Winter’s end

Our March tasks remain much the same as they did in February, right down to working around the inconsistent weather!

When a winter storm is expected, the number one priority is checking the water. The team checks for washouts, makes sure nothing’s too high or too low, and makes sure there’s no water on the dam itself. Team members make sure the main pathways are cleared; in order to do that, we send the front loaders home with some of them, which means once the snow hits, they can plow themselves out and start clearing the main dams. Then the rest of the team are able to go check the water or get to one of our facilities to do indoor work. Fortunately, we haven’t had high snow accumulation this year!

While the snow has been melting quickly, the frequent rains interspersed with low temperatures have been a persistent challenge all winter for our team.

We are continuing to run at least two sanding teams, weather permitting, as well as working on survey lines and our ongoing current bog renovation project.

While there was some concern last month that our team would not be able to do any prescribed burning, we did end up with enough clear, dry days that we were able to get a little done here and there.

When the weather isn’t coperating, the team continues to keep busy on several indoor tasks!

Installing gates

This entry was originally posted on January 16, 2015.

Renovation on some of the bogs in the Black Rock system is going well! Last week we spoke briefly again about Pine Island’s #1 question: “where is the water coming from, and where do we want it to go?” This week, our team addressed that question by starting the removal of wooden floodgates and replacing them with our newer PVC gate design.

Longtime team member Wilfredo Pagan (35 years!) is in charge of this operation, which is going very smoothly considering the unexpected weather. “Pipe gates are better,” he says. “They’re easier to install, and they last longer, too.” First, though, he has to set up the laser level in order to make sure the gate is set up correctly. The team will be able to put the new gate in at the same depth as the old one. This is where they have to be careful; if it’s not even the two parts of the new gate can shift over time since they’re not one solid piece of pipe. “Once you put them together, the only thing holding them is dirt and pressure,” Wilfredo says. “If you have a situation where the canal is deeper than the ditch, you have to measure at the top of the dam and set it so the uprights are level with it. If the canal is lower than bog and you don’t adjust for it, it can wash out underneath.”

In the meantime, Junior Colon has been on the excavator making sure the water’s been blocked off in both the canal and the ditches. “Once that’s blocked off, we can start digging,” he says.

After the water is stopped, it’s time to start digging up the dam. “We go right down to the top of the boards on the old gate,” says Junior, “and then we have to continue to dig behind it to get the turf out and make sure the water’s all gone.”

Once the excavator clears out the dirt around the old gate, it’s time to lift each side one at a time to put the chains on for easier lifting.

The old gate then gets lifted onto a waiting tractor and hauled away.

Once the new gate is installed, the team will fill the dirt back and then haul in turf to patch the sides before crowning the dam and moving on to the next gate!

Bog renovation – winter 2019

While the rest of our team is hard at work on our usual winter tasks such as sanding, our bog renovation team is also keeping busy!

Bog renovation is a time-consuming and capital-intensive but necessary project that will increase both yield and quality by improving bog and irrigation design. Effective bed drainage is critical, especially in New Jersey, where the humid climate can provide a favorable environment for Phytophthora cinnamomi, a known cause of root rot. Other improvements to the water system will include new gates, rebuilt ditches, and relocation of pumps, if necessary. As part of our irrigation redesign, and with the redesign of some of the beds, it’s sometimes necessary to make some changes in order to maximize water flow to the pump. Relocation of the pump houses is also helpful for improved access, both for refueling and repairs.

Our current renovation acreage is each at a different stage. “At Stump, we’re moving the canal over and rebuilding it,” says manager Steve Manning. “We’re rebuilding the dams, though it’s taking a little while; it’s been too wet to be doing too much grading.”

“At Bull Coo, we’ll be putting sand in this week and putting the gates in, too,” Steve says. “We need to redirect some of the ramps and the dams, as well.”

The weather’s been a bit of challenge at times. “Everything being frozen can be bad; when the ground’s tight it works to our advantage when putting sand in and for hauling but digging is hard,” Steve says. “When it’s cold and windy nobody wants to be outside! Monday was brutal; Tuesday felt like spring in comparison. But it’s getting cold again, they say, so hopefully we can take advantage while the ground’s frozen and get our trucks out again.”

Dam widening project

This year, one of our long-term ongoing projects is at last near completion: widening our dams and building turnarounds for easier travel during harvest. On a cranberry farm, dams serve two purposes: to detