What’s better than homegrown, homemade salsa? Homegrown, homemade salsa IN THE WINTER. And it’s not too late to get started. For inspiration and few tips, read this progress report on my winter salsa garden, which I started in early September in my Eco Garden House.(This post has been updated, showing progress through November 4, 2015. We’ll continue to update and re-publish it as the garden matures.)
Nothing freshens a winter meal better than salsa made from just-picked tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and herbs. You really can’t duplicate that burst of spicy flavor using store-bought stuff — especially not with rock-hard, flavorless tomatoes which should be the star.
Some of you have asked on our Facebook page and Twitter feed for more photos showing the Eco Garden House in action, so here are some photos showing how the project is coming along.
* Heirloom Stupice early/container tomatoes (organic)
* Celebrity Hybrid tomatoes
* Serrano peppers
* Jalapeño peppers (organic)
* Cilantro: a slow-bolt variety that flowers and goes to seed slower than most other varieties
* Italian large-leaf parsley (organic)
* Greek oregano
* Italian Genovese heirloom basil (organic)
* Red Amposta onion
* Garlic (organic)
We drilled holes in the bottom of the trays for drainage. We hand-watered each plant during this first phase. The seeds of different plants were very close together in the trays, and some seeds needed slightly different water requirements than their neighbors.
We took a bit of a risk planting the red onions and garlic at the same time as everything else. These two plants generally like it cooler than, say, the tomatoes and peppers. But as you’ll see, they’re both doing fine so far.
TIP: Especially when you’re going to plant out of season, check with your local garden stores to see which seeds they’ve got in stock. You can always order seeds online if anything you want is out of stock locally.
September 28: Lighting
A bit about the indoor greenhouse I’m using, the Eco Garden House (model EGH-5000): its base is 6 feet by 4 feet, and it’s about 7 feet tall. It plugs into a regular 110-volt outlet, which powers automated lighting, watering, and exhaust systems, as well as a fresh-water pump and a pump that empties the gray water tank (located beneath the floor).
For this first stage, we’ve programmed the unit to turn its 12 T5 high-output, full-spectrum grow lights on for 18 hours, and off for six hours. You can use a crank handle on the outside of the unit to adjust a bank of eight horizontal lights, and we lowered it to about a foot above the tallest pot (onions).
As the plants grew, we began to raise the lights a bit, as you can see above (at the 25-day point), to give the tallest plants about eight to 12 inches of clearance. You can adjust according to your plants’ specific needs.
The Eco Garden House’s exterior covering keeps out all ambient light, so you can set the lighting cycle for anytime you want. If power is significantly less expensive at night, you can let the plants “sleep” during the day.
We didn’t use a nighttime light cycle for this crop, so I wouldn’t disturb their “sleep” when I watered once per day. It’s crucial for plants to get uninterrupted darkness each day. That’s when they do the hard work of converting the light, water, and fertilizer into food.
Once we switch to automated watering, we won’t even have to open the doors to check on the plants — the cover has some viewing windows covered by flaps that you can open to take a quick look.
October 2: Transplanting into Separate Containers
When we transferred the plants to individual pots, we switched from hand watering to the unit’s automated watering system. The tubes connect to a 33-gallon water tank directly underneath the unit’s floor, which pumps water into eight separate lines..
The water flow can be adjusted (or shut off) for each line with the turn of a screw. Also, each line can feed multiple plants or containers by attaching extensions that come with the unit.
The tomato and pepper starts grew so well, we had to give a bunch of them away to other indoor gardeners . Above you can see how we positioned the plants after re-potting them (and giving them a shot of seaweed-based 16-16-16 water soluble fertilizer).
The cilantro had to be transplanted earlier than the rest of these plants, on Sept. 16. The basil really took off after transplanting, and we began harvesting it for salads on Oct. 8.
This Italian Genovese basil variety, by the way, is beautifully pungent and flavorful — you taste and smell a bit of anise. TIP:Harvesting the very top basil leaves first helps the plant spread out wider as it grows.
October 12: Staking Up Tomato Vines
November 4: First Cherry Tomato Sighting
You can see in the photo above that overall growth is coming along very nicely. We’ve harvested another big bunch of basil, plus some parsley and oregano. We pruned the tomato plants down — too many stems mean lower fruit production — so by pruning down to a few main stems, we should get a higher yield of delicious tomatoes.
The peppers are starting to flower; should be some fruit appearing soon.
To help the plants fruit, we’ve also added some organic fertilizer from a local provider. Meanwhile, on November 4, we noticed the first cherry tomato appear on the vine Yessssss!
Are you ready to grow your garden year-round?