Why are cranberries in water? What is it about this superfood that allows it to thrive and grow in bogs and wetlands?
Considering the cranberries’ vibrant ruby red glow and delicate nature, it’s pretty hard to imagine that their ideal environment for survival and growth would be such a harsh and unusual place.
Bogs are among North America’s distinctive kinds of wetlands for those who’ve never seen cranberries grow before. These strange ecosystems are characterized by spongy substances on the water surfaces, peat deposits, acidic waters, and thick sphagnum moss.
The cranberries survive best in these beds within the wetlands, which comprise alternating layers of clay, gravel, peat, and sand.
So, let’s expound on this bizarre phenomenon.
Why Are Cranberries In Water?
Cranberries are native to wetland environments, needing plentiful water supply for their farming. During a considerable portion of the year, well-drained soils are required so the cranberry root systems can develop to be functional and healthy.
That said, thanks to evolution, cranberries have also grown the ability to withstand periodic floodings without a hassle.
In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded in 1990 that cranberry beds qualify as Federal wetlands since they meet all necessary field tests described in the Federal Wetland Delineation Manual.
How Are Cranberries Actually Grown?
Tart little cranberries are grown across parts of Canada and all over United States’ northern part. They’re also increasingly being grown in Chile. What’s more?
The top states producing cranberries in no particular order are Rhode Island, New York, Michigan, Maine, Delaware, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.
Now, contrary to what most people believe, cranberries are not really grown in water. Most people usually picture two Ocean Spray gentlemen standing waist deep in bogs filled with cranberries.
In reality, cranberries grow on vines in wetland environments, and these wetlands are then flooded when harvest time rolls in. What’s more?
Since cranberry vines become dormant during winter, the flooding also protects them from frigid winter winds, pests, and sub-zero temperatures, while simultaneously giving the fruiting buds the time they need to mature.
During the harvest period, which typically lasts from September to November, the fields that have been filled with up to 1.5 feet of water are then stirred, causing the berries to separate from their vines and start floating to the surface. This is primarily because berries have tiny chambers on them filled with air.
The harvesters then scoop up these fruits and send them to factories for processing into dried cranberries, sauces, juices, and even ingredients in processed foods or nutraceuticals.
The reason cranberries that have been flood-harvested have to be taken through processing right away is that the wet harvesting method encourages the fruits to spoil faster. This brings me to my next point.
Not all cranberries are flood harvested. In fact, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, 5 percent of cranberry production takes place in dry-harvest conditions. If you’ve ever bought fresh cranberries from the market, chances are they were dry-harvested.
The Two Main Ways Cranberry Growers Use Water
As a general rule of thumb, every acre of cranberries uses eight to eleven feet of water in order to meet the harvesting, flooding, and production needs. The two main ways cranberry farmers introduce water onto these bogs are flooding and sprinkler systems.
The flooding method is so glorified when it comes to cranberry production that bogs that do not allow for flooding aren’t considered profitable anymore. We’ve already touched on why flooding is used as a management tool, so let’s take a look at the three use cases of flooding.
The widely known use of floods by cranberry farmers is or harvest reasons. Flood harvests usually take place after the cranberries have become well shaded.
Another flooding use case described by cranberry farmers is late water. Growers have used these floods since the 40s to provide some form of pest control and protect their bogs from spring frost.
Over the last few decades, growers have introduced another practice known as holding late waters. This refers to the process of draining winter floods in late February and reflooding the bogs in late April for a month.
This brings me to the last flooding use case.
Vines that cranberries grow on are susceptible to severe winter conditions. These fatal injuries, also known as winterkills, can be easily prevented by covering the vines using a winter flood.
Winter floods can be applied as early as late December and can remain on bogs for as long as winterkill conditions are forecasted and present.
2. Sprinkler Systems
Cranberry growers use sprinkler irrigation systems to cool the vines during extreme summer heats, protect the berries from fall frosts, supplement soil moisture, and protect buds from spring frosts.
Operations performed through sprinkler systems on cranberry bogs can be divided into two categories, namely frost protection and Irrigation.
This operation includes applying water to cranberry vines to prevent damages to berries and buds when temperatures are below freezing. The two times of the year when cranberry farmers worry about frosts, the most are in the fall and in the spring.
To offer basic frost protection, growers apply approx. 0.10 inches of water per hour per acre, which is usually sufficient to protect the vines under calm conditions of up to 24 degrees F.
Cranberry vines can need up to 0.25 inches of water per day per acre during the windiest, driest, and hottest weather conditions.
The recommended standard is to ensure the vines receive at least one inch of water per week from either Irrigation, capillary action from groundwater, rain, or some combination of the three.
Experts advise that growers irrigate their plants early in the morning to minimize loss from drift, run-off, or evaporation.
So why are cranberries in water? Because in most environments where cranberries grow, water is the single most essential resource in growing the berries. Cranberry growers need floodings to harvest the berries, control pests and protect the plants in extreme winter conditions.