Gardening

8 Steps to Winterize Your Garden Beds

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Now that we’re well into the fall season, the weather is starting to feel more wintery — at least, it is where I am. As I write this, snow is lightly falling outside, blanketing the yard and the trees in velvety white.

For those of us who live in temperate climates, it’s safe to say that the gardening season is nearing its end for this year. We’ve spent months carefully cultivating our little patches of earth, and hopefully, we’ve been rewarded with a bounty of delicious home-grown foods. But now, with colder days approaching, it’s time to get our gardens ready for a long winter’s rest.

Why Winterize Your Garden Beds?

I’ll be honest; I never used to do anything to prepare my garden for winter. Around late August or early September, I usually lose steam for gardening; I get lazy about tending to my plants and I start to just let the little guys fend for themselves. When things start to wither, I let them go. And in the past, I never bothered with clearing out all the gnarled dead branches and leaves — I figured I’d just let nature take its course.

But I’ve learned that taking just a few simple steps to get the garden ready for winter can help ensure a better growing season next year. For one thing, clearing out all dead plant material creates a clean slate for next year, allows you to amend your soil if needed, and helps remove diseases and pests from your garden. If the plants were happy and healthy, they can also make good compost.

Amending your soil now with nutrients and organic matter gives them a chance to settle into the soil so that it’ll be ready for planting come spring. A layer of mulch will insulate your perennials, protect your garden beds, and keep weeds under control when the weather turns warm again. Now’s a great time to plant any spring-flowering bulbs, and there are even some cold-weather crops you can plant for late fall and early winter harvests.

How to Prepare Your Garden Beds for Winter

Winterizing your garden beds is fairly simple and doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort. Simply follow these eight steps and your garden will be winter-ready.

1. Harvest any leftover fruit, veggies, herbs, and seeds.

Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on Pexels.com

If there’s anything left to harvest from your garden, now’s the time to go collect it. By this point in the season, there may not be much left, but make sure to harvest anything you might use. Produce can be frozen, canned, pickled, or made into preserves for a longer shelf life. Flowers and herbs can be bundled and hung up to dry.

One of my favorite parts of harvesting is gathering seeds for next year — it’s fun, easy, and saves you from needing to buy more seeds. It’s simple to harvest seeds from fruits and veggies like tomatoes, zucchinis, melons, peppers, and pumpkins. However, you can also gather seeds from herbs, flowers, and many other plants. All it takes is a little research to find where the plant stores its seeds — some have pods or capsules along their stems, while others store seeds at the base of their flowers.

Photo by Amber Carlson

To harvest seeds from a plant, let it go to seed and then wait for the seedheads or pods to completely ripen — then, you can extract the seeds and store them in labeled envelopes or baggies. A note here: if you’re in doubt about whether your seeds are ripe, wait a little longer! Harvesting too soon can give you immature seeds that won’t sprout. I like to wait until the plant has completed its life cycle and has started to dry out.

2. Move non-hardy plants inside.

If you want to keep some of your non-hardy plant babies alive through the winter, you can move them indoors to a place where they’ll get the light they need and be sheltered from the cold. Potted plants are the easiest to move, but you may also be able to dig up plants from the ground or garden beds and transplant them inside.

For this method to be successful, the plant does need to be fairly small; bigger ones have more developed root systems and are much harder to move. Some species also don’t like having their roots disturbed, period, and can die from transplant shock. I suggest doing research on the plant you intend to move to maximize your chances of a successful transplant.

3. Clear out all weeds and dead vegetation.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Removing all dead plant material from the garden is an essential step in getting your garden ready for winter. I’d say that if you were pressed for time and could only do one of these eight steps, it should be this one. The biggest risk with leaving dead plants in place is that it can allow insects, molds, and diseases to linger in your garden over the winter and re-infest next year’s plants. Bad news!

