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Green Speak

Horticulture topics from gardens to lawns and then some.

Salsa Gardening

These days it seems like salsa is everywhere. Americans have come to love this condiment as it tends to show up on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nothing is better than fresh salsa. Better yet, the ingredients used to make salsa are incredibly universal and can be grown in your backyard.

If you love fresh salsa, this summer think about setting aside a sunny area (6 hours or more of direct sun each day) in your yard to grow a salsa garden.

What vegetables you plant in your salsa garden depends mostly on what type of salsa you enjoy most. Do you go for the more traditional Mexican salsa with some heat? Or do you prefer the more subdued tang of Caribbean salsa? Check the ingredients for your favorite salsa recipe to get an idea for the type of plants you will need to grow.

What to grow

Not just any tomato will render the best base for your salsa. Extension Horticulture Educator Sandy Mason recommends paste tomatoes. Paste tomatoes are smaller, with a full tomato flavor that comes from rich meaty low-moisture flesh. Sandy recommends the paste tomato varieties 'San Marzano', 'Roma', and 'Veeroma'.

What peppers you grow depend on what level of heat you prefer in your salsa. I prefer the milder Anaheim pepper, because the hottest pepper, the Mexican habanero, would send me tears and all to the refrigerator to gulp down multiple glasses of milk. That being said, it's always a good practice to wear gloves when handling peppers, regardless of heat level.

Tomatillos are a must for most traditional salsas, yet they are an ingredient that is often overlooked from many homemade recipes. Tomatillos were cultivated by the ancient Aztecs and have remained a common component in Mexican cuisine.

Onions, chives, garlic, cilantro, basil, oregano, cucumbers and more all have a place in the salsa garden. More information about growing all of these plants and can be found at Illinois Extension websites or contacting your local Extension office.

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