2023 All-America Selections Winners

The lineup of 2023 AAS Winners has been announced, and in the edibles category it includes two national winners and three regional winners. For those who might not be familiar with it, All-America Selections (AAS) is an independent, non-profit organization that tests new varieties of flowers and edibles in trial grounds all over the U.S. and Canada. I grow quite a few AAS Winners in my garden every year, and I always look forward to trying the new winners here at Happy Acres. There are two peppers, one tomato, one melon and one winter squash that made the Winners list for 2023 as well as six ornamentals.

Cayenne Pepper Wildcat is a hybrid variety pepper with extra-large, 2-3 ounce fruits and a mild heat level (500-1500 Scoville units). The plants are high-yielding and reach a height of 36-42 inches. The 8” long fruits are “straighter than traditional cayenne fruits with a great smoky flavor and peppery sweetness and a mild pungency”. I often find cayenne peppers too hot for my tastes, but this one will be worth trying for the promise of less heat and good productivity. Seeds for this variety will be available from Park Seeds, though at this time they are sold out. It’s too bad since I would have liked to grow it this year!

UPDATE: seeds for this variety are now available from Totally Tomatoes as well as Park Seeds

Pepper Wildcat

The other pepper to win in 2023 is the jalapeno San Joaquin. This is a determinate type jalapeno that sets most of its fruit in a short window of time. That should make it great for canning, pickling, and in my case fermenting into hot sauce. The plants are bushy and get 30″ high, and are suitable for growing in large containers. The thick-walled fruits have a hint of heat at 2500-6000 Scoville units. One judge noted “Produced almost twice the peppers as the comparisons” while another judge observed they “Loved this variety’s mild heat and large fruits that did not crack”. Bred by Bejo Seeds, seeds for this winner will be available soon.

UPDATE: seeds for this variety are now available from Vermont Bean Seed Company

Pepper San Joaquin

Regional Winner Zenzei Tomato is an early-maturing, indeterminate Roma type hybrid  tomato that promises high yields. This regional winner produces plum tomatoes in 70-80 days after setting out transplants. In trials it compared favorably with Plum Regal and Granadero, producing 4-5 inch fruits that are perfect for canning and freezing. Zenzei has a good disease-resistance package, and is reported to be less prone to blossom end rot. The vigorous plants will require staking or caging for support. Bred by Bayer/Seminis Seeds, seeds for it will also be available soon.

Tomato Zenzei

The squash Sweet Jade is a single-serving sized hybrid kabocha squash that is ready to harvest in about 95 days. Sweet Jade proved itself in the AAS Trials with its high yields and good holding capability. Each fruit weighs between 1-2 pounds with a sea-green skin and silvery stripes. Sweet Jade’s deep orange flesh is dry yet sweet and very flavorful whether roasted, baked, or pureed. One judge noted “Entry has strong yields, attractive shape and color, and good flesh quality and volume per fruit”. Bred by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and seeds are available from there.

Kabocha Squash Sweet Jade

Rubyfirm watermelon is a small, personal-sized melon with fruits about the size of a cantaloupe. It promises sweet and crisp flesh with minimal seeds, and compared favorably in trials with Sweetie Pie and Mini Love. The melons weigh in at the 3-5 pound range, and grow on vining type plants. Each Rubyfirm plant will yield 2-3 fruits, bearing in 65 days from setting out transplants or 80 days after direct seeding. Seeds will be available soon.

Watermelon Rubyfirm

I want to mention a few of the ornamental Winners as well. Coleus Premium Sun Coral Candy is the first seed coleus to ever win the coveted AAS Winner designation. Coral Candy features multicolored foliage on a compact plant. That should make it perfect for growing in containers and hanging baskets, as well as for in-ground plantings. The narrow, serrated leaves gracefully drape down the mounded plants, and AAS Judges observed that it holds its color well even when grown in full sun. This variety was entered into and trialed in the container trial meaning it’s perfect for small space gardens. In trials it also held up nicely in the fall and had minimal flowers.

