University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

gmg logo   Spring News Articleline


Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont

Each year the best of the new annual flowers and vegetables are judged nationwide, and the winners are given the All-America Selections (AAS) designation.   To be an AAS winner, plants must show improvements over any similar existing cultivars (cultivated varieties).  This year’s 15 vegetable winners include a pole bean, fennel, red okra, a short pea, four peppers, two squash, three tomatoes, and two watermelons.  
Seychelles pole bean produces long (5 to 6 inches), uniform, straight and stringless pods.  Keep it picked often and it will produce multiple crops.  Growing seven to ten feet tall, it is a true pole bean so will need some means of support.  Figure on about 55 days from sowing seeds to first harvest.
Antares fennel is the first fennel ever to win the AAS award.  The bulb is edible of course, as are the seeds, but the 24-inch tall leaf “fronds” are ornamental and provide food for swallowtail caterpillars.  Compared to other varieties, this fennel was noted by judges as sweeter with a licorice-anise flavor.  Bulbs are pure white and uniform, and a week or slower to “bolt” (produce flower stalks) than other varieties.  You can sow seeds two inches apart in rows, thinning later to six inches apart.  Or you can start seeds indoors four weeks before planting outside. Figure on about 68 days from sowing seeds to harvesting.
Candle Fire okra is a warm season crop, not performing as well in some cool northern summers.  Reaching only four feet tall, it produces (given a hot summer) rounded, not ribbed, pods that are bright red.  It requires a bit more skill to grow.  In addition to heat it needs regular water and fertilizer, and soils with ample organic matter that are not sandy or clay soils. Soak seeds in water overnight prior to sowing.  Flowers may form about 50 days after sowing, with small pods harvested a week or two later.
Patio Pride pea, like most peas, is a cool season crop so is best grown in spring and early summer.  It is compact, staying under one foot high, so is good in containers.  It is early to bear fruit— in only about 40 days from sowing seeds.  Pods are tender when harvested young.  Sow seeds three to four inches apart, then thin to twice that distance.  You can sow two or three times, a couple weeks apart, for a successive and longer harvest.
Aji Rico is an early-maturing hybrid hot pepper.  The thin-walled, crunchy fruit have a conical shape.  They mature from green to red, but can be eaten at any stage and have a citrusy flavor.  Fruit dry well to make a homemade paprika.  Plants reach 30 or more inches high, so space them two to three feet apart.  Start seeds indoors, then transplant out after any chance of frost.  Then figure about 55 days to harvesting green pods, 75 days for red pods.
Chili Pie is the second winning pepper for 2017—a miniature bell pepper that is mildly hot when fruits turn red (so don’t confuse it with your sweet bell peppers). Plants reach two feet or so high, so space about this far aparrt in the garden.  Sow seeds indoors, with about 70 days to harvest from planting young plants outside.
Mad Hatter is another winning sweet pepper whose fruits have a unique, three-sided hat shape giving it the name of Bishop’s crown pepper. The fruit flavor is floral and citrusy.  This is from a species used in Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine and can be eaten raw in salads, cooked, pickled, or stuffed with cheese.  Plants reach three feet or so high, so space two to three feet apart.  After transplanting outdoors, you can harvest green fruit in about 70 days, 90 days for ripe red fruit.
Sweetie Pie is the last winning pepper for 2017, a miniature sweet pepper whose fruit mature from green to orange to red.  The 3-ounce and 3-inch fruit are thick-walled and can be harvested about 70 days after planting young plants outside.  Fruits can be eaten fresh in salads, grilled, stuffed, or used in stir fries.  With plants only reaching about two feet high, they’re good choices for containers or children’s gardens. 
Sugaretti squash is a winter squash whose mid-sized (9- to 10-inch long) oval fruit are white, streaked green on the outside, with orange flesh inside.  They’re produced on bushy vines that only spread about two feet wide.  With the nutty, sweet flavor resembling a sweet potato, fruit can be roasted or used as a pasta substitute.  Compared to similar varieties, plants have good powdery mildew disease resistance, and produce fruits slightly earlier (90 days to harvest from sowing seeds outside). 
Honeybaby is another winter squash winner for 2017, having the traditional bulb-shaped orange fruit which reach six inches or so long.  They’re produced on compact semi-busy plants, spreading only about two feet wide.  The sweet and nutty flavored fruits are slightly larger and meatier than similar varieties.  Use them steamed, baked, or in soups and stews.  Figure on about 90 days from sowing to harvest for this one too.
Chef’s Choice Yellow is one of the three tomato AAS winners for 2017, this being the fourth variety in this series.  The mid-sized (10 ounce) beefsteak type tomatoes are produced on five-foot, indeterminate (vining) plants about 90 days from transplanting outside.  This would make them a questionable choice for cool summers and short seasons. 
Midnight Snack tomato produces cherry tomatoes about one and a half inches across, starting about 70 days from transplanting seedlings outside.  The ripe fruit are red with a glossy-black overlay-- this coloring from the same anthocyanin pigments found in blueberries, which impart immune system boosting antioxidant properties.  You’ll need to stake the vining plants.
Patio Choice is the last winning tomato for 2017, another cherry type.  Its small (one inch across), half-ounce bright yellow fruit are produced on compact plants only reaching 18-inches tall, making this variety a good choice for containers and small spaces.  Figure on about 45 days from transplanting seedlings outside until first harvest.
Gold in Gold is the first of two watermelon AAS winners this year.  The oblong, 6 to 12 pound fruit are yellow with golden stripes outside, with an orange to gold flesh inside.  For watermelons, this one is early— about 70 days from transplanting seedlings outside.  It spreads, so space plants two to three feet apart.
Mini Love is the other AAS winning watermelon, an Asian type.  The rounded, dark green fruit, with red flesh inside, weigh seven to nine pounds at harvest.  They’re quite sweet, and have thin but strong rinds.  Plants are compact with three foot vines, so space this distance apart in the garden.  As with the other watermelon, figure on about 70 days to harvest from transplanting young plants outside.

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