Cranberries are plants that aren’t too widely grown in home gardens, creating some mystery about what the plants look like, how the berries are harvested, and maybe even whether they CAN be grown in the home garden.  (They can!)  Look for garden cranberry varieties (no bog needed) in fruit catalogs or online.

The natural habitat for cranberry is a boggy site high in organic matter.  They are very low growing, long lived plants with tiny leaves.  I recently had a chance to visit a cranberry shipping facility (transfer from the bog to the processor) and a cranberry bog, right during harvest season and it was really interesting.

Low growing cranberry plants.

The cranberries are grown in a vast network of sunken areas that can be flooded at the time of harvest.  Flooding (and draining) of the fields is achieved nearly 100% using gravity and water from a nearby river. There are little ‘flood gates’ built into the dirt ‘walls’ surrounding the fields/bogs that can be opened or closed to control the water flow.  Cranberries can be harvested in more than one way and we learned about two.  One is using a wooden, hand-crafted tined scoop that is placed on the ground adjacent to the plant and pulled through the stems, removing and lifting the berries from the plants.  See photo.  We got to try this and bring home some berries.  Some of mine went into my favorite cranberry bread recipe, obtained from my oldest son’s preschool (circa 1988).  I’ll give you the recipe at the end of the blog.

Cranberry Scoop

Back to harvesting.  The other, more efficient and commercial method is still appealing and unmechanized by today’s standards.  A walk-behind machine (non-motorized) with a large egg-beater-like apparatus on the front is pushed by a person in chest waders through the flooded bog.  The ‘egg-beater’ turns and loosens the cranberries which float to the top of the water, creating a scene like the one in the Ocean Spray commercials.  See photo.

Flooded Cranberry Bog

Once the entire bog has been picked, an inflatable tube like those used to contain oil spills is floated on the surface to corral the berries into a corner where they are removed and placed on a truck using a conveyor belt.  The trucks haul them to the shipping facility where they are washed and crated for the trip to the processing plant.  See photos!Rounding up the cranberries to load on the truck.

Berries are dumped from the truck into a large washing area.

Conveyer belts move the berries to crates for shipment.

I never thought cranberries would be very enjoyable to eat fresh but they were.  We ate some right in the bog, with no sugar, and now I have a new healthy snack.

Pat’s Preschool Cranberry Nutbread

Ingredients

1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 Tblsp. grated orange peel
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
11/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tblsp. shortening
3/4 cup orange juice
1 egg, well beaten 
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease & flour 9x5x3" loaf pan. Prepare 
cranberries, nuts and orange peel. In a bowl mix flour, sugar, baking
powder, and baking soda. Cut in shortening. Stir in orange juice, egg
and orange peel mixing just to moisten. Fold in cranberries and nuts. 
Spoon into pan and bake for 60 minutes.

J Allen