‘Early Minsk’ Tomato

Early Minsk tomato

Also known as ‘Minsk Early’ or ‘Minskiy Ranniy’ or ‘Minskij Rannyj’

Andrey Baranoviski (of Minsk, Belarus) has sent out several different tomato varieties to North America.  They all have ‘Minsk’ in the title.  The tomato profiled here is only known by the names above.

The Short Form:  It’s early, productive and tastes good!

The Slightly Longer Form:  Early (60 days!), determinate (!!!!), productive plants that produce round, red, small to medium sized tomatoes with vine-ripened, sweet-tart taste.   Good texture, taste and yields (if disease doesn’t get them).

Determinate:  Heirloom tomatoes are rarely determinate.  This one is.  Be prepared.

These tomato vines take off when put in the ground, but once they are about 4 feet long, they put all their production into producing tomatoes.

Early Minsk tomato

As the photo shows, we staked and Florida Weaved our plants because we didn’t realize how short they would be.  We’re not a fan of cages for market production, but if you have tomato cages, use them for this variety.  Fruit set tends to concentrate at the base of the plant, so some support is necessary for marketable tomatoes.

The plants will produce flowers within the first month and continue to produce them until the second week of August.  By the end of August, these plants are done and can be ripped out to make way for a different fall crop.

Normally, you’d want a longer production window for tomatoes, but ‘Early Minsk’ produce so early (our first tomato was July 9 on field grown plants during a cool, wet Spring) and taste well enough that everyone is happy to eat them until the late-season heirloom beefsteaks come in.

The Drawbacks:  Early Minsk is early, early, early and tastes like a real tomato and produces plenty of them.  What more does a tomato grower want?

Well, disease resistance would be nice – and something this variety appears to be lacking.

Granted, 2017 was a cold, wet Spring, but this tomato seemed to get every disease it could in the short time it was in the field.  By the time its determinate schedule had said that there would be no more flowers, the vines were done.  Production, of course, slides down as the plants succumb to disease, but other varieties are usually ramping up at this time and there is so much production early on that it’s worth planting.

Sunscald, as the plants wither from disease, is also a problem.  Although this tomato will keep producing through mid-August, plan on having other varieties take up the slack in mid to late August.

Early Minsk tomato

The Size:  As the photos show, this is not a large tomato.  We sold them in quarts to individuals and by the pound to restaurants.  They are excellent in sandwiches, but it takes several slices, which is usually a whole tomato.

The History:  Andrey Baranoviski, a Seed Savers Exchange Listed Member and resident of Minsk, Belarus, began sending several different Minsk tomato varieties to North America in the mid-2000s.

Most of the varieties have ‘Minsk’ in their name, so when ordering these tomatoes, be sure to have the full name so that you get the tomato that you wanted.

Experimental Farm Network (EFN) received seed from USDA GRIN and was impressed with its earliness and flavor when grown in the Mid-Atlantic, so began promoting the variety.

While Barnaoviski still offers the seed through Seed Savers Exchange, it’s now possible to purchase the seed from North American growers by googling one of the four names used at the top of this blog post.

In 2017, we had our first tomato from field-grown plants on July 9.  For 2018, we will be growing these tomatoes in our new high tunnel with a goal of producing marketable quantities for July 4th.  I agree with EFN that this tomato shows great promise for Mid-Atlantic commercial and home production for those that want a worthwhile-tasting tomato as early as possible.

‘Ole Pepperpot’ Pepper

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‘Ole Pepperpot’ Pepper (Capsicum annuum var. annuum) is the answer to the Mid-Atlantic grower who wants a bountiful harvest of genuinely hot peppers and wants to be able to save seed so that they can keep growing those peppers into the future.  

Pepper plants are grown as annuals, but in their native lands (which never know frost), they are perennials.  The plant, when grown from seed, feels it has all the time in the world to set fruit and even more time for that fruit to ripen.

