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Local Feature

DIGGING IN
STAN RUIZ TAKES BACKYARD
VEGETABLE GARDENING TO A NEW LEVEL

words by Jolene Polyack
images by Frankie Leal

While shopping at Wal-Mart, fourth generation Kingsburg native, Stan Ruiz, noticed a new type of gardening pot. He picked one up, examined it, and determined there was no way it could do what the label promised. So, he set it back down. His brother, who coincidentally had purchased one of the pots, showed Ruiz the big healthy plants he had as a result of the pot’s unique watering system. Ruiz said, “I ran down to Wal-Mart and got a couple of pots and tried it.  When I could see the results, I determined that I would use them on a larger scale the next season.”  Up until utilizing the above ground system, Ruiz averaged 150 quarts of pickled chilies per year. In 2012, when he switched to the above ground system, he pickled 175 quarts and could have done more, but simply ran out of time.

“There were four weeks when we couldn’t pickle, so we just picked those chilies, toasted them and froze them to use for cooking and salsas.  If we would have pickled these chilies, we would have had well over 300 quarts.   When I was planting on the ground I had room for 64 plants. With this raised system I can condense the plants and fit 96 of them into about the same amount of space. With the confinement of the plants I use a pressurized drip system and water the first and last plant at the same time, knowing that they will all receive the same amount of water.  What used to take four hours to water, now takes three minutes.” Ruiz said.  With Kingsburg now on water meters, he claims he’s not only saving time but he’s also saving a few hundred dollars on his annual water costs. 

The plants are highly prolific with a stem that resembles bark which is due to using a pathogen-free liquid organic fertilizer called 8-11 mix and K-Max.  Before last year, Ruiz had between four to six pickings per season.  Last year he had 12 pickings. What conventionally was three weeks between pickings, changed to 12-15 days, with 25 to 35 chilies, per plant. Ruiz grows eight varieties of chilies, five of which are considered the hottest in the world. What does Ruiz do with 175 quarts of chilies? “After pickling them we either eat them or give them away to friends.  If I start selling them, then it turns into a job.” He said, laughing.

In addition to the chilies, Ruiz grows squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant. The system can be used for anything that has a root.  According to Ruiz, “The neatest thing about the raised garden, all of the work I have to do, from trimming the plants, to watering, picking, etc., I do it standing up. There is no bending over. Interestingly, because they’re raised and the water is so targeted to the roots, there are no weeds. I’ve had zero aphid problems and there have been no worms on the tomato plants. “

Ruiz continued, “I learned about pickling chilies from mom and dad.  I helped my dad pick them and helped my mom wash them, cut the tails off, and pickle them. To me it was always fun. I’ve grown and pickled chilies every year on my own since I got out of the Marine Corps in 1973.  My first garden was planted in the spring of 1974. Lise and I invite friends over for the day to help prep, pickle and have fun. It is an all day process with lots of work and great rewards.”

There has been a surge in backyard vegetable gardening over the past decade. In 2008 31% of the U.S. households had their own food garden. By 2009 that percentage had jumped to 37%. There are many ways to learn about gardening, the National Gardening Association’s (NGA) website, www.garden.org , provides detailed information for the beginner to the pro all in a well-organized, easy to understand way. There is gardening software, you tube videos and a myriad of other resources available for the home food gardener. According to the NGA, the average amount of time spent in a backyard garden is five hours per week with tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers being the three most popular items grown. Gardening is considered a past time, hobby, vital food source, and even therapy to some. For whatever reason, it’s a great time to begin your own garden and dig in to this re-emerging American trend.
 

 

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Stan Ruiz Peppers

Backyard pickled peppers.

 

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