Into the Marsh


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 marshes, 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 marsh: it’s harvest time. The grower must coordinate transportation systems, people, and machinery to accomplish harvest and ensure that the cranberries are examined and packaged for sale. Mechanized harvesters replace the old fashioned, long-handled rakes once used for hand harvesting, and mechanical sorters separate high berries from those unacceptable for fresh fruit consumption.  Berry 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 transport the cranberries from the marsh.

Each of the other seasons brings unique tasks. While winter may be a quiet time for growing, the vines still require care. The marsh must be flooded with a protective layer of water that will freeze over, preventing the vines from sub-zero temperatures and blustery winds. Meanwhile, the growers must take care of bookkeeping, professional development, and maintaining both the marsh 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 may be destroyed and there may be no crop that growing year. Too much water will also promote disease to the vines and berries. Of course, the water levels will be crucial during autumn’s harvest. Harvesting requires water to protect the fruit from freezing on low temperature nights, and for the raking flood which allow cranberries to float enabling the machines to easily remove the fruit from the vine. Finally, during winter, a common practice is to flood the marsh for winter protection. The ice provides a frosty blanket for the dormant cranberry vines so they are not harmed by harsh weather. Growers may spread dump trucks of sand over the ice in a cultural practice that is designed to add substrate, spring melting means the sand will act as new top soil in the cranberry bed.

Technology also helps growers as they adjust and pass water throughout the marsh. Water control structures such as flumes and bulkheads allow the grower to move waster via 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 marsh the each day.