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.
- 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 – 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.
Herbs – 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.
- Cilantro 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
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!