Grow a salsa garden

If you love salsa in the summer, planning your garden around salsa ingredients is a smart idea. Here are tips to plant a salsa garden that will provide plenty of ingredients for fresh salsa all summer long.

Contents

How to Plan Your Salsa Garden

Select an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. A 4×4 foot raised bed or square foot garden will grow plenty of ingredients for fresh salsa. A trellis on the north side of the bed will provide extra room for vining tomatoes to grow without shading the other plants.

  • See How to Build a Square Foot Garden

Divide your raised bed garden into one-foot sections to make it easy to map out the growing area so you know where to plant everything in your salsa garden. Beginning at the back of the bed:

Row 4: Tomatoes (3) along a trellis
Row 3: Peppers (4) in front of the tomatoes 1 per square foot
Row 2: Onions 9 per square foot
Row 2: Garlic Fall planted garlic = 6/square foot / Spring planted Garlic = 9/square foot
Row 1: Cilantro 9 per square foot

Start onions, peppers, and tomato seedlings from seed under lights or purchase transplants from your local nursery or garden center.

  • 10 Steps to Starting Seedlings Indoors

Onion sets, garlic seeds, garlic chive, and cilantro seeds are also available online or at your local garden center.

What to Grow in Your Salsa Garden

The basic ingredients that go into salsa are tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, and cilantro.

Tomatoes:

Select meaty indeterminate varieties of tomatoes with good flavor. I like using paste tomatoes such as Amish Paste, Juliet, and San Marzano. These are dense, have few seeds, and not a lot of moisture to water down the salsa. Other fleshy varieties to consider are Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, or Bloody Butcher.

If you love Salsa Verde, consider replacing one of the tomato plants with a Tomatillo plant. One plant will provide you with lots of tomatillos for fresh salsa verde.

Indeterminate tomato plants grow very tall and produce their fruit over a period of time. Three tomato plants located on the north side of the garden bed along the trellis will provide you with plenty of tomatoes for salsa beginning mid-summer until frost.

Purchase transplants from your local nursery or garden center or grow from seed. Start seeds indoors under lights 6 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant 16 inches apart along the north end of your garden in front of the trellis. Tie the vines to the trellis as the plant grows. Prune out lower branches to aid in air circulation. Water regularly if rainfall is scarce. Plants need about 1 inch of water weekly once they are actively growing.

  • Also see 10 Tips to Improve Your Tomato Harvest

Peppers:

Do you like your salsa mild or hot? For a hot salsa, select varieties of chili peppers such as Jalapeño, Serrano, or Habanera. If you prefer a mild salsa, opt for bell peppers and mix with a mildly hot pepper like Anaheim. Four different pepper plants will allow you to mix, match, and experiment with a variety of salsa flavors.

Purchase transplants from your local nursery or grow from seed. Start seeds indoors under lights 8 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Space pepper plants at least 12-inches apart. Use small tomato cages to help support the plants. Water regularly if rainfall is scarce. Plants need about 1 inch of water weekly once they are actively growing.

  • Also see 10 Tips to Growing Peppers in Cold Climates for additional tips.

Onions:

Onion flavors range from sweet to pungent. Select onion varieties that grow well in your area. Grow from seed, purchased transplants, or onion sets (small bulbs) found at garden centers in the spring.

Onion sets are convenient and usually sold in bulk by the pound and come in yellow, white, or red. Grab a handful of each for some variety of flavor and color. Store extra onion sets in a cool, dark location and plant whenever a spot opens up. Space onions 4-inches apart or 9 per square foot.

  • Also see How To Grow Onions From Seed

Garlic:

Garlic is usually planted in the fall for larger bulbs, but it can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. The spring grown bulbs will be smaller, but will taste the same. You may be able to find garlic bulbs for planting at your garden centers or order online. Space fall planted garlic 6 per square foot and spring planted garlic 9 per square foot.

  • Also see How to Plant Garlic in Fall
  • Also see Planting Spring Garlic

Another option to add garlic flavor to your salsa is to purchase a garlic chive plant from your garden center. Chopped garlic chives will add a nice, mild garlic flavor to your salsa and will make a nice addition to your salsa garden.

Cilantro:

Cilantro adds a nice, fresh zing to salsa. Cilantro matures quickly especially in warm weather so to keep a continuous supply of cilantro available for your fresh salsa, grow a slow bolt variety, such as Cilantro Long Standing and keep seeding every 3-weeks.

Direct sow cilantro seeds in one square, 4 inches apart or 9 per square foot. Cover seeds with 1?2-inch of soil and keep moist. Sow another round in the next square 3-weeks later, then the next 3-weeks after that, and then the next. Keep rotating and this will maintain a steady supply of fresh cilantro growing and ready for harvest for your salsa.

