|Miguel Macias picks jalapeños from the field.|
|Cesar Gonzalez helps with the first harvest.|
When it comes to the sweet and the spicy, Cal Poly Pomona's Jalapeño Brothers are the experts. The three plant science students are growing 22,000 jalapeño plants at Spadra Ranch and expect to reap around 265,000 peppers this summer.
Miguel Macias, Cesar Gonzalez and Daniel Pinedo are learning the seed-to-store process through an enterprise project sponsored by the College of Agriculture. Along the way, they've introduced a new fertilization system and earned a new nickname from fellow students.
The trio grew the plants from seeds in the greenhouse during winter quarter, transplanted the seedlings onto two acres of land and plans to sell the fruits of their labor to local businesses, including the Farm Store at Kellogg Ranch. After paying for expenses, such as field preparation and fertilizer, the profits will be split among the students and the college.
The students' fertigation system is the first of its kind at Cal Poly Pomona, though it is often used on commercial farms. Students feed a liquid fertilizer through the irrigation system, eliminating the need for tractors or laborers to apply the fertilizer and reducing potential damage to the plant.
Much of what the students learned in the field couldn't have been taught in a classroom or from a textbook.
“Miguel spent a lot of time doing calculations, like how much soil we need and how much fertilizer we need,” Gonzalez says. “When we got to the field, all the numbers were different. It was more, it was less. It all changed.”
They also worried that insects would eat away at their crop, so they used lace bugs and lady bugs to keep infestation under control. It turned out, however, that those pests were the least of their problems. “It was the birds, rabbits and squirrels. They eat the tender leaves when the plant is young,” Gonzalez says.
Macias noted that one of the six varieties of jalapeños they planted is susceptible to end rot, a small black lesion that covers the tip of the fruit. They'll fertilize the plants with calcium to counter the problem, he says.
Four of the six varieties they planted are hot peppers: maximus, J7, PX211 and PX210. The sweet varieties, Pace 103 and Pace 109, have none of the typical jalapeño heat and taste like a green bell pepper.
The Jalapeño Brothers plan to sell the bulk of their hot varieties to Hot Rod Pickles & Peppers, a Pomona-based business. Jars of the company's “My Grandparents Jalapeños” and “My Grandparents Pickles” can be found at area Costco stores. The jalapeños will also be sold to local restaurants Cantina Express and Maria's Tacos. Fresh jalapeños, both sweet and hot, will be available at the Farm Store at Kellogg Ranch.