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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Tomato on right and tomatillo on left on 7-13-12. Notice leaves go all the way to the ground on this tomato. I rotated it to a new location this year. Last year's tomatoes had lots of foliar leaf blight.
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Grow Your Fresh Salsa

"There is nothing like a fresh salsa and tortilla chips summer snack," according to Rhonda Ferree, Extension Educator in Horticulture. Fresh salsa is also called pico de gallo and is comprised mainly of tomatoes, peppers, onion, and cilantro. Rhonda says that almost all the ingredients can be grown right in your own backyard or on your patio.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular homegrown vegetables. They come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors and in the right growing conditions they can produce a bountiful harvest. Many people grow tomatoes in a small garden plot, but they can also be grown in containers on a balcony or patio. When growing tomatoes in containers, choose a smaller variety such as Tiny Tim or Patio Princess that grow well in small spaces. Tomatoes taste best when they ripen on the vine and should be firm and fully colored when harvested.

Peppers can also be grown in small spaces and in containers. For pico de gallo, use the pepper with the amount of heat that you can handle. Habanero and jalepeno peppers are hotter than bell and banana peppers. A mixture of both hot and mild peppers might also provide a good flavor in the fresh salsa. Harvest peppers when they are the desired size and color. Hot peppers are usually harvested at the red-ripe stage, but immature fruits can also be used in cooking.

Cilantro is the green foliage part of the coriander plant. Coriander is the seed that forms when plants are allowed to flower and mature. For pico de gallo, fresh cilantro is a must and gives the fresh salsa its unique flavor. Cilantro is typically planted from seed, but plants can also be used. It can be grown in the ground or in containers. Time the cilantro planting to coincide with the ripening tomatoes and peppers. It is often advisable to do successive planting of cilantro a week or two apart to assure fresh cilantro is available all season. Cilantro is harvested by cutting the abundant leaf growth before the seedstalks appear.

Onions or scallions typically need more space and time to establish in the garden. If space is not available, chives could be substituted or added with purchased onions or scallions. Chives are a perennial herb that produces green onion-like leaves all season long. The tender leaves and stems can be harvested whenever desired during the growing season. Just snip off as many leaves as you need and chop them into the dish being prepared.

Grow the fixings for your own fresh salsa this summer. Here is a recipe for pico de gallo.

  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 jalapeño or bell peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion or 2 scallions, cut into ¼ inch pieces (chives can be substituted)
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, and toss well to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated, for up to 2 days, until serving. Great served with fresh quesadillas or tortilla chips. Makes 3 cups.

For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting You can also post questions on Rhonda's Facebook page at

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