It’s November and that means Thanksgiving will be here soon. Are you already thinking about your Thanksgiving menu? And, will your feast include cranberries?
Last month, fifty Fun Club travelers explored cranberry harvest in Wisconsin and we’re still hearing comments from the trip. Cranberry harvest was both fun and interesting to see and so different from corn and bean harvest familiar to Nebraskans.
Cranberries, which grow on vines similar to strawberries, are a perennial plant so they can produce for decades. All they need is acidic soil, some sand and a big supply of fresh water. For those reasons cranberries are grown in beds or marshes rather than in open fields.
Most cranberry beds are manmade. You first dig up the topsoil and use that to build a dyke around the bed. Then you haul in a layer of sand, anywhere from 4 to 8 inches. By design, most beds are 160 feet wide to allow for an 80-foot boom to apply fertilizer. That way you drive around the bed on the dyke rather than through the beds.
The vines bloom in early July and need to be pollinated. If you don’t have enough migratory bees, you have to supply your own. And that can be a problem because it sometimes takes two hives per acre, and most beds are either 3 acres or 5 acres in size. So it becomes a very busy place.
There are two methods of harvesting - dry harvest and wet harvest. Cranberries that are dry harvested are sold as fresh fruit while berries that are wet harvested are used for juice and sauce.
Most cranberries are wet harvested. When the crop is ready you simply flood the bed with 18 inches of water. The water flows from reservoirs to the beds through a series of canals. When you are done, you just send the water on to the next bed. It’s quite common for neighboring growers to use the same water supply.
Wet harvest works because cranberries contain a pocket of air which causes them to float. All you have to do is shake the berries loose from the vine. This is done with a machine that looks like a rake or a harrow. The result is a sea of red berries which you then corral and float to the loading area where they are conveyed into a truck.
After harvest is done you get the vines ready for winter. You do this by flooding the bed again and allowing the vines to spend the winter encased in ice. This somehow keeps them safe and warm.
One more unique aspect of growing cranberries is the land. In Wisconsin, 90% of a grower’s land is used for the reservoirs and canals; just 10% is for the beds.
As you can see, there’s always a lot to learn when traveling. And there’s lots of fun involved when you travel with a group. Stop by the Fun Club desk or call us at 402-745-6477 to obtain a current schedule or a brochure for any of our upcoming tours. We take a waiting list if the trip you’re interested in is already filled.