Growing Cranberries in Cape Cod

What is not to love about the cranberry? The color is gorgeous. The fruit is tart but becomes deliciously sweet when cooked with sugar. The plant is indigenous to North America and has a rich history of uses, both culinary and medicinal. Harvested in October and November, Thanksgiving is the cranberry’s time to shine.

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My fascination with cranberries started when I was growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, home to the Ocean Spray cooperative. We had only to drive twenty-five miles east to find acres of cranberry bogs along the highway to the Cape. There, my mother would often stop at the old Ocean Spray Cranberry House to pick up an assortment of cranberry pastries.

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The early New England settlers referred to the cranberry as a crane berry because of the resemblance of the fruit’s pink blossom to the head and bill of a Sandhill Crane. Thanks to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery for the photo.

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Flowers, Berries, and Bogs

Cranberry fields are not very exciting to look at in the summer. It is more the idea of what is coming that is exciting.

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By late summer, you can start to see the red berries among the green vines hugging the ground.

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In September and October, the bogs are flooded for harvest — now that is a vision! All the ripe fruit floats to the surface and suddenly there is a sea of red on the horizon.

If you dissect a cranberry, you will see there are four interior chambers where the seeds are located. These chambers hold pockets of air that allow cranberries to float when the fields are flooded. The air pocket also causes berries to bounce. Good cranberries bounce and float; rotten ones do neither. I learned that the first day of Home Ec at Dartmouth Middle School where we were taught how to make cranberry jelly and biscuits.

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Some cranberries are white. I read that when you freeze or cook them they turn red as the pigment, anthocyanin, is released.

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Horticulturally, cranberry vines are perennials; some vines have been growing for over one hundred years. Cranberry bogs consist of different layers of soil. The first layer is a naturally occurring clay base. It keeps the ground watertight. Next, is a layer of gravel for drainage, followed by a layer of a spongy, acidic soil known as peat, and finally, a top layer of sand.

The Harvest

Originally, cranberries were picked by hand. In the 1890s wooden scoops with built-in screens were invented and replaced hand-picking. My friend, Kendra, has a marvelous collection of these harvest implements.

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Later, in the 1920s, a “walk behind” mechanical harvester was invented which is still used today for the ten percent of cranberries that are “dry-harvested.” These are the perfect cranberries, the ones that are packaged for baking.

In 1960 a wet harvesting machine was invented. This machine crawls over the flooded fields and dislodges berries from their vines allowing them to float where they are then corralled and vacuumed by farmers. Ninety percent of cranberries are harvested in this way. These berries are used for juices, dried cranberries, and canned sauces.

About a foot of water is piped into the bog for this process. Water is also piped in before a winter freeze to protect the vines from cold weather. As warm weather arrives, growers drain the winter flood, the vines come out of dormancy, and a new growing season begins.

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These next photos were taken by Minda Bradley whose family farms cranberries in Kingston, MA.

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Cranberry plants were traded by early colonists in exchange for goods from Europe. Sailors ate the berries, high in vitamin C, while crossing the sea to prevent scurvy. The plants were eventually transplanted to Europe, but the soil conditions were not the same, resulting in a different acid level and flavor. Lingonberry or English moss berry are examples of the European version of cranberries.

Ocean Spray Cranberries

Grower-owned Ocean Spray is a cooperative of over 700 farming families across North America who grow over 60% of the world’s cranberries. The cooperative was started in the 1930s in Wareham, MA. It is not uncommon to see one of these signs nestled on the side of the road on Cape Cod indicating the grower is part of the Ocean Spray cooperative. Finding one of these signs is akin to finding an old covered bridge in the countryside. They are special.

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Perhaps now you will have a better understanding of what this message means when you see it on a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries.

I picked a cranberry vine from a field on the Cape so I could admire the gorgeous berries after I left New England.

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In 1980, there was a shortage of cranberries, and the Ocean Spray cranberry growers consortium changed the amount of cranberries in a bag from one pound to 12 ounces. This is good to know if you are using old recipes that call for “one bag of cranberries.”  Know, too, that a heaping cup of whole berries weighs 4 ounces. Thus, a 12-ounce bag has about 3½ cups of berries.

Recipes from Judy’s Chickens that use cranberries as an ingredient:

DSC_0588Grandma’s Cranberry Sauce

 

 

DSC_0224Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

dsc_0481Roasted Fall Veggies: Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

textSorghum Oatmeal Cookies with Ginger and Cranberries

 

 

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Sorghum, Seeds, Grains, and Cranberries Granola

 

 

Special thanks to my New England friends, Donna and Charlie Gibson and Beth Hayes for their help with this story. Thanks to Minda Bradley for the harvesting photos.

