May 15th is the official “frost date” for Lancaster County. This is when all danger of frost has passed and farmers can plant warm season crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplantss, outdoors. From mid-May until the end of June is our busiest time of the year between transplanting, direct-seeding more warm season crops like squash and melons, and cultivating to control the weeds. They also sprout en-mass due to the warm weather.
Heirloom tomatoes showing one week’s worth of growth.
In early June we transplanted around 7,000 seedlings by hand, including eggplants, peppers, celery root, chards, chicories, peppers, tomatoes as well as many experimental projects like our cardoons, the edible-stemmed version of artichokes, and more experimental food crops.
The ‘Argente di Geneve Inerme’ cardoon. Translates as, ‘Silvery Unarmed from Geneva,’ “unarmed” referring to its spineless leaves.
Every year we plant a diversity of heirloom tomatoes from our collection of several hundred varieties. This year we selected about 50 dependable and flavorful varieties that will make regular appearances at Ma(i)son this summer. Names like ‘Emerald Apple,’ ‘Phantom du Laos,’ ‘Riesetomate,’ ‘Schimmeig Stoo,’ and’ Costoluto Genovese,’ hint at the diversity of colors, shapes, and flavors that will mature in August.
Some of these tomatoes are beefsteaks that are best for slicing and eating fresh. Others like the ‘San Marzano’ will be turned into flavorful sauce and conserva. Some of the more unusual varieties, such as our hollow “pepper” tomatoes lend themselves to creative applications.
Young ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomato, an old ribbed variety from Italy.
Summer is officially here and as our plants “take off” soon our fields will be completely filled with a myriad of diverse crop plants from around the world. In the next post I’ll detail how we’re working with Ma(i)son to revive some of agriculture’s lost grains. One of this year’s projects that we’re most excited about is our polenta corn crop. We are producing large quantities of an heirloom variety that’s been grown in Northern Italy for hundreds of years. It is known as, “Spin Rosso della Valsugana,” or “Floriani Red Flint” corn. Some claim that it makes “the very best” polenta. More details to follow in the next post!