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Sub-freezing temperatures can make the citrus business much harder for growers like Terry and Ellie Klenske, who on Sunday were unsure how much of their crop will survive the current cold snap.
Although the Klenskes have a method to fight the cold - water and wind - they still have to wait a few days until they can examine their oranges and get a sense of how much of their citrus crop survived.
Unfortunately, Ellie Klenske expects that many of the oranges growing at Klenske Farm in Redlands will not make it to market.
"We've had ...probably significant loss to the crop," she said.
The cold snap was also having a chilling effect on fruit sellers at a San Fernando Valley farmers market, but it was of no concern to vintners in the Rancho Cucamonga area.
Temperatures fell below freezing early Sunday in parts of the Inland Empire and even to the single digits or even lower in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. The National Weather Service recorded a low of -8 degrees overnight at Baldwin Lake, east of Big Bear Lake.
Forecasters issued a freeze warning on Sunday, alerting the Inland Empire that frosty conditions with the potential to kill crops and sensitive plants may return during the dark hours of Monday morning.
That's bad news for citrus growers like the Klenskes, but a boon for vintners.
"The cold weather keeps the vine dormant and that's what we want," said Joseph Filippi, owner of Joseph Filippi Wines and Vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga.
Filippi explained that grape vines need to remain dormant until spring and the cold snap will not hurt the vine at all.
"If there's a cold snap during spring, then we can lose our entire crop," Filippi said. "The last time that happened was about 40 years ago."
At the OneGeneration Encino Farmers Market, where vendors sell everything from hot, fresh empanadas to natural soaps and hand-carved spoons and bowls, some fruit sellers said the icy temperatures are of deep concern because it means lost crops, as well as hauling out expensive equipment that keeps trees from freezing.
"We're not as affected as much but we know that farms at a higher level are," said Alex Hernandez, who works for the 60-acre Sycamore Hills Ranch in Fillmore, where orange, lemon and avocados grow.
The citrus trees are hardier than other varieties, he said.
"If it continues getting cold, it may affect the avocados," he said. "Leaves are starting to turn brown. They're very fragile."
The heaters and smudge pots used to keep crops warm mean expensive equipment and tactics that some ranchers can't afford.
"It's not in our budget," he said.
Gabriel Contreras, who sells bags of oranges and avocados for Bernard Ranch in Riverside said that so far, three days of deep freeze have not had an effect on crops - yet.
"We won't be able to tell for months if it's had an effect," he said.
The Klenskes are relying on wind machines and water sprinklers to keep their oranges alive.
The water springs from the sprinklers at a temperature of around 40 degrees, warmer than the expected sub-freezing temperatures, Klenske said.
The wind machine helps because friction can heat the air, she said.
Smoky smudge pots, used historically to warm citrus crops during a cold spell, are so important to Redlands' history that the trophy given to the winner of the annual football game between Redlands High School and Redlands East Valley High School is known as the Smudge Pot.
The Klenskes, however, are not using smudge pots.
"They're not too old fashioned, but the EPA doesn't like it," Klenske said.
The Klenskes grow Washington navel and Powell navel oranges. Washingtons ripen from November to January, whereas Powells ripen from February to June, according the Citrus Variety Collection at UC Riverside.
Klenske said her husband is more optimistic when it comes to the Powell crops' survival rate, since the oranges are not as fully developed as the Washingtons.
Orange growers can check trees after a frost by cutting into a sample of their crop. An experienced grower can quickly get a sense of how well the crop fared, Klenske said.
"It becomes like wood or straw," she said. "We've all had oranges in the store like that."
Staff Writer Susan Abram contributed to this report.
Reach Andrew via email, call him at 909-386-3872, or find him on Twitter @InlandBizz.
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