In lands where we know frost and the cold of winter, growing peppers from seed to seed can be a frustrating business.  Sweet peppers can take until the day before the first frost to fully ripen and many colorful and fiery hot peppers can’t be grown here in Southeastern Pennsylvania at all.

‘Ole Pepperpot’ first ripens in August and continues prolifically until the first frost.  The ripe red peppers (which look like a cayenne because, as William Woys Weaver related below, it is one) actually produce enough of a harvest that the grower and the grower’s entire extended family can eat all the hot peppers they like in season and still have enough to sell fresh, dried as pods or in cute little jars of dried hot pepper powder.

Here​ is William Woys Weaver’s history of Ole Pepperpot:

“Perhaps it is best to begin with a soup called mondongo, a pepper called chiltepe, and Schell’s Long Red Cayenne. Schell’s pepper was essentially a selection of the large Mexican chiltepe pepper, trained to grow on a low bush for field culture. It was a variety sold to truck farmers in the 1920s by the Walter S. Schell seed company of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as well as by William Henry Maule in Philadelphia. This pepper was intended to supply the kitchens of the Horn and Hardart cafeteria chain with peppers for its once-famous pepperpot soup, not to mention a number of soup and scrapple companies in the region that needed fresh cayenne for seasoning. Not only is the chiltepe a pepper of great antiquity, a pod of it floating in mondongo (Mexican tripe soup) was considered the only proper finishing touch by Mexican cooks. Philadelphia tripebased pepperpot is a Yankee relative of mondongo demanding a similar marriage of tripe and peppers. Most of the heirloom hot peppers that have survived in the Philadelphia region were connected, in one way or another, with the city’s pepperpot soup culture, especially in the heyday of the nineteenth century, when this spicy soup was sold by vendors in the street.

This background history provides the explanation for the name of the cayenne pepper under discussion. Ole Pepperpot is not nearly as hot as a true chiltepe, which may explain why it was more acceptable in upper-class cookery years ago. The pepper was preserved by two families of black Philadelphia caterers, the Augustins, who were famous nationally in the 1800s, and the de Baptistes, who later married into the Augustin clan. The Augustins did not raise the pepper themselves; someone raised it for them under contract. Yet interestingly enough, Ole Pepperpot contains a “blush” of chiltepe, for it ripens like a chiltepe, with a hint of orange at its extremities while still partially green. However, the pods are much different, being twisted, sometimes even curled, about 4 inches in length and 3/4 of an inch in diameter at the stem end. On the blossom end or tip of the pod there is usually a small hook that is sometimes quite pronounced. The plants are tall, often 3 1/2 feet, and branching. The pods ripen by midsummer and produce heavily until frost.

The Album Vilmorin (1873, 24) illustrated an identical cayenne, but yellow in color. If Ole Pepperpot came to America with the Augustins, then it arrived about 1816 while Peter Augustin served as chef to the Spanish ambassador in Washington. Beyond this, very little else is known about the early history of this pepper, except for two interesting coincidences. The Ram’s Horn pepper, preserved by the Fischer family in North Carolina since the early part of this century and now part of the Heritage Farm seed collection (SSE PEP 13), is similar in shape to Ole Pepperpot and may represent a collateral genetic line. Furthermore, the so-called Penis Pepper now so popular among pepper fanciers is a direct descendant of Ole Pepperpot. The tell-tale hook is still there, but sunken into a heavily wrinkled pod. Having crossed Ole Pepperpot with Elephant’s Trunk pepper to create a little monster called Love Gun, I know how this works.

In any case, it would appear that the nineteenth century ancestors of Ole Pepperpot were widely distributed along the coast of the eastern and southern United States. Because of its close association with black cookery in this country and the fact that seed came to my grandfather from Horace Pippin, history has set this pepper apart as one of the important representative heirlooms from the African-American community.”

