Autumn in New England is cranberry harvest time. I live right across the street from the cranberry bog my husband’s grandfather built. Actually it was one of many he had. This cranberry bog was made on the site of a maple swamp and was built around 1900. First the maple swamp is cleared and ditches for drainage are dug. Then sand is put down and last the vines are planted. Cranberries are a ground cover type plant. Back then this was all done by hand and with the help of horses. He also built a three story screenhouse. A screenhouse was where the separators were kept and berries were separated. It was also used for storage of tools, cranberries and cranberry crates. Over the last century there have been many changes in the way cranberry bogs are cared for and the berries are picked.
In the winter there is not a lot to be done with the bogs. They are flooded to protect the vines. When the bogs freeze over they make for great skating which is relatively safe because the water is not as deep as a pond. Once every seven years or so, the bogs are sanded. These little bog buggies take loads of sand out onto the ice and spread it. As the days start to warm the water is let off the bog and the ice collapses, begins to melt and the sand replenish the sand that has been washed away over the years.
In the spring the bogs are checked for bugs. Then pesticides and fertilizer is put into the sprinkler system. These can also be applied by spraying. This is usually done by helicopter. There is nothing like being awakened at 05:30 by a helicopter hovering and turning at treetop level over your house. They usually make three passes each direction for our bog.
In late June the vines are in bloom which means the arrival of the honey bees. The bees arrive after dark and the hives are located off to the side of the bog. They are usually there for two or three week. This is usually not the best time to take a walk around the bog depending exactly where the bees are located. Once the bees have done their job the hives are loaded on to a truck after dark and taken to their next job or back to the bee keeper. The transport of the bees is done after dark because the majority of the bees are in the hive then.
Now it is high summer and the tasks at hand are to keep the bogs watered and the weeds at bay. Most bogs have the land around them cut back. This provides better air flow, more sunshine and keeps unwanted seeds from finding a place to sprout.
In early September the early varieties start to ripen and over the next six weeks or so all the others will follow. In the days when the bogs were picked by hand there were several varieties planted in a bog in different sections. This allowed the pickers to work over a period of time to get the crop in. The cranberry scoop has tines on the end and they comb the vines pulling the berries into the scoop. Then they were dumped into crates or canvas or burlap sacks. The picker was usually on his or her knees while picking it was hard work. After the berries were picked they were taken to the screenhouse. Here there is the separator, a conveyor belt machine. The berries would ride along the belt and were shaken and caused to bounce. They had to bounce their way through the machine. Any berry that did not bounce was bad and pulled of the line. Then the berries were put into crates and taken off to market. My husband’s grandfather used to store his berries in the basement of the screen house and sell them later in the season when people wanted them for Thanksgiving.
This scoop has the screen on the top side missing.
In the late 1960’s things changed. A lot of the bogs went to being water picked. The cranberry bog is flooded and these machines are pushed over them. They have paddles like a waterwheel and they beat the water which shakes the vines and the berries fall off and float to the top. There are also larger ones that are driven over the bog. The berries are then corralled. Once the berries are corralled they are pushed onto a conveyor belt or now a days sucked up a tube and put in the back of a truck. Then it’s off to Ocean Spray to become Juice or Cranberry Sauce. These berries are also used for any product that has cooked berries in them. Water picked berries are always processed because they can not be dried efficiently to be sold fresh.
here are still berries dry picked. That is an obvious statement as you know you can buy fresh berries in the produce section of the grocery. Times have changed in the way these are picked. There is a machine that is pushed over the dry bog. It has a comb like front at the bottom and this combs the vines. Then these berries are pushed on to an escalator type part of the machine that lifts them up into an attached container. The container may be a crate or a bag depending on the machine. No more getting down on hands and knees.
There is one other interesting thing about bog maintenance. The drainage ditches do get clogged. Workers will dig them out putting the debris onto the bog. This is then loaded onto slings. A helicopter will hover over the area and the worker will attach a cable to the sling. The helicopter will then fly off to the land around the bog and dump the sling. I’m sure there are many other ways of performing this task, but it was done this way on our bog.
So now that I have told you how the cranberries get to your market, what do you like to do with this beautiful red fruit?
For some good videos please follow the below links.
Wet caranberry harvest