Texas Gardens: How to Grow and Can Your Own Signature Salsa!

Tomatoes and Vegetables

It’s hard to believe, but fall gardening is just around the corner and it’s time to start planning the perfect spot to for your salsa garden. Salsa is a delicious, beautiful and nutritious way to add more vegetables and fruits to your plate throughout the year. This tasty Texas favorite is loaded with Vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants (as if you needed a reason to eat more!). Growing and making your own salsa allows you to keep it fresh and flavorful while controlling salts and sugars that detract from the health benefits. Whether you’re planning to grow enough for one perfect jar, enough to last the year, or enough to share as gifts these tips will get you started on the right track.

Choose Your Ingredients

Get started by deciding what ingredients you want in your salsa. This is the fun part—get creative! While some exciting salsa ingredients (like pineapple and avocados) can only be grown well in the southern regions of Texas, most common salsa ingredients grow well here in North Central Texas. If you’re trying to decide what will grow well here, hardiness zones help gardeners know how cold an area will get in the winter. Our USDA Hardiness Zone is 8a and our Region is III on Texas planting guides. If you’re growing near Fort Worth this planting calendar is a great tool for planning. The varieties listed here from AgriLife Extension do well in North Central Texas, but there are many others for you to explore.

Here’s some great ingredients you can grow yourself:

  • Tomatoes: Celebrity, Roma, Cherry Grande
  • Peppers: Jalapeno, Mucho Nacho, Gypsy, Anaheim, Poblano
  • Onions: Texas Supersweet, White Granax, Red Granax
  • Cucumbers: Armenian or Straight Eight
  • Herbs: Basil, Cilantro, Mint
  • Peaches and Garlic make delicious additions if you get started planting in the fall. Black-eyed peas and corn are good summer additions.

Decide How Many Plants You Need

Now that you know what you want to plant, it’s time to decide how many plants you need. If you’re new to gardening, you can estimate about 2-4 lbs. of harvest per plant for tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Of course, this varies with variety, season and care. One peach tree will produce all you need unless you’re making giant batches of peach salsa. Onions and garlic produce one bulb per plant. You can plan to harvest 1-2 lbs. from a large basil or mint plant. If you’re starting early enough, then you can start your plants indoors from seed. This usually starts in May or June for fall tomatoes. If it’s already mid-late July when you get started, you can buy plants from a garden center. If you use this option, remember that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food producing plants. Either way, go ahead and make a list of all the plants you need to grow your salsa!

Plan Your Growing Space

You can use your newly created list to figure out how much space to set aside for growing. It’s always better to start too small than too big, so don’t be afraid to scale back. When selecting the site for your Salsa Garden, choose an area with lots of light, about 6-8 hours a day. These crops love the sun! If you are growing from a balcony or other small space, try using a large but lightweight container that will allow you to move your garden to a sunny spot. Here are commonly used spacings for planting; garlic and herbs can be planted between trellised tomatoes and cucumbers if you need to save space.

  • Tomatoes: 3 ft. apart
  • Peppers: 18 in. apart
  • Garlic: 4 in. apart
  • Cucumbers 18 in. apart
  • Basil, Cilantro, & Mint (leave mint in a pot – it will take over!): 12 in. apart

Ready, Set, Plant!

Now you’re ready to prepare your garden bed and get planting!

  • Take your plant spacings list out to the garden & measure off the space
  • Loosen the soil 3-6” down
  • Remove any weeds and grass
  • Edge your garden with anything that is non-toxic and will hold up to the weather; rocks or logs work well for garden edges
  • Top the native soil with 2 inches of compost
  • Lay down cardboard or plastic and cut holes for the plants if you want extra weed control
  • For extra healthy soil, add rock phosphate, Texas Greensand, and/or lava sand
  • Plant tomato and pepper plants from June to July
    • Dig a hole deep enough for all the roots
    • Set the roots in the hole
    • Water with Garret juice or some other light feeding solution
    • Fill the hole in with soil
    • Water
    • Add mulch on top
  • Plant cucumbers, herbs and garlic in early September

Water, Feed, Protect, Harvest!

Now that your garden is planted, keep it alive by watering the soil at least 1” per week and adding composted manure or natural fertilizer when the plants begin to produce fruits. Check the fertilizer bags to make sure you add the correct amounts. Keep an eye on insects like aphids and tomato hornworms that want to eat your plants. Pick them off by hand or spray small insects off with water. For more pest control tips, join us for a gardening class.

Within 90 days you’ll be harvesting ingredients for your salsa!

Salsa Time!

When your produce is ready to harvest, try some of these fantastic fresh salsa recipes:

Our favorite salsa canning recipe comes from the USDA Guide to Home Canning. Join us to learn more about preserving your garden produce at home by attending our Kitchen Garden Cooking School Food Preservation Series. Tarrant Area Food Bank offers these canning classes twice a year – in February and in August. Watch our Community Garden page for the next set of classes to be posted. Canning homemade salsa from garden produce can be a rewarding adventure.

Be sure to follow these guidelines to ensure you make a safe and delicious product:

  • Only use tested recipes provided by reliable sources like Ball (freshpreserving.com), National Center for Home Food Preservation (www.nchfp.uga.edu), and www.healthycanning.com.
  • Follow each salsa recipe carefully and do not alter the amounts of ingredients.
  • Process your jars of salsa using either a water-bath canner or a pressure canner. Do not use pressure cookers or instant cookers.

Enjoy eating and sharing your homegrown, signature Texas salsa! We’d love to see photos as you grow, prepare and enjoy! #TAFoodBank

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