20 percent of all cranberries are consumed on Thanksgiving Day. 100 percent of cranberries are harvested in the fall, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Like growing cranberries, harvesting the fruit is a unique process because of the nature of the vine, which contains the fruit for next season’s crop.
There are two methods of harvesting cranberries: wet harvesting and dry harvesting. Each has their unique advantages and disadvantages. Each takes place in the fall after going through at least two growing seasons. Growing season lasts spring through fall.
It’s important to protect the plants and the budding fruit during winter. This keeps the plant from freezing and losing its moisture, which will ruin the crop. To protect the plant from the icy air, bog farmers will flood their bog to keep the plants underwater. Home growers cover their crop with a white plastic mulch.
Wet Harvesting Cranberries
95 percent of cranberries are picked “wet”. Wet harvesting means flooding the cropland that contains the ripe berries and collecting the berries from the top of the water. Cranberries have a hollow area in the center that allows them to float. The wetland bogs, where native cranberries grow, are perfect for this, and the crop is used to regular flooding, which allows the plant to resume its life after the water is removed.
Wet harvesting entails flooding the bog with 6 to 18 inches of water the night before picking. Flooding the bog sends the berries to the top of the water and keeps the vine and next year’s buds, which have not formed their floating abilities, toward the ground. Then, tractors specially made for wetlands (nicknamed eggbeaters) beat the water and graze the vines in order to release the cranberries from the vines.
The now-floating berries are rounded up using a floating corral called a “boom”. Once gathered together, the berries are lifted or pumped into trucks and sent off to be cleaned and turned into a product.
Berries picked in large quantities via wet harvest are the berries that end up in blends. Cocktails, juices, and sauces usually come from wet-harvested cranberries. It is faster, cheaper, and still produces a good berry. However, if you want a great berry, that’s as fresh as possible, you want a dry-harvested cranberry.
Dry Harvesting Cranberries
Only five percent of all cranberries are picked from the vine dry – without flooding a bog. These five percent are the berries that end up at markets as fresh cranberries. This method produces a superior berry to wet harvesting.
When the fruit is ready to be dry harvested, mechanical pickers are used to comb through the bog and knock the fresh fruit off the vines. The machine dumps the fallen fruit in a burlap sack. When the sack is full, the next one is used. Depending on the size of the operation, the sacks are either carried off the bog by hand, by trailer, or by helicopter.
Dry harvesting is a more delicate and more time-consuming process than wet harvesting. Farmers must be careful to grab the ripe berries and not harm next year’s batch. This is best done, especially en masse, by wet harvest. However, the best berries are always dry harvested.
If you’re harvesting at home, you probably don’t have a bog to flood or “eggbeating” tractors. Your cranberries will be picked off the vine by hand when they are ripe. Ripe cranberries are either bright or dark red (depending on the type of cranberry) and will have brown seeds inside.
Harvesting cranberries is so delicate because of the nature of the multiple seasons that need to be kept in mind. The ripe berry must be picked in a way that allows the budding berry to continue to grow and ripen. The quality of the berry depends on the style of picking, but so does the efficiency and cost of picking – if you’re running a bog.