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Buried in all that text above is the nugget that Ole Pepperpot is the unique Philadelphia ingredient for pepperpot soup.  Believe it or not, other cuisines have tripe-based soups (as my Google search for the recipe revealed!) and they are liberally sprinkled with hot peppers.  But for true Philadelphia-style Pepperpot Soup, you need the Ole Pepperpot peppers.

Next blog post will be about my adventures with Pepperpot Soup, which was worth the effort.  But if you’re living in the Mid-Atlantic and frustrated about your ability to produce not only a really hot pepper, but the seed needed to produce those plants in your own growing area, add Ole Pepperpot to your rotation.

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‘Large Red’ Tomato

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Also known as ‘Old Large Red’ or ‘Early Large Red’

Called by Hill Creek Farm customers, “The Tomato That Looks Like Flowers”

The Short Form:  Grow this tomato!

The Slightly Longer Form: (adapted from Gary Ibsen’s Tomatofest page):

Large Red tomato seeds produce indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants that yield heavily ribbed, flattened, beautiful, red, tomatoes that shout out terrific, complex, well-balanced, sweet flavors with that old-fashioned acidic ‘tang’. A perfect tomato for slicing fresh into sandwiches or salads.

The Shape: In this day of Emojis where pictures are as important as words, Large Red tomato is shaped like a child’s drawing of a flower.  It’s a fairly firm tomato, so the shape holds when sliced and makes a pretty pattern on a sandwich or in salads.

Although the name is generic enough to make one wince when typing in a Google search, the ribs are so distinctive that an Image search easily reveals everything the Internet knows about this tomato.

The Size:  This is an almost perfect tomato from the standpoint of growing (not fussy, not overly sprawling plants) and flavor (see Gary Ibsen’s description above and William Woys Weaver’s descriptions below).

Size, however, is where things get dicey – and most of that is because of the name “Large Red”.   Expectations are, that is it will be red (which it is) and large (well, er, um – and the hedging begins!).

First off, Large Red is an 18th century tomato that hasn’t really been fiddled with since.  Tomatoes were a lot smaller in the 18th century than they are today, so expectations of “large” were different.

Second, this is an early tomato and like many early tomatoes, it starts off strong, but peters out over the season.  You may indeed get several large (12 oz!) tomatoes in mid-July (85 days from transplant is the usual notation).  However, those very same plants by September may be producing cherry tomatoes that are just fine for tossing in to a salad or the sauce pot, but when someone asked you what that cute ribbed tomato is that tastes so great and you have to say. . . ‘Large Red’ . . . it gets embarrassing.

Which is too bad because this really is a great tasting and looking tomato.  But it won’t always be large.

The History:

According to William Woys Weaver in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening (check Amazon or your favorite bookseller for the most recent edition – new printing is coming soon):

“When American tomatoes are discussed for the period 1815 to 1865, Early Large Red is most consistently mentioned, even though it was known earlier in France during the eighteenth century. It is not a true commercial variety in the same sense as Earliana just discussed, for it is very close to its wild Mexican counterpart. Yet where large red tomatoes were grown in the country before the universal acceptance of this vegetable, Early Large Red was indeed the most common. In fact, it was recommended for kitchen gardens in several early garden books, including George Lindley’s Guide to Orchard and Kitchen Garden (1831, 555), and appeared repeatedly in horticultural works throughout the nineteenth century. The Album Vilmorin (1869, 12) depicted it under the name tomate rouge grosse, and H. Dwight Smith of Arlington, Virginia crossed it with Feejee to create the Arlington tomato introduced by B. K. Bliss & Sons of New York in 1873. Other heirloom tomatoes may be more exotic, but this one remains a classic in its plain old-fashioned way.

Early Large Red was not grown as a table fruit to be eaten raw; rather, its strength lies in its uses for cooking, in soups, ketchups, and especially in sauces. The fruit is red, the flavor excellent, but the flesh is mealy, as one would expect in a paste-type tomato. The vines are small — no longer than 4 feet — so the tomato is well adapted to small gardens. Most of the fruits are smooth, although some have light ribbing, and are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The skins are tough, a feature noted by Fearing Burr in 1865. Perfect fruit will contain 9 seed chambers. In humid weather the fruit is subject to cracking, and mature fruit even in dry weather will have distinct crack scars at regular intervals on the tomato. These white lines are typical on many early prehybrid tomato sorts.”

