Tomatoes need plenty of space. Two healthy plants will easily fill in a single bale. I was skeptical about this, but I soon discovered that generous spacing is essential for vigorously growing plants! And it is easier to support and tend tomato plants that are not crowded. Other vegetables – such as peppers or cucumbers – can be planted more densely.
2. Plan on sturdy supports.
Even large tomato cages pushed into the bales were not enough support. Over time, the bales slumped and softened. This decomposition is marvelous as it fed the plants, but my laden tomatoes fell over. And once down, they were hard to lift and support. Joel Karsten, the gardener behind strawbalegardens.com, recommends t-bar fence posts at the end of each bale row and stringing wires down the length of the bales. Tomatoes – and other climbing vegetables – can be tied to the wires as they grow. Alternatively, the posts can be used as a sturdy support in conjunction with a tomato cage. Next year, I will definitely plan on stronger supports.
The bales do an excellent job of absorbing rainfall. I didn't have to water that often, but I did check the moisture in the bales regularly and gave the plants a deep watering when needed. From this season's experience, I would say that a straw bale garden stays moist longer than a conventional soil garden.
And now for that salsa recipe.
It comes from Ball, the US canning products company. Their Made Fresh Recipes are straightforward and reliable.
Canada's Bernardin Ltd. offers an excellent database of canning recipes too.
Makes about 6 (16 oz) pints or 12 (8 oz) half pints
Traditional salsa with a zesty kick! Use whatever type of chili peppers your family prefers - and add hot pepper sauce if your tastes are even more daring.
You will need:
- 10 cups chopped cored peeled tomatoes (about 25 medium)
- 5 cups chopped seeded green bell peppers (about 4 large)
- 5 cups chopped onions (about 6 to 8 medium)
- 2-1/2 cups chopped seeded chili peppers, such as hot banana, Hungarian wax, serrano or jalapeño (about 13 medium)
- 1-1/4 cups cider vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp hot pepper sauce, optional
To make a Half Recipe:
- 5 cups chopped cored peeled tomatoes (about 13 medium)
- 2-1/2 cups chopped seeded green bell peppers (about 2 large)
- 2-1/2 cups chopped onions (about 3 to 4 medium)
- 1-1/4 cups chopped seeded chili peppers, such as hot banana, Hungarian wax, serrano or jalapeño (about 7 medium)
- 3/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce, optional
- PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Wash lids in warm soapy water and set bands aside.
- COMBINE tomatoes, green peppers, onions, chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, cilantro, salt and hot pepper sauce, if using, in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
- LADLE hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.
- PROCESS both pint and half pint jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.