American Nurseryman Magazine Staff April 19, 2017

15 Top of the Line Edibles
Photos: All-American Selections

If you’re a plant and you’ve participated in the All-America Selections trials, you’ve been subjected to evaluation by panels of hort professionals in various garden sites across the country. You’ve competed against selections from seed companies that offer their best, most promising new varieties. And if you’re an outstanding plant, you may have been selected to be one of the AAS 2017/2018 winners.

Tested Nationally & Proven Locally™

All-America Selections was established in 1932 as a program to assist home gardeners in their selection of “truly improved” seeds for vegetables and flowers. Then as now, seed companies were encouraged to create trial grounds, and a national network of these sites was developed to provide extensive testing in varying climates and conditions. There are approximately 80 trial sites.

The plants are evaluated by teams of horticulture experts — impartial judges — who determine those plants that outperform other selections of the same type. The “winning” plants are then promoted through a public relations program as being the cream of the crop. AAS does not conduct the promotional efforts directly, but alerts media to its winners so that word spreads about these select plants that are Tested Nationally & Proven Locally.

If you’re a grower or a retailer, you want to become familiar with the hottest new selections, because your customers know all about them, and they’ll be searching. Highlighted here are the 15 winners of All-America Selections trials in the edibles category.

1. Seychelles pole bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)

This pole bean selection produces high yields in multiple crops over the growing season, each plant offering uniform and straight, 5- to 6-inchlong stringless pods. Seychelles can be grown in containers or in the garden, and reaches 7 to 9 feet tall on vigorous, dark vines; support is required. It’s fast growing and produces crisp, delicious pods early.

2. Aji Rico F1 pepper (Capsicum baccatum)

Aji Rico is a hybrid hot pepper that matures early, producing thin-walled, crunchy fruits with a narrow, conical shape. The fruits offer a citrusy flavor and a warm heat level, making them ideal for eating fresh or for use in salsas or hot sauces. Topping out at about 30 to 36 inches with a bushy habit, each plant produces 50 to 75, 3- to 4-inchlong peppers.

3. Chili Pie F1 pepper (Capsicum annuum)

This miniature bell pepper is compact, easy to grow and adapts well to both container and garden planting. Dark green foliage sets off the green to brilliant red fruits, each about 2 inches by 2.5 inches. The upright plant grows 18 to 22 inches high, and each produces about 25 to 30 fruits that are mildly hot when they turn red.

4. Mad Hatter F1 pepper (Capsicum baccatum)

The unique shape of Mat Hatter pepper — a flattened disc with three wings — is enough to provide ornamental interest, but the 2- to 3.5-inch by 2- to 2.5-inch peppers have a sweet, citrusy flavor that is versatile in many dishes. Each 36- to 48-inch-tall, bushy plant produces 40 to 50 delicately scented fruits.

5. Sweetie Pie F1 pepper (Capsicum annuum)

Easy to grow with excellent fruit set even under challenging hot and humid conditions, Sweetie Pie adapts well to container and small-garden growing. It grows upright to 24 to 28 inches and produces 25 to 30 small, bell-shaped, 2.5- by 3-inch fruits. The flavorful peppers are sweet and thick-walled. Sweetie Pie is a regional winner, selected for the Heartland, Northeast and Southeast.

6. Sugaretti F1 squash (Cucurbita pepo)

Semi-bushy vines spreading to about 2 feet by 2 feet produce six to seven, 10-inch-long, green-and-white striped, spaghetti winter squash. The determinate vines can be staked in containers, but are easily grown in the ground. The orange flesh features a nutty sweet flavor, and can be used as a pasta substitute. Sugaretti is a regional winner, selected in the Southeast.

7. Gold in Gold F1 watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)

Bright yellow, 6- to 7-inch-long melons highlighted with golden stripes are produced on indeterminate, spreading vines. The inner flesh is rich, orangegold with a crisp texture and high sugar content. The plant produces fruit early, and each disease-resistant melon has a strong rind that resists cracking or bursting.

8. Mini Love F1 watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)

Deep red, sweet flesh — with few seeds — is encased in a thin but strong rind that resists cracking and splitting. Short, compact vines grow only to about 4 feet but produce up to six fruits per plant. Each melon is “personal size,” weighing about 7 to 9 pounds. A higher sugar content than similar fruits gives a sweet, crisp and juicy taste.

9. Candle Fire F1 okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)

Dark green foliage covers upright plants that reach 4 feet tall and produce round (not ribbed), 1.5-inch-long, bright red pods on red stems. It’s considered suitable for ornamental use as well as for its culinary qualities: Aged fruit can be used in flower arrangements, and dry seed can be used to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute.

10. Patio Pride pea (Pisum sativum)

A compact plant perfect for containers, Patio Pride pea grows 6 to 8 inches tall and produces 30-plus, 2- to 3-inch-long pods per plant. Only 40 days are needed to maturity, making this a plant that is ideal for growing in succession to provide a season-long yield. Patio Pride is a regional winner, selected in the Southeast.

11. Antares F1 fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel can be used as an edible bulb or for its ornamental fronds; it is also a favorite food of swallowtail caterpillars. Antares is a uniform, pure white plant with a sweet, licorice/anise flavor. The foliage reaches about 24 inches tall, with round bulbs about 4 to 5 inches. What’s more, this variety is said to be about a week slower to bolt than other varieties.

12. Chef’s Choice Yellow F1 tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Hearty, beefsteak type tomatoes in a brilliant orange-yellow are produced on indeterminate vines that reach 4 to 5 feet tall; each fruit is a hefty 6 to 7 inches round. More than 30 sweet, citrusy fruits are produced on each plant. Chef’s Choice Yellow is a regional winner, selected in the Southeast.

13. Patio Choice Yellow F1 tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Compact and perfect for small spaces and container gardens, Patio Choice Yellow produces more than 100 small, bright, golden yellow cherry tomatoes on each 15- to 18-inch-tall plant. Fruits are mildly sweet with a touch of acid. It’s as ornamental as it is edible.

14. Midnight Snack F1 tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Rich in antioxidants, Midnight Snack gets its unique, black-purple overlay coloring from the accumulation of anthocyanin pigments — the same compounds that make blueberries blue. The rich hues emerge when the fruit is exposed to sunlight. Its indeterminate growth habit requires staking; each plant will reach 60 to 72 inches and can produce more than 100 fruits, which will ripen all season long and are said to offer an improved taste in indigo tomatoes.

15. Honeybaby F1 winter squash (Curcurbita moschata)

A prolific producer, Honeybaby winter squash offers eight to nine, bulb-shaped fruits per plant. The short vines (about 2 to 3 feet long) grow in a semibush habit and reach only about 8 inches tall. Each orange, lightbulb-shaped squash is about 6 to 7 inches long and glows orange with a rich orange flesh that offers a nutty, sweet flavor. Honeybaby is a regional winner, selected in the Heartland.

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