Coleus Premium Sun Coral Candy

Salvia Blue By You is a perennial flowering sage that features rich blue flowers that bloom up to two weeks earlier than the comparisons. It’s hardy in zones 4b – 9a, with both  excellent winter hardiness and heat tolerance. The 20-22 inch plants are covered in bright blue blossoms from late spring into fall, and if spent blooms are removed you’ll get repeat blooms throughout the season. It was a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies, and not favored by deer or rabbits.

Salvia Blue By You

One more ornamental I want to mention is a Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum) called Carpet Angel. It’s the first ever groundcover Shasta Daisy that grows to a height of 6 inches and spreads to 20 inches wide. Well-branched plants are covered in “beautiful pure white blooms that look like angels dancing over a carpet of dark green foliage.” Carpet Angel is hardy in zones 4a-10b, and will be available in plant form only from garden retailers.

Leucanthemum Carpet Angel

For a full list of both present and past winners, visit All-America Selections Winners. Their website also has information on where to Buy AAS Winners.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of a few of the 2023 AAS vegetables winners. For more information about AAS Winners check out:

  1. Growing the 2016 AAS Winners
  2. The 2018 All-America Selections Winners
  3. 2019 All-America Selections Winners
  4. 2020 All-America Selections Winners
  5. 2022 All-America Selections Winners
  6. My Favorite AAS Veggies

All photos are courtesy of All-America Selections.

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Planning the 2023 Garden

It’s a bit hard for me to believe, but 2023 will be the 40th year I have been gardening. That’s not counting early attempts at growing things when I was a teenager and still living with my parents. Not too long ago I ran across an old computer printout of my garden layout from the early 1980s. I pretty much tilled up my whole back yard for that garden, and it is interesting to see what I planted.

garden map from 1980s

It looks like kohlrabi, peas, potatoes, squash and spinach were in that early garden, plus a few things I can’t really identify! I still use the computer for garden planning, though these days I use Excel and Word software and a PC instead of a mainframe computer. I have found that labels and markers often get lost in the garden, and having a ‘hard copy’ map is useful to identify both edible and ornamental plants. It’s also quite useful in the planning stages, which is where I am at now.

2023 garden map

In the past I have talked about the varieties I’m going to grow in the garden, but this year I’m going to share some of my thoughts about gardening in general as well. The last few years I have been scaling back the size of the garden, and I have stopped growing a few things entirely. I’ve struggled to grow good onions or potatoes, so I quit growing them and  buy them now as needed. And while I was able to grow decent garlic here, I’ve decided it was more work than it was worth and we buy that now as well. I do miss the garlic scapes though, and that is one thing I can’t really buy. Many fruits and vegetables are also available seasonally at farmer’s markets, and I try and support the local growers as much as possible.

garlic scapes

I’m also dealing with the fact I am getting older and have less energy than I used to have. I will turn 70 in March, and I find I have to pace myself more than ever when working in the garden. That said, I can still work outside for a few hours most days during gardening season, even if heavy digging and lifting sometimes has me nursing a sore back! I do enjoy being outdoors, and I certainly enjoy growing things. I guess for me gardening has always been a way to grow fresh fruits and vegetables that have good flavor and quality, and a way to grow unique things that can’t necessarily be bought. I’m happy these days growing specialty vegetables like the Korean avocado squash or the heirloom pole beans, and skipping ‘commodity’ crops that are readily available and also things that are difficult to grow.

Teot Bat Put avocado squash

And that brings spinach to mind. When I first started gardening, you couldn’t buy really good salad grade spinach – at least not where I lived. If you wanted tender baby spinach, you had to grow it yourself. And that’s what I did for years. Today though, I can buy organic baby spinach every day of the year at the grocery. Spinach can take a lot of cold conditions, but it does not like warm weather at all. That makes it a crop for spring or fall here, but our weather is quite variable and spring often turns to summer quickly and cool weather crops suffer. I have had good luck growing it in the winter greenhouse, but it doesn’t yield much given the amount of space it takes to grow. So I’ll let the pros grow it for me now.

