New England Cranberry Bog
While most Americans are preparing for some cranberry sauce this Thursday, I thought I’d share some photos from my visit to a cranberry bog last month. There are many independent cranberry growers in the Eastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod area, most of which are open for visitors to purchase fresh berries or for tours. I stopped by Flax Pond Farm, just west of Plymouth and enjoyed learning about the cranberry harvest.
Cranberries grow from small shrubs which are particularly suited for marshy land. Once planted, a bog (or field of cranberry plants) doesn’t reach full fruit production for 3-5 years. Once established, the plants are very robust; New England has some 100 year old cranberry bogs.
Collecting the fruit in the Fall is a time consuming process done either by wet or dry harvesting. Wet harvesting (which everyone should recognize from the TV juice ads) involves flooding the bog. Large egg-beater like machines are used to agitate the water and the plants below, thus pulling the berries from the shrubs. Since a ripe cranberry has a central air pocket, the fruit floats to the surface where is can be shimmed off. Wet harvesting is fast but can blemish the fruit and so these cranberries are either used for juice or dried.
Flax Pond Farm produces only fresh cranberries which are collected by dry harvesting. Much like mowing a lawn, a machine is driven through the bog collecting the fruit. This process also prunes the scrubs which helps maintain the bog. It appeared to be a fairly labor intensity process as I saw three harvesters essentially walking slowing in each others foot prints.
The picking and pruning by dry harvesting does create an interesting color scheme. As the bogs are worked, the plants change color as the leaves are inverted and trimmed. You can see a group of workers and their colorful tracks in the picture above.
It’s also interesting to learn about the history of the cranberry industry. The early 20th century sorting machine shown above divides fresh from rotten berries by relying on their ability to bounce. Try it yourself sometime: fresh cranberries bounce when dropped while rotten ones don’t! The final quality control happened by hand as four people sorted berries on two conveyor belts. Small, unripe or blemished berries could be removed.
A lot of painstaking agricultural and manual effort goes into producing a pound of fresh cranberries. It’s something to think about before you enjoy a little delicious cranberry sauce – whether fresh or from a can!