Catrina's Garden

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Tag: salsa

Salsa Gardening – Time to Harvest

This is Part 4 in a series.

Read about choosing varieties and starting seedlings indoors in “Before the Thaw”.

Then learn more about how to grow the other ingredients for your salsa in “Grow Your Own Fresh Ingredients”.

Help your plants do well by reading “Getting them in the Garden”

Now you are ready. The fruits of your labor are hanging on the vine.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of the vegetables and herbs were ready at the same time?

Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work that way.  Some herbs are ready early and the peppers don’t usually show up in Wisconsin until quite late, while the tomatoes usually trickle in over a 2 month period.

Tomatoes should be picked when they gain full or nearly full color and begin to soften.  Pick them with the “cap” on (a small part of the vine), they keep longer that way.  In hot weather fully ripe tomatoes don’t last long on the vine.  They will ripen nicely on your kitchen counter.  Don’t put tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Peppers can be picked when they reach a nice size, but leave them on the vine longer so that they change to their fully ripe color to add extra color to your salsa.  Peppers do not continue to ripen once you pick them.

Be sure to thin your onions (you can eat the small green ones too) so that they have plenty of room to reach full size.  Make sure to water them or they will never really fill out.

Harvest your herbs when they are on the young side and preserve them by drying or freezing until it it’s time to make your salsa.  Really, herbs can be snipped any time you need them, but ideally you would pick them in the morning after they were watered the night before.  You can store your herbs for up to a week with the stems in cups of water on the counter or in the refrigerator.  Don’t put basil in the refrigerator.  It will turn brown.

Tomatoes can be blended or chopped and frozen until you get enough to make a batch.  Go ahead and add some of the herbs now, it’s easier than freezing them separately.  Dice up some of the peppers too and freeze them if you get too many of them before it is time to make your salsa.

Have fun watching your Salsa garden grow!

Tomato seedling

Salsa Gardening – Getting it in the Garden

This is Part 3 of a series.

In Salsa Gardening – Before the Thaw we talked about tomato and pepper varieties and getting your seedlings started indoors.

In Salsa Gardening – Grow Your Own Fresh Ingredients we talked about other salsa ingredients and how to grow them.

Hurray, we’re full into spring and it’s time to plant your salsa garden outside! If you followed this series and started with seedlings indoors…I hope you’ve got a great crop started! If your first attempt at starting indoors was less than successful, that’s okay, stop by your local garden center and embellish your seedlings with purchased starter plants!

Then you may have read about “growing your own fresh ingredients” so you can pick up seeds and herbs while you are at the garden center if you have not already grown them.

Getting your Salsa plants planted:

  • Choose an area with at least 6 hours of full sun and a nearby water source.
  • Loosen your soil and add compost in early spring, working it in, and top dress with compost again after planting. If you want to use fertilizers, it’s best to have your soil tested first to see what it needs. Testing your soil is never a bad idea but you can’t go wrong by adding compost.
  • When planting your tomatoes, plant them deep again like you did when you moved them to the bigger pots, or lay them down in a trench to plant so that only the top sticks up (this illustration is from the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension). Also, tomatoes are subject to disease. To prevent this, choose a different place from where you had them last year.
  • Wait to plant tomatoes out until danger of frost has passed in your area. (This map is from the Wisconsin State Climatology Office) There is lots of advice out there on how to get your plants out sooner and protect them, but really if you just wait a bit, the ones that you planted later will easily catch up to the ones planted earlier. Especially for the peppers and basil; just wait until it is good and warm out.
  • Give your plants space: 3-5 feet between tomatoes and 2 feet between peppers.
  • Use mulch around your plants to ward off weeds and disease by preventing soil from splashing up on the plants. Black plastic will warm the soil, but straw or other organic mulches work well, too and eventually add more organic matter and nutrients to your soil.
  • Provide support. Keeping the plants off the ground also prevents disease and makes them easier to work with while preventing the fruits from laying on the ground and getting bad spots.
  • As they grow pinch off suckers (new branches that grow in between the main stem and the leaves). This illustration is from dummies.com How to Grow Tomatoes. Be ruthless!! Some of the suckers will be small as shown in the first picture and some (especially those growing near the bottom of the plant) will be quite large as shown in the second picture. Preventing all of that green growth will force your plants to produce more fruit.
  • Weed, water and harvest weekly. This task will remind you why you were supposed to start small! Consider using a soaker hose as it conserves water and prevents disease by decreasing the amount of soil that splashes up on the plants. If you use a sprinkler, do it in the morning so plants have a chance to dry before the cool evenings.  Consider using a raised bed. This will help the soil warm up faster in spring, prevent the soil from becoming compacted and can be easier to keep weeded.