Ways to Use Your Salsa Garden Harvests

Come summer, you will have all the ingredients for fresh salsas and other meals. Here are some recipes to try:

  • Grilled Tomato Salsa Recipe
  • Garden Fresh Salsa
  • Roasted Red Jalapeño Hot Sauce
  • Italian Salsa Cruda
  • Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde
  • Chili-Lime Chicken Fajitas
  • Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Green Chile Sauce
  • Crockpot White Bean Chicken Chili

You May Also Like:

  • Vegetable Garden Planning: Choosing Vegetables to Grow
  • Tomato Salsa Recipe for Home Canning
  • 3 Ways to Preserve Peppers
  • Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
  • Homemade Flour Tortilla Recipe
  • Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde for Canning

If you enjoy eating fresh salsa in the summer, growing a salsa garden will provide you with the fresh ingredients you need to whip up salsa at a moments notice.

Salsa lovers can enjoy a particularly nutritious and delicious treat by growing all the ingredients for salsa right in their home gardens.

Planting a Salsa Garden: What and When to Plant

1. Tomatoes
Tomatoes are frost-sensitive plants. Start seedlings 6-8 weeks before the frost-free date (which you can learn from your local Cooperative Extension) or buy them from a greenhouse; set them out after the last frost.

Tomatoes thrive in rich soil with plenty of phosphorus. Put a shovelful of compost or aged manure and a handful of bone meal or rock phosphate in each planting hole. Tomatoes love warmth and light. Plant them where they’ll get full sun.

You’ll have many varieties from which to choose. Keep the following basic categories in mind:

Determinate tomato plants are smaller and easier to support than indeterminate plants. A standard garden store tomato cage will contain one nicely. You can plant them every 2′. They will stop bearing before the growing season ends. Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing until frost kills them. They need a sturdy trellis or very large cage. Space them 3′ apart.

Salsa Tomato Tip:
Paste tomatoes like Roma, Opalka, Hog Heart and San Marzano are very meaty and not very juicy. They may not make the best fresh eating, but they make a thick and satisfying salsa. Slicing tomatoes are juicier and better for eating out of hand. You can add some of these to your paste tomatoes when making salsa.

2. Peppers
Peppers (both sweet and hot) are also frost-sensitive, and they grow more slowly than tomatoes. Start them 12 weeks before the frost-free date or buy seedlings. They require the same nutrition and light as tomatoes, but they take up less space. You can plant them 1′ apart.

Sweet bell peppers mature a bit more slowly than hot peppers. You can harvest them green for maximum yield per plant or wait until they ripen red and develop maximum sweetness.

Hot pepper varieties used in salsa include jalapeño, cayenne, Hungarian wax and long green chile (fairly mild) as well as habanero (quite hot).

3. Onions
Onions are not frost-sensitive. Gardeners in hot climates can direct seed them 1/4″ deep as soon as the ground can be worked. In colder areas, start seedlings indoors at the same time as peppers or buy seedlings and set them outside, 6″ apart, up to a month before the frost-free date.

Onions require only 5 hours of sun each day. Give them plenty of compost; whenever their root globes shove themselves up out of the ground bury them up to their green stems in compost.

4. Garlic
Garlic is planted in the fall, around the time of the first frost, and harvested the following summer. Separate cloves and plant them, root end down, about 3″ deep and 6″ apart. Each clove will develop into a full head of garlic. Full sun will help garlic to develop larger cloves, but it will tolerate part shade. Add an inch of compost to the soil at planting time.

5. Herbs
Herbs for salsa include cilantro, basil, parsley and oregano. Oregano is a perennial. Plant it once and harvest it year after year. Cilantro self seeds easily. Basil is a frost-sensitive annual. Start it indoors each year at the same time as tomatoes and set it out after the last spring frost. Parsley is biennial. It produces leaves in the first year, leafs out again but then goes to seed in the second year. Handle it in the same way as basil.

Basil and oregano require full sun. Cilantro and parsley benefit from full sun in cold climates but will tolerate light shade. In hot climates they may prefer light shade to full sun.

Salsa Garden Layout

Layout details will depend on the space you have available. You can even plant a salsa garden in a container. See the YouTube video below for instructions.

Make sure that tomatoes, basil, oregano and peppers are not shaded by other plants. You could plant basil, which stays shorter, along the southern edge of your planting space, with peppers and tomatoes just to the north of them. Plant onions, garlic, parsley and cilantro on the north or shady side of your peppers and tomatoes.

Or plant tomatoes, peppers and basil, which are all heat loving, along a south-facing wall, and plant onions, garlic, oregano, parsley and cilantro elsewhere.

Tomatoes are prone to many diseases. Don’t plant them in ground where tomatoes have grown in the previous 3 years. Your local Cooperative Extension can offer suggestions about crop rotation.

For more information on planting a salsa garden and making fresh salsa, check out these links:

The Great Salsa Book by Mark Miller, Mark Kiffin, and John Harrison (Amazon affiliate link)
Salsa Garden from University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service
From the Garden to Table: Salsa from North Dakota State University Extension Service

Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of OakleyOriginals

Please note that links to Amazon from Gardening Channel are affiliate links.

The taste of fresh salsa made from homegrown ingredients can spice up a meal like nothing else, and because most, if not all, of the ingredients can be grown in your backyard salsa garden, making it is as simple as harvesting, chopping, and serving it.

