A Brief Introduction to Cranberry Bogs
Cranberry bogs can vary in size, but the average one covers 10 acres. These bogs need to be flooded annually with salt water to keep them moist, which is accomplished via a ditching system that redirects seawater from the bay. Once flooded, the cranberry plants are cultivated for about four years before being rotated with other crops in “renewal leasing.” A cranberry bog will require additional flooding with saltwater to continue production every seven years.
Cranberry Bogs that have already been flooded will be left alone during renewal years, while different ditching companies will flood new bogs. The constant flooding induces marsh plant growth, which the cranberries then grow atop. In 1934, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station began a program devoted to increasing cranberries in the United States. The project centered on the study of “bog mechanics” and included experiments with fertilization and varying flooding methods.
Process of Cultivating Cranberries –
- Cultivating cranberries dates back centuries when Native Americans observed wild cranberry vines growing atop marsh plants such as cattails. Early inventors discovered that the process of cutting and transplanting cranberry vines to an area flooded with saltwater created a controlled environment suitable for growing cranberries. Early cultivators would follow the growth patterns of these vines for decades, making only minor adjustments to improve their yield.
- The first cranberry bog in New Jersey was established in 1870 by Jacob Weymouth, a farmer, and president of the Union Agricultural Society. The marsh covered about 4 acres but still required most of its yield from manual labor. Modern-day growers have learned to mimic these early practices for maximum efficiency and output.
- Cranberry Bogs are harvested from the vines when ripe and ready to be picked between February and March. Cranberries are harvested while they are still attached to the vines and cut using a machine called a “buncher.” The bunches can weigh up to 20 pounds and must be collected by hand from their vines onto a cart. They then pass into the “yarding” area, where they are placed on top of racks.
- Next, the berries are transported via rail car to a processing plant. They will undergo several cleaning processes that prepare them for delivery to stores and grocery chains across the country. First, the berries are washed to remove debris, and excess water before they are sent through a machine called a “deteriorator,” which acts as a meat tenderizer. It is where the berries lose their color and become very sticky, which aids in their transfer to the “sorting table.”
- At this point, the berries are ready to be rinsed and inspected before being packed and distributed across the country. Today, small cranberry producers have access to more accessible harvesting techniques, which have allowed for more excellent production and distribution.
Cranberries are a tough crop to grow, but their popularity has endured the test of time. New Jersey is the top cranberry producer in the United States, and there are about 1,000 cranberry bogs across the state. They range from 5 to 80 acres and produce about 6,000 tons of cranberries each year.