Salsa Gardening – Grow your own Fresh Ingredients

In part one of Salsa Gardening – Before the thaw, we talked about getting your tomatoes and peppers planted.

So what other plant “ingredients” can you add to your salsa garden?  I should also mention that all of the “salsa plants” need sun so be sure to choose an open area.

Onions – You can start seed along with your tomatoes but I recommend starting with sets. Plant them in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Kids love planting these “big seeds”.  Or you can use “Winter Onions”.  Here is some more information on winter or “walking” onions.  My very favorite onions are Cipollini onions.  These flat heirloom onions are so sweet and delicious when caramelized.  Here are a few more onion growing tips:

  • You can plant them kind of close but only if you intend to thin them to use for green onions. They need room once the bulb starts to swell.Cipollini onions
  • Onions are heavy feeders so add plenty of compost.
  • Make sure the soil is loose. The bulbs can’t fill out in a heavy or compacted soil.
  • Keep the area weeded. This is even more important than the rest of your garden.  The onions won’t fill out with competition from weeds.

Garlic music, shatili, bogaryrGarlic – you may have to add this one next year because its best if planted in the fall. You can plant it in spring in areas with a longer growing season. Order some or get them from the garden center. Avoid grocery store garlic as it’s been treated so it won’t sprout.  There are lots of varieties of heirloom garlic for you to try. Here are three of my favorites; Music, Shatili and Bogatyr.  Try some white German porcelain (hard neck) varieties which store really well and some red Rocambole types which are great for roasting and are easy to peel. My favorite is Spanish Roja. Garlic is in the allium family so all of the tips for onions apply for garlic too. Here are a few more growing tips.

  • Separate the bulbs and plant the cloves individually. Keep the husks on. You will get the larger bulbs from the bigger cloves.
  • I have seen different recommendations for how deep and how far apart. I like to do them about 4 inches apart and 6 inches deep. Some recommendations are as little as 2 inches deep. I think deeper is better in the north.
  • Keep them watered during development but not overly wet. Let them dry out before harvest.
  • Garlic scapes, flowers and bulbils are all edible (more on that later) but remove them so the energy goes into producing larger bulbs.
  • Harvest when about half of the leaves have dried out.
  • Hang your garlic and let it dry and cure in a warm area and then store it in a cool, dry place but not in a sealed container.

 

Tomatillos – these are optional, for Salsa Verde. They are grown just like tomatoes except for a few major differences.

  • You will need at least two plants. One plant will not pollinate itself and you will not get much fruit.
  • The plants will get large and sprawl just like tomatoes, but I don’t usually prune them like tomatoes. Just cage them up.
  • The fruits have a papery outer cover that will need to be removed before using. They are ready when they fill out the shell. Leave this on for storage.

 

CorianderHerbs – Many people have a separate herb garden. You can still have that too, but put some herbs with your vegetables too. They attract pollinators and can help repel insect pests. They are also pretty and having them together makes harvest easier.

  • Oregano – make sure you get the Greek oregano which has white flowers. It tastes much better than Oregano Vulgare which has pink flowers and can be invasive. Having your herbs near the peppers and tomatoes will help with pollination because they draw bees.
  • Marjoram is similar to oregano but it is an annual. Pinch back often. You can read “Oregano can be confusing” for more on Oregano and Marjoram.
  • cilantroCilantro and Coriander are the leaves and the seeds of the same plant It will have to be planted more than once as it is a “quick plant”. I keep cilantro seeds in a waterproof container in the garden so I can replant whenever I harvest. Or, let the plant go to seed; it will self sow. The leaves can be used in fresh salsa, but they lose their flavor when used in salsa that is cooked down for a long time. For this type of salsa use ground coriander instead.
  • Cumin – This herb is grown for the seed which is ground to make the spice. You can grow it if you like but if you do start seeds indoors along with the basil because it takes a very long season to mature. It is difficult in northern areas so it is okay to buy this one. It does make a great addition for the way it attracts beneficial insects, even if it never ripens.
  • Basil is not usually used in salsa, but you can make some Bruschetta, too! Basil is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes. I think it actually helps them taste better…and it repels bad bugs like white flies and aphids. Plus, it draws bees to help with pollination.
  • Borage; although I have not used it in my salsa, it will help repel the tomato horn worm.
  • Thyme, Parsley, Dill, Garlic Chives and Chives could also be added to your salsa garden.

Some other fruits and vegetables that will add a delicious twist to your fresh salsas include:  watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pomegranate, mango, peach, apples, cranberries, black beans, corn, jicama, cucumber, pumpkin and avocado.

There are also some common salsa ingredients that will probably not be grown in your garden. Of course no two salsas are alike so these are just suggested additives…You don’t have to use them all.