There are two dishes that stand out to me as being the quintesssential tastes of summer, fresh pesto and fresh salsa, and both of them are not only simple to prepare, but are also made with fairly easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs. If you’re salsa-crazy like we are, then planting a dedicated salsa garden in one corner of your yard is one way to ensure that you’ve got fresh ingredients on tap for the next batch.

Location: A salsa garden will grow best in full sunlight, although in the hottest parts of summer the plants will tolerate and even appreciate some partial shade throughout the day. As part of a healthy garden plan, it’s important to have at least a basic rotation schedule in place, which will keep tomatoes and peppers from being grown in the same garden bed each year, and help to reduce plant diseases and keep pests from eating all of the fruits of your labors. For optimal growth in the salsa garden, plant in garden beds with rich, well-drained soil, and dig in finished compost to the top layer of the soil. And even if you have no room for an in-ground garden bed, a salsa garden can be grown in containers on a patio or porch or balcony.

Tomatoes, being the largest plants of the salsa garden, ought to be located in the bed first. They can either be located at the center of the garden bed, or grown along the edge or border to keep them from smothering or shading out the rest of the plants. The best varieties of tomatoes to grow in a salsa garden are generally the “meatier” ones, because they tend to yield a less watery salsa, but other than that, can be any tomato variety that you enjoy the taste of, and a local Extension agent or nursery can help you pick out the varieties that are known to do well in your area. Pepper plants, as the next largest plants in the salsa garden, tend to be much smaller than tomato plants, so they can be located in the bed next, either surrounding the tomato plants or in a row in front of them. Both sweet peppers and hot peppers go well in salsa, so the only guidelines to choosing the varieties you grow in your garden are your personal tastes. If you’ve got kids that love salsa, but not spicy salsa, consider growing sweet peppers or milder peppers (such as the Anaheim) for them, and then some hot peppers just for you to add to the adult version. Some classic hot peppers to grow for salsa are the jalapeño, habañero, manzano, and serrano, but the best hot pepper to grow in your salsa garden will depend on your particular taste (we happen to like the Joe Parker for taste, and the chiltepin for heat). Cilantro can be grown among or around the pepper and tomato plants, and because it is fairly quick to grow but quick to bolt (go to flower), it can be replanted from seed every few weeks throughout the summer. To save space in your salsa garden, you can pull the old cilantro plants once they’ve gone to flower, or you can let them set seed and then harvest it as coriander for use in other recipes. For an early garlic harvest, fall planting is best, as the bulbs are usually ready to harvest and eat in June, but a spring planting of garlic is also possible, although the harvest will be later in the year. Garlic is one of the easier plants to grow, and to my mind, is an essential part of any salsa recipe.

Tomatillos:

In order to make salsa verde, you’ll need to grow some tomatillos, which are less well-known than their distant relatives, tomatoes, but which can be easier to grow. Unlike tomatoes, tomatillos are not self-fertile, so you’ll need to grow several plants (which will provide more than enough fruits for summer eating, unless you’re a major fan of salsa verde. Scallions, or green onions, tend to be quicker to mature than conventional onions, and don’t take up a lot of room in the garden, so they are a great choice in the salsa garden. If you’d prefer full-sized onions for your salsa recipe, plant them as early as possible from onion sets, or from seeds if you’ve got a greenhouse for seed starting. If you’d like to grow a unique variety that is also easy to propagate, Egyptian walking onions are a great choice.

Other herbs:

Basil, oregano, parsley, and mint are all great additions to a salsa garden, and can be grown around the edges or between the other plants.

Flavorful fruits:

To add a bit of variety to salsa recipes, fruits such as peaches, strawberries, apples, melons, kiwis, or any other seasonal fresh fruits from your backyard can be chopped and added to the recipe.

What are your favorite salsa garden plants?

Take advantage of the summer bounty and preserve peppers to enjoy all year. If you don’t grow your own peppers, consider purchasing in bulk from local growers at your farmers market.

In 2016 when I originally wrote this post, our summer was a hotter and dryer than usual. That year, the rainfall averaged well below normal in Maine as well as most of the country. Peppers were the one crop that thrived and produced double the amount of fruit as normal years.

The hot, dry summer conditions were especially accommodating to the hot chili varieties normally grown in warmer climates. Often times when growing these types of peppers in cooler climates, they not only produce less fruit, but the peppers sometimes don’t have a lot of heat. I think they are pampered too much with our frequent rain. This year, the hot chili peppers are much hotter.

Even my experiments growing peppers from the dried peppers purchased online or from the store were successful. I grew de arbol, japones, and guajillo chiles and the plants produced so many peppers.

After I have had my fill of grilled salsa, red jalapeño hot sauce, and chicken and beef fajitas, I begin preserving peppers to enjoy through the winter months.

3 Ways to Preserve Peppers

Growing peppers in cooler climates can be challenging. So I tend to plant a lot of plants in hopes of gathering a good harvest. If the growing conditions are right, I end up with a bumper crop. Here are some of my favorite ways to preserve peppers to enjoy all winter long:

Freezing Peppers

The easiest way to preserve peppers is to freeze them. Peppers are one of the few vegetables that can be frozen without having to blanch first. Surprisingly, frozen peppers do not turn to mush when thawed either. They do lose some of their crispness, but maintain the flavor of fresh peppers.

