Spring Beauty

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A wildflower of early spring, fairly common in the woods and along woodland edges at Chert Hollow Farm.

Cut-leaved Toothwort

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A spring wildflower that occurs in the woods at Chert Hollow.

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The seedpods are similar in shape to other brassica-family plants, such as collards that we routinely save seed from.

Dutchman’s Breeches

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An early spring wildflower that is moderately common in the woods at Chert Hollow.

Mayapple

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Occurs in patches in the woods at Chert Hollow, especially in relatively moist areas. We’ve seen leaves coming up as early as late March. Although the ripe fruit is reportedly edible, various critters always eat them before we do.

Bloodroot

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A pretty wildflower of early spring. Bloom time ranges from approximately late March to mid-April, depending on weather and soil temperature. Occurs in patches in the wooded stream bottoms at Chert Hollow.

Flowering Dogwood

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We have just a few Flowering Dogwood trees scattered through the Chert Hollow woods, and spring of 2015 was the first time we’ve seen them bloom meaningfully. In fact, we found a couple specimens that we were not previously aware of.

Box Elder

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A tree with opposite compound leaves. The three leaflets superficially resemble poison ivy.

Mercuri Winter Keeper Tomato

The Mercuri Winter Keeper Tomato is a rare and worthwhile variety of heirloom tomato that produces fruit with outstanding storage characteristics. The flavor can’t compete with a summer tomato, but we’re less picky in December, January, February, and sometimes beyond.

We acquired the seed through the family of one of Eric’s college friends, and we offer seeds through Seed Savers Exchange. Here’s the listing that we wrote for the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook:

indet., potato leaf, winter-keeping variety, disease-resistant plants yield abundant golf-ball size yellow-orange fruits, store easily to December, an occasional tomato has persisted until the following summer, will ripen in storage if picked green; traditionally stored by hanging clusters of tomatoes, though side-by-side storage of individual fruits on shelves works well; preserved by Italian immigrant communities in Toronto, Ontario, seeds passed from renée I.A. mercuri; grown in Missouri since 2006

Members of the Seed Savers Exchange can request seeds from us for a small fee. We’re pleased that other members who have requested seed have liked the tomato enough to also offer seed that they’ve grown though the Yearbook, thus helping to make this wonderful tomato more available to others.

Planting date: Getting the planting date right can be a little tricky, as the goal is to have a big pulse of tomatoes ripening before frost, but not too long before frost (because that just means a longer storage time until they’ll be eaten). Relatively mature green tomatoes will ripen (but we’ve had more trouble saving seeds from tomatoes picked green). For the moment, we’ve settled on starting the seeds in late April/early May, followed by transplanting in early to mid June.

Growing: The plants are robust, and they’ve stood up well to some extreme insults. We often relegate them to less desirable growing areas, both to isolate them from other tomatoes for seed saving purposes, and because we know they can handle rougher conditions than most plants. One year, a bout of inattentiveness (that we attribute to a family visit) meant the plants were almost entirely defoliated by hordes of hornworms. Impressively, the plants managed to recuperate enough to still yield tomatoes by frost.

Harvest: We start harvesting when a meaningful number of fruits have turned yellow/orange. Our current preferred method is to lay these out side by side on plastic shelving with holes (to encourage air circulation) in a part of the house that stays cool-ish (50ºFs-60ºFs). If we can’t get to this task immediately, we’ll temporarily store them in a bin that has holes to allow air circulation; a solid container is just asking for mold & rot. We harvest periodically leading up to frost, and when a killing frost is looming, we’ll take (more or less) everything remaining, green or ripe.

In the kitchen: We’ve developed a liking for green Mercuri tomatoes over other green tomatoes; we think their firmness and tartness results in especially delicious fried green tomatoes. Ripe tomatoes can certainly be eaten on salads and such for those who want “fresh” winter tomatoes. We often prefer roasting them for a nice sauce.

Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger of Spring is typically the first spring wildflower to bloom in the woods.

First recorded date of bloom:

2007: March 13
2008: March 26 (up but not blooming on March 19)
2009: March 6
2010: March 25 (up but not blooming on March 15)
2011: March 18
2012: March 9
2013: March 15
2014: March 31 (not up on March 21)
2015: no data
2016: March 6
2017: February 25

Burmese Okra

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Burmese Okra’s best attribute is that it stays tender even when large. This allows for less frequent picking and/or less perfect picking, because okra pods that are overlooked at a small size will still generally still be tender at the next picking.

Burmese, like all okra, is a heat-loving crop. Production starts mid-summer and continues until frost, though it starts to slow down a bit with cooler weather. If it has had a good run and we’re sick of dealing with it, we may end its days early to allow for more time to establish a fall cover crop.

No matter how brutal the heat, picking okra is best done with a long-sleeved shirt and possibly gloves, as well. Neglecting this detail can result in intense skin irritation from contact with the leaves. Some days are worse than others, and we haven’t yet figured out how to predict when irritation will result even with a long-sleeved shirt. We’re quite often grateful for the cool water from a nearby water hydrant to lessen the intense itchy/burning sensation after an okra-picking session.

Japanese beetles & aphids (usually being farmed by ants) are pests of okra.

We started saving seed for Burmese Okra in 2010. Certified organic seed is available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.