This is the latest in a series of posts that I’ve done about my favorite varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs we grow at Happy Acres. To see my other Spotlights, and those from other garden bloggers, visit the Variety Spotlights page.
All-America Selections (AAS) is an independent, non-profit organization that tests new varieties of flowers and vegetables in trial grounds all over the U.S. and Canada. AAS judges compare the new entries to existing varieties in order to evaluate them. The judges look for improved qualities such as disease or pest resistance, earliness to flower or harvest, and new flavors or colors as well as overall performance. Every year the best garden performers are named as AAS Winners. I’ve relied on AAS Winners for years now, and many of them have become my favorite varieties to grow. Today I want to share a few of those favorites.
Let’s start with one of my favorite tomatoes of all time, Juliet, which was a 1999 AAS Winner. I can truly say that Juliet has never failed to perform for me in my gardens. While it may not be my favorite tomato for eating fresh, it’s so good for drying, roasting and for making sauces. The vigorous vines are always loaded with hundreds of tomatoes. I did one of my first spotlights on it back in 2012. I always tell people if I could only grow one tomato variety, it would be Juliet.
Next up is Gold Nugget winter squash, which was an AAS Winner way back in 1966. Gold Nugget is a dependable performer in the garden, and the compact plants generally yield four or five fruits each. It’s also a good keeper, though we usually eat ours up fairly fast! You can read the full spotlight on it here.
I wasn’t sure what to do with Fairy Tale eggplant when I first grew it, but then I discovered how tasty it is when grilled. The white flesh is tender and mild tasting, and the skins stay tender too. Fairy Tale is a good candidate for container plantings, but it also does great when planted in the ground. Hansel and Gretel are two more miniature eggplants that are also AAS Winners, but Fairy Tale is my favorite of the three.
Bush Delicata winter squash is a 2002 AAS Winner. This squash was developed by Cornell University and is a compact version of the usually rambling heirloom Delicata squash. Bush Delicata is also resistant to powdery mildew, and the plants usually set three to five fruits each in my garden. They are tasty in the kitchen too.
Red Sails lettuce is a 1985 AAS Winner that is truly a lettuce for all seasons. I don’t know when I first started growing it but it has been a favorite in my garden for a long time. The reddish-bronze wavy leaves make this leaf lettuce pretty enough to be grown as an ornamental. It is slow to bolt and holds well in the garden for me. It is a tender and tasty addition to salads and sandwiches.
There are lots of bush snap beans to choose from, but Derby is a 1990 Winner that has been a star of many meals for me. The tender beans are straight, stringless and get about six inches long. I usually get a high yield of beans on the bushy plants, and they’re great for canning and freezing as well as for fresh eating.
Chef’s Choice Orange is a 2014 AAS Winner that has been a standout here in my garden the last two years I’ve grown it. This hybrid was developed from the heirloom Amana Orange tomato, and it combines hybrid vigor and disease resistance with old-fashioned heirloom tomato flavor.
Other AAS Winners I regularly grow include Holy Mole(2007), Cayennetta(2012) and Orange Blaze(2011) peppers, Celebrity(1984) tomato, Purple Haze(2006) carrots and Sunburst(1985) squash. Next year I want to try some of the 2015 Winners, including the white beet Avalanche, the ‘sweet stem’ broccoli Artwork, and the Fresno type pepper Flaming Flare.
It’s always tough for me to cut through the hype in seed catalogs which always promise ‘new and improved’ but often fail to deliver. Growing AAS Winners is a great way to put dependable and field-tested varieties to work in your own gardens. It’s something to consider when planning your next garden.
I hope you have enjoyed this spotlight on my favorite AAS veggies. I’ll be back Monday to host Harvest Monday, where we celebrate our harvests and how we are using and preserving them. Until then Happy Growing!