In personal correspondence, Weaver says, “As for the tomato (or tomata as it was called in the colonial period), George Washington ate this one in spite of wooden teeth, it was grown in colonial Williamsburg and Philadelphia, and Thomas Jefferson used it for sauce.  This is the tomato, along with Plate de Haiti, that formed the cornerstone of late 1700s Philadelphia cuisine. ‘French Sauce’ in those days meant tomata.  The flavor of this heirloom is unique, succulent.”

Before the Civil War, Large Red was one of the most commonly grown and well-documented tomato varieties in the country.  This popularity was most likely because the Shakers were growing it in Hancock, MA in the 1830s and then listed it in their New Lebanon, NY seed catalog in 1843. A listing in the 19th century Shaker seed catalog generated similar excitement to a 20th century listing in the Burpee seed catalog – everyone wanted to grow what the Shakers thought was worth growing.

And, of course, because it’s all over the Internet, here’s the famous Fearing Burr quote on this tomato from his Field and Garden Vegetables of America (published in 1865): “From the time of the introduction of the tomato to its general use in this country, the Large Red was almost the only kind cultivated, or even commonly known.”

There’s a reason this tomato has been popular in the US since the 18th century.  It tastes good and it grows well with little fuss.  If you want an interesting looking tomato that has great tomato flavor and a fascinating history, grow this tomato!

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Large Red tomatoes on the lower right.

 

 

 

First Asparagus Harvest!

Today, after creating, planting and tending our asparagus field, here is our very first asparagus harvest!

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We planted a half acre of Jersey Knight and Purple Passion asparagus in the Spring of 2013.  Like most perennials, asparagus can’t be harvested right away — it needs time to develop its root system.

That time was up this morning!  After walking the dogs and feeding the chickens, I grabbed my gear (pictured here) and went to the asparagus field.

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Gear included a food-safe produce tote with ice at the bottom and a linen dishtowel to keep the asparagus cool after harvesting, a sharp knife and a plastic 6 inch ruler from the Republican Committee of Chester County that two friends gave me at a Phoenixville street festival.  Asparagus should be harvested at 6 inches long (and as short as 4 inches on a warm day) so having a flexible, yet sturdy ruler to quick check spear lengths was very helpful.

Harvesting asparagus means walking down the rows and looking for spears that are at least 4 inches tall.  Right now, everything is harvested, regardless of diameter, so the plant roots will put energy into making more spears, rather than leafing out the spears it had already put up.

After an hour and a half, here was the harvest:

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The Purple Passion are easier to see.  Here’s how they cleaned up:

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For the next four weeks, I’ll be walking the asparagus field every morning to see if there are any spears ready to harvest.  There is nothing better than fresh asparagus — I had raw asparagus for lunch and Frank munched on steamed asparagus for dinner.

Asparagus can be purchased at the farm — just contact me for details.

Meanwhile, here’s a completely gratuitous photo of the magnolia tree at the corner of our property.  Spring is really here!

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Getting the Gooseberries in the Ground

Gooseberries are one of the first fruits to leaf out in the Spring, so when Nourse Farms asked me when I’d like my Hinnomaki Red gooseberries shipped, of course, I said, “As early as possible!”

As early as possible meant they arrived this week.  I stuffed all 10 plants in the crisper drawers of the refrigerator, then went outside to prepare the ground.