Thawed peppers can be used to make salsa, fajitas, or any cooked recipe where you would normally use peppers. Frozen peppers are easy to chop while partially defrosted. Wear gloves when working with hot peppers.

  • See How to Freeze Peppers for step-by-step details

Drying Peppers

Drying your pepper harvest is an excellent way to preserve peppers. Dehydrating concentrates the flavor and heat of the chile peppers.

You can add the dried peppers to soups, stews, or chilies. Dried peppers can be crushed into pepper flakes or blended into chili pepper powder.

  • See 3 Ways to Dry Peppers for Food Storage for step-by-step details

Canning Peppers

Most of the peppers I grow are used to make and preserve salsa. If you are canning salsa, it is important to follow a safe canning recipe. Here are links to some safe canning recipes to preserve peppers, including salsas, pickles, relish, and even jelly:

  • Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning – Grow a Good Life
  • Pressure Canning Diced Green Chile Peppers – Grow a Good Life
  • Zucchini and Bell Pepper Relish – Grow a Good Life
  • Home Canned Salsa – Common Sense Homesteading
  • Tomato and Green Chile Salsa – National Center for Home Food Preservation
  • Canning Salsa at Home to Stock Your Pantry – Attainable Sustainable
  • Mexican Tomato Sauce – National Center for Home Food Preservation
  • Lacto-fermented Hot Sauce – Joybilee Farm
  • Pickled Hot Peppers – National Center for Home Food Preservation
  • Green Tomato Chow Chow Relish – Attainable Sustainable
  • Pickled Roasted Red Peppers – Ball Fresh Preserving
  • Hot Pepper Jelly with Crabapples & Cowboy Candy – Joybilee Farm
  • Pepper Jelly with Sugar or Honey – Pomona’s Pectin

Since there are so many varieties of peppers, and they come in all shapes and sizes, it may take a bit of experimenting before you are able to find a method to preserve peppers that works for you. I find that peppers that have thick walls, such as bell, jalapeño, and pimentos are excellent for freezing. Thin-walled cayenne, de arbol, and japones are easy to dry using a dehydrator.

What is your favorite method for preserving peppers? Let us know in the comments.

This article was originally published September 3, 2016. It has been updated with more information, photos, and links to the Preserving the Harvest blogger roundup.

This post is part of the blogger roundup Preserving the Harvest

Do you love preserving the harvest as much as we do? Click the links below and get detailed instructions for preserving 23 of the most popular fruits and vegetables

Preserving Vegetables (in alphabetical order)

How to Preserve Carrots by Freezing, Canning, and More from Oak Hill Homestead

4 Easy Ways to Preserve Cauliflower from Dehydrating Made Easy

Cucumber Fresh Pack Garlic Dill Pickles Recipe from The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Make Your Own Garlic Powder and Other Ways to Preserve Garlic from Learning & Yearning

How to Freeze Your Green Bean Harvest from The Reid Homestead

How to Preserve Leafy Greens from Homespun Seasonal Living

Preserving Okra by Freezing, Canning, Fermenting, and Dehydrating from Schneider Peeps

5 Ways to Preserve Onions for Storage from Rockin W Homestead

How to Dehydrate Parsnips & Make Parsnip Chips from The Purposeful Pantry

3 Ways to Preserve Peppers from Grow a Good Life

5 Ways to Store Potatoes from A Modern Homestead

Ways to Preserve Radishes from The Purposeful Pantry

How to Freeze Squash (and Other Preservation Methods) from Our Inspired Roots

Freezing Tomatoes for Preserving Later in the Year from Stone Family Farmstead

3 Easy Ways to Preserve Zucchini from Grow a Good Life

Preserving Fruit (in alphabetical order)

Guide to Preserving Apples from Oak Hill Homestead

3 Ways To Preserve Fresh Summer Berries from Better Hens & Gardens

How to Make Cherry Jam from Scratch from The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

3 Quick Ways to Preserve Grapes from Homestead Lady

3 Best Ways To Preserve Mulberries from My Homestead Life

How To Preserve Oranges On The Homestead from 15 Acre Homestead

How to Freeze Peaches from A Modern Homestead

How To Preserve Strawberries On The Homestead from 15 Acre Homestead

  • Homemade Taco Seasoning
  • 10 Tips to Growing Peppers in Colder Climates
  • How to Grow a Salsa Garden

Good planning is key to a successful vegetable garden.

Whether you are new to growing your own food or have been growing a vegetable garden for years, you will benefit from some planning each year. You will find everything you need to organize and plan your vegetable garden in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Planning Your Vegetable Garden.

Hello and happy fall, Llama fanatics! It’s time to start cooking again. And I think a good way to do it is by making the most of what’s left in the garden. Our garden salsa pepper plant (not sure if that’s a real thing, but that’s what it was called on the seed packet… ) FLOURISHED this summer. I mean, it produced for us. I have yet to meet a harder working plant. I hope it’s a perennial. (I’m fairly certain it’s not, but I don’t really know anything about plants.)

