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What are the seasonal chores of the cranberry grower?

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In cranberry growers’ circles, it is not uncommon to hear that non-growers envy the growers. “You are so lucky,” a community member might say. “You only have to work in the fall!” This view of cranberry growing—presumably due to the highly visible work of the autumnal harvest--couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, cranberry bogs, like other farming systems, are always in a delicate balance, requiring growers to devote constant attention to them.  Because the cranberry is a perennial, this means year-round attention. Each season has its own tasks and challenges. To meet these challenges growers, like other farmers, rely on various technologies (tools and processes).

For example, autumn is the most obvious time of activity on a cranberry bog. It’s harvest time. The grower must coordinate transportation systems, people, and machinery to accomplish wet or dry harvest and ensure that the cranberries are examined and packaged for sale. Mechanized harvesters replace the old fashioned, tined scoops once used for the dry hand harvest, and mechanical sorters separate high quality dry-harvested berries from those unsuitable for use. For a wet harvest, growers use sprinklers, water management systems, boats, water reels, corrals, pumps, and conveyors to flood the bogs, agitate the vines, and gather the berries. Trucks or helicopters transport the cranberries from the bog. Even after the harvest, the work is not complete; the ditches that have served to help flood and, later, drain the bog must now be cleaned and cleared of mud. Helicopters and bog vehicles are useful technologies for this task.

Each of the other seasons brings its own, unique tasks. While winter may be a quiet time for growing, the vines still require care. The bogs must be flooded with a protective layer of water that will freeze over, preventing cold burns to the vines. Meanwhile, the growers must take care of bookkeeping, professional development, and maintaining both the bog (through brush and tree clearing) and machinery. Spring and summer bring new work.  In the spring, growers are busy preventing damage from spring frost, insects, weeds, and disease, as well as renovating and constructing bogs. They also attend to the important task of promoting pollination. In the summer growers attend to irrigation and continue to manage weeds and harmful insect populations.

While each season brings its special concerns, throughout the year cranberry growers must pay special attention to the amount of rain fall and respond to water levels. Contrary to the common belief that vines must be saturated, vines require good drainage. It is critical to prevent too much water accumulation around the cranberry vines during blossom development or during berry growth.  The sun warms the water, and the water will burn the developing blossom and berry growth.  Once burned, the growth will be completely destroyed and there will be no crop.  Too much water will also promote disease to the vines and berries. Of course, the water levels will be crucial during autumn’s harvest. Wet harvesting requires flood levels. Dry harvest will require dry vines, and so growers must keep the bogs well drained. Finally, during winter, a common practice is to flood the bogs every three or four years and allow the water to freeze. Over the frozen surface, growers spread sand. When the ice melts, the sand drops to cover the vines. In this way, growers can sand the vines (which encourages growth) without risking damage to them that might otherwise be caused by driving or walking on them.

Again, technology helps growers as they control the level of water throughout the bog. Built into each cranberry bog are flumes that allow water to flow on and off the bog.  Each flume is equipped with a series of planks that can be added or removed to adjust the water level.  Each season is critical; the cranberry grower must pay special attention to bog the each day.