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

The Sheep of Nashville: The Chew Crew

Unlike my normal rambling openings, I’m going to cut to the chase.

This was the scene at Becca and Joe’s farm over the weekend. I stopped by their house because I heard the sheep from the Nashville Chew Crew were “working” in their yard and I wanted to show our out-of-town guests another side of Nashville. That Zach Richardson, founder, owner, and chief urban shepherd of Chew Crew was there showing his college buddies his flock in action was bonus.

The Chew Crews’ work around Nashville, “cleaning” fields of invasive plants in a sustainable way, is both novel and legendary having been well documented by The Tennessean and by my delightful and funny friends over at Mason-Dixon Knitting.

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What makes the story even better is to see a young man, a Nashvillian, use his gifts and talents to start a successful business doing good in the community. Zach went to MBA (Montgomery Bell Academy) for high school and UGA (University of Georgia) for undergraduate and graduate school where he earned a degree in Landscape Architecture. His area of expertise is targeted urban grazing, a sustainable method of clearing overgrown lots without using chemicals. Zach uses sheep to clear lots. Zach is adorable, spoken like a mother, I know.

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Just before Zach arrived, we were admiring the Chew Crew flock at work. Reba, their guard dog, was barking unhappily. It is her job to stay with the herd 24/7 and protect them, with the help of an electric fence, from predators. She saw us as predators.

Zach arrived with his border collie, Duggie. Duggie’s job is to gather and guide the herd of sheep when Zach gives commands.

In this photo, the sheep are waiting for their next command.

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These sheep are known as “hair” sheep. All sheep were originally hair sheep, but with domestication, their hair to wool ratio gradually changed to be more wool than hair, if that was the desired trait. You can read more about that at Sheep 101.

In this photo, you can see the fields already cleared by the sheep.

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When we were in New Zealand, I thought of another potential use for the Chew Crew: clearing the grass around vineyards.

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The Chew Crew is comprised of sixty sheep, all ewes (females) and one ram. All of the ewes are pregnant and due in January and February. There is lots of excitement ahead for the Chew Crew team.

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Related Posts
Eulogy for a Chicken
Winter Floral Arrangements Using Greenery from the Yard
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
Family Dirt
Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

To Jump or Not to Jump in New Zealand

Kia Ora from New Zealand! I have so much to write about our trip, but for now, here is a quick story about bungy jumping.

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Yesterday, as we were driving along the Kawarau River on our way from Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand to the mountain village of Wanaka, we stumbled upon the parking lot of AJ Hackett’s bungy jumping operation located near the historic Kawarau Bridge. This is the birthplace of commercial bungy jumping.

We pulled over to check the place out. The Kawarau Bridge is 142 feet above the Kawarau River. The bungy company maintains the bridge which is now a historic landmark. When we arrived, there were no jumpers in the queue, but there were a lot of people on the sidelines assessing the distance between the jumping platform and the river. Definitely shudder-worthy stuff.

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All I could think about was what it must feel like to step off the ledge. I mean people aren’t doing this in anguish. I had just seen a stunning production of King Lear in Wellington the night before. Lear was mad as hell as he stood out on the ledge; these jumpers were jovial. I guess I am not a thrill seeker, but man was I ever intrigued by the IDEA of jumping. So intrigued, I kept trying to photograph the actual stepping off the ledge part, as if, in doing so, I would get a glimpse into the head of a person crazy or brave enough to do something so primal, yet according to friends who have jumped, exhilarating.

As I was busy overthinking the situation, this superhero showed up.

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I followed Spiderman out to the ledge/heath/platform to get a closer look.

Here’s the drill on the bungy jumping operation. First, a staff attaches a fail-safe harness around the jumper’s waist.

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While a staff member prepped Spiderman, the first jumper of the day walked out onto the platform where another staff member, himself tethered to a safety cord, wrapped a thick towel around the jumper’s shins and ankles (so there wouldn’t be any bruising).  Next, the attendant attached an ankle harness over the towel and clipped on the long bungy cord.

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With glee, the guy jumped and was clapping as he did so!  His mates cheered him on.

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A retrieval boat, tied up to a dock at the foot of the canyon, was right there to pick him up.

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The next guy to jump brought his GoPro. These guys were confident.

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Ready,
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set,
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go,
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swing,
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and smile for the camera. Terrifying!
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Back to Spiderman

Having checked all attachments, and with a handshake to seal the deal,

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Spiderman dove

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and was retrieved.

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I’m glad we made this little detour. No, I did not jump.

Other Travel Stories
The Kennedy Bunker, a Cold War Monument in Palm Beach
Cranberry Love in Cape Cod
The Tobacco Barns of Trigg County, Kentucky
The Sheep of Nashville: The Chew Crew

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram and Pinterest at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.