2010 planting of spinach

I will continue to try and find ways to make my gardening chores easier. Last year I experimented with a couple of no-dig no-till beds, and I plan to continue that in 2023. I had good results in 2022, and the less time I have to spend dealing with a heavy tiller is a good thing! And I will likely continue to scale back more on my gardening as I get older, though I don’t see me quitting anytime soon. I truly enjoy my time spent outdoors, and I get a lot of joy out of growing our food.

area for new no-dig bed

I do want to mention a few of the things I plan to grow in 2023. I really enjoy growing and using peppers, and that is certainly a ‘value added’ crop where unique varieties abound. I’m actually paring back the number of varieties I’m growing, but there are a couple I haven’t grown before that I want to try here this year. Pizza pepper promises thick-walled fruits that just have a “hint of zing”. And I want to try two AAS Winners, Hot Sunset and Sweet Sunset. Both are banana pepper types that I think will be good for fresh use and for pickling.

Hot Sunset pepper

I always like to experiment with new tomato varieties, and every year breeders are coming out with new ones that entice me to try them. Andiamo is an indeterminate San Marzano type paste tomato that I want to try. And Sunset Torch is a small plum type that was a 2022 AAS Winner I didn’t grow last year. It was bred by Frogsleap Farm, breeders of the AAS Winner Purple Zebra tomato that was a standout in last year’s garden. I am looking forward to growing both of these Winners, plus Raspberry Drop which is a dark pink grape type and also from Frogsleap Farm.

Tomato Sunset Torch

I’m sure there will be a few other new varieties to try as I finish ordering seeds. I hope you have enjoyed hearing some of my gardening plans for 2023, and here’s hoping 2023 is a healthy and happy year for us all!

Photos of Sunset Torch tomato and Hot Sunset pepper are courtesy of All-America Selections.

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Another Year of Bread Baking

Back in 2010 when my wife and I decided to bake all our own bread for a year, neither of us knew we would continue the practice as long as we have. It has now been 12 years since we’ve bought a loaf of bread, other than when we are traveling. We do still buy some flatbreads like tortillas and naan, but other than that we make our own. I make both corn and flour tortillas sometimes, and the homemade ones certainly have better flavor than store bought ones. A tortilla press makes the process easy, and with a little practice I can now press them out and cook a batch with little time and effort. I’ve been making them often with half flour and half masa harina, which makes for a great tasting and flexible tortilla that seems to have the best of both worlds.

tortilla press and flour tortillas

stack of homemade corn tortillas

stack of homemade corn tortillas

As for other flatbreads, I baked up a batch of Whole Wheat Pita Bread recently, and we used a couple of them as a base for homemade pizza. I do most of our bread baking these days, and I have settled on several recipes as my favorites, and tend to make them quite often.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

One of my favorite recipes is one I created myself, and it is my go-to recipe for a soft but sturdy sandwich loaf. My Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread has honey to add a bit of sweetness and help keep the bread moist, and a little oil to soften the crumb. I use either red or white whole wheat in this bread, or sometimes a mix of both. My wife and I rarely use a whole loaf quickly, so I generally slice up leftovers and freeze. This bread freezes well, either in loaf form or after it’s been sliced. I also like to make it into rolls, and bake in a 8 inch square baking pan.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

 

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

That recipe is a close relative of my Rye and Whole Wheat Sandwich Loaf, which makes a good base for a reuben sandwich. We usually make ours without meat and with homemade sauerkraut. I add caraway seeds to mine, but you can omit them if you don’t like that flavor. It is also great for a ham sandwich, or even grilled cheese.

meatless Reuben sandwiches

I’ve also been experimenting with creating my own whole wheat cinnamon swirl bread recipe. I decided to start with my Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread recipe, and add a cinnamon, raisin and sugar filling in the middle. So far the taste has met my expectations, and it makes a tasty snack when toasted while satisfying my cravings for cinnamon. I love Penzey’s spices and their cinnamon really kicks up the flavor. And with 2/3 whole wheat flour in it, I don’t feel guilty about eating it!

