The Annual Cape Cod Cranberry Fall Harvest
Fall is upon us and it's also the time of the year, when many cranberry bogs around the Cape harvest their berries.
Beginning in 1816 in the town of Dennis, the cultivation of the cranberry started and now cranberries are a major commercial crop in Massachusetts. Last year, Red Jacket Resorts visited Rocky Bog Cranberries in Yarmouth and owner Tom Grew shared with us how harvest works.
Cranberries grow all year and the fall harvest may be “wet” or “dry”, with a different harvesting process and cranberry usage for each. Rocky Bog is a wet harvest bog, whose berries are shipped off to Carver, MA and eventually end up as juice or dried cranberries (often called “craisins”) under the Paradise Meadow brand found in many grocery stores. But how do they get from the bog to the store?
The cranberries grow in a dry bog and are cultivated throughout the year. The first step in the harvest is to pump water from an adjacent pond into the bog, flooding it to a certain level. Then the cranberry farmers climb atop “water reels” machines that traverse the bog as their fast-moving reels knock the berries off the vines. The berries then float to the surface and the water level is once again raised using the pump.
Now it's time to corral all those floating berries. The system used for this is a “boom” system, somewhat similar to an oil containment boom. The farmers start at the shores of the now-watery bog and gather the floating berries within the booms into a fairly compact circle. Once the berries are corralled, a tall staging apparatus is placed between the shore of the bog and a large open-back truck.
About 6 or 7 people don waders (waist-high boots) and walk into the midst of the floating, corralled berries. With snow rakes, they push the berries toward a designated “box” area in the water, beneath which is a pump that sucks the berries into a tube and then up to the top of the staging apparatus, where sprays of water clean the berries and shoot them into the waiting truck. The cleaning station also funnels any debris such as twigs or leaves into a smaller truck below. As the process continues for about 90 minutes, the farmers continually tighten the boom around the corralled berries and push them into the “box”, then through the cleaning station they go and into the truck. One truck can hold approximately 45,000 pounds of cranberries.
After the harvest, the water from the bog is pumped back into the pond. As for next year's harvest, the buds have already begun developing and many are on vines that date back 100+ years. Throughout the winter, the vines are covered and protected from cold weather by flooding the bog with water, which also provides a flat ice surface over the shallow bog, perfect for ice skating.