The morning after a freeze

There are certain rituals that take place on a citrus or avocado ranch the morning after a night of freezing temperatures. Each farmer goes about them in his or her own way, but I’m willing to guess that  they are nearly universal.Image

For me, the first item of business once it is light enough to see, is damage assessment. How bad was it? The full severity is not usually apparent for several days, but I always want to get an idea. It takes a while to inspect every tree… that doesn’t happen on a morning after. But every farmer knows where the young trees are, where the cold spots are, and I guarantee they go there first. What do we find? Only frozen tips on new growth? Damage to mature leaves? Damage to fruit and stems? This will tell us whether we have a shot at being profitable for the coming year and possibly the year to follow as well. What we’re hoping to see is pictured above: healthy new growth on a young tree in a cold pocket. If that one’s OK, we can start to relax.

Shutting down frost protection often comes next. I know it seems like that might be first, but cold temperatures often persist after sunrise, so water, wind machines, or heaters stay on until the temperatures rise.

Unfortunately, freezing weather is usually a multiple day affair. So as soon as things are shut down, it is time to start setting up for the next night. Equipment needs to be serviced or refueled, valves need to be adjusted if water will be used differently, and everything must be made ready to do it again. 

If feels like it is late in the day by the time the frost advisory is available from the weather service, but it is actually only about 10:30 AM. Plans are adjusted based on revised information, but with any luck, everybody can try to go get some sleep by noon. That is assuming there isn’t other work that needs doing…after all, a freeze doesn’t replace other work that needs to get done. It just adds to it.

After a nap, the cycle starts again. Temperatures start dropping after sunset. Updated frost forecast is available around 6:30; active frost protection might start as early as 8. 

Repeat as needed until the weather improves. I’m very happy not to be one of those guys growing citrus or avocados in Ojai…they can go for a week or more this way.

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