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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gardening with Larimer Master Gardeners, June 14

Salsa Gardens that Sizzle

By: Charleen Barr

Salsas can be spontaneous, combining a little of this and a little of that, but they are always tangy, zesty and full of color. Tomatoes and peppers are the basis for many salsa recipes and can be found in most gardens. These flavorful, heat-loving sun worshipers grow when the night temperatures are consistently 55 degrees or warmer.

Paste tomatoes, such as ‘Roma’, are meatier, less juicy and richer in acid and sugar than standard tomato varieties. They produce a thicker more flavorful sauce and mature in 75 days. There are other choices such as ‘La Roma’ and ‘Mamma Mia’, which mature in 62 days. Slicing tomatoes such as ‘Better Boy’ or ‘Celebrity’ are good choices and provide fresh garden flavor. Any tomato will do for making salsa, so grow what you have good results with.

Peppers are the kick that make a salsa recipe unique. Whether mild or searing, salsa needs this component to give it spice. In general, the smaller the size of the pepper, the hotter the pepper is. Chili peppers (Capsicum annuum var. annum longum) are perhaps the most indispensable ingredient in salsas. There are 150 to 200 different types of chilies and they were grown in Latin America long before the Spanish conquest.

The spicy, hot taste of chilies depends on how much capsaicin is produced. The variety of chili plant influences this, but so does air temperature and gardening practices, like fertilizing and watering. Capsaicin is concentrated in the yellow ridges along the inner walls of a chill pepper. The seeds really are not hot until capsaicin pustules burst onto them. Hot, dry weather promotes production of capsaicin.

A scale developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 to measure the heat level in chilies, officially measures the pungency level of a given pepper. The greater the number of Scoville units, the hotter the pepper. The heat can vary from pepper to pepper, so this scale is just a guide.

Peppers vary in not only pungency but also their bite. A pepper that is extraordinarily hot on the Scoville scale can, in fact, be more agreeable to the tongue than another pepper whose heat is very low. An example is the ‘Habanero’ that offers a sharp and violent bite, but quickly disappears, leaving a soothing and aromatic sensation behind. Variations occur in the mouth as some peppers burn toward the back of the mouth; some burn the lips more than the tongue and some make their presence known in the middle of the tongue.

“Long green chilies” listed as a recipe ingredient usually refer to one of the milder peppers such as ‘Anaheim Chili’, ‘Ancho /Poblano’, ‘ Colorado’, or ‘Hungarian Yellow Wax peppers’. Standard green bell peppers are acceptable too. Mild peppers mature in 65 to 75 days.

Bolder salsas will contain ‘Cayenne’, ‘Habanero’, ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Serrano’, or ‘Tobasco’ to heat things up. Gardeners may experiment with the heat index by blending different pepper types until the flavor is somewhere in the middle. Hotter peppers, like the ‘Habanero’, take 90 to 100 days to mature.

Cucumbers are another warm-season vegetable grown for salsa. As with all warm-season vegetables, cucumber seedlings cannot be set out until days and nights are very warm. Salsa vegetables are heavy feeders and require fertilization, plenty of sunshine, warm nights and adequate water.

Herbs will complete the salsa garden. 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, too. Onions planted in early spring will be ready for the salsa in late summer. Garlic cloves should be planted in September for use next season. Garlic or onions are always available at a farmers’ market or grocery store.

No matter what recipe is preferred for homemade salsa, gardeners are inspired to discover new ways of using the flavor-packed vegetable ingredients for not only dipping, but in roasts, stews, side dishes and even desserts. There are as many kinds of salsas as there are appetites!

Gardening Tips

By: Lee Stewart

The secret to harvesting quality and quantity of vegetables is providing ideal growing conditions:

  • Productive gardens need rich soils high in organic matter that is well drained.
  • Spacing is important in planting—crowing and shading limits fruit production and formation.
  • Seeding vine crops produce high yields, but transplants provide earlier harvests.
  • Fertilizer heavy in nitrogen produces excessive plant growth, decreases fruiting and encourages increased disease and insect problems.  Using starter fertilizer at planting and a couple of weeks later does help encourage proper plant growth
  • Sufficient and consistent moisturizer is needed during flowering and fruit production.  Strong flavors and blossom drop result from lack of water.  Overhead irrigation can help promote leaf diseases.  Use of soaker hoses or drip irrigation works best with vegetables.
  • Mulch prevents weeds, reduces soil temperatures and stabilizes soil moisture.  Consistent moisture produces sweet, more abundant produce.

Gardening Q&A

By: Susan Perry

Q: I don’t have a yard but want to have pots of flowers on my balcony. What do you suggest?

A: Containers filled with flowers on your balcony is a perfect way to add color and a summer feel. Because pots tend to dry out relatively quickly as weather warms, you should plan to water every day or as needed. If you plan to be away for a couple days, there are polymers that can be soaked and then added to the soil in the pot to help retain moisture. If you plan on being gone longer, then an automated drip irrigation system or a reliable neighbor might be better options.

Depending on what exposure you have on your deck, there’s a large choice of sun-loving and shade-loving plants at our local nurseries and garden centers. Typically, people choose annuals, which bloom prolifically all season long and die back in the fall, opposed to perennials which typically flower for only a few weeks but live year after year. Perennials can be more costly and will not survive our cold winters outside in pots, so it’s best to have a space in the garden planned for them after blooming. Selecting the right plant combination to have continual blooms from perennials can be difficult.

Standard shade-loving (or shade tolerant) annuals include: impatiens, lobelia, begonia, and coleus. There are more choices for sun-loving annuals, but some of the more popular and easy to find are: geranium, zinnia, alyssum, purple fountain grass, and sweet potato vine. This is just a sampling of the many choices available. Consider size, color, and unique characteristics such as leaf shape and plant form when designing your pots. For more information, visit and read CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.238 on “Container Gardens. ”

The authors have received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and are Master Gardener volunteers for Larimer County.

Larimer County Extension Service is a county-based outreach of Colorado State University Extension providing information you can trust to deal with current issues in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition and food safety, 4-H, small acreage, money management and parenting.  For more information about CSU Extension, Larimer County, telephone (970) 498-6000 or visit

Visit PlantTalk Colorado ™ for fast answers to your gardening questions! PlantTalk is a cooperation between Colorado State University Extension, GreenCo and Denver Botanic Gardens.

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