Salsa Garden

salsa garden in containerFeed your family this summer, encourage your children to eat their vegetables, and help them make the connection from soil to fork! Kids love snack time and enjoy hands-on activities that literally produce edible results. (Recipes below!)

When you grow your own food, you are reducing the distance your produce travels and therefore your carbon footprint. You can also be assured your food is grown and prepared in the safest way possible.

Ingredients

1 plum or other tomato plant
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper plant
1 tomatillo seedling (optional)
5-10 onion sets
Packet of cilantro seed
Large planting container, window box, or small garden plot

For a complete list of vegetables that can be grown in Western Washington and when/how to plant them, this chart is a great resource.

Location

You can plant this garden in a window box, large pot, or directly in the garden. These warm-season crops should not be planted outdoors until after Western Washington’s last average frost-free date, May 15. Some years, when the spring is particularly cool and wet, it’s best to wait until the first of June.

Whether in a container or garden, plants need good light,  soil, adequate space, and water. Choose a location that is somewhat flat and receives a minimum of 8-10 hours of full sunlight each day. More is always better. In addition, make sure you have a good source of water nearby. Western Washington summers are often very dry throughout July & August. Your salsa garden will likely need a good watering at least once a week during the growing season and daily watering if in a container.

Soil Prep

If you are starting a new, in-ground garden, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested first. Your local conservation district should be able to help you with that task. You can also use raised beds or large pots/barrels. Fill them with clean soil and/or compost for an instant garden.

Mix 3-4 inches of compost into a new garden to improve its overall soil biology and health. If you already have a garden area, be sure to add 1-2 inches of compost each year to maintain soil health.

Fertility

To ensure adequate nutrition for your salsa garden, add a complete organic fertilizer (available at most garden and nursery centers) to the planting hole for each plant. Mix it in well before planting. Be sure to follow directions for the product you are using; generally 1/2 to 1 cup per tomato, tomatillo, and pepper plant. A couple tablespoons under each cilantro and onion plant should be enough.

Planting

If growing in-ground, space the tomato, tomatillo,  and pepper plants about 24 inches apart. When planting in a container or window box, you can reduce that space by half or more.

Plant the tomato and tomatillo deeply (leave just the top 4-6 leaves showing) to ensure a solid root system; they will grow additional roots along any stem that is buried. The tomato and tomatillo plants will grow large, should be staked (or caged), and situated westernmost in your garden to prevent too much shading of the smaller plants.

For detailed information on raising tomatoes, check out Growing Tomatoes in Home Gardens.

Seed the cilantro in the spaces between plants and along the edges1-3 inches between seeds. You can replant cilantro several times throughout the season for an always-fresh supply. Plant onions (bury all white parts) at least 6 inches or more away from other plants on the edges and spaces between.

Maintenance

Weed, water, and nurture your plants through the summer. For more information, Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington is a great resource from WSU.

Harvest

Pick tomatoes when they are fully colored but still firm. When picked at this stage, they can be stored for 1–2 weeks. Overripe tomatoes quickly lose flavor as well as texture. Peppers can be picked at any time after they have sized up. Hot peppers will get hotter as they become more mature. When onion tops start to flop over, the bulbs have stopped growing and you can harvest any time after that. Be sure to harvest cilantro (cut to the ground) before it starts to flower for best flavor.

Salsa Recipes

For the ambitious, Salsa Recipes For Canning, has wonderful recipes for all types of salsa. Here’s a couple of quick, easy recipes you can serve your family minutes after you harvest!

Fresh Tomato Salsa

pico de gallo3/4 pound tomatoes, seeded and finely diced (1 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 small fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, finely chopped, including seeds, or more to taste
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste with chile, lime juice, and salt. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to two days. Before serving, stir well, and drain off any excess liquid if desired.

Cabbage Salsa

cabbage salsa6 cups chopped cabbage
2 cups diced white onion (about 1 large)
2 green jalapeños, diced (leave seeds out for a milder salsa)
2 red jalapeños, diced
7 roma tomatoes, diced
1 cup diced radish
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
2 limes, juice only
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Chop cabbage very finely. You can use a food processor. Mix together: cabbage, onion, jalapeños, radish, tomatoes (with juice), cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and let sit for 20-30 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in refrigerator for up to a week. Recipe courtesy www.macheesmo.com.

Washington State University