Eating all these peppers before they had a chance to rot would have actually constituted a pretty heavy pepper load for any individual or couple of individuals to bear, which is not to say that my royal taste tester did a poor job. In fact, he excelled at using the peppers, especially in his daily eggs. However, that wasn’t enough to manage our one aggressive pepper plant.

Obvious solution? Quick pickle them. I’m not into canning, so I’m not creating a product with an indefinite shelf life or anything like that, but I do get the impression that my quick-pickled peppers will be usable for more weeks and in more ways than my fresh peppers.

Step one: Plant garden salsa peppers. Give them enough water and sunlight and wait for them to bear fruit. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Ok, ready for step 2? Great.

Step two: Harvest your peppers.

Step three: Assemble your peppers, and slice them thinly across, then add them to a jar with some chopped white onion.

I think I used around 20 peppers and easily filled three mason jars most of the way full. I alternated layers of peppers with a couple white onion pieces between layers.

Meanwhile, on the stovetop, begin heating up your pickling liquid (water, distilled white vinegar, chopped garlic, sugar, and salt). Bring the liquid just to a boil, or heat at least until all of the sugar and salt have dissolved.

Let your pickling liquid cool slightly, then pour over your peppers. Seal up those jars, and pop them in the fridge. Then let them marinate for about 24 hours before you go to town using them anywhere you’d use pickles or pickled jalapenos!

I found out that my favorite way to use these pickles was in tuna salad – I recipe I’d love to share if I can find a good way to take an attractive picture of a tuna salad. (I’ve found that it’s far from intuitive… at least for me.)

How long do they keep? I have no idea. I haven’t had any leftovers long enough to see them go bad… so that’s a good sign. I loved them so much that I’ve made two batches now, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting adding garden salsa peppers to our gardening plans next spring! But for the time being, I’m excited to be wrapping up garden season, and transitioning into pumpkin spice season. (Sorry I’m not sorry.)

Pickled Hot Garden Salsa Peppers

  • 20 garden salsa (or jalapeno) peppers
  • 1/4 of a medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 c. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar

Thinly slice the peppers and add them along with the chopped onion to a glass container (or multiple containers – I used about 3 mason jars for this). In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, garlic, salt, and sugar. Heat until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved, or until the liquid just begins to boil.

Allow the liquid to cool in the saucepan for a few minutes, then transfer to a large (4 cup) liquid measuring cup or other pitcher (for easy pouring). Pour the liquid over the peppers, covering them completely. Close the jars and refrigerate. Allow the peppers to sit at least 24 hours or overnight for the best flavor before using them.

Try adding them to tuna salad!

xo – the llama

Start Growing Your Own Salsa Garden!

Select an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. A 4 x 4 foot raised bed or square foot garden will grow plenty of ingredients for fresh salsa. A trellis on the north side of the bed will provide extra room for tomatoes to grow without shading the other plants.

Divide your raised bed garden into one-foot sections to make it easy to map out the growing area so you know where to plant everything in your salsa garden. Beginning in the back of the bed:

Start onions, peppers, and tomato seedlings from seed under lights or use transplants. Onion sets, garlic seeds, garlic chive, and cilantro seeds are available at Martha’s Bloomers or at your local garden center.

The basic ingredients that go into salsa are tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, and cilantro.

Tomatoes:

Select meaty indeterminate varieties of tomatoes with good flavor, such as Amish Paste, Juliet, and San Marzano. These are dense, have few seeds, and not a lot of moisture to water down the salsa. Other fleshy varieties to consider are Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, or Bloody Butcher.

Indeterminate tomato plants grow very tall and produce their fruit over a period of time. Three tomato plants located on the north side of the garden bed along the trellis will provide you with plenty of tomatoes for salsa beginning mid-summer until frost.

Start seeds indoors, under lights, 6 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant them 16 inches apart along the north end of your garden in front of the trellis. Tie the vines to the trellis as the plant grows. Prune out the lower branches to aid in air circulation. Water regularly if rainfall is scarce. Plants need about 1 inch of water weekly once they are actively growing.

Peppers:

Do you like your salsa mild or hot? For hot salsa, select varieties of chili peppers such as Jalapeno, Serrano, or Habanera. If you prefer mild salsa, opt for bell peppers and mix with a mildly hot pepper like Anaheim. Four different pepper plants will allow you to mix, match, and experiment with a variety of salsa flavors.

Start seeds indoors, under lights, 8 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Space pepper plants at least 12 inches apart. Use small tomato cages to help support the plants. Water regularly if rainfall is scarce. Plants need about 1 inch of water weekly once they are actively growing.

Onions:

Onion flavors range from sweet to pungent. Select onion varieties that grow well in your area. Grow from seed or small bulbs in the spring. Space onions 4 inches apart or place 9 per square foot.

Garlic:

Garlic is usually planted in the fall for larger bulbs, but it can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. The spring grown bulbs will be smaller, but will taste the same. Space fall planted garlic 6 per square foot and spring planted garlic 9 per square foot.

