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Gardening for Your Taste Buds


In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.

This year, I’m growing a salsa garden with a variety of peppers — some hot, some sweet, along with onions, tomatoes, tomatillos and cilantro. It’s inexpensive, fun and I can change the flavor by adding some chopped mango or pineapple. Here’s a favorite salsa recipe courtesy of my brother Greg. You can grow several of the ingredients:

Pineapple Mango Salsa

1 large golden pineapple, flesh diced to 1⁄4-inch pieces
4 mangoes, flesh diced to 1⁄4-inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes diced to 1⁄4-inch pieces
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and minced
1 serrano pepper (or habanero, if you like it hot), deseeded and minced
1⁄2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 shots tequila (optional)

Macerate all ingredients together in the tequila and refrigerate at least four hours. Drain (or drink) the liquid and add the juice of one lemon and one lime. Let salsa come to room temp and serve with tortilla chips.

Now, how about some garden-grown pizza ingredients?

Join Chicagoland Gardening writer Nina Koziol in the Grow a Pizza Garden class at The Morton Arboretum on Tuesday, May 21, from 6:30-8:30. Learn how to make your own delicious homemade pizzas with fresh vegetables and herbs from your garden. Just in time to get your tomatoes in the ground, this class will cover how to grow tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, oregano, basil, cilantro, parsley and other veggies and herbs along with recipes for a variety of pizzas that can be cooked in the oven or on the grill. Call 630-719-2468 to register. ($22 for Arboretum members; $30 for non-members)

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I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

I’d like to start composting. Do you have any advice on what kind of bin to purchase/build so that it is successful in the Chicago climate?

When is the best time to cut back hydrangeas? How far do I cut them back?

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