Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ranch Life

I grew up on Limoneira Ranch so every time the weather dips below 35 degrees I think about smudge pots.

One of the worst things for a citrus rancher is frost. A bad frost can ruin an entire orchard. An entire orchard ruined can be devastating to a rancher. As a kid I can remember cold nights, while all wall heaters blasted and kept us cozy in our beds, my Pops would keep the phone near by. There was a kind of alarm that would go off when the weather dropped to 35 degrees. When that alarm went off my Pops had to get up and start making calls (this was before cell phones!) and then bundle up and head out the door to light smudge pots. This was back in the mid 1980's when smudge pots could still be used to keep trees warm. The heat from the pots was enough to keep the trees and fruit from freezing.

So while we slept on those winter nights my Pops was out filling pots with oil and lighting them. It seems like it was a dangerous and huge job. The ranch we lived on was over 7,000 acres of different kinds of trees. I can only imagine how many pots there were to light. I remember driving through the orchards and looking down each row between the trees to see smudge pot after smudge pot. I have a vivid memory of my Pops coming home in the morning covered with black soot on his face and his clothes, carrying a box of doughnuts.

Thanks to the negative impact the smoke had to the environment and the rising cost of oil, smudge pots are a thing of the past. But cold winter nights always remind me of them.


  1. Even though I've always lived in the city, we were near enough to orange groves to be aware of smudge pots. They weren't used too much, close to us, but in north OC, the got more use.

  2. Tawny Moreno12:36 PM

    What a nice story, and memory for you; thanks for sharing.

  3. Anonymous2:47 PM

    It's definitely pretty cold out here! Now they're using those huge fans/windmills to blow away the cold air. It sounds like helicopters are outside my window.

    1. I remember the sound of the wind machines too!

  4. Anonymous9:37 AM

    they are defiantly still used.

  5. I’m not sure if the ban extended up as far north as the area around Limoneria but smudge pots were banned in the Los Angeles Basin in 1957. Many of the existing smudge pots were modified to operate as orchard heaters, which relied on heat rather than a pall of sooty smoke to protect the groves.
    Bob Chaparro
    Citrus Industry Modeling Group (on Yahoo)


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