One day, in the not too distant past, I made some homemade pico de gallo for dinner. My husband, who often makes a batch of the stuff too, looked at the bowl and said “Hey, everything in this (except for the salt) came from our garden!”
“Oh, wow, you’re right. It did,” was my reply.
What a great feeling to have a dish that my family loves that we can grow all of the ingredients for. And so today, I’d like to introduce you to the salsa garden.
The concept is simple: plant all of the ingredients that are needed for salsa in one location.
I am going to describe the process using the recipe for pico de gallo that I referenced above but it would also work well for any favorite salsa recipe you have. I will give you three other favorites of ours at the end of the post, just in case you are not a pico fan.
(But who ever heard of such a thing!)
First, you will need a space to grow in. I’m assuming you either already have a place in mind or have plans to create one. The ideal amount of space for your salsa garden is 4 feet x 4 feet…give or take. Containers and raised beds will work great too.
Second, you need soil. I’m assuming you already have this too.
Third, you need plants. Option #1: buy all of your plants (except for the garlic) from the garden center in the spring. Option #2: start all of your plants from seeds. Or somewhere in between.
Option #1: buy all of your plants from the garden center
For this option, you simply go down to your local garden center in the spring when they have a good selection of plants and buy everything that you need. I highly recommend this option if you are new to gardening. Here is what to buy for your new salsa garden:
- 3 tomato plants. I recommend paste or Roma type tomatoes but beefsteak types would also work well. If space is limited, be sure to buy “indeterminate” tomatoes. They are much smaller plants.
- Onions. Buy one container of whatever type of onions you like. There will be many onion starts in that one container which you will spread out into individual plants later.
- 1-2 pepper plants if you like peppers in your pico. I personally don’t but, hey, to each their own.
- Cilantro seeds. Don’t bother buying starts of cilantro. You will likely only get 3-4 plants in a pot which will quickly bolt when you plant them. A better option is to buy a packet or two of cilantro seeds and plant them thickly and then cut them with scissors. Like a little cilantro hair cut (don’t worry, it will grow back).
- Garlic will most likely need to be purchased from the grocery store unless you happened to plant some last fall.
That’s it! Take all of your lovely plants home and plant them. The tomatoes will eventually be the biggest plants so get them in the ground first with enough space around them…usually 2-3 feet apart. Be sure to add a paper collar around the base to prevent tomato worms. Everything else will be tucked in around them.
Next, plant the peppers around and next to the tomatoes. Add a paper collar to the base of these ones too…horn worms love pepper plants AND tomato plants.
In the remaining dirt all around and in between the tomatoes and peppers, plant the onions (be sure to spread them out into individual onions) and cilantro seeds (best to plant a few little patches of cilantro. Better yet, plant one patch now and come back and do another section in a couple of weeks and another one a couple of weeks later for a continuous harvest. By the time you cut all of the sections, the first one will be growing back again).
Water everything well and water frequently for the first week or until the plants’ roots get established. Then water as needed.
Here is an example of how you might organize your salsa garden:
Option #2: start all plants from seed
If you prefer, you can start all of the plants from seed. Here is the succession of plantings that you will need to do in order to have all of the ingredients for salsa. It is a little more advanced and less “plug and play” than the first option but it is cheaper per plant and it definitely gives you more options for the varieties you can grow. Luckily, I know some of you are up for the challenge!
- Garlic: plant individual bulbs in the fall. It will over winter and will be ready to harvest around June (at least that’s what happens where I live. Check your local gardening resources for more information). As a side note, I have also planted garlic bulbs in the early spring. It works fine but the cloves don’t grow quite as big. But go ahead and plant them in the spring anyway, even if you missed the fall deadline!
- Onions: early spring. This is usually one of the first plants that can be started since they have such a long growing season and are cold hardy. Start the seeds indoors in February and transplant individual onion seedlings outside in early April. Or you can direct seed in late March to early April.
- Tomatoes and peppers. Start the seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last frost date and transplant outside as soon as all risk of frost is past. You will definitely want to add a paper collar to both the tomatoes and the peppers to prevent worms.
- Cilantro. I would wait to plant cilantro seeds until the tomatoes start to set fruit because cilantro grows so quickly. It will be ready by the time the tomatoes are ripening. Plant the seeds in a thick patch (like planting grass seed) and when it is big enough, give it a little cilantro hair cut with scissors…it will grow back. Also, plant sections of cilantro 2-3 weeks apart for a continuous harvest.
Here are three other amazing recipes for you to try your hand at growing the ingredients for. Most of the ingredients listed are described in this post. They will simply be variations on the theme.
The exception is tomatillos. The plants grow just like tomatoes do and need pretty much all of the same things except for the paper collar…it’s the only plant I know of that has zero pest or disease problems. Hallelujah!
Happy salsa growing, everyone!