The cranberry (vaccinium macrocarpon) requires a very special soil and climate. It only grows on very sour soils of high moor and needs a lot of water and an ideal climate in which it can grow from May until September. The plant belongs to the heather plant family and to the species of blueberries and ligonberries. The versatile red berries are grown throughout the northern part of the United States. The areas in the states Wisconsin, Washington, New Jersey, Oregon and Massachusetts offer the special conditions that cranberries require. Cranberries grow on low lying vines in impenneable beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds are known as “bogs” or “marshes” and were originally created by glacial deposits. Commercial bogs use a system of ditches, ponds and wet soil.
The cranberry season begins in winter when the farmers flood the fields with water. A blanket of ice forms, then the underlying water is drained. The remaining ice sheet functions as an isolating layer during the coldest winter months. In spring, the fields thaw and dry, shortly afterwards the flowering begins. In mid-July the petals fall from the flowers leaving tiny green nodes that eventually turn into cranberries throughout the summer.
Cranberries are harvested from September until the beginning of November. There are two different ways to harvest cranberries:
In this method, the farmers flood their bogs with water. With the use of harvesting machines the berries are loosened from the vines. Due to small air pockets in their center, cranberries float to the surface. It even makes a great visual impact on the spectator since it is a colorful event. Conveyors lift the berries from the bog onto trucks and are then transported to processing plants. Here, they are processed to jelly, juice or the like and are made ready for export. Most cranberries are wet harvested since this method is less labor-intensive than the dry harvest.
Only a small percentage of cranberries are dry harvested. Here, the process uses mechanical pickers resembling lawn mowers. With comb-like conveyor belts the berries are picked and packed into burlap bags. After they have been graded and screened based on their color and ability to bounce (quality test) they are sold fresh.
Find out more about the cranberry in the US at www.uscranberries.com.