Ecosystems vary in size. They can be as small as tiny vernal pools or as large as the Earth itself. Any group of living and nonliving things that interact with each other can be thought of as an ecosystem. There are many different types of ecosystems, including tropical rain forests, saltwater marshes, deserts, coral reefs, and cranberry marshes. Each ecosystem is unique, but each also requires a delicate balance between the plant and animal species in order for the ecosystem to remain healthy.
The cranberry marsh ecosystem includes cultivated acres of vines plus surrounding support property consisting of natural and man-made wetlands, woodlands, uplands, and reservoirs. The unique wetlands character of the marsh provides an ideal habitat and friendly refuge for a variety of wildlife like the bald eagle, great blue heron, sandhill crane, and trumpeter swan. The land is home to a variety of plant life like the bog rush and calypso orchid.
Cranberries are harvested from mid-September through early November. There are two methods of harvesting cranberries. The “Welcome to the Marsh” lesson provides a set of images depicting both. One method involves machine raking for the fresh cranberry market. In the early days of commercial cranberry growing, the fruit was picked by hand with a workforce including women and school children. Beginning in 1907, two-handled rakes, improved the process and workers could harvest about 4000 pounds in the typical 10-hour day. Now raking machines comb the cranberries from the vines and an operator can harvest about 120,000 pounds of fruit each day. Cranberries are taken to a warehouse to be dried, sorted, and packaged for the retail market.
Harvesting fruit for processed products is the second way cranberries are picked. This harvesting method involves flooding the marsh and using a water reel harvester to loosen the berries from the vine. The floating fruit is corralled with a “cran-boom” and elevated into waiting dump trucks. These trucks deliver the fruit to receiving stations where the berries are crated into 1000-pound totes, destined for freezer storage. Juice producers use the frozen blocks to create juices, sauce, jellies, and other products that consumers find on the grocery shelves.