A Labour Of Love: Here's How Cranberries Are Grown & Nurtured
- Sushmita Sengupta
Updated : October 11, 2022 10:10 IST
Did you know cultivating these delicate berries is no cakewalk. Land, climate, and various other factors come into play to grow and harvest good cranberries?
You find them everywhere - in your drinks, your desserts, and even in your pulao. Ruby red in colour, cranberries possess a striking resemblance with cherries but are very different actually. Cranberries are low, creeping shrubs or vines up to 2 meters long and 5 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 in) in height. The fruit, when ripe, turns red in colour. Cranberry is sweet, but also has an acidic tart taste, which makes the fruit delectable and flavourful on its own. One of the three most cultivated fruits of North America, cranberries are a massive source of revenue in the region for many big and small farmers. But did you know cultivating these delicate berries is no cakewalk. Land, climate, and various other factors come into play to grow and harvest good cranberries, let’s take a deep dive into the same.
The Growth And Harvesting Of Cranberries
Cranberries cannot grow just about anywhere, they grow low-lying vines in impermeable beds called ‘bogs’ or ‘marshes’ that are stacked with peat, sand, clay, and gravel. These ‘bogs’ were originally created by glacial deposits in the region. Since naturally occurring ‘bogs’ are limited, commercially, a system of wetlands, uplands, ditches, flumes, ponds, and other water bodies are used to create a habitat conducive to growth of cultivation of cranberries and support other flora and fauna. The harvesting of cranberries usually begins in the fall, around mid-September and goes on until mid-November. Here’s how the cycle goes.
- In winter, the bogs and marshes are flooded to create a layer of ice that in turn would protect the vines from getting ruined in the harsh weather. The ice also helps the sanding of beds, which helps in growth when the ice melts.
- In Spring, the bogs and marshes are drained, a suitable environment is created for flowers to appear and bees to pollinate. Precautions are taken to keep the blossoms from getting infested by insects or frosts.
- Once the summer is in, the petals fall off from the flowers, paving way for small green nodes which become cranberries. Irrigation is done as required; growers take maximum precautions to monitor the quality.
- By Spring, the cranberries are full size and obtain colour. They are further harvested using either wet or dry methods.
And what happens to the beds you ask? After harvest, they are pretty much dormant, and growers engage themselves in other maintenance work.
Harvesting simply refers to the gathering of crops or ripened cranberries in this case. There are two ways harvesting is approached.
The more popular harvesting method. Here the growers flood their bogs and then wait for the cranberries to loosen from the vine. Four air chambers in the cranberry’s centre are used, for cranberries to float on the surface of water. The berries are then gathered and moved to the trucks.
Most cranberries are wet harvested, but there are dry methods too. The process entails picking cranberries using hands. Sometimes, mechanical pickers, with com-like conveyor belts are also used to collect cranberries. It is left on the field like a lawn mower and the berries are carried in attached burlap bags.
The fate of cranberries is heavily dependent on the bogs and marshes, and the most suitable ones are only found in select regions of the northern part of the US - including Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, and Washington primarily. The sandy soil and freshwater availability from May to October, make Cranberry Cultivation easier in these regions. Did you know, Wisconsin grows approximately 61% of the cranberries in the US alone, while Massachusetts accounts for another 26%. New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington together make up for the remaining 13%.