Green Fingers I Wish

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Cranberries are low, creeping shrubs up to 10 cm tall (often less), with slender, wiry stems, not thickly woody, and small leaves. They have dark pink flowers, with very distinct petals, leaving the style and stamens fully exposed and pointing forward. The berry is the fruit that is larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially white, but turns a deep red when fully ripe. Its taste is acidic and is edible, with an taste that can overwhelm its sweetness.
The name cranberry probably derives from their being a favourite food of a bird, the Crane, though some sources claim the name comes from "'craneberry' because before the flower expands, its stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane". Another name, used in northeastern Canada, is mossberry.

Cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas that have a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dikes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in to a depth of four to eight inches. The surface is laser leveled with a slight crown in the center to facilitate drainage. Beds are frequently drained with tile in addition to the perimeter ditch. In addition to making it possible to hold water, the dikes allow equipment to service the beds without driving on the vines.

Cranberry vines are propagated by mowing vines from an established bed. The vines are spread on the surface of the sand of the new bed and pushed into the sand with a blunt disk. The vines are watered frequently during the first few weeks until roots form and new shoots grow. Beds are given frequent light application of nitrogen fertilizer during the first year.

A common misconception about cranberry production is that the beds remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season cranberry beds are not flooded, but are irrigated regularly to maintain soil moisture. Beds are flooded in the fall to facilitate harvest and again during the winter to protect against low temperatures. In cold climates like Wisconsin and Massachusetts the winter flood typically freezes into ice while in warmer climates the water remains liquid. When ice forms on the beds trucks can be driven onto the ice to spread a thin layer of sand that helps to control pests and to rejuvenate the vines. Sanding is done every three to five years.

Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. This is usually in late September and into October. To harvest cranberries the beds are flooded with six to eight inches of water. A harvester is driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines. For the past 50 years water reel type harvesters have been used. In 2005 a new type harvester was introduced that does less vine damage and takes less time. Harvested cranberries float in the water and can be corraled into a corner of the bed and conveyed or pumped from the bed. From the farm cranberries are taken to receiving stations where they are cleaned, sorted, and stored prior to packaging or processing.

About 95% of cranberries are processed into products such as juice, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries. The remaining 5% is sold fresh to consumers. Cranberries destined to processing are usually frozen in bulk containers shortly after arriving at a receiving station. Cranberries for fresh market are stored in shallow bins or boxes with perforated bottoms to allow air movement and to prevent decay. Because harvest occurs in late fall cranberries for fresh market are frequently stored in thick walled barns without mechanical refrigeration. Temperatures are regulated by opening and closing vents in the barn as needed.

Cranberry juice, usually sweetened to reduce its natural severe tartness and make "cranberry juice "cocktail" or blended with other fruit juices, is a major use of cranberries.


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