As we recover from the frosts and snow from the last couple weeks, hopefully we can turn a corner and move forward with warm temperatures and get our plants really growing.

I want to introduce a fun planting and gardening theme — salsa gardening. It’s a combination of simple planning from a recipe book, rather than from a seed catalog or a garden center seed rack.

Simply find your favorite salsa recipes, and then buy or grow those type of plants to produce the needed fruit or vegetable to put into it. Salsa gardening is a lot of fun, and if planted within the correct timeframe, they can be ready for harvest all at once, which makes it easier to have enough for a good sized batch of salsa. Most importantly you can tailor the recipe to the exact flavor combination you want. Examples could include strong herb flavors, spicy flavors or flavor combinations from a region or culture.

Tomatoes, onions, and peppers are the basic ingredients for most salsa recipes, but there are tons of other recipes that have different mixtures of base ingredients. Both tomatoes and peppers perform their best growth when the night temperatures are consistently 55 degrees or warmer. This can be a challenge for us as we live in a high desert climate and are known for our cool nights. The best way to get them to produce in our climate is to start out with good sized, sturdy, healthy plants, and then transplant them outside after the chance of severe frost has passed, and cover them if there is a chance of a light frost.

Let’s talk recipes and choosing the best tomato variety for the flavor and texture you want. This is important as different varieties of tomatoes have specific uses. Paste tomatoes, such as ‘Roma’, are meatier, less juicy and richer in acid and sugar than other tomato varieties. They can produce a thicker, more flavorful sauce if that is your goal.

There are other choices such as ‘La Roma’ and ‘Mamma Mia’, which mature a little sooner than the standard ‘Roma’ regarding time frame. There are slicing tomatoes such as ‘Better Boy’ or ‘Celebrity’, which are fine and provide a fresh garden flavor, but may have more juice in the salsa mixture. If you making a more generic fresh salsa to be consumed immediately, almost any tomato variety will do. But if you are making a canning salsa or something along those lines, then do some research for what variety of tomato will work best.

The other main salsa ingredient is peppers, which contribute not only in flavor and heat, but also in crunch, color, and filler. Whether mild or searing, salsa needs this component to add spice. A general rule of thumb used to be that the smaller the pepper fruit, the hotter it would be, but with the new super hot varieties they have developed, this statement isn’t completely true any more.

There are about 200 different types of chilies, with many different flavors and heat ratings. The most mild of peppers would be a bell pepper, while one of the hottest available is a habanero. A pepper’s heat is measured on a Scoville scale. On this scale a habanero is roughly about 250,000 Scoville units, while most jalapenos range between 2,500 to 8,000. The spicy, hot taste of a chili depends on how much capsaicin it produces. While the variety of chili plant influences how much capsaicin is produced, it is also influenced by air temperature and gardening practices such as fertilizing and watering. Capsaicin is concentrated in the yellow ridges along the inner walls of a chili pepper. The seeds really are not hot until capsaicin pustules burst onto them. Hot, dry weather promotes the production of capsaicin.

Cucumbers are another warm-season vegetable grown for garden salsas, and as with all warm-season vegetables, cucumber seedlings cannot be set out until days and nights are very warm. Salsa fruits and vegetables as a general rule are heavy feeders and require fertilization, plenty of sunshine, warm nights, and adequate water. Lastly, herbs are critical to all salsa gardens. The fresh leaves of cilantro are very popular in salsa and offer a zesty taste. Oregano, parsley, and basil take up very little space and add extra garnish and flavor. Garlic and onions are important ingredients also. Onions planted in early spring will be ready for the salsa in late summer.

For further garden questions please contact Lance at 624-3102. Portions of information in this article are courtesy of Charlene Barr, Larimer County Extension Service.

Lance Ellis is the University of Idaho Extension educator for Fremont County. He can be reached at 208-624-3102.