Start removing annuals from your garden as they begin to die off for the season. While you’re at it, pull any remaining weeds (roots and all) so they don’t come back with a vengeance in the spring. Healthy plant matter can be composted or discarded, but any disease or pest-infested material should be thrown in the trash or burned.

4. Cut back perennials as necessary.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Since perennial plants come back year after year, you don’t want to pull the roots from the ground — unless you want to remove the plant, that is. The above-ground parts of the plant (stems, leaves, and flowers) die back for the winter, while the roots or bulbs beneath the ground survive and send out fresh shoots the following spring.

Certain perennials can benefit from being trimmed to the ground once hard frosts have started to kill the leaves and stems. Bee balm, phlox, and hosta should all be trimmed since they can carry mildews and pest eggs. Other herbs and flowers do well with trimming, but certain types (especially evergreen perennials) should be left alone. 

If you’re unsure about specific plants in your garden, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has more information on which perennials should and shouldn’t be trimmed.

5. Amend your soil as needed.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Now that you’ve cleared old plants out of your garden, you may want to take the opportunity to beef up your soil. If you had a stellar growing season and all of your plants stayed happy until the end, you might not need to worry about this step, but if you suspect that your soil quality is lacking, now’s a good time to make some adjustments.

You can buy kits to test pH, moisture, sunlight, and levels of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in your soil — or you can have your local nursery or gardening extension service test it for you. Once you have the results, you can add compost, manure, fertilizers, minerals, and other ingredients to balance out and enrich the composition of your soil.

If you’d rather not mess with testing or your soil’s not in need of a massive overhaul, you can’t go wrong with mixing some good-quality compost into your beds. Compost adds nutrients, boosts beneficial microbes, and improves soil texture for healthier plants.

6. Plant cold-weather veggies and bulbs.

Tulip bulbs. Photo by Amber Carlson

Once you’re happy with your soil, it’s time to plant any cold-weather crops you’d like to grow. Even in temperate zones like mine — and I live in hardiness zone 6A — it’s not too late to plant leafy greens like spinach and kale, or veggies like carrots, garlic, and onions. While they may not survive the whole winter, you may still get a good harvest or two out of them.

Fall is also the time of year to plant any spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, or crocus — they need the cold of winter followed by spring warmth to snap out of their dormancy and grow. I planted some tulips and grape hyacinths in my front bed and I can’t wait to see how they turn out next year!

7. Cover up your soil and perennial plants.

Put your garden beds to rest by tucking them under a blanket of mulch. Photo by Amber Carlson

With most of the hard work done, you can now cover your soil and perennial plants with mulch to put them to bed for the winter. Mulching protects your soil from erosion, helps it retain nutrients, and controls weed growth — and some mulches have the added benefit of enriching your soil.

You can use traditional mulches such as wood chips or straw, but one excellent (and free) alternative is to mulch with fallen leaves in your yard. All you have to do is run your lawn mower over piles of dry, crunchy leaves — the blades will chop the leaves down into a rich organic mulch that will break down and turn into compost for next year’s garden.

Whatever mulch you choose, layer it on top of any garden beds you’re done using for the season. Adding compost on top of and around perennial plants can give them some insulation and help them come back more vigorously in the spring.

Some gardeners opt to plant cover crops, such as winter rye, that can help build your soil while serving the same purposes as a mulch. Or, if nothing else, you can cover your garden beds with plastic, cardboard, or old carpet.

8. Reflect and make notes on the growing season.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

At this point, all that’s left to do is look back on the growing season you had this year. What worked well? What didn’t work? If you have a garden journal — or if you’d like to start one — make notes on what you observed this year, how well your various plants grew, and what you might do differently next season. 

Part of what makes gardening so fun and rewarding is trying different things, learning from experience, and becoming a more knowledgeable gardener each year. Keeping detailed notes can help you remember what you did in the past so that you can make your next growing season even better.

That’s it — you and your garden beds are now ready for winter! With these simple steps done, you can rest easy knowing that your garden will be ready and waiting for you in the spring. May you enjoy the remainder of this beautiful fall season and have a safe, peaceful winter.


