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Fresh From the Garden

Love salsa, but hate the extra sodium and preservatives found in store-bought versions? It's easy to grow the ingredients in your own backyard and whip up flavorful, one-of-a-kind salsas. All it takes is a few feet of soil and willingness to experiment. We'll get you started with crucial advice on harvesting a bumper crop of peppers and tomatoes, along with our favorite salsa recipe. Ready, set, grow!

Score a tomato in a crisscross pattern
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Tasty Tomatoes

Showstopping salsa depends on using the most flavorful tomato varieties. When growing them, a few simple tricks will help make the most of your tomatoes' good genes.

First, give plants room to grow. In general, spacing tomatoes four feet apart, with rows five to six feet apart. Then, give them the support of a sturdy wire cage that keeps the fruit from getting dirty and makes the tomatoes easy to pick.

Once you've got the fruit of your labors in hand, dice it using the simple, bruise-proof technique at left. With a very sharp knife, score the tomato in a crisscross pattern, then slice horizontally from the top.

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Pick a Peck of Peppers

To grow peppers successfully, plant them where they will receive at least six hours of sunlight. When first set out, transplants require thorough waterings, but once established and rooted, they are remarkably drought-tolerant. Well-drained soil is a must; peppers work great in raised beds and prefer good air circulation around the plants.

Use a sharp pair of clippers or a knife to remove the pepper from the stem. When picking hotter varieties, such as jalapeños or habaneros, you might want to wear gloves. While the pepper may not immediately irritate your hands, you could get a nasty surprise if you inadvertently wipe your eyes.

Tomato and pepper varieties

Variety: The Spice of Salsa

Try growing a number of different tomato and pepper varieties to lend your salsa the myriad of colors and flavors upon which distinctive salsa depends. Planting a wide variety and staggering planting in stages extends your harvest and helps keep pest problems to a minimum.

If you already have a good crop of tomatoes and peppers, they should continue to produce fruit into early fall. Live in the mid-to-lower South? This is the perfect time to plant small tomato and pepper plants. It's too late to replant if you live in more northern planting zones, but don't miss out on all of the fresh tomatoes and peppers sold at farmers' markets in late summer. They are at the peak of the growing season and will be bursting with flavor!

Habanero pepper

Salsa That Satisfies

Now comes the big question: Sweet or hot peppers? Mild salsa calls for sweet peppers, such as 'Sweet Banana.' For a little smoky flavor, grill the peppers before adding them to salsa. Spicier versions typically include jalapeño, serrano, or habanero (shown here), but you can also play around with Thai peppers and other sizzling types. Though traditionalists may shudder, adding a bit of brown sugar lets gringo tastebuds have their hot salsa and eat it too.

Preparing salsa
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Salsa How-Tos

Though salsa can change every time you make it, according to what is put in or left out, the essential building blocks remain: onions, tomatoes, and peppers. Try our salsa recipe here.

For a milder version of the above recipe, use 'Sweet Banana' peppers. For hotter salsa, substitute six Thai peppers, six habenero peppers, six jalapeño peppers, and six 'Hungarian Yellow Wax' peppers. Then make up the balance of the four cups with 'Sweet Banana' peppers.

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