New Year: New Seeds

The decorations are back in the barn for another year and the last of the mince pies will probably be eaten this weekend, officially ending the Holiday season in our home. So it was very exciting to receive another gift just a few days ago – a large package of seeds for me to grow! These are no ordinary seeds either – they are All-America Selections winners and includes some of the National and Regional 2023 Winners as well as some of the earlier Winners too. Woo hoo! There are edibles, annuals and even some perennials to try.

I tend to stick to the same varieties of vegetables especially year after year, so this is a great way to get me to try something different and I always find some new 'must have' favorites. Last year it was the Violetta Lunga heirloom Italian eggplant and Baby Belle snack peppers that really excelled, performing really well with heavy crops despite our terrible season. A few years earlier it was the Red Yellow bicolor Profusion zinnia which made my top pick list. I wonder what it might be in 2023?

In this post I'm just sharing the edibles with you in case they also pique your curiosity and you'd like to try them alongside me. You can find information on where to buy the seeds and how to grow them on the page links I've provided. I'll let you know how the germination process goes right through to harvest and taste – because let's face it, this is all about flavor, but I'd also be really interested to hear your experiences too so please keep in touch as we grow things together.

Antares F1 fennel

Have you seen the price of fennel bulbs? Crazy! At least $5 each in our grocery store – and that's not even for organically grown bulbs. I have a great recipe for a Tuscan tuna salad which calls for bulb fennel so this packet of seeds had me dreaming of warm sunny days, a glass of something crisp, and delicious lunches on the patio.

Fennel is pretty easy to grow from seed too – no fancy stuff needed. Antares is said to be slow to bolt; and that together with its improved flavor made it a 2017 winner.

Sunset Torch Tomato

I might need your collective help here. I can get tomato seeds to germinate easily but after pricking out and transplanting I lose almost all of them to damping off; the leaves turn black and drop while the stem just collapses. I tried really hard last year, being careful to water from the bottom and only when the surface of the soil felt dry. Any tips anyone? Because I'd really like to try Sunset Torch!

Described as a small plum type tomato the fruit are only 2" – so sort of large cherry sized. That color is so pretty but judges loved the mild, sweet flavor, reduced splitting and good disease resistance. It's also very early so perhaps a change from Sungold? I'll let you know!

Red Torch Tomato

While we're talking tomatoes, let's see what this one promises! Red Torch won the 2019 award for the best edible – no small feat! Similar size but slightly longer than Sunset Torch, this is still a small plum sized at 1.5" long. Look how beautiful that striped skin is – another early harvest too. My summer salads are going to be too pretty to eat!

Sweet Jade squash

My first reaction was "what do I do with it?" I don't grow much in the way of winter squash besides butternut so this intrigues me. Sweet Jade is a type of kabocha – a Japanese winter squash. Each fruit weighs ~ 1-2 pounds and can be used for single servings of squash, as an edible soup bowl, or in any number of Asian-style dishes where a sweet, earthy nutritious squash is typically used. Sweet Jade’s deep orange flesh is said to be dry yet sweet and very flavorful whether roasted, baked, or pureed. Well with those credentials I have to give it a try don't I? It is also the 2023 winner.

Icicle Eggplant

Until last summer I really never considered growing eggplant, but the Violetta Lunga was so prolific that I'm more open to trying them now. We like to do lightly-cooked meals over the summer; a lot of salads or quickly roasted veggies or stir fries are the order of the day and these eggplant look perfect for that. Icicle was the 2022 edible winner and for good reason. It's less thorny than many eggplants and has fewer seeds while the pure white flesh is said to hold its color rather than yellowing. Definitely worth a try.

Mini Love Watermelon

Call me skeptical, but the idea of growing watermelon in Duvall seems improbable at best – but I'm willing to try! Mini Love is a "personal sized fruit" (hands off family) and each plant only takes up 3-4 feet of growing space yet yields 4- 6 fruit. I'm intrigued to see if this 2017 winner lives up to its reputation. I've certainly never tried to grow these before – have you? Any tips?

Quick Fire pepper

Another one I'm not sure about – but there again I'm not a fan of hot peppers. However, my daughter and son-in-law are, so my plan is to grow Quickfire from seed then pass them over for them to grow on and report back on how they did. This is a Thai-type pepper that is compact enough even for a patio container and promises high yields.

What are you growing for the table this year?

I'd love to know – share your 'must have's' in the comments and please tell me how to transplant tomatoes!!

All photos in main text courtesy of All-America Selections

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  1. cat on January 10, 2023 at 9:06 am

    Wow! Thanks for the recommendation for the little squashes! When I googled to find out more about it, I found Pepita Squashes, too – the ones that produce the edible pepita seeds that aren't encased with a hard shell, so they can just be roasted and eaten! ( Sounds like a nice pair of plants for winter squash.
    I usually get volunteers of butternut squash, but I'm really short on space this year while waiting for garlic and shallots to be harvested.
    I'll also be growing a VERY tall (8 – 10 feet) bunch of okra plants just for the decorative pods and pretty flowers that the bees enjoy. I'll grow fennel, too, but last year the black swallowtail butterfly laid her eggs all over mine and – in order to preserve wildlife, I let them take over the plants. Zero harvest by the time they were gone because the bulbs weren't in good shape by then. BUT- the birds enjoyed the larvae so much — they built a nest conveniently under our porch roof to be close) to the garden, so not sure I did anything but feed the birds! It was at least interesting, but disheartening…

    • Karen Chapman on January 10, 2023 at 1:57 pm

      I like your idea of the winter squash duo! I also like your idea of growing okra just for their decorative qualities – I may do that myself. Yes the fennel (and dill) often become overtaken by larvae and I'd forgotten about that but may try them again anyway as it's been a few years.

  2. YongKian Soh on January 23, 2023 at 8:08 am

    I have been growing vegetables for almost twenty years, and I have found that by far the most reliable way of preventing young seedlings from damping off is to start with a sterile mix. I pour boiling water or microwave my dampened potting mix till the mix is hot enough to kill off spores and bacteria (sorry good microbes). Of course be sure to let the mix cool before you sow the seeds, or you'll be cooking them. As soon as the seedlings emerge I keep a fan on for a few hours 2-3 times a day (trained on the seedlings) to increase airflow. The gentle breeze also encourages the seedlings to be more stocky. Haven't had a damping off problem for years.

    As for Kabocha, you can use it like butternut, but it is a drier squash when cooked. Great for roasting with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and some maple syrup, or cook it up Japanese style with mirin, soy and a little sugar and hondashi. Great on rice.

    I moved to an acre 3 years ago, and grow almost all the vegetables we need, especially South East Asian vegetables that are not easily available organically. My must haves for a Chinese vegetable garden are kailan, A choy, celtuce, asparagus beans, amaranth and water spinach. Having a little greenhouse helps, as some of these tropical vegetables just sulk with our cool summers here in Washington state.

    • Karen Chapman on January 24, 2023 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks for your feedback. I've been using a sterile mix – and fan – and only have this issue with tomatoes so still scratching my head with that one! Love your info on the kabocha and the SE Asian vegetables you are growing – thank you for sharing.

  3. New Annuals to Try from Seed – Le Jardinet on January 24, 2023 at 4:01 am

    […] won awards for their superior performance so it takes a lot of the uncertainty away. I shared my edible selections recently but in this post I'm focusing on the ornamental annual seeds I was […]