Another option to add garlic flavor to your salsa is to purchase a garlic chive plant, which we carry at Martha’s Bloomers. Chopped garlic chives will add a nice, mild garlic flavor to your salsa and will make a nice addition to your salsa garden.

Cilantro:

Cilantro adds a nice, fresh zing to salsa. Cilantro matures quickly, especially in warm weather, so to keep a continuous supply of cilantro available for your fresh salsa, grow a slow bolt variety, such as Cilantro Long Standing and keep seeding every 3 weeks.

Direct sow cilantro seeds in one square, 4 inches apart or 9 per square foot. Cover seeds with ½ an inch of soil and keep moist. Sow another round in the next square 3 weeks later, then the next 3 weeks after that, and then the next. Keep rotating and this will maintain a steady supply of fresh cilantro growing and ready for harvest for your salsa.

It is really hard to beat homemade spaghetti sauce and homemade salsa that’s made from fresh tomatoes grown right in your own vegetable garden.

Growing tomatoes for pastes and sauces has become extremely popular just because of that statement.

If you are looking to make your own homemade tomato pastes, sauces, or the best darn salsa this side of Texas, then you’ll want to add a few of these tomatoes to your seed list.

Here are the ten best tomatoes for pastes and sauces.

Amish Paste

The Amish Paste tomato comes from the Pennsylvania Amish and features a large meaty, bright red tomato with excellent taste. It works well in sauces, or enjoyed fresh in salsas or salads.

Super Italian Paste

The Super Italian Paste tomato is an heirloom that comes from Italy and just bursts with flavor. The plant produces plenty of elongated, reddish-orange fruits that grow to about six inches long.

It features firm and meaty flesh that is ideal for making sauces and paste.

Roma

Roma tomatoes have a meaty interior and very few seeds. They also pack an incredible taste that is hard to beat when used in sauces, pastes, salsa, and salads.

The plants are also resistant to verticillium and fursarium wilts.

San Marzano

The San Marzano tomato is an heirloom variety that features long, blocky fruit that contain a very small seed cavity that can be easily scooped out, leaving the savory meat.

It’s perfect for making sauces, canning, and for drying.

Viva Italia

The Viva Italia tomato is ideal for adding to soups and making homemade ketchup. The plants maintain vigorous growth that produce beautiful three ounce fruits.

Big Mama

The Big Mama tomato is plum-shaped, incredibly meaty, and enormous – growing up to five inches long and three inches wide.

This tomato will save you time in peeling and coring. Easily make thick homemade sauces with this sweet, meaty tomato.

Little Mama

The Little Mama tomato produces huge clusters of nice three to four ounce Roma-type tomatoes. The firm, rich flesh is ideal for preparing salsas and chutneys.

Tangerine Mama

The Tangerine Mama tomato is a beautiful orange color that even stays orange when cooking. Each plump three to four ounce fruit has a rich, tangy flavor that will add an extra zing to any sauce.

Fresh Salsa

The name says it all about this superb tomato – the Fresh Salsa tomato is ideal for making homemade salsa. These tomatoes can be chopped into tiny cubes and still remain firm and solid. It’s all meat and ideal for making salsa, bruschettas, and very light Italian sauces.

Polish Linguisa

The Polish Linguisa tomato is an heirloom variety that is one of the best tasting paste tomatoes around. The three to four inch long fruits are very meaty, which make them perfect for sauces and for drying. It’s also very good sliced for salads and sandwiches.

More Great Tomatoes

Growing the Best Paste Tomatoes Yields Fresh Salsa and Sauce

For prime fruits, use a low nitrogen (5-10-10) organic fertilizer. Additional sources for these three nutrients include bone meal (phosphorus), crushed oyster shell (calcium) and greensand (potassium).

Liquid seaweed and kelp-based foliar sprays offer a good source of nitrogen and potassium, while rock dust supplies phosphorus. All three are an excellent source of flavor-producing trace minerals.

Starting off right

Providing the right growing conditions for your plants will greatly influence the fruits’ overall performance and taste. Tomatoes thrive in a slightly acidic, fertile and well-drained soil.

Choose your sunniest spot for growing your plants — at least six hours of daily direct summer sun is needed for fruits to fully develop their flavor. Mulching with a reflective red plastic mulch (available at many garden supply stores) will help bring more light and heat to the fruit. Staking, trellising or caging your plants also will increase the surface area exposed to light.

The structure of your soil also is key when it comes to producing prime fruits. Soil that is loamy and light (rather than heavy clay or sandy) allows air and water to penetrate better, and such soil provides easier access to valuable nutrients while still maintaining enough body to retain adequate moisture and nutrients. This can be accomplished by digging in plenty of aged organic matter — such as compost or rotted manure — prior to planting.

Amending the soil with compost or aged manure before planting supplies the needed nutrients to get plants off to a great start. In lieu of pre-planting enrichment, you can use an organic fertilizer (remember, low nitrogen) applied at the rate of two to three pounds per 100 square feet. We also enrich the soil with rock dust before planting, or spray plants with a seaweed foliar spray for essential minerals. Side-dress plants with compost or well-rotted manure when the first fruits are the size of marbles.