Do you have any other fall gardening tips and tricks to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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Ready to prepare your garden for winter? Here are eight simple steps to make your life easier next spring. #gardening #gardenplanning #gardentipd
Culture, Holidays and Traditions, Travel

Día de los Muertos: Embracing the Union of Life and Death

Have you ever been curious about the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos? Read on to learn the history of the holiday and how it's celebrated. #holidays #dayofthedead #sugarskulls #mexico #culture #travel
Photo by Chait Goli via Pexels

For one night every year, the dead walk the earth. People dressed in skeleton outfits with skull face paint fill the streets, rattling their noisemakers, singing, and dancing all through the night. Families build altars, light candles and hold vigil for lost loved ones. Marigold flowers and petals are strewn everywhere, illuminating sidewalks and cemeteries in vivid shades of orange and red.

On the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos — or Day of the Dead, in English — people gather to celebrate and honor the dead, and to welcome their spirits back to the land of the living for one night. The vibrant colors and joyous, exuberant spirit of the festivities is a burst of light amid the darkness of a long autumn night.

Origins and History of Día de los Muertos

Photo by Wilson Vitorino via Pexels

Although many people think of Day of the Dead as “Mexican Halloween”, the holiday actually isn’t related to Halloween at all — it has an entirely different history and cultural background. Día de los Muertos also didn’t originate from the Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day or All Soul’s Day, although the dates coincide (November 1 and 2).

Day of the Dead has been celebrated in Mexico for thousands of years, since long before the arrival of the Spaniards and their Christian beliefs. The festival has its roots in indigenous Aztec, Toltec and Nahua traditions. People from these cultures believed it was more respectful to celebrate the lives of those who had passed than to mourn their deaths. The Aztecs also worshipped a god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, who watched over the souls of their loved ones and aided them in their transition to the afterlife.

To these indigenous Mesoamerican peoples, death and life were deeply intertwined. They understood and accepted mortality as an integral part of being human and alive, and they embraced the cycle of existence in its entirety. Families and communities continued to honor and celebrate their departed members, and they believed that the spirits came back to Earth for one night each year. Hence, Día de los Muertos was born; a lighthearted celebration of life and death, a joyous dance between light and darkness.

How It’s Celebrated

Photo by Rafael Guajardo via Pexels

There are many different ways to celebrate Day of the Dead, and traditional ways of celebrating vary between different parts of Mexico. But some of the best-known traditions include ofrendas (altars), marigold flowers, papel picado (perforated paper), cemetery visits, calaveras (skulls), and costumes.

Ofrendas

A traditional ofrenda in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Photo by Photo Beto via iStock/Getty Images

To prepare for Día de los Muertos, many people build ofrendas for their loved ones in their homes, schools, workplaces, cemeteries where their loved ones are buried, and public spaces. These altars, brightly decorated with items such as family photos, crosses, flowers and mementos, are meant to help welcome the visiting spirits back to Earth. It’s common to leave offerings of food and water as sustenance for the spirit’s journey between worlds — pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”) is traditional, but other foods and drinks may be left as well. And copal (resin) incense is often used to cleanse and purify the altar space.

Marigold Flowers

Photo by Silvia Corradin via Pexels

If you visit ofrendas or cemeteries in Mexico during Day of the Dead, you’ll notice that many of them are covered in brilliant orange marigold flowers and petals. Marigolds — or cempasúchil in Spanish — grow throughout Mexico in the fall, and they are an integral part of many Día de los Muertos celebrations.

According to Inside Mexico, the symbolism of marigolds comes from an Aztec myth about two lovers named Xochitl and Huitzilin. Huitzilin goes off to war and is killed in battle. Heartbroken, Xochitl prays to the sun god Tonatiuh to reunite her with her lover; the sun then shines down upon her face, transforming her into a radiant, twenty-petaled orange flower. Huitzilin, who has been reborn as a hummingbird, comes to the flower to drink her nectar, and the petals open, filling the air with the aroma of marigolds.

