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How to Grow a Salsa Garden for Spicy Summer Snacking

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The taste of fresh salsa made from homegrown ingredients can spice up a meal like nothing else, and because most, if not all, of the ingredients can be grown in your backyard salsa garden, making it is as simple as harvesting, chopping, and serving it.

There are two dishes that stand out to me as being the quintesssential tastes of summer, fresh pesto and fresh salsa, and both of them are not only simple to prepare, but are also made with fairly easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs. If you're salsa-crazy like we are, then planting a dedicated salsa garden in one corner of your yard is one way to ensure that you've got fresh ingredients on tap for the next batch.

Location: A salsa garden will grow best in full sunlight, although in the hottest parts of summer the plants will tolerate and even appreciate some partial shade throughout the day. As part of a healthy garden plan, it's important to have at least a basic rotation schedule in place, which will keep tomatoes and peppers from being grown in the same garden bed each year, and help to reduce plant diseases and keep pests from eating all of the fruits of your labors. For optimal growth in the salsa garden, plant in garden beds with rich, well-drained soil, and dig in finished compost to the top layer of the soil. And even if you have no room for an in-ground garden bed, a salsa garden can be grown in containers on a patio or porch or balcony.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes, being the largest plants of the salsa garden, ought to be located in the bed first. They can either be located at the center of the garden bed, or grown along the edge or border to keep them from smothering or shading out the rest of the plants. The best varieties of tomatoes to grow in a salsa garden are generally the "meatier" ones, because they tend to yield a less watery salsa, but other than that, can be any tomato variety that you enjoy the taste of, and a local Extension agent or nursery can help you pick out the varieties that are known to do well in your area.

Peppers: Pepper plants, as the next largest plants in the salsa garden, tend to be much smaller than tomato plants, so they can be located in the bed next, either surrounding the tomato plants or in a row in front of them. Both sweet peppers and hot peppers go well in salsa, so the only guidelines to choosing the varieties you grow in your garden are your personal tastes. If you've got kids that love salsa, but not spicy salsa, consider growing sweet peppers or milder peppers (such as the Anaheim) for them, and then some hot peppers just for you to add to the adult version. Some classic hot peppers to grow for salsa are the jalapeño, habañero, manzano, and serrano, but the best hot pepper to grow in your salsa garden will depend on your particular taste (we happen to like the Joe Parker for taste, and the chiltepin for heat).

Cilantro: Cilantro can be grown among or around the pepper and tomato plants, and because it is fairly quick to grow but quick to bolt (go to flower), it can be replanted from seed every few weeks throughout the summer. To save space in your salsa garden, you can pull the old cilantro plants once they've gone to flower, or you can let them set seed and then harvest it as coriander for use in other recipes.

Garlic: For an early garlic harvest, fall planting is best, as the bulbs are usually ready to harvest and eat in June, but a spring planting of garlic is also possible, although the harvest will be later in the year. Garlic is one of the easier plants to grow, and to my mind, is an essential part of any salsa recipe.         


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