Origin: Minsk, Belarus
Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~35
Germination tested 11/2022: 97%
Life cycle: Annual
EFN EXCLUSIVE. 'Minsk Early', or 'Minskiy Ranniy', is one of the earliest tomatoes you'll ever find. We're eating them by the handful come July every year. Picked at peak ripeness, this small to medium-sized tomato has a lovely sweet-tart flavor and a pleasing texture. It's very productive too, on compact plants. (Do not confuse with 'Orange Minsk,' a completely different heirloom. 'Minsk Early' is bright red.)
I (Nate) consider this an ancestral variety since my great-grandparents Molly Klebanoff and Elia Wolfsohn emigrated from rural Belarus, outside Minsk, to the US in 1905. They were fleeing anti-Jewish violence stirred up following the failed First Russian Revolution begun in January of that year, which Lenin later called "The Great Dress Rehearsal." The notorious Bloody Sunday kicked things off on January 22nd (or Old Style January 9th), when the imperial guard in St. Petersburg fired on thousands of demonstrators led by a Russian Orthodox priest. Between a hundred and a few thousand people were killed, and unrest soon swept across the Russian empire. In the right-wing, tsarist backlash, Jews were widely scapegoated and an estimated 3,000 were killed. During this time, as the story goes, my great-grandparents were basically paired up in the woods, complete strangers, and married on the spot by a rabbi. They then "walked across Europe", and Ellis Island records have them boarding a ship in Antwerp, Belgium, a few months later, and arriving in New York with $12.50 between them and plans to stay with a "brother-in-law" in Staten Island (unsure if this was Molly or Elia's sister's husband). They went on to raise my grandfather Irving Wolfson and his sisters Rose and Annie in Buffalo. I have no idea if they ever encountered this tomato back in Belarus, or another tomato similar to it, but it seems likely enough that they did. In the absence of traceable ancestral heirlooms, I've adopted this one.
If you like growing early tomatoes, and you also enjoy pitting heirloom tomatoes against each other to see which one will produce the first ripe fruit, we are very curious about how this variety stacks up against other early varieties (the only one that's beaten it in New Jersey is 'Galina' yellow cherry, which is from Siberia, but not always). Dusty has grown 'Minsk Early' in Minnesota and it produced quite early there too (we'd previously only ever grown it in New Jersey): plants were put in the ground late May and started producing fruit in mid-July in southern Minnesota in 2018. This heirloom is susceptible to various tomato diseases, but these are never really an issue because the plants produce so much so early, and by the time disease gets them you've moved on to the later-ripening beefsteaks and other tomatoes. This tomato serves its purpose as an all-around great salad, sandwich, or snack tomato for the earliest weeks of tomato season. It's also a rare determinate heirloom tomato and one that we're sure you'll cherish as much as we do.
GROWING TIPS: Start seeds indoors in March or early April, transplant outside after danger of last frost. Space plants 12-18 inches apart. Full sun preferred. The description from the USDA, our original source, also notes that it tends to produce most fruit close to the ground, so staking, trellising or caging of some kind is necessary. The plants pretty much always stop producing once the vines reach around 4 feet long.
Photo credit: First three photos are from our friend Dorene Pasekoff of Hill Creek Farm in Pennsylvania, who grows these for market and very much appreciates their early-season niche-filling!