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl bread

But wait – I found one more variation on the theme when I turned the cinnamon swirl bread into Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls! After baking I topped the rolls with a donut-style glaze I made from milk and powdered sugar, leaving a few unglazed for comparison. I tasted both the glazed and unglazed ones, and decided they really needed the glaze since the basic dough is not very sweet to start with. I’m still working on the recipe, but I think it is a keeper and I will share it here when I’m satisfied with the results.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls

I also started my own sourdough culture back in 2011, and I have kept it going ever since. I keep it refrigerated when I’m not baking with it, and feed it about once a week with a blend of whole wheat, rye and bread flours.

active, bubbly sourdough starter

active, bubbly sourdough starter

Lately I have been baking sourdough bread in a Pullman pan. This no-knead recipe is truly easy to make (King Arthur’s Easy Everyday Sourdough Bread, and even though the bread takes about 18 hours from start to finish there is very little hands-on time required. It makes for a dense loaf that can be thinly sliced and used for sandwiches or turning into crostini.

Easy Everyday Sourdough Bread

The recipe is adaptable too, and I have used whole wheat flour, a blend of rye and bread flour, and also a blend of purple barley flour from Hayden Mills along with bread flour. I’m still experimenting with this recipe and I will share more results when I have them.

sourdough sandwich loaf with purple barley flour added

sourdough rye bread

I’ve baked several batches of sourdough rye focaccia bread the last few months. I used a recipe from Elaine Boddy’s Whole Grain Sourdough at Home, which uses a blend of bread flour and whole grain rye flour. It’s naturally leavened with my homegrown sourdough starter. I sprinkled course salt over the top and a bit of fresh rosemary on one end. I served it up with soup one night for dinner, and along with salad another day. Leftovers freeze well too. The whole grain rye flour adds a nutty, earthy flavor that I think goes well with the tangy sourdough. For a real treat we top a piece with cheese and pop under the broiler for a bit.

sourdough focaccia bread

And last but not least, I’ve also been experimenting with using Durum wheat in bread. Durum is mostly used for making pasta, but I also use it for pizza crust. It makes for a crusty 100% Durum sourdough bread using 20% whole grain flour I ground myself and 80% Italian durum flour (aka Semola Rimacinata). A long, slow ferment (20 hours) and baking in a clay baker makes for a tangy, crusty bread that goes well with soup or salads.

sourdough bread made with Durum wheat flour

I hope you have enjoyed this recap of a some of the favorite breads we have baked here in the last 12 years. I have no plans to start buying bread anytime soon, so I predict more baking adventures in the years to come! You can see many of my bread recipes on my recipe pages. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres.

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Photo Friday: A Few Feathered Friends from 2022

Today I want to share a few bird photos from around our place. Since we moved here in 2007, My wife and I have done our best to create an outdoor habitat that is beneficial to birds as well as for butterflies and pollinators. We have quite a variety of birds that visit our property, so I believe we must be doing something right! Here are pics of a few that visited in 2022.

We have at least five different kinds of woodpeckers that visit our feeders, from the small Downy to the large Pileated. We also have had quite a few Flickers visiting lately, which are easy to spot with their black spotted plumage. The photo of the Pileated Woodpecker doesn’t really show the true size, since they are well over a foot tall and dwarf most of the other birds at the feeders.

Flicker at suet Feeder

Cardinal with Flicker

Pileated woodpecker at suet feeder

Bluebirds are often year round visitors here at Happy Acres. They nest in the nest boxes from spring through summer, and they visit our feeders throughout the winter months. We had three broods of babies this year in the nest box, and at least a dozen of them survived and fledged out into the world. I’ve been hosting bluebirds for almost 40 years now, and I still get excited when I see the eggs and the babies.

bluebird nest with eggs

bluebird babies

Our adult bluebirds seem to be happy feeding on suet or shelled sunflower seeds, and I try and keep both on hand in the colder months when finding their natural food sources like insects or berries proves difficult.