No matter how early a fruit plant is, there is always a weed (or several!) that leaf out even earlier.  Although we’d plowed and cover cropped the Gooseberry Area in 2015, perennial weeds still poked through.  The ground was probably too damp to plow or till and even if we did, all it would do is chop up those perennial roots so that each piece would re-root as a whole new weed!   As growers who use organic techniques, we couldn’t spray anything, but we could yank all those weeds up and then feed them to the chickens as seen below:

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As you can see, our chickens LOVE weeds and what they don’t eat, they will rip apart and toss around so that not even a piece of perennial weed root has a chance to grow into another plant.  This was also the week I was collected chicken eggs to place in the incubator for baby chicks — giving the hens these weeds means that they had access to extra vitamins so that they would have stronger and healthier baby chicks.
After the weeds were removed, we planted the gooseberry plants, then surrounded each plant with newspaper held down with wood chips.  The gooseberry plant is in the center – it’s not easy to see as the leaf buds have swollen, but the leaves have not yet come out.

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We placed heavy cardboard between each section of newspaper and held it down with more wood chips.  Normally, this would be enough for gooseberry plants, but with the snow and heavy frost coming on Saturday night, we covered the entire Gooseberry Area with straw like this:

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There really are gooseberry plants under all that straw!  (The poles are marking where the pawpaw fruits were planted last year) While the straw will protect the plants from a light frost (such as we’ll be getting tonight), we’ll have to cover the entire area with tarps to trap a few degrees of heat on Saturday night when it’s supposed to get into the low 20s.

Sometimes in farming, you don’t have good choices.  The gooseberries were breaking dormancy and needed to get in the ground.  The rains from yesterday and next week will help them get over transplant shock.  However, this means they must be protected from the deep freeze that will happen on Saturday night.  We’re doing the best we can for these plants so that in 2017, we’ll be able to offer these very tasty (and very pretty) Finnish dessert gooseberries for sale.

In happier news, we’ll finish collecting chicken eggs from our hens on Saturday and will put them all in the incubator later that day.  21 days later, we should have baby chicks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precoce d’Argenteuil Asparagus: 1st Repotting!

When last we left the Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus seedlings, they were ferning out in their Jiffy-7 pellets like this:

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It was time to take them downstairs and put them in newspaper pots so that their roots would have room to branch out.   Here are what they looked like as I repotted them in my basement potting room:​

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It’s too cold in the basement for the seedlings, so I lug the trays back up to the guest room where they are placed under lights.  We adapted the African Violet table I purchased at the local auction for $25 in the late 80s so that we could move the lights up as the plants grow.  So far, they are ferming out, rather than getting taller, so I haven’t moved the lights up yet.

With seedlings, one should always keep the lights just above the top of the plant so that the plant puts its effort into growing a sturdy stem and a robust root system, rather than putting all its energy into growing the stem to reach the light and becoming “leggy.”  A “leggy” plant will have a weak stem that can be blown over in the wind when transplanted outside.
Right now we have 5 trays of asparagus seedlings in newspaper pots, 2 trays in pellets and 1/2 tray still on the heat mat.  Since there is room on the heat mat, I added onion and leek seeds which haven’t germinated yet.  When all the asparagus seeds are off the heat mat, I’ll put this year’s hot and sweet pepper seed on it.

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We are well onto our goal of having 200 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus ​plants to transplant into the asparagus field in May.  With the heat mat going 24/7 and the African Violet table on 16 hours a day, plus the Eastern sun exposure from the windows, the guest room is warm and comfy — the dogs come running to enjoy napping in the heat when I open the door to work on my computer.

 

 

Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus: Take 2!

All but 17 of the original 156 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus have germinated and are under the lights.
As we need 200 plants to put in the field in May (and our first pass worked!), today I planted 102 seeds in the pellets and put them on the heat mat.
Take 1 had an 88% germination rate when the packet said to expect a 70% rate.  Hopefully, Take 2, using the same techniques, will achieve a similar outcome.
Here are all the seeds, sitting on the heat mat (no room for Galen, now!)

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Once a good number of these pellets have germinated and are placed under the lights, it will be time to germinate leeks and onions on the heat mat.  Planting season is here!