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Lodi-area crops weathering cold snap

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Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007 10:00 pm

The temperature dropped to 22 degrees Monday morning at Jon Tecklenburg's ranch east of Highway 99 on Kettleman Lane. While the winegrapes, cherries and apples were surviving the freeze, his workers pruning the grapevines were bundled up like football fans in Green Bay.

"They are soooo bundled up," Tecklenburg said. "They have ski masks on. I bought them all a pair of gloves."

Rene Garcia, who has worked for Tecklenburg some 25 years, said he wore a warm pair of sweats underneath his pants. His upper extremities were covered by a T-shirt, turtleneck, windbreaker and heavy jacket.

His mother, Edelmira Garcia, was still wearing a sweater and red scarf around her face in mid-afternoon Monday.

"When we start working, my body gets warm," she said.

Lodi has seen temperatures in the 20s the past four mornings, including a bone-chilling 21 on Saturday morning, according to figures compiled by the Lodi fire station on South Ham Lane. It was 23 degrees Monday morning.

Citrus growers in the southern San Joaquin Valley face the greatest danger to their crops due to the below-freezing nights. Locally, the strawberry crop is in the greatest danger, growers say.

However, the grapevines and other crops in the Lodi area are faring well, farmers say, and the cattle are also braving the elements.

This week, daytime temperatures are expected to increase slightly from 51 degrees today to 55 on Friday, according to AccuWeather, a private forecasting service. The low is expected to be 29 degrees tonight, 30 on Wednesday, 31 on Thursday and a balmy 34 degrees on Friday night, according to AccuWeather.

Tecklenburg said he offered to let the half-dozen farm workers who work in his zinfandel field come in late Monday when it got warmer, but they were there at 8 a.m. sharp anyway.

"You get used to working with all those layers," Garcia said. "That's no problem."

"However, you like to cover your face with a cloth handkerchief," he said Monday afternoon. In the morning, he had a second handkerchief covering his eyes and mouth.

Tips for dealing with icy weather

• Watch out for icy spots on streets and sidewalks. Ice in a shady spot, like behind vehicles, buildings or trees, can often stay frozen well into the afternoon.
• Keep water taps open to prevent pipes from freezing. If pipes freeze, thaw them with an electric hair dryer.
• Keep pets indoors overnight.
• Don't use charcoal or gas grills indoors.
• To prevent your windshield from icing up, place a large piece of cardboard or newspaper on the windshield or tape large garbage bags together.
• Don't put hot water on the windshield or turn the car defroster on high.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.ehow.com, http://www.doityourself.com.

"It keeps the cold air out of my lungs," Garcia said.

The crops and dairy cows appear to be faring better than the people.

The vegetation appears to be saying "What cold?" because they are dormant, or hibernating for the winter, several farmers said.

"The cold weather is good for the chilling," said Morada cherry grower Tom Gotelli. "You need so many hours of chilling below 45 degrees. We can use more rain."

Gotelli's walnuts and blueberries are also doing fine, he said, because they are also in dormancy.

The cold snap's biggest threat is to citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, but most of them are between Fresno and Bakersfield. In the Lodi area, strawberries run the risk of damage, Tecklenburg said.

With strawberries 30 to 40 days away from ripening, this week's cold mornings are on riskier footing, Tecklenburg said. Local farmers took the tops off the strawberries to prevent the flowers from blooming.

"If that flower spike comes out too soon, this kind of cold weather will kill it," he said.

Cattle are faring just fine, although they prefer warmer climes, said Galt dairyman Case Van Steyn.

"They have a lot of body heat," Van Steyn said. "If they had a choice, they'd like it a little it a little warmer. Their ideal night weather is the 30s to the 50s. If you had a lot of wind, that would be more dangerous. Cows are smart enough to turn away from the wind."

However, dairy workers had to hammer the ice out of a half-dozen pipes Monday morning so the cattle could have water to drink, Van Steyn said.

"We had six leaks (Sunday) night and worked (Monday) morning to fix them all," Van Steyn said. "We have to go with a sledge hammer to break all the ice. It was only $50 or $100 worth of pipes, plus a lot of labor to fix them all."

The milk production has been pretty stable, he added.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

First published: Tuesday, January 16, 2007

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