Cranberries are awesome! I know it, and you know it. So…that leads to the question, “how are cranberries grown?” I’m sure you’ve pondered about this question at least once or twice before. There is good reason to love cranberries. The fruit tastes great, can improve a salad or turkey, and is very healthy. Want to grow your own? It’s likely harder than you think.
Cranberries are one of the only fruits native to North America. They grow predominantly in North-Eastern United States and South-Eastern Canada due to the glaciers that carved out wetlands known as “bogs”.
Bogs are ideal because they have acid peat soil, which is basically sand and organic matter like leaves.
Cranberries take a long time to grow. It takes two warm seasons to reach an adequate amount of warmth and sunlight for the berries to ripen. This brings challenges to growers.
Not only do cranberries need 16 months of time to grow into an edible fruit, they need to survive the long winter between summer months. Growers will intentionally flood cranberry fields during the winter so that the plants aren’t destroyed by the cold. Flooding plays multiple roles in cranberry production – more than just defense against winter during the production of cranberries.
Flooding is used to combat pests, the cold, and plays a critical piece in harvesting. Cranberry plants developed this tolerance to flooding because of their native wetland environment. The plant and fruit grows on dry land, but the flooding is used as a regulator for the plants, and doesnt drown and ruin the fruit.
Flooding is used in harvesting so that the berries float to the top of the water. Once the berries float to the top, the berries are knocked off their vines so that they can be collected.
This method of collection is important so that the next set of cranberries can continue to grow to be ready the following Fall. Remember, this is a 16-month process. The next fruit has already started to form, so we can’t just cut the plants or send farm equipment down the aisles. Flooding and a buoyant fruit makes sure the current fruit can be safely removed from the vine without harming next year’s harvest.
Two other main ingredients in cranberry production are bees and sand. Bees are often imported during the summer months to pollinate the flowers to form the new fruit. The new fruit grows from summer until winter, when growth stalls for the cold months.
Sand is a key ingredient to the bog soil where it is one of the primary layers. Growers also use sand to provide some pest control, prevent weeds, and speeds up the growth of the plants.
Because of the climate required and the technical challenges of maintaining a cranberry farm with locks and canals, not a lot of people grow cranberries. There are about 700 family businesses that farm most of the cranberries in North America – and therefore the world. Almost all of these are all part of an Ocean Spray cooperative that grows about 70 percent of the world’s cranberries.
Want to grow your own cranberries?
It’s not impossible, but it’s a hard fruit to grow. They need a cool climate, which is why Northern US and Southern Canada works. Also, you need to mimic the bog soil. This requires a custom soil with low pH and a lot of organic matter.
The work continues after you gather the appropriate materials and the seeds are planted. Cranberry plants must be well watered, well fertilized, weeded, and controlled for pests and diseases.
Fortunately, the job gets easier after year one. Cranberry plants can live for years (decades in the big farms!) and after the first year require less care than the young plant.
In conclusion, if you’ve been wondering how are cranberries grown, but you don’t live in the Northern United States and have access to an acid peat soil, you should probably move to the Northern United States and find yourself some acid peat soil. Cranberries are difficult to grow but produce a delicious, healthy berry.