Ever since I was a little girl I was fascinated with homegrown ingredients. I used to love seeing tomatoes, corn, sugar cane, and a variety of herbs grow in my grandma’s home.
I loved when my grandma would send me outside to grab warm tomatoes from the vine so she could make salsa casera. Or she would have me cut stems of yerba buena (mint) or manzanilla (chamomile) when I had an upset tummy to make tea as a remedio (remedy).
I was always in awe that she hardly went to the grocery store. She had a lot of her staples growing in her very own backyard.
When my husband and I bought our home together I couldn’t wait to start a vegetable garden.
If you want to plant a vegetable garden I would suggest starting small and plant a salsa garden like mine, and if you have the space, make it bigger every year. Over the years I have learned a few tips and tricks and want to share them with you.
The first year was challenging because the soil in Colorado is very hard made-up of clay and we had to dig deep and bought lots of topsoil, manure, and fertilizers to prep our garden beds.
If you have never gardened, know that the first year will be your biggest expense. Maybe you don’t have a garden area and want to build raised garden beds.
Also, buying soil, compost, and fertilizer adds up, but it is a very important step to have good soil before planting plants and seeds.
If you want to start a garden I would recommend you only use organic soils. Don’t get tempted to spray with fertilizers that are not organic.
Soil preparation is key when it comes to growing plants. If you want to get very technical – here are tips on how to identify your soil type and how to enrich your soil before you plant.
When to plant?
The rule in Colorado is to plant after Mother’s Day because the last thing you want is frost on your newly planted veggies.
The weather in Colorado is crazy – soon after these photos and video were captured we had a really bad hailstorm. Thankfully, my plants look ok again, but the leaves did take a beating.
What I plant in my garden
Every year I plant a variety of tomatoes – they are my favorite to grow. I love sending my kiddos to grab tomatoes off the vine just like I used to for my grandma. I use them for salads and salsas. This year I planted six tomato plants along my fence and once they get taller I’ll place tomato cages around them so they don’t topple over.
Tomato plants grow tall so you want to be sure anything you plant near them grow smaller and that the tomato plants do not block to much of their sun exposure.
Did you know planting one tomato plant could provide you with up to 10 pounds of fruit over the course of a season? And I can guarantee the flavor will far exceed grocery store tomatoes.
Jalapeños and Serranos
I have grown large chile peppers in the past such as poblanos and Anaheim, but have found that small peppers like jalapeños and serranos are easier to grow because they grow quickly and don’t weigh down the plants or get eaten by bugs or birds before I pick them. This year I planted four small plants in front of my tomatoes – two jalapeño plants and two serrano plants.
Zucchini and Squash
Although zucchini and squash are not necessarily staples in a salsa garden I find them easy to grown. I always grow zucchini and squash from seeds.
The first time I planted zucchini I planted more than we could handle. I placed seeds too close to each other and we had zucchini leaves and vines overtaking the grass like Jack and the Beanstalk. Learn from my mistake – start small by only placing a few seeds under the soil and space seeds 18 to 24-inches apart.
My favorite part about zucchini and squash are the blossoms. I love to trim the female blossoms to make quesadillas. And of course once you have zucchini you can make zucchini boats, zucchini bread, and calabacitas con elote.
Mint, Basil, and Cilantro
I would recommend any herbs be planted in pots rather than in the ground. Mint grows wild in my home and I wish basil and cilantro grew like weeds too, but for some reason they don’t flourish as much as the mint. The mint actually escaped the pot and grows wild in another section of my yard.
When it comes to herbs I plant a combo of potted plants and also sprinkle with seeds. I have heard that a rotation of cilantro is needed and to plant some every two weeks to make sure you always have some ready to pick. I’ll be trying that this year.
I plant marigolds around my garden every year. Marigolds help attract bees that help pollinate your garden. They also attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs. I am pretty positive marigolds are the reason rabbits stay away from my garden. The pungent aroma keeps pests like bunnies and deer at bay.
A small garden fence works great as well.
Marigolds are also low maintenance and add a pop of color to my garden. They are also edible and the flowers can be tossed in salads or to make a marigold margarita!
I will have plenty of marigolds in the fall in time to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Marigolds represent the fragility of life. It is believed that the spirits of our departed loved ones come to visit during the celebration and marigolds are used to help guide the spirits with their vibrant color and scent.
Making Better Garden Soil
I use these organic and natural methods to make healthy garden soil.
Eggshells and Coffee Grounds
I save eggshells and coffee grounds. Once the eggshells are dry I crumble them up and sprinkle them in my garden. Crushed eggshells add much-needed calcium to the soil as they break down – which can help prevent blossom rot in tomatoes. Coffee grounds release nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and other minerals as they break down – acting as a great natural slow-release fertilizer to the plants.
Don’t throw away your grass clippings, instead use fresh clippings as mulch. Grass clippings in the garden bed add nutrients, enhance the soil, prevent weeds, and preserves moisture.
Where to garden
I am not a gardening expert, but full sun is what works best for my garden.
Maintain your garden
I look forward to gardening – with my busy schedule it reminds me to stop and tend to it. Something about placing my hands in the earth reminds me of my childhood and it gives me great pleasure knowing that when my little garden harvest comes, it feeds our family. And to me that is priceless.
Water your garden
Don’t forget to water your garden! I lightly water mine every other day.
My goal is to eventually have a larger garden with greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale.
As my garden grows I will share posts along the way. Please watch the video below to see how truly simple it is. If you have any questions please ask and I will do my best to find the answer.
Now all I need is to convince my hubby of my dream of owning a chicken coop.
Recipes from the garden
- Escabeche (Pickled Jalapeños)
- Garden Squash Quesadillas
- Garden Squash and Tomato Salad
- Margherita Mexican Pizza (Tlayuda)
- Quesadillas de Flor de Calabaza (Squash Blossom Quesadillas)
- Mexican Chocolate Zucchini Bread
- Chimichuri Sauce
- Pico de Gallo
- Calabacitas con Elote (Zucchini with Corn)
Do you have a home garden? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.Photography by Raemi Vermiglio / Video by Pure Cinematography
Originally published: June 2018.