Tag Archives: tomatoes

When Life Hands You Peppers, Make Salsa

I only have one little jalapeno plant, but it has kept me busy making salsa.

As I have mentioned in some of my earlier posts, I am a sort of a hapless gardener. I’ve been at it for about a year and a half, and in the beginning I even killed squash. I thought anybody could grow squash. Now I’m kind of hit or miss, but I have found that peppers seem to be pretty much Laurie-proof. I have a randomly planted collection of bells, hot bananas and jalapenos that just keep growing and going. Now I’m starting to wonder about the bell peppers. Maybe I should ask somebody about whether the plants are supposed to get as big as trees. I was sort of envisioning large-houseplant-sized units that would give me a few peppers over the summer and then die so I could plant pumpkins. Now I have a small pepper orchard. Not that I’m complaining.

I only have one jalapeno plant, but it is very energetic. Lately we’ve been eating lots of fresh salsa, which is a healthy snack, except that it goes on chips, which aren’t so much. We like Archer Farms Blue Corn Tortilla Chips with Flaxseed. Organic, whole grain, a little flax, not bad on sodium. We do what we can.

The great thing about salsa, besides being healthy, is that even if you start with a recipe, it’s almost impossible not to make it your own. And even if you end up with something different every time, it’s probably going to be good.

Speaking of variations, here’s a link to a recipe for Mango Salsa that I make whenever there is an occasion for mango salsa, such as fish tacos, grilled fish or grilled chicken. It’s good on chips, and I’ve learned that if you give me access to mango salsa and whole wheat Ritz crackers, someone will need to plan an intervention. My secret weapon for making this chunky salsa is my Genius Nicer Dicer, which quickly makes perfect diced mango and bell peppers, and has a smaller size that’s great for the  jalapenos. In fact, it’s worth the price of this tool just to avoid dealing with onions and peppers.

Fresh Tomato Salsafresh salsa by Laurie Sterbens

4 large tomatoes
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 bunch green onions or 1/4 sweet yellow onion (or combination of both)
2 cloves garlic
2 large jalapeno peppers with seeds, stems removed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon stevia sweetener
Salt and pepper to taste

Quarter tomatoes and roughly chop cilantro, onions and peppers. Combine with remaining ingredients in the bowl of a large food processor. Pulse to desired consistency. (I don’t recommend a blender; the salsa will emulsify and turn beige. Tastes the same, just not pretty.)

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Newbie Gardener in Non-Organic Panic

Being new to the world of vegetable gardening, I’m a little obsessed with it right now. I usually wander out into the backyard to check on my plants first thing in the morning, then I might even check on them again later in the day. With such intense monitoring, you would think nothing could go drastically wrong.

But it did. When I checked my garden Wednesday morning, many of the lower leaves on the tomato plants had turned yellow and spotty. This must have happened almost overnight! Had I already killed my tomatoes? This would be a record even for me.

Cherry tomato plant with fungus

This disease appeared to develop almost overnight on my cherry tomato plants.

Fortunately my dad was visiting this week. My mother was the master tomato grower in the family, but Dad was around enough to see what was going on, and he told me when that happened to my mother’s plants, she had a spray she would use. This was a revelation. My mother’s tomato plants were occasionally weak or flawed? Maybe mine could be saved.

Dad didn’t know the name of the spray Mom used but said it killed fungus, so I hopped in my car and sped off like a plant ambulance in search of an emergency dose of fungus killer. When I got to the home improvement store,  I headed for a section of bottles with pictures of spotty yellow leaves on them.

Now, my plan with this vegetable garden was for it to be completely organic. This is clearly the healthiest, most ecologically sound option and is also madly trendy. I bought organic soil that was organically fertilized and had so far only used cayenne around the plants to keep the squirrels out. But in state of full tomato panic, facing a shelf full of toxic and nontoxic options, my idealism flew out the window. I wanted something that worked, and fast. I looked at the organic label, but it seemed kind of wishy-washy. It seemed to say, “I will probably kill some kinds of fungus. Maybe. Why don’t you take me home and see?” I didn’t have time for that. I needed a product that grabbed me by the collar and shouted, “I KILL FUNGUS! NOW!” Also, the organic product cost a lot more. I went with the old-fashioned stuff. That’s what my mother, the master tomato grower, would have done.