Bluebird in dogwood tree

Bluebird at feeder

Two Bluebirds feeding

We occasionally have hawks visit us here at our place, and in July I saw one perched on one of the garden fenceposts. A friend believes it is a Red-Shouldered Hawk, though I am leaning towards it being a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Regardless, it is quite impressive when it takes flight, with a wingspan of almost 3 feet.

hawk visiting garden

hawk spreading wings

That’s a look at some of our feathered visitors here in 2022. I hope you have enjoyed the photos, and I’ll be back soon with more happenings at Happy Acres!

 

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Looking Back on 2022, by the Month

For one of my last posts of the year I thought I would recap some of what I did in 2022, in a month by month format. I started the year harvesting collard greens from the garden. It’s always nice to have something green in winter time! Most of the plants I set out in fall eventually succumbed to the cold and icy weather we got in early February, though a few hardy ones did survive. Many heirloom varieties of collards are now available from the Seed Savers Exchange as well as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and I get my seeds from both of those sources. The Heirloom Collard Project is also a great resource for researching the varieties available.

collard greens

February saw me begin seed starting activities in earnest. I sowed seeds for parsley, petunias, brassicas and greens like mizuna, lettuce and arugula. I use plug flats for most of the seeds, and start the seeds indoors under lights.

mizuna and arugula seedlings

We had a warm and dry spell here in early March, and I took advantage of it to work in the garden spreading compost and getting ready for spring plantings. I have been experimenting with the no-dig no-till method of gardening in a few of beds, and I plan to continue that in 2023. For more information on that, I wrote a No-Dig No-Till Update last month on my experiment.

one load of compost

April usually finds me babysitting lots of seedlings both indoors and in the greenhouse, and this year was no exception. I sowed a few early seeds of warm season crops like eggplant and tomatoes to get a jump on the season, and potted them on into individual pots before they got planted outside.

eggplant and tomatoes

My wife and I love to go on picnics, and mid-May we took a break from gardening and other chores to go Lincoln State Park, which is one of our favorite places to hike and picnic. It’s a bit less than an hour’s drive away from us, and with school still in session the park was mostly empty on a weekday. We packed a picnic lunch for the occasion, then went for a hike after eating.

hiking the trail

June saw harvests picking up throughout the month, including blackberries, blueberries, squash, eggplant and broccoli. I also got our first cherry tomatoes of the year. And did I mention squash? We got ample rains in spring, and the early crops really seemed to enjoy the growing conditions.

Saturday morning harvest in late June

In July I was busy fermenting cabbage and kohlrabi from the garden. Fermenting is one of my favorite ways to preserve the harvests as well as to add extra flavor to things like cabbage and kohlrabi. I generally let all these ferments sit on the counter for one to two  weeks before refrigerating. Once refrigerated they keep for months, and I think they even improve with age. We are still eating on and enjoying these fermented foods here in December.

jars of fermented vegetables

In August the flowers were on full display in our perennial beds. My wife and I have an assortment of flowers in all sizes and colors, and many attract pollinators and butterflies. We also plant a few annuals like petunias and zinnias to help brighten up the garden.

Sun Garden

In September I was busy picking and processing pole beans, and harvesting other warm season veggies like peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. We made Sheet Pan Ratatouille on several occasions, and I love it served on a bed of creamy polenta.

early September harvest

ratatouille over polenta

In October I was digging sweet potatoes and bringing them inside to cure.  Yields were down this year, no doubt due to dry growing conditions this summer and fall. We will have plenty to eat though in the months to come, and they are one of our winter staples. Once cured, they will keep their quality all winter and well into next year.

first of the sweet potatoes

November was all about greens and other fall crops in the garden, and we enjoyed a bumper crop of collards, kale and turnips.

fall crop of collard greens and kale

In December the weather turned cold, and we got snow late this month. That gave me time to review the 2022 garden, and start planning for 2023. I also found time to make an ornament for our Christmas tree. I’ve been making Christmas ornaments since I was a teenager, and I still have most of them. I made one for my wife when we were still dating, and we’ve both been making them ever since. My birdhouse ornament this year is a combo of recycled and repurposed with a little new thrown in too.

2022 Christmas ornament

I hope you have enjoyed this look back on 2022. I want to thank all of the folks who come here and read my blog, and I want to wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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