Author: Lisa Brenneis

Wet Kishu Report Jan 12

When creeks rise in southern California, dry beds become turbulent torrents.

We put together a little video to show how storm flows look in the East End of Ojai.

Nikos, born in the drought, gets his first glimpse of Ojai’s waterways in full flood.

The Ojai Valley is 100% reliant on what falls from the sky. Some folks have wells, many of us rely on the Bureau of Reclamation dam that created Lake Casitas. Either way, whether aquifer or the lake, the sources of pumpable supply have gotten dangerously low since 2005, having dipped to 29% of capacity at Lake Casitas immediately before the rains.
At Churchill Orchard, the rain fills us with contradictory emotions. We need the water, and it is truly thrilling to experience the rains. Also we have many tons of mulch on the ground and the orchard is covered with what we call “resident vegetation” (outsiders call it weeds!), so we gloat (just a little) about having very little run-off.

On the other hand, the rains are falling in the middle of kishu season, when we need to harvest the little kishu tangerines and manage our harvest volume to give ourselves the 5-6 week season we need to supply mail order, the farmers market, and wholesale.
Climatologists have been saying that average rainfall taken over a number of years is likely to remain roughly the same in southern California as it was before climate change – say, about 14″ per year in the Ojai Valley – but that the rain will come in fewer, more intense storms. And here we are: the current set of storms, while causing grief in many areas of California, including the Ojai Valley, is performing the incredibly useful service of filling up the aquifers and the creeks which are the sources of Ojai’s water.

Standard practice is to get the fruit off before the rains. Standard practice is to harvest the entire orchard in one go, then pack it and move it out. Our business model is different – we wait until the fruit is fully ripe, then we pick over the course of weeks, and pack to order.
You can’t send crews out to harvest soaking trees – getting soaked from picking is awful for the harvest crews. Also, we can’t pack wet fruit.

So we take measures: we cover the trees as best we can, to provide pickable trees in the intervals between storms.

When we do have wet fruit, which we inevitably do, we store it in the barn and run fans to dry the fruit out.

Bon appetit! We hope to be able to serve you.

Winter rains and kishus

A week of serious storms approaches from the Pacific.
Winter rain looms large in our history. We need it, and yet…
A very very hard rain can end Kishsu season just by beating the delicate skins until they bruise or break.

We get a lot of exercise trying to preserve the tender fruit from pounding rain and wind.
Early in the season—like now in January—we have a shot at saving the fruit.

We use these portable carports as shelters to keep the rain off.

When we run out of carports – black plastic.

And we are still in a Stage 3 drought.





Heart of Pixie

April 1

We head into the heart of Pixie and Hass avocado season. Most of our acreage is planted to these two varieties. This is the season of larger picking crews and 1000-lb bins.


Spring 2021 – a note from Jim

20th Mar 2021

Momentarily bucolic — dawn at the orchard.

The organic Kishu season has ended at Churchill Orchard, and the organic Pixie season has begun.

Kishu season was kind of a project – we got that lovely write-up in the Wall Street Journal in mid-December, right as we were starting a season where the crop size was a fifth of the previous year’s. We knew we didn’t have the fruit to serve all the new potential customers, and we had to say No to thousands of would-be customers who signed up – a stressful time for sure.

But it’s Pixie time now, and a different story. We will have enough organic Pixies for all, and as some of the other fruits that we grow come ripe we will add them in to our product list. There will be Hass avocados, Oro Blancos, and a couple of mixed fruit options.

Jim with his new tractor. Shiny and clean for a couple of days.

On the farm – the new tractor that we bought in December arrived this week, finally, and Mike immediately put the little gannon box on the back and started preparing the ground for his garden.

We fertilized all the trees in late February – early March, to give them food to grow new leaves during the spring growth spurt.

The drought continues to reign supreme here in Ventura County — so far this rain year we’ve gotten a total of about 6″, and we’re halfway through the last month that might have any chance of rain. (There is no “typical” rain year here, but the annual average is 14″.) Lake Casitas, the source of our water, is at a hair under 39% full, which is not good. We will probably have to turn off the water on some of the least productive or least desirable trees in order to make it through the year.

One of the ways we deal with the drought is by obsessively monitoring our irrigation. We use a device called an atmometer that measures evapotranspiration, to know when and for how long to irrigate, and we walk the irrigation lines every time we irrigate, looking for leaks, hose damage caused by mischievous young coyotes, blocked emitters – anything wasting water or causing individual trees not to receive their share. That irrigation season is about to start in earnest, where we will be watering each block of trees between weekly and every 10 days or so.

This being my first blog post, I’ll see if I can’t update it regularly with farm news.

thank you for reading!

Jim Churchill

Kishu Outlook – cloudy, but should clear up.

Jan 7, 2021
We’ve been hearing from many of you wondering if there are Kishu mandarins for sale this year.
Yes, Kishus are coming.
We hope to open ordering in late January, but the fruit makes the final call.
We have to limit our sales this year – it’s a small crop, and we’ve had a tsunami of new interest after a lovely write-up in the WSJ. This always happens in years when we have a small crop. Must be nature….
For pre-existing customers, there will be a 2 box limit this year, because this is a small crop year after 2020’s bonanza harvest. If nobody orders, then we will offer another round.
More Drama.
We’re having some trouble getting our carton order filled this year (no cardboard available til March, they tell us) – creating complications. We need a special box to qualify for the Fedex rate we want to use. So while we are scrounging for boxes, we can’t tell customers what the fruit and shipping will cost this year. Depends on sourcing the box.
So we haven’t said anything.
Besides, the Kishus aren’t ripe yet.
Aren’t you glad you asked?
Thank you for sticking with us through all our agri-drama. Means a lot.
Jim Churchill and Lisa Brenneis
Churchill Orchard
Hope for the future – mail order Ojai Pixies and Hass avocados in March: We hope you’ll consider trying our first tangerine love, the Ojai Pixie, when the fruit is ready in late March.
We also offer a Party Box – 6 lbs of Pixie tangerines and 4 lbs of our certified organic Hass avocados. It’s a lovely spring treat.