Green cherry tomatoes with marigolds in background.

Though the lower leaves are looking sickly, baby cherry tomatoes have begun to appear up top.

I raced home and sprayed the tomato plants and am hoping for a recovery. They still looked fungus-y this morning and there was something wrong with the squash, so I sprayed that, too. On the bright side, baby cherry tomatoes are starting to appear and the peppers are still with me. The marigolds are fantastic. Too bad they’re not something we want to eat.

In other garden news this week, I received an upside-down vertical strawberry planter as a birthday present. Now I can kill things from a whole new angle.

Pest Paranoia Means Garden Mostly Marigolds

Container garden 6/2010 Laurie Sterbens

My container gardens are growing cherry tomatoes, mini bell peppers, herbs, squash and a whole lot of marigolds.

A couple of months ago I was inspired to plant a small vegetable garden. Besides being a major national trend, I had heard that if my child was involved in growing vegetables, he might actually consider eating them. I have my doubts about this since he has so far proven to be a pretty unshakeable pastavore, but it worked on my neighbor’s kid, so I am hopeful.

Also, my son had grown a plant from a seed in kindergarten and it was starting to look a little depressed in its plastic cup. I thought he would enjoy replanting his seedling and watching it grow.

The only problem with this was not a small one. For my entire life I have been so incompetent with plant life that I seriously wondered if I should be allowed to have children.

My last attempt at growing vegetables was a complete disaster. My mother sent me two Earth Box gardening containers so I could try to grow tomatoes. She had four of these boxes on her deck and from them every year grew an 8-foot-high wall of plants that produced a bountiful crop of beautiful tomatoes all summer. These boxes were self-watering. She was probably thinking that surely I couldn’t mess this up.

But I did. Instead of an 8-foot wall of lush, productive tomato and pepper plants, I ended up with two boxes of emaciated green sticks and one tomato, which was removed and destroyed by a squirrel. Then one day I found the plants completely covered in little black worms. Eeek! I emptied the boxes, stored them in the garage and was too traumatized to attempt even a small container garden for years.

Though I had seen some appealing plans for small, raised-bed gardens in such magazines as Better Homes and Gardens that were as simple as buying three planks, sawing one in half and attaching them, I never seemed to be able to get this done. Plus, with my history of crop failure, it didn’t seem sensible to devote even a 4 x 8 plot to what might end up being a tomato graveyard. The two boxes in the garage would be just the thing. Baby steps.

I selected a sunny spot near a water spigot and on the opposite side of the house from the squirrel-infested orange tree. Then my son and I were off to the home improvement store to select our plants. Keeping with my theme of “baby steps,” I chose two cherry tomato plants and two miniature bell pepper plants. I also added one squash plant because everyone seems to do well with squash. I added a couple of herbs—rosemary and tarragon because we eat a lot of fish, and oregano because it’s very versatile. I would like to have put in some thyme, too, for the same reason, but I had to make room for marigolds.

Last year I wrote a story about a group of friends in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., who were trying to drum up interest in community gardening. One thing that stuck with me from that interview is that the rows of vegetables in their organic garden were dotted with the occasional marigold plant to repel insects.

After my experience with tomato-plant-devouring worm invasion, I was all about repelling insects. The more marigolds the better. Plus, my son’s little seedling was a marigold so it would have company. Lots of company.

I bought some organic dirt, too. It was probably more expensive and I’m not sure what made it better than plain dirt, but organic was the theme and I was sticking with it. Well, to a point. With our trunk full of organic gardening supplies, we stopped off at a McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home for a happy meal. Like I said, baby steps.

So, as you can see by the photos, so far, so good. Amazingly, I haven’t killed anything yet. I could end up being one of the state’s leading marigold producers. My son enjoys going out to check the garden with me every day, and his little marigold seedling now has two tiny buds on it. Maybe we will build that 4 x 8 bed after all.

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