Mountain mandarins ‘chill’ while awaiting visitors

Local mandarin growers are keeping an eye on frosty overnight temperatures while getting ready for this weekend’s second annual Orchard Days.

With forecasts of night-time temperatures dipping into the 20s this week, many growers picked as much of their fruit as possible to make sure the precious citrus would not freeze.

“We’re picking fast and furious,” said Greg Lewis, owner of Sunset Ridge Mandarins in Newcastle. “Hopefully, we’ll get 10,000 pounds in — just in case.”

Like all citrus farmers, Lewis has been monitoring temperatures carefully. On Tuesday night, the low dipped to 28.5 degrees F, he said.

“That’s not a problem,” he added. “The threshold (for frost damage on mandarins) is 25 degrees for four hours or more; that could potentially freeze fruit on the tree. As long as we stay above 25, we’ll be OK.”

Regardless, there should be plenty of ripe fruit for this weekend’s Orchard Days. Placer County farms will be open Saturday and Sunday as well as Dec. 21 and 22.

“This crop has been awesome,” said Lewis, whose family has been growing mandarins since 1980. “It was early; we started picking two weeks before Thanksgiving. Right now, we’re just trying to keep up with demand.”

Organized by the Mountain Mandarins Growers Association, Orchard Days invites families to tour foothill farms and learn more about this popular crop. Besides great-tasting, easy-peeling mandarins, several farms will offer more enticements to visitors. For example, cookbook author Joanne Neft will sign copies of her new book, “The Art of Real Food,” at Highland Orchard, which will also host wine tasting and offer samples of mandarin-based treats. That same farm will give a free 5-pound bag of mandarins to any World War II veterans who visit Saturday.

Meanwhile, Mandarin Hill Orchards will host crafters, food vendors and face-painting. Sunset Ridge will offer a barbecued lunch and beer tasting from Loomis Basin Brewery. Colwell Thundering Herd Mandarin Ranch will feature tastings of its award-winning citrus-laced olive oils.

For directions and a complete list of participants, click on