23 Dec

Californian olive, Frost might nip garden, but crops are OK

By Heather Hacking,

It’s not technically winter yet, but you wouldn’t know that with frost on the windshields in morning and the trip to the morning shower including being able to see your breath.

Yet, while humans are bundling up, area crops have not been affected by the chilly temperatures.

Bigger threats to the industry include lack of labor and pest control.

Bill Kreuger, farm adviser for UC Davis Cooperative Extension in Glenn County, said its normal to have temperatures of 25-26 degrees this time of year.

Any olives that are still in the trees might experience some shrivel, but that’s not that big of a problem since most olives in the area are harvested for oil production, Kreuger explained.

Citrus is another later-picked crop, but the sugar in the fruit acts like antifreeze, Kreuger said. The number of orchards planted in citrus has dwindled over the years. Glenn County only has about 600-700 acres of navel orchards and a handful of mandarin plantings, he continued.

Some trees that might need special care include avocados and lemons. People with trees in their backyard can cover them with plastic. The ground will heat up during the day and when the sun goes down the plastic can trap some of that heat.

Also, running a sprinkler under sensitive trees can heat up the air temperatures.

Kreuger said when the temperatures get this cool, he strings up some Christmas tree lights on his avocado tree.

Kreuger said the olive industry hasn’t had as much trouble locally as some had feared after the olive fruit fly hit the area. One reason is that the fly doesn’t reproduce as well when it’s as hot as it has been the past two years. Plus, the olive pest control district has managed to encourage owners of ornamental trees to have them taken out.

Olive growers have, however, had to begin spraying for the olive fly, something that wasn’t needed in the past.

One trend in the olive industry is working to develop mechanical olive harvest. Kreuger said it’s getting to the point where the cost and scarceness of hand pickers is a big threat to the industry unless mechanical harvesters are developed.

Kreuger said that the 2005 crop was very light, but that meant many pickers decided not to show up.

Mechanical harvesting is done by planting olives much closer together than in the past. With dense plantings, the grower can harvest the olives much like mechanical grape harvest.

These orchards produce olive oil.

For example, one company, Borges, is based in Spain and owns the Star brand. Recently 800 acres of olives were planted in Artois.

Kreuger said the industry is also focusing on specialty olives. This month about 55 people attended a workshop in Davis to learn about growing calamatta and Sicilian varieties. This works well for hobbyists who have just a few trees in their back yard.

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