Marigolds have a strong association with the sun, the spirit world, and rebirth. Many believe that their scent helps to attract the spirits of the dead back to Earth. The vibrant, sunny color is also a reminder to celebrate life rather than mourning the passing of loved ones.

Papel Picado

Papel picado in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico. Photo by SandraRose via iStock/Getty Images

Although you can find papel picado hanging in Mexican streets and homes at any time of the year, it becomes especially widespread around the time of Day of the Dead. Artists cut intricate designs (often depicting skulls, skeletons and flowers) into brightly-colored tissue paper, then string them together and hang them across alleyways and in living spaces. The colorful streamers symbolize the air element as well as the fragile nature of life, and on Día de los Muertos, you’ll often see papel picado hanging at ofrendas.

Cemetery Visits

Family members gather by a grave at Tzintzuntzan cemetery in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico. Photo by BeteMarques via iStock/Getty Images

Many Mexican families will visit the graves of loved ones on Day of the Dead. They spend time cleaning and washing the gravesites, decorating with candles and flowers, and setting up ofrendas nearby. In some parts of Mexico, families gather and eat meals next to graves, telling stories of their lost loved one and sharing memories with one another.

Calaveras

A collection of colorful ceramic calaveras. Photo by simm18pl via iStock/Getty Images

On Day of the Dead, you can hardly go anywhere without seeing images of calaveras (skulls) and skeletons. While all the “death” imagery might seem macabre to an outsider, Mexican culture doesn’t shy away from images of death. Artists inject levity into the dark subject matter by making skeletons look like they’re having fun, whether they’re strolling around a park, playing a guitar, or riding in a hot air balloon.

Skeleton art comes in many forms, but one of the most famous images is La Catrina — a lady skeleton dressed in elegant French garb and a frilly hat (a “catrin” is a person of high stature who wears fancy clothes). Cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada created an early version of her in the early 20th century, and other artists subsequently put their own spin on the image. With her posh attire, La Catrina is sometimes seen as a commentary on inequality between socioeconomic classes, but her dress also adds humor and lightness to the image of death, which makes her a perfect symbol of Día de los Muertos.

One of the most popular traditions involving calaveras is making sugar skulls — sweet treats molded to look like skeletal faces. People decorate the skulls with colorful icing to represent particular loved ones who have passed on, sometimes imitating their facial features and other distinguishing characteristics.

Face Paint and Costumes

Photo by Genaro Servu00edn via Pexels

As part of the holiday festivities, many people dress up in skeleton costumes and paint their faces to resemble the calavera Catrina. Some wear nice suits and elaborate dresses to the celebrations to match Catrina’s stately apparel.

Where the Biggest Celebrations Are

People celebrating Day of the Dead. Photo by YinYang via iStock/Getty Images

Although Día de los Muertos is observed throughout Latin America, the biggest and most traditional celebrations are still in Mexico. While Mexico City is famous for its parade, it’s a relatively new addition to the festivities; you’ll find a more traditional celebration in the suburb of Mixquic, where family members join in a mass procession to the community cemetery with candles and flowers. Many of the other larger towns in Mexico hold parades and parties, as well.

Observing With Respect

If you are drawn to the idea of celebrating your ancestors in these ways, you’re not alone — there are Día de los Muertos celebrations around the world! If you visit Mexico in late October or early November, you’ll get the most authentic experience of the holiday — just be mindful that this is a time for families to come together and celebrate the lives of their loved ones, so there may be some parts of the festivities that aren’t meant for outsiders. No matter where you go, always approach locals with respect and curiosity for their traditions.

