Mandarin farmers scramble to beat freeze

Growers pick fruit ahead of this week's cold snap, think most crops will be OK
By: Martha Garcia, Loomis News Editor
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Placer County's mandarin growers had their fingers crossed tightly as they watched the thermometer this week. Temperatures were predicted to dip to the freezing point, threatening citrus crops throughout the foothills. Jim Struble, of Struble Ranch Mandarins, has an orchard that has survived 60 winters. Monday, he was worried about the weather. "But," he said philosophically, "there's really nothing we can do about the cold temperatures." Struble said his orchard dates back to 1956, when he and his father, the late Harold Struble, planted one acre of Owari Satsuma and Clementine mandarins, as well as oranges. Struble added two acres of citrus 22 years ago. "The last major freeze we had here was in 1990 when it got to 13 degrees for a period of 24 hours," he said. While some growers lost all of their trees that year, Struble said he was fortunate that he only lost the crop and the trees were producing fruit again in three years. Mark Foley, owner of Blue Goose Produce in Loomis, said Tuesday morning that overnight temperatures at his Westview Growers orchard in Newcastle did not go below the crucial 26 degrees that can freeze mandarins. "About 11 p.m. a breeze came up, not warm, but enough to keep temperatures at 29 to 30 degrees," Foley said. "At 2:30 a.m., it dropped down to 28 degrees and pretty much stayed there." According to Foley, mandarins can take temperatures down to 26 degrees, for about four hours, Beyond that, damage can occur. He said when cells in a mandarin that hold the juice freeze, they expand "Those cells break, and the juice flows out (of the cell). After about three or four days, the juice will evaporate and you'll end up with a dry spot. That piece of fruit is ruined," he explained. However, not all the mandarins on a tree are ruined during a freeze. "We're optimistic that the fruit on the inside and underneath the trees will probably be OK," Foley explained. "The mandarin tree grows like an umbrella, and in a sense holds, captures, the heat from the soil underneath." Both Struble and Foley said they rushed to pick mandarins over the weekend in preparation for the storm and will have plenty of fruit available for the holidays. Growers had only one more night to worry about effects from the current cold wave. Below-freezing temperatures were forecast for Tuesday night as well.