Vegetables like tomatoes and peppers are key plantings in creating a recipe-themed garden. Credit: Courtesy of Robert Dumas

From salsa to pizza to fermented foods, planting vegetables and herbs in a targeted way is an excellent step toward a productive kitchen garden. Indeed, recipe gardens are a way to ensure the harvest will include the freshest ingredients available for your favorite dishes.

In a recipe garden, you can grow the ingredients for stir-fries, sauces, pasta and other dishes, even including hard-to-find locations that make international dishes divine. Getting started is as simple as determining what vegetables and herbs you need for specific dishes or collection of dishes you enjoy.

“There is always the availability with your garden to grow things unique to certain recipes,” said Robert Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the University of Maine. “The trick is planting so that all the various components are ripe and ready to harvest at the same time.”

Here are four recipe gardens you can plant in Maine.

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Salsa garden

For a fresh salsa recipe garden, Dumas recommends planting tomatoes that have a “meaty” texture, such as one of the beefsteak varieties. Tomatoes grow well alongside the other salsa ingredients like onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers and cilantro as well.

“What is challenging is the cilantro,” Dumas said. “If you plant it with the rest of your vegetables, by the time the tomatoes are ready, the poor cilantro has already gone to flower and is done.”

A good rule of thumb is to plant cilantro four weeks after the other vegetables.

Your salsa garden is not limited to salsa — those vegetables are also great for other Mexican inspired recipes like tacos, fajitas and chili as well as pico de gallo, though Duma recommends planting a good slicing tomato for your pico, like a roma.

Pizza garden

While you can’t grow the cheese or dough needed for a pizza, just about any vegetable that grows in Maine can be used as a topping. That opens up this recipe garden to so many possibilities.

“Pizza is such a blank canvas,” Dumas said. “A lot of those ingredients grow all season long.”

For homemade pizza sauce, roma or Amish paste tomatoes are a good option. To flavor the sauce, plant herbs like oregano, sweet basil and rosemary as well as alliums like garlic and onions. Although garlic is best planted in the fall, a spring planting of garlic is possible.

Fill out your recipe garden with other toppings you enjoy such as more onions, sweet bell peppers and spinach. Or get more adventurous with your greens, pepper varieties and even mushrooms.

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Thai garden

While fresh vegetables are key to Thai cooking, Dumas said some common ones used in the cuisine are difficult to find in Maine. That’s what makes planting a Thai recipe garden so alluring.

“Thai basil is almost impossible to find in the stores,” he said. “It is a crucial ingredient for a lot of Thai dishes.”

With a more savory, almost anise-like flavor than sweet basil, Thai basil is the key ingredient in dishes like pad thai, pho, thai curries and soups.

Other Thai ingredients to plant include lemongrass, sweet potatoes, okra, onions, cucumbers, spearmint, lemon basil, green beans and garlic.

Kimchi or sauerkraut garden

Your recipe garden could also focus on fermenting, which is a way to preserve vegetables like cabbage, radishes, carrots and onions.

“If you take a Korean approach and make kimchi, it’s a fabulous way to preserve cabbage,” Dumas said.

To grow ingredients for kimchi, you need to plant either green or napa cabbage, along with carrots, daikon radishes, onions and Korean chilis.

When it comes to sauerkraut, Dumas recommends planting one of the European cabbage varieties like Danish ballhead. You can also plant fennel that produces a large, crunchy bulb like sweet fennel or Florence fennel to add a non-traditional flavor to your sauerkraut..

“Growing a recipe garden is a great way to plan out your garden,” Dumas said. “It’s really about what ingredients you like to cook with and then choose your adventure.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.