Planting basics

Sow seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before your last spring frost. Seeds germinate best at temperatures between 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the first set of true leaves emerge, pot up seedlings into 4-inch pots. For even earlier yields, transplant once more into gallon-size pots when seedlings are about 6 inches tall. Research has shown that periodically brushing the tops of developing seedlings lightly with your hands will result in larger and stockier transplants.

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Set out transplants — after hardening them off — into the ground after frost danger has passed, about 12 to 24 inches apart for determinate varieties; 24 to 36 inches for indeterminate, unstaked varieties; and 15 to 24 inches for staked, caged or trellised plants.

Whether your transplants are big or small, take care to snip off the lowest sets of leaves (suckers) and plant the bulk of the stem below the surface. New roots will form along the buried section, encouraging a healthier and faster-growing plant.

Growing the best paste tomatoes

Water deeply and consistently so soil moisture stays even. Too much water dilutes the flavor of the fruit; too little will inhibit flavor production. Reduce watering once fruits reach full size and begin to change color. Stressing plants as fruits near harvest helps to intensify the flavor.

Mulch plants to help maintain moisture levels and reduce problems such as fruit cracking and blossom-end rot — a common problem characterized by sunken brown areas of decayed tissue forming around the bottom of fruits.

For blossom-end rot, fluctuating moisture levels can interfere with the uptake of calcium. Adding crushed eggshells or oyster shells to the soil prior to planting will help prevent any calcium imbalance.

Cornworms, whiteflies, flea beetles and aphids are the most common tomato pests. Organic pest controls include insecticidal soap or blasting plants with water for whiteflies and aphids; wiping out hornworms by hand picking or dusting plants with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), bacteria that prey upon hornworms and other insect larvae; and using row covers or dusting plants with diatomaceous earth controls flea beetles.

Ultimately, the best strategies for warding off tomato pests and diseases are to select pest- and disease-resistant varieties, provide the right conditions for growing a healthy plant, and grow flowering plants nearby to encourage beneficial insects that prey on these pests.

Enjoying the tomato harvest

All your measures to grow tomatoes with great taste will be lost if the fruit is harvested prematurely or improperly stored.

Harvest fruits when semi-firm and the color has fully developed. Tomatoes picked a few days before fully ripe and allowed to sit on the kitchen counter a day or two are typically more flavorful than really ripe tomatoes plucked from the vine when soft.

It’s best to store your tomatoes in a single layer in a cool location in your kitchen. Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator, as chilling will reduce sweetness and overall flavor. It only takes a couple of days in the fridge for the texture to turn mushy.

Tomatoes that have been cut or leftover pieces of tomatoes, however, should be covered and refrigerated.

The paste tomatoes you grow will probably be used in a variety of ways. Broaden your paste tomato repertoire by growing several different varieties. Whether your goal is to can, cook, freeze, or turn your tomatoes into fresh salsa or sauce, you’ll minimize prep time and cooking time while maximizing flavor.

Read more: Create DIY tomato cages with plans from our friends at Farm Show in DIY Tomato Cages and Natural Gopher Control.

Oregon-based Kris Wetherbee continues to grow and taste her way to the most delicious tomato varieties. She says that stir-fries, homemade salsas, sauces, salads and scones are among her favorite ways of using paste tomatoes in the kitchen.

Ten terrific paste tomatoes

The best paste tomato is not one variety but many, and their role goes beyond canning, cooking and freezing as there are paste varieties that also excel in salads, pastas and fresh salsas. For the best in paste tomatoes, here are 10 winning varieties to try.

Aunt Lucy’s Italian Paste (80-85 days) Indeterminate: Red, round and meaty with classic sweet/tart flavors reminiscent of old Italian varieties. Great choice for cooking, fresh use, salsas and sauces.

Black Prince (70-85 days) Indeterminate: A personal favorite, fruits ripen to a deep garnet red color, taking on a garnet-chocolate glow with increased sun and heat. Small to medium oval fruits are incredibly rich in flavor that some liken to V-8. Perfect for eating fresh and for cooking in tomato sauces or other dishes. I like to pair this with a red or golden paste tomato for fresh salsa.

Golden Fresh Salsa (63-70 days) Determinate: Combines the best of fresh and paste tomato qualities; meaty and flavorful, 3- to 5-ounce golden fruits, with flesh that stays firm when chopped. Ideal for summer salads, bruschettas, salsas and very light Italian sauces.

Martino’s Roma (75 days) Determinate: Italian heirloom produces an abundance of richly flavored, meaty, 3-inch, pear-shaped red fruits with few seeds. Delicious right off the vine, though ideally suited for sauces, salsas and pastes. Flavor profile becomes more complex during cooking.

Opalka (75-85 days) Indeterminate: Vigorous vines produce great tasting 5-inch-long red fruits shaped like a banana pepper. Extremely meaty with a rich, sweet flavor. Great for fresh eating; exceptional for canning, sauces and salsas.