  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chili Powder – You could make your own if you want. There are many types to experiment with including cayenne, chipotle and paprika.
  • Hot Sauce – Here’s another project you could try.
  • Cinnamon – Just a little
  • Sugar – just a little; or consider trying a “better” sweetener like honey, maple syrup, agave or stevia.
  • Lime or Lemon Juice
  • Citric acid powder
  • Vinegars like apple cider, red or white wine or balsamic
  • Oil of various types
  • Various nuts or pepitas
Big Zac

Big Zac

The miracle of planting a seed and watching it sprout is sure to give a kid “ownership” of his or her Salsa garden.

“Getting it in the Garden” will be featured in next blog. Happy growing!

Salsa Gardening – Before the Thaw

Child with tomatoGetting the family involved in gardening is a popular quest. The challenge is how to get the kids interested. Have you ever thought about planting a SALSA GARDEN?! Although your children may not love tomatoes and peppers (and onions, garlic and herbs) individually – once they realize when you put them all together it makes salsa – their interest will peak! Growing the ingredients to make this delicious dip will be rewarding whether you have little hands helping or not. Imagine the delight of your friends at a picnic gathering when you tell them your salsa was not only made from scratch, but you even grew the vegetables! How “green” of you!

Seed packets 2This fun project lasts all year, from planting to eating! So let’s get started–in our northern Wisconsin climate, your tomato and pepper seedlings should be planted now, indoors! You could have actually started the peppers a while back because they don’t outgrow their pots as fast as tomatoes.

Let’s talk tomatoes today. The best tomatoes for Salsa are paste types. Everyone is familiar with the old standard–the Roma–but there are dozens of heirloom paste tomatoes available. Great varieties to Tomato (10)1Corno-De-Toro-Pepper-225x300look for are: Amish paste, Opalka, Long Tom, Principal Borghese, San Marzano, Oxheart or Bull’s Heart (a really large paste tomato). Gildo Pietroboni is a little hard to find but this Italian paste is twice as big as a Roma and well worth the search when it comes to flavor. Add some fun to your tomato quest by making your salsa different colors with: orange, yellow or black Oxheart; Black Prince; Yellow, Green or Cream Sausage; Speckled Roman; Orange Banana or White Wonder tomatoes.

Next, the peppers; some great pepper varieties for a milder salsa are any of the Marconi’s, Hungarian Wax peppers, Poblano’s, Bermuda’s, or Ortega’s. You can get the crunch and look of a Jalapeño without the heat if you use Fooled You Jalapeño’s.  If you like it hot(!), consider using Cayenne’s, Tabasco’s, Serrano’s or the hottest…Habanera’s. Many of the ornamental pepper varieties that have variegated leaves like Fish, Trifetti, Masquerade and Black Pearl are also quite hot.

Now, the growing! Growing your seedlings is easy, really! The key is to start with the right ingredients.

  • Clean your potsUse jiffy mix or another super lightweight soil especially designed for seed starting. This will help prevent your seedlings from rotting; otherwise known as “damping off”. You can also use one of the prepackaged seed starting kits.
  • Start small. It’s easy to end up with way too many plants. But if you do, just share the extras with your family, friends or neighbors!
  • Very important. Clean your pots if you are reusing them. Seedlings are very susceptible to damping off, which is a fungal disease that causes them to simply rot and fall over. This is how I do mine, but you can wash them by hand if you wish.
  • Sprout seeds with bottom heatMost important, the seeds; needless to say, I LOVE SEEDS, they have such potential. Don’t you just marvel in how a huge plant can spring from this small piece of life?
  • Use bottom heat to get the seeds to sprout. Any warm place like the top of the refrigerator or an old-fashioned radiator will do. I use the bathroom floor as I have heated tile. My hubby wanted to know why I need the heating cables under the sink.
  • Water from the bottom too. Place water in the bottom tray, not on top of the soil.
  • Spring Seedlings1Move the seedlings to a bright window or under artificial lights as soon as they sprout (shop lights work well but lower the lights so they are just a few inches from the plants).
  • Thin the seedlings so they’re not crowded as they grow and move them to a bigger pot when they start to get big. Be ruthless; I know it’s hard. No one wants to kill their babies. Give some to your friends if you can’t do it.
  • Every time you transplant tomatoes plant them deep so only the top of the plant is sticking out of the soil. They’ll develop roots all along the stem and become strong. 7. Don’t plant your plants outside until it’s good and warm–but gradually set them outside to get them used to the outdoor weather. Bring them in on cold nights. Pepper plants are more susceptible to cold weather.

If you don’t want to take care of seedlings all winter never fear! It’s okay to purchase your seedlings. Be sure to check back and see what other ingredients you will need for your salsa garden!

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