If you’d like to attend a celebration outside of Mexico, consider going to a parade or cultural event that is open to the public. Non-Mexicans should be careful about wearing traditional clothes or skull face paint because it can be seen as cultural appropriation, but there’s nothing wrong with taking part in authentic, Mexican-organized festivities with their permission. This article does an excellent job of explaining cultural appropriation and how to respectfully celebrate other cultures. 


Whether or not we partake in an official celebration, Day of the Dead is a beautiful opportunity to remember those we’ve lost, reconnect with our roots, and celebrate the joy of life. Do you have your own story to share? What do you love most about this holiday? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments below.

Food and Recipes

Slow Cooker Meals: Southwestern Green Chile

Have you ever wanted to make Southwestern green chile at home? It's easy -- learn how with this slow cooker recipe. #easydinners #recipes #comfortfood #southwestern #stews #slowcooker
Photo by Amber Carlson

Green chile (chile verde) is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, especially in the fall and winter months. It’s a food that is near and dear to my heart as a native Colorado girl; my dad used to make pots of the stuff when we were growing up. To this day, I still love a bowl of chile to warm myself up on a cold day.

One thing I adore about green chile is how versatile it is. You can eat it on its own like a soup, perhaps with some fresh tortillas on the side for dipping. I used to like to smother it on top of fried eggs for a simple breakfast. It makes an excellent topping for burritos, enchiladas, and fries. At Thanksgiving, my aunt usually makes a batch of her signature, rip-your-lips-off chile — and we pour it over our turkey and mashed potatoes like gravy. There are a thousand ways to eat green chile, and they’re all delicious.

About This Recipe

The recipe I’m going to share with you is based on the green chile that my dad used to make with a few of my own modifications. It is savory, tangy, and can be made as spicy (or not) as you’d like.

By far the most important ingredient is the chiles. While you can use canned green chiles, I’ve always made my chile using fresh, whole roasted peppers. Canned chiles are a huge time saver, without a doubt, but the flavor and aroma of the fresh peppers is incomparable and adds a complex richness to the stew.

Photo by Amber Carlson

I should warn you that prepping fresh chiles is a tad labor intensive. If you buy whole peppers to use — which I strongly suggest you do — you’ll need to go through the process of roasting, peeling, seeding and chopping them, which does take some time. I have a whole separate article where I explain how and where to find the best peppers and walk you through how to prep them. Whether you’re using fresh or canned chiles, you’ll want to have them ready to go before you start this recipe.

Apart from that, you don’t need anything too fancy. Pork butt or shoulder should do well for the meat, but you can omit the meat or substitute tofu for a vegetarian chile (veggie stock can also be used instead of chicken broth). The recipe is naturally dairy-free, and although flour is traditionally used to thicken the stew and brown the pork, you can easily do this with a gluten-free starch instead.

This hearty stew is easy to make in a slow cooker. After just a bit of prep work, you can leave it to simmer all day long until you’re ready to eat. You can make it on a stove, too, if you don’t have a slow cooker; it’ll just take a bit more watching.

Ready to try it? Let’s go!

Ingredients

Prep time: 25-30 minutes
Cook time: 6-8 hours
Makes about 12 cups of chile

  • 1 lb pork butt or shoulder, diced (or tofu)
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free if desired)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 14.5-oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5-oz can of green enchilada sauce
  • 3 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable stock)
  • 4 cups of roasted green chile peppers, peeled, seeded and diced (canned or fresh)
  • 1 TB ground cumin
  • ⅛ tsp cinnamon
  • A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Optional sides/garnishes:

  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Hot sauce

How to Make

  1. Coat and brown the pork.

Combine the flour, salt, and a touch of fresh-ground pepper in a small bowl. Whisk the ingredients together with a fork until blended.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Next, place your diced pork into a large bowl and add the flour mixture. Using a spoon or spatula, stir and toss the pork with the flour mixture until all of the meat is coated. The starch will help thicken up the stew.