Principe Borghese (75-80 days) Determinate: Italian heirloom produces prolific clusters of 1- to 2-ounce, richly flavored, plum-shaped red tomatoes. Very meaty, with little juice and no (or only a few) seeds; retains flavor better than most when dried. Great for canning or for making an intensely flavored sauce. Dried fruits can be reconstituted in olive oil or crushed into flakes for seasoning or to add to a sauce for quick thickening.

San Marzano (80-90 days) Indeterminate: Very prolific; rectangular, pear-shaped red fruits have superb flavor, meaty texture, and very small seed cavity for easy scooping. Heavy walls with an extra-high pectin, sugar and solid content make this perfect for canning, sauces, tomato pastes and purées, and for drying. Other San Marzano types to tempt include slightly larger Super San Marzano, super-sized 8-ounce San Marzano Redorta, and its fruitier-flavored golden cousin, Golden San Marzano. This variety combined with Sausage results in a full-bodied ketchup with flavorful depths.

Saucey (75-85 days) Determinate: Early bearing, disease-resistant vines are compact and prolific, with easy-to-peel, plum-shaped red fruits that grow in clusters and hold well to the vine. Use fresh, in pastas, for canning, or for fresh salsas with intense tomato flavor.

Sausage (75 days) Indeterminate: Prolific and dependable heirloom with 6-inch-long red fruits shaped like its namesake. Fine-flavored meaty tomatoes are great for canning and especially ideal for making ketchup or spaghetti sauce with body. Its slightly smaller cousin, Green Sausage, has green and yellow mottled skin, with kiwilike green flesh.

Viva Italia (72-85 days) Vigorous Determinate: Highly disease resistant and exceptional high yielder, with classic pear-shaped red tomatoes that produce throughout the season, even in hot weather. Firm, yet pleasantly juicy fruits have a fresh, zesty tomato flavor. Excellent in salads and salsas; perfect for canning, cooking and freezing. It’s my go-to for picante sauce, particularly when combined with Black Prince.

Seed sources

Territorial Seed Co.
P.O. Box 158
Cottage Grove, OR 97424-0061
800-626-0866

TomatoFest
P.O. Box 628
Little River, CA 95456-0628

Tomato Growers Supply Co.
P.O. Box 60015
Fort Myers, FL 33906-6015
888-478-7333

Totally Tomatoes
334 W. Stroud St.
Randolph, WI 53956-1295
800-345-5977

High Mowing Organic Seeds
76 Quarry Road
Wolcott, VT 05680-4477
802-472-6174

Victory Seeds
P.O. Box 192
Molalla, OR 97038-0192
503-829-3126, voicemail and fax order line only
Email: [email protected]

Some are heirloom varieties –easy to grow, flavourful, open-pollinating varieties that grow true to the seed without genetic modification. Others are considered hybrid (modified by manufacturers for consistency and aesthetics – and often with subtler flavours). Some are picked early and ripened before sale, while vine ripened tomatoes remain on the plant until juicy and ready to eat.

Whatever their origins, tomatoes deliver a wide range of delicious choices, and they all have unique fortes in terms of which dishes to use them in. So, from cherry tomatoes to the kumato tomato (yes, it’s real), here are our favourite varieties of the tangy red fruit – and what they work best for in the kitchen:

  1. Multi-purpose Cherry Tomatoes: slow-roasted and sauced

These small fruits are a timeless favourite – easy to grow and delicious in a range of contexts. The little, firm, bright red numbers are ideal for raw salads, but also roast beautifully and can be used to top pizzas or tossed through a pasta. Some people swear by cherry tomatoes for sauces too, with the unique, sweet and rich flavour bringing a complexity to the flavour profile.

  1. Your salad needs a striking Green Zebra

Not all tomatoes are red – this fast-growing salad heirloom is a deliciously tart green fruit measuring between 5 and 10cm, with darker green stripes against a pale green body. Try these sliced into rounds in your next caprese salad.

  1. The dark side of the salad with Kumato Tomatoes

This Spanish variety is firm and juicy, coming in shades of brown, maroon, deep red and dark green. The kumato ripens from the inside out, which means it usually retains a firm exterior even when fully ripe – making them the perfect choice for eating raw in salads. But they are a versatile option, and also work well in cooked dishes like lasagnes.

  1. The Tigerella tarte tatin

This beautiful bi-coloured British tomato is red with yellow stripes, and boasts a much sweeter flavour than its stripy cousin, the Green Zebra. It’s relatively small, and also relatively easy to grow, with tall plants and big yields under the right conditions. Delicious in sweeter cooked meals like pasta sauces, tarte tatins and Bloody Marys.

  1. All hail Passata royalty: the saucy San Marzano

Italian chefs swear by this variety of plum tomato in the same way that sommeliers swear by French Champagne. If they are to be labelled “San Marzano”, these tomatoes must be grown exclusively in the Sarno River valley (near Mount Vesuvius) under strict conditions, just like the laws surrounding true Champagne. They’re also exclusively sold in cans (peeled, whole or halved). But you can grow similar varieties in your garden, boasting low-acid harvests of juicy plum tomatoes that have very few seeds and a thick skin: perfect for sauce-making.

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