Foothills mandarins have lasting appeal

By: Kristine Guerra Journal Correspondent
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As the weather gets chillier in Placer County, mandarin growers expect bountiful mandarin harvests from November to January. Owari Satsuma Mandarin, a seedless, easy-to-peel, Japanese hybrid and the most popular variety in the Placer County foothills, gets its most intense, sweet flavor thanks to the cold nights of the fall and winter seasons. The crop is usually at its peak from mid-November to late December or early January. Gary Gilligan, director of the Mountain Mandarin Festival, said mandarin trees usually have heavy yields every other year. This year, growers are expecting heavier harvests than last year. “This year is a large crop of mandarins,” Gilligan said Monday. “(During large-crop years) a mature tree can produce up to 300 pounds of fruits.” The owners of Newcastle Mandarin Ranch, which harvests about 800 mandarin trees, are hoping for 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of fruit this year. “It’s only a seven-week harvest,” Duane Lewis said. “It’s a lot of work for those two months because it all comes at one time.” Lewis said the early rains and cold nights bring out the color and sugar content of the fruit. “The colder the nights, the better for the fruit for ripening,” he said. Lynn Lewis said they would start picking up the fruits the weekend before the festival. “We like to keep the mandarins on the trees as long as possible because the longer they’re on the trees, the sweeter they get,” Duane Lewis said. Duane Lewis said they’ve been preparing for a bountiful harvest this year. “I’ve got everything prepared (for the festival),” Duane Lewis said. “We’re getting ready for the picking, and we’re way ahead of schedule.” Because this is a large-crop year, Gilligan said growers would probably be still picking fruit in January. Last year, which was a small-crop year, a mature tree produced about 50 pounds of fruits, and growers were generally out by December. Gilligan said some of the big growers usually sell 2,000 or 3,000 thousand bags of mandarins during the festival. “This year, the crop is coming in about the week before the festival. There should be plenty of fruits available.” There are more than 65 mandarin orange orchards in Placer County. Mandarins are also widely used in salads, desserts, sauces and syrups. ------------------------------- Mountain Mandarin Festival When: noon – 5 p.m. Nov. 20 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 21 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 22 Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn Information: (916) 663-1918