Photo by Amber Carlson

To brown the pork, heat a couple of tablespoons of your preferred cooking oil over a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat and stir until the pieces are lightly browned on all sides, but not cooked through. Once it’s done, remove from the heat and set aside. Leave the browned bits and flour residue in the pan.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Technically, browning the meat is optional — you can skip it if you’re in a hurry. But I highly recommend doing it because it caramelizes the surface of the meat, which adds flavor and deliciousness to your stew. 

  1. Saute the onion and garlic.

Re-heat the same pan you used in Step 1 on medium heat with a little more cooking oil. Add cumin and cinnamon; stir to spread throughout the pan. Toast spices for 30 seconds, just until fragrant. In one of my previous recipes I talked about the benefits of “blooming” spices — it’s just a way to release more of the aromatic oils for a fuller flavor.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Turn the heat up to medium-high; add the onions and garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, just until the onions turn slightly tender and translucent. Don’t worry if you still have toasted flour and spices stuck to the bottom of the pan; we’ll address that in the next step.

Photo by Amber Carlson
  1. Add the tomatoes and green chiles.

Now, it’s time to add your tomatoes and green chiles to the pan. Stir the tomatoes and green chiles into the onions and garlic. Allow the vegetable mixture to heat to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

As the tomatoes and green chiles simmer, their water and juices should help to loosen anything stuck on the bottom of the pan. Stir occasionally, using your spoon or spatula to scrape any leftover flour or spices from the pan and fold them into the veggies.

  1. Put everything into the slow cooker and let it cook.

Finally, add your pork and veggie mixture to the slow cooker. Turn the cooker on at its low heat setting; add chicken broth and enchilada sauce, stirring to combine all ingredients.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Close the lid and cook on low for 6-8 hours, until pork is cooked all the way through and the chile has thickened a bit. Turn the cooker down to its warm setting until you’re ready to eat.

At this point, do a taste test; if the chile could use a little more spice, add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. Now’s also a good time to add more salt and pepper if needed.

5. Garnish and serve.

Spoon chile into bowls. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve it while it’s hot! Eat your chile on its own or with tortillas, cheese or sour cream — dairy does a great job of mellowing the spice if your chile is too hot for your liking.

Photo by Amber Carlson

And most importantly, enjoy!


Did you like this recipe? Do you have any comments or suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!

Food and Recipes

All About Chiles: How to Roast, Prep and Cook With Chile Peppers

Ever wanted to know how to prep chile peppers for use in your favorite recipes? Find out here. #food #recipes #veggies #kitchenbasics #cookingtips
#
Photo by Amber Carlson

Chile peppers are a staple of Southwestern cooking. Their tangy, zesty flavor adds personality and a spicy kick to dishes. You can cook and eat chiles, use them as a spice, or consume them for their medicinal properties — capsaicin, the main bioactive ingredient that gives peppers their heat, may relieve pain and help promote weight loss. They are also rich in nutrients such as vitamins A, C, potassium, and antioxidants.

If you’ve ever been curious to know more about these fiery fruits (and yes, they are technically fruits!), read on to learn about where chile peppers come from, where and when to find them, and how to prepare fresh chiles for cooking.

A Bit of History

The chile pepper plant (capsicum annuum) is not native to the US; according to Amy Behm of the Pueblo Bonito Inn in Santa Fe, chiles originally come from the Caribbean islands but were brought back to Spain by Christopher Columbus, who called the spicy fruits “peppers” because the zippy flavor reminded him of peppercorns. 

Although doctors on board Columbus’ ships were initially interested in peppers’ medicinal properties, Spanish monks began using ground, dried chile peppers in cooking as a substitute for peppercorns, and peppers gained popularity around Europe, eventually spreading to Asia via trade. In the late 16th century, Spaniards colonized what is now New Mexico, bringing their chile peppers with them and establishing the plants as part of the region’s agriculture. 

A few hundred years later, Dr. Fabián Garcia developed the Hatch strain of chile pepper that went on to become a sensation — it’s the main ingredient in pork green chile stew. You can now find green chile (and chile peppers) throughout the Southwestern US, but the peppers have the strongest ties with New Mexico and Colorado.

Where and When to Find Chiles

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The best time to buy chile peppers is in the late summer and early fall, when they are ripe and in season. August and September tend to be the peak months for harvesting, and the time of year when chile stands start to open up. Although these stands aren’t open year-round, they typically have the best, freshest peppers to choose from, plus a variety of spiciness options. Chile stands also tend to be small, family-owned businesses that I enjoy supporting.

I’m not sure how common chile stands are outside of Colorado and New Mexico; you could try doing a Google search to see if there are any near you. If you happen to live in the Denver area, here’s a list of some local stands that should be open through October or November.

My favorite thing to do — which I learned from my dad — is to visit a chile stand in September or October, buy an entire bushel (basically a large basket) of peppers, and prep and freeze them for the winter. All you have to do is fill your basket with whatever mix of peppers you like — mild, medium, hot or Dynamite! — and the folks at the chile stand will roast them for you over an open flame.

If you don’t happen to live near any chile stands, you can also find the fresh peppers at some grocery stores. They’re also known as Hatch, Pueblo, or Anaheim peppers, and they may be red or green in color (depending on when they’re picked). Choose ones with smooth, shiny skin that are firm to the touch and free of dents or spots.

A Quick Guide to Roasting and Prepping Chile Peppers

As I mention in my green chile recipe, prepping chile peppers is a bit of a process. First, make sure that the peppers are roasted — it deepens the flavor of the peppers and makes the skins easier to peel off. Again, if you pick yours up at a chile stand, this step will likely be done for you. If you bought peppers from your local grocery store, you can oven-roast them to get the same effect (I’ll explain how to do this).

After roasting, you want to “sweat” the peppers in an airtight bag to loosen the skins. Next, you pull the skins off of the peppers, remove the seeds, and dice the flesh. The chiles are then ready to use in green chile or any other recipe that calls for them. 

That’s the process in a nutshell. Although it’s fairly easy, the work can be a little time-consuming. Depending on how many peppers you need to prep, it can take 1-2 hours. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow.

1. Roast and sweat the peppers.

If your peppers are not already roasted, preheat your oven to 400°F. Place whole peppers on a lightly-oiled baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes, turning the peppers occasionally until the skins have turned black. You can also toss the peppers on your grill or over the flame of your gas stovetop; they’ll blacken a lot quicker this way (usually about 2-3 minutes per side).

Regardless of how you cook them, what you’re looking for is a good char on the skins. You’re going to be peeling off these burnt parts, anyway, and the charring tells you that the flesh underneath is thoroughly cooked.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Once the peppers are roasted, seal them in an airtight plastic bag and set aside. Allow them to sweat at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.

2. Remove the skins and seeds.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Before you begin this step, a word of advice: if you’re using peppers that have a little bit of spice, you may want to put on some gloves before handling them. The last time I tried peeling and seeding spicy peppers without gloves, my hands burned for the rest of the day afterwards. Go bare-skinned at your own risk.

As soon as the peppers are cool enough to handle, pull the peppers from the bag and lay them on a cutting board. Peel or gently massage the skins off of the chiles with your fingers and remove the stems.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Then, using a small knife, cut open the pepper so that you have a flat layer of flesh. Rinse the flesh under warm running water to remove any seeds, stringy material, or skin debris.

3. Dice the flesh.

Finally, chop your peppers into approximately ½-inch squares and place in a bowl. 

And voilà — your peppers are now ready to use! If you prepped an entire batch of chiles in one go, you can save whatever’s left over after you use what you need. Simply portion the peppers out into Ziploc bags and pop them in the freezer. I like to do 4 cups of chiles per bag because that will yield one batch of green chile — so anytime I feel like making some, I can just thaw out one portion.

Happy cooking!


Questions? Comments? Concerns? Let me know in the comments below!