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Building a Salsa Garden

Although Christmas is around the corner and winter is definitely here, it’s never too late (or early) to start planning for next year. I don’t know about you, but one thing I love more than anything is some fresh, homemade salsa. You can make your own with a salsa garden in your backyard, which makes it doubly better.

I started my salsa garden in one of my raised beds. You can grow yours in whatever beds that you have available. To prepare it, pull out all the weeds and clear out any twigs that may have fallen in it during the winter.

I went out to the rabbit hutch and filled a five-gallon bucket with droppings. If you have rabbits, you can use their droppings; otherwise you can use compost or whatever organic fertilizer you have on hand. Lay your fertilizer in an even layer about an inch deep. Using a hand cultivator, loosen the soil and mix in your fertilizer. Make sure that your soil is loose six to eight inches deep so that your plants will have plenty of room for their roots to spread out and provide a firm foundation for them.

As our winter was long and ran right into summer, I bought my plants last year instead of starting from seeds. If you get a late start, you may want to do the same. For a colorful and hearty salsa I chose two tomato varieties—an heirloom called Brandywine and a small yellow pear tomato. I choose two different peppers as well. I also got a small cilantro plant and a medium-sized tomatillo too.

Tomatoes are one of the few garden plants that like to grow in the same location year after year. Also, remember that the tomato cages that you can buy in your local garden center or home improvement stores do not provide enough room for tomato plants to grow large and healthy, nor do they give much room for large hands to reach inside for picking your fruit.

Knowing these two facts, I added four six-foot upright posts to my raised bed before I filled it with dirt. One post screwed into the back two corners of the box, the other two at the halfway point of the box. Next, I added hooks up the outside of each post; the first hook was spaced twelve inches from top of the box, the second six inches above that, then three more each a foot apart, for a total of five hooks up each post.

When you are ready to plant your tomatoes, you will plant them in a row between the four posts. Dig your holes at least four inches deep – deeper depending on how large your plants are – and place the plant in the hole, covering 75 to 80 percent of it. Space your plants twelve to eighteen inches apart. If you have a tomatillo plant, you can plant it between your tomatoes so that you can tell your varieties apart. The tomatillo should be planted just like your tomato plants, with the depth of the hole dependant on its size. Mine was quite a bit larger than the tomato plants, so I planted it about eight inches deep.

Once the tomatoes and tomatillos are planted, wrap twine around the posts to form your “cage.” I used hemp twine, as it stands up well to the weather and can be reused for two to three growing seasons. Wrap it around the posts and cinch around the hooks to keep the twine tight. Go around all four posts at the level of the first set of hooks, bring the twine up to the second set of hooks, and repeat the process. Next form an X with your twine between the first two sets of hooks on all four sides of your row of tomatoes. As your plants grow, add more twine in the same manner for the remaining rows of hooks.

You will plant your peppers and cilantro in the front half of the box similarly to how the tomatoes were planted. I planted mine with the different varieties separated by my cilantro plant.

My raised bed boxes are roughly five feet by eight feet, so there is plenty of room between the tomatos and pepper plants to plant another row of veggies. I would plant some onion sets and garlic sets to round out my salsa recipe. You may plant yours in the same way or add a row of herbs down the middle instead; it is totally up to your imagination.

Finally, you will need a good salsa recipe so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Below is a great basic recipe to start with. Like with your garden, don’t be afraid let your imagination lead the way.

Basic Fresh Salsa Recipe

  • 2 large red tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 to 6 yellow pear tomatoes, sliced
  • ½ cup finely diced onions
  • 5 serrano chilies, finely chopped
  • 1 red Anaheim pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix together all ingredients and chill at least one hour – or overnight – before serving. This will keep in the refrigerator for several days as long as it is tightly covered. Enjoy!

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