La Busqueda de Hatch Chile?
(The search for Hatch Chile)
So, what is Hatch Chile and why should I be interested in it? Let’s define chile first. To a resident of the southwest, chile (not to be confused with Tex-Mex chili) is the cultivar of the genus Capsicum, a member of the nightshade family. These peppers range from bell to jalapeno to the super-hot varieties like Scotch Bonnet. And the really neat thing is that they all owe their origin to the Americas and have been cultivated for thousands of years.
New Mexico Chile pepper cultivars owe their current nature to Dr. Fabian Garcia and his extensive work for what is now New Mexico State University all the way back in 1888. Dr. Garcia selected chiles from across New Mexico and Colorado and developed the excellent New Mexico #9 cultivar. In addition, Dr. Paul Bosland founded the New Mexico Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU to continue to build upon Dr. Garcia’s work. These two gentlemen, in addition to many growers and others from NMSU, have done excellent work to make New Mexico’s iconic vegetable truly world renowned.
But is there such a thing as a Hatch Chile? Sadly, no but when we say Hatch Chile we’re referring to chiles grown in that unique area of New Mexico called the Hatch Valley. This is an area along the Rio Grande in New Mexico that runs south from Percha Dam in the north to San Diego Mountain, south and east of the town of Hatch. The area encompasses the towns of Arrey, Garfield, Salem, Hatch, Placitas, Rodney and Rincon. In addition to the world famous chile, the Hatch Valley also produces cotton, onions, corn and animal fodder. Water is provided by Caballo and Elephant Butte reservoirs and flood irrigation is the norm.
The Hatch Valley is the one unique area for chile production in the US. While chile cultivars will grow almost anywhere in the US, Hatch has a perfect combination of climate, water and soil conditions to make for perfect chile production.
In fact, the majority of chile cultivars in the US have their roots in the Hatch Valley and the work of NMSU. Take the Anaheim chile so named after Anaheim California. This very mild chile arrived in California as seeds from a New Mexico #9 in 1894!
See below for an aerial clip showing the area from Google Maps. The mosaic pattern shows fields all along the river in the Hatch Valley.
So what kind of chiles are grown in the Hatch Valley? Please see the link for an excellent discussion of chiles from 1913 to 2008. Note that the work continues and there are several more “modern” cultivars now available. http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/research/horticulture/rr-763/welcome.html
Paulita’s New Mexico purchases all of our chile from MA and Sons in Arrey. We began to work with MA in June of 2016. Our visits to their farms began in November of 2016. Beginning in April of 2017 I began visiting one field in particular to document the crop cycle of green chile. This started as the pusher leaves were just coming up on the field. Further visits documented thinning and maturation. The plants are right now (July 3rd 2017) about to yield and are setting fruit. Randy of MA informs me that they should be ready to harvest by the last week in July. I’ll be there!
Here are shots of the field as the chiles grow.
April 14, 2017-Pusher leaves just starting to come up. This is the point of maximum danger for the little chiles as the pushers don’t really do much other than break the ground. Leaves are needed for photosynthesis and to get nutrients to the body of the emerging plant. Insects and disease can wreak havoc on a chile field at this stage.
May 19th– The little chiles are ready to be thinned. They are planted much too close together for the plants to be successful so a little judicious hoeing is necessary. This is probably the last cool and somewhat pleasant work in the chile field. In some fields, this is called blocking as well.
Oh, and we’ll see this particular little chile plant again in July.
July 3rd– My how they have grown! The light was a little off for this shoot as smoke from several forest fires really upset white balance in the early morning but the plants are still beautiful. Blooms have set and those famous New Mexico pods are starting to peep out from the calyx. Remember that chile plant? Check out the second shot.
Paulita’s New Mexico is a registered New Mexico chile products processor with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. All of our chile, both red and green, comes from MA and Sons in Arrey thus making it Hatch. We shortly hope to say that ALL of our pepper products are MA and Sons and Hatch.
Check out our next blog about the chile harvest. It should be out at the end of July.
Paula and Alan