What frost? Mandarins ready for Orchard Days

Some nights felt plenty chilly, but most foothill citrus growers dodged December’s big cold bullet. So, there will be plenty of mandarins available for buyers during this weekend’s final Orchard Days.

Eight straight nights of sub-freezing temperatures took their toll on local mandarin orchards.

“We probably lost 10 to 20 percent of low-hanging fruit,” said Steve Pilz, a third-generation foothill mandarin grower. “(On the coldest night), the air temperature got down to 22 degrees at 3:30 in the morning. Luckily, all we got were a few flakes of snow. A few years back, we could actually ski on our property.”

Pilz’s family has been growing mandarins in the Sierra foothills since 1927. His Pilz Produce at Hillcrest Orchard in Penryn ranges between 450 and 775 feet of elevation. The older trees help insulate themselves against hard frost.

“Our trees are 70 years old and quite large,” he said. “Inside (branches near the trunk), they stayed about 30 degrees while on the outside (branches), it was 27 degrees. Any fruit that had fallen on the ground was frozen solid. It was quite an interesting bit of thermal knowledge.”

During Orchard Days’ pre-Christmas weekend, patrons can meet farmers, sample fruit and shop for gifts. Many of the family-run orchards will offer more than mandarins, such as wine or beer tasting and craft sellers.

Organized by the Mountain Mandarins Growers Association, Orchard Days offers something for visitors of all ages. At Penryn’s Highland Orchard, cookbook author Joanne Neft will sign copies of her new book, “The Art of Real Food.” That same farm will host wine tasting from Fawnridge Winery and offer rides on a vintage carousel.

Mandarin Hill Orchards will host crafters, food vendors, face-painting and wine tasting, courtesy of Lone Buffalo Vineyards. Sunset Ridge will offer a barbecue lunch, beer tasting from Loomis Basin Brewery and an opportunity to pick your own fruit. Colwell Thundering Herd Mandarin Ranch will feature tastings of its award-winning citrus-laced olive oils.

For directions and a complete list of participants, go to