Okra ‘Candle Fire’ offers bright red fruits for eating or floral displays.
It’s that time of year again. The 2017 winners of the coveted All-America Selections Vegetable Awards, which recognizes only the tastiest, easiest-to-grow vegetables, have been announced. The AAS’s mission is “to promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” I am growing these new varieties this year because, although they may be short in stature, they are heavy on harvest and big on flavor.
Pea ‘Patio Pride’ (Pisum sp.)
Pea ‘Patio Pride’ only needs 40 days to maturity, making it perfect for succession plantings. Sow the seeds directly into a container or in the ground about 8 inches apart in full sun in early spring, and then again at two week intervals to keep the peas coming throughout the spring and early summer. The plants are so pretty, I will plant some in a container on the patio in early spring with colorful pansies for a combination ornamental and edible display. ‘Patio Pride’ will grow to about 2 feet tall – no staking needed – and will reward you with a consistent harvest over many weeks. Pick the pods of ‘Patio Pride’ early for best flavor and tenderness. I will sow seeds again in midsummer for an early fall harvest, keeping the young plants watered and shaded from the worst of the summer sun as they grow.
Squash ‘Honeybaby’ (Cucurbita sp.)
‘Honeybaby’ F1 is a productive variety of winter squash that produces a lot of fruit on a compact plant. These shorter vines grow 2 to 3 feet tall with a vigorous, bushy habit that results in healthier plants that resist powdery mildew later in the season. Even though the vines are shorter than other butternut-type winter squash vines, stake ‘Honeybaby’ vines to help support the blocky, wide fruit. You can expect eight or nine 1⁄2-pound fruits per plant. Sow seeds in full sun about 10 inches apart as soon as soil temperatures reach 65 F to ensure maturity in about 90 days. I will plant them as the centerpieces of two large containers with purple sweet potato vines trailing over the edge The dark-purple leaves should make a nice complement to the deep orange fruit.‘Honeybaby’ is sweet and nutty, and meatier than similar winter squash varieties. Enjoy ‘Honeybaby’ baked, steamed, or cooked in soups, sauces, and stews.
‘Mini Love’ is a red and juicy little watermelon with few seeds.
Watermelon ‘Mini Love’ (Citrullus Sp.)
‘Mini Love’ F1 is a personal-sized Asian watermelon, perfect for smaller families, or smaller gardens. The 3- to 4-foot vines produce up to six fruits per plant and can be grown in large containers. This deep-red fleshed watermelon has a thin but strong rind that can be carved for fruit salad presentations. ‘Mini Love’ has a high sugar content, making it sweet, crisp, refreshing, and juicy with few seeds – a true summer delight for watermelon lovers. Sow seeds indoors one month before the last frost date (around May 15 in our area) for transplants, or directly in the ground in full sun once the soil has warmed in spring. Space the plants 3 to 4 feet apart, and keep the soil moist for the first weeks. You can expect up to five light-green striped fruits per plant, each weighing 7 to 9 pounds. I will grow these in my small garden where tomatoes grew the previous year, and add lots of compost to the soil to make up for the nutrients depleted by the tomato plants.
A Golden OldieCucumber ‘Straight-8’, the AAS Vegetable Award Winner for the year 1935, remains a favorite with home gardeners because of its reliable production and great taste. A dual purpose cucumber, ‘Straight-8’s sweet and mild flavor makes it good for either eating fresh or pickling. Plant ‘Straight-8’ seeds about 1⁄2-inch deep in full sun about 6 inches apart, or plant groups of five seeds set about 4 or 5 feet apart. The plants are short, about 3 feet tall. Harvest the fruit when they reach about 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter for best flavor.
Okra ‘Candle Fire’ (Hibiscus Sp.)
Okra ‘Candle Fire’ F1 is a unique red okra with rounded pods that are a brighter red color than the other reddish okras available. ‘Candle Fire’ received high marks from the AAS judges for productivity, taste, texture, and tenderness as well as for the ornamental value of red pods on red stems. ‘Candle Fire’ thrives in the heat, and is disease resistant even during the hottest, most humid days of summer.
Sow seeds 18 inches apart in full sun after soaking them in water overnight for best results. Expect up to 30 fruits per plant in two months from sowing seeds or one month from transplants. It is maintenance free, except for the frequent harvesting. Enjoy okra ‘Candle Fire’ fresh or boiled. I will grow these in the garden so in the fall I can use the dried fruits in flower arrangements.
Try Something New
I have grown many AAS Vegetable Award Winners in the past, with great results. This year’s crop looks very promising, and I am looking forward to a long gardening season with lovely, prolific plants in the garden and containers, and delicious fruits and vegetables in the kitchen.
A version of this article appeared in Pennsylvania Gardener Volume 7 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of All-American Selections.