. But this way, items slide backward and are more secure. Plus, I think the odd pitch scares away bike thieves.

Red bike with crooked rear rack

2. If your back-tire clamp lets things fall through, be sure to use something flimsy to cover the void and remedy the situation—cardboard, Foamcore, or something else that will be eaten away by the weather. That way, it’ll be functional but also look as shabby as possible.

Rear bike rack seen from above

3. Handlebar grips aren’t expensive. But it’s not about the money. (It’s about the survival of humanity, you know?) When my factory grips wore out, II cut a piece from an old drawer liner (it seemed grippy) and tied it on. Elastic ties are best—make sure the ties are tight.

Bike handlebar with a drawer liner wrapped around it

4. If possible, keep a couple hair ties around your handlebars. I’m guessing it will be a further deterrent if they hang onto a few hairs from your ponytail.

Hair ties on a bike handebar

5. Sew your own seat cover, and make sure the hand-stitching shows.

Bike seat with black cover with white stitching

6. Plaster your bike with corny stickers like “Peace Please.” Eventually they’ll wear out and be illegible, which is even better. No thief wants to spend time scraping off sticker adhesive.

Red bike frame with an old sticker saying "Peace Please."

7. You can put unpleasantly radical stickers on your helmet, too—but you don’t have to. I have a nice new-looking helmet that I just drape over the handlebars, and nobody takes it. Helmets aren’t cool, y’know? Thieves need to look soooo smart.

Black bike helmet with a cartoon sticker

8. Keep your old bike-light hardware—as well as the bungee cords and wire you carry in case you encounter a fabulous curbside find—always attached to the bike. The sharklike mouth of this old strap-on light would scare me to death—away from any thoughts of running off with this bike.

Old bike light without a bulb in it

9. If you can keep some spider webs attached to your bike while still being able to ride it, good for you.

Red bike frame with spider webs

2 thoughts on “Post 75: My Black Pearls

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