Jalapeño pepper “San Joaquin” needs full sun, well drained soils and even watering to produce the best plants and fruit. (Photo courtesy AAS Winners)

The All American Select vegetables are chosen for a number of reasons that can appeal to gardeners.
The fruit might have more nutrition or taste better. It could be larger to produce more robust harvests, or smaller, creating personal sized fruit that will not take up all the space in the refrigerator. The vegetables can have more resistance to disease like virus or bacteria for which there is no cure. They could have resistance to fungus, which can reduce the number of fungicides needed to protect the susceptible fruit.
The vegetables are also placed as national winners that will thrive in gardens all across the United States, while others can stand up to the heat and humidity of the SS=outh. Some need cooler summers that are found in the northeast or do better in the Midwest.
Others need the heat and dry air only found out west, where a bag of potato chips can be left open for a week and still not taste stale!
Some of this year’s vegetables are perfect for the Shore while others might offer a challenge, and what gardener can resist that sort of challenge?
Peppers offer so much to a garden, dark green foliage from late spring to fall, and in summer the beautiful fruit! Cayenne pepper “Wildcat” is all that and more. Like all peppers, the soil should be warm to the touch before planting these heat tolerant plants.
Once they are planted, the dark green foliage adds beauty and color to the garden. The fruit adds the decorative touch, 8-12 inches long, thick walls and is edible when green or when bright red. Fruit can be straight or curled a bit, and “Wildcat” can have 20-25 peppers per plant! The mildly pungent taste has medium heat and lots of flavor. These peppers also have some disease resistance built into the plants for healthier vegetation and fruit.
These lovely peppers can be grown in containers or in a garden bed. Plants do best in the southeast or southwest, but with global warming, Maryland’s Eastern Shore may be the perfect spot to grow “Wildcat.”
Jalapeño pepper “San Joaquin” can also be grown in 5-gallon containers or the garden beds when the soil warms up to the touch.
Like all peppers, San Joaquin needs full sun, well drained soils and even watering to produce the best plants and fruit.
The San Joaquin pepper plants are also determinate, which means that the green or ripened red fruit is all ready for harvesting at the same time. There is no rush with these peppers because their taste is just as nice when green or red.
They make wonderful stuffed and roasted appetizers, or they can be pickled or canned for later use. Each plant produces up to 30 peppers that are resistant to tomato and potato mosaic virus. San Joaquin is a National winner so it can be grow here on the Shore or anywhere in the United States.
“Sweet Jade” is a kabocha squash that is the perfect size for a single serving, growing only 1-2 pounds. The bright orange fruit is sweet with lots of flavor whether served roasted or baked, or even pureed.
The rounded flattened fruit can be cut and scooped out to create a delightful bowl for soup, and the flavor is excellent for use with Asian meals that feature nutritious sweet squash. The plants produce high numbers of squash with good holding capacity. ‘Sweet Jade’ is also a National Winner and will thrive in our gardens on the Shore.
“Zenzei” is a compact tomato that thrives in the Midwest, so our high humidity might not make this the best tomato to plant, but its sweet Roma flavor and high yields might make Maryland growers give it a try.
The plants are indeterminate, meaning they can produce tomato fruit mid through late summer. The bushy plants produce 30-50 uniformly shaped tomatoes that are perfect for canning and freezing. Like all tomatoes, Zenzei needs full sun all day and need to be planted in warm soils. When they reach 2 feet or a bit taller, they can be caged or staked, but they don’t need to be pruned which saves time and energy for the growers.
The plants are also disease resistant to blossom end rot and some spots. Blossom end rot usually occurs when the soil is low on calcium, and here on the sandy shore soils, the calcium can drift out of the root zone of the plants.
The best cure for blossom end rot is to add calcium in the form of agriculture lime to the gardens in the fall. This allows the winter rains and snows to wash the calcium into the root zone by spring and summer insuring that the tomatoes will have no problems with blossom end rot. Plants also show excellent resistance to Fusarium and Verticillium fungi.
These fungi live in the soil and block up the vascular system that brings water and nutrients up from the soil by the roots and brings the sugars created by the leaves down to the roots. The plants that become infected cannot bring water up to the leaves causing the plants to wilt.
‘Rubyfirm” watermelons are personal-sized but big on flavor. Each plant produces two or three watermelons that are medium green with dark green attractive stripes. Inside the sweet but firm fruit is bright red with very few seeds. The fruit can weigh 3-5 pounds each and grow to be about 6 inches round. Like all watermelon plants, Rubyfirm needs full sun, warm soil and a balanced Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium fertilizer before flowering. Right after flowering the gardener should add fertilizer with Potassium to ensure a tasty fruit. Plants are also resistant to Anthracnose, which can attack the foliage but also attacks the fruit, creating small round raised tan blisters that crack open and damage the fruit.
Rubyfirm also has resistance to both powdery mildew and downy mildew, both disease rob the plant of its leaves. This is winner in the southwest up to the northwest which has no to very little humidity, unlike our hot and humid summers.
Growing vegetables in containers or in ground appeals to many gardeners. Some like the challenge of caring for a plant that grows not only leaves and flowers for pollinators, but produces edible and tasty fruit. That fruit can be eaten right away or processed to be enjoyed during the cold winter months when the warmth of summer is a memory.
Some gardeners like the idea of growing fresh tasty fruit that can be picked and served only minutes from garden to table.
Some gardeners love to grow more than they can eat so they can share their bounty of fresh from the garden produce with others not as fortunate to have the time or space to grow their own. It does not matter why gardeners grow vegetables; it is just wonderful that gardeners love to grow them.
(Editor’s Note: Ginny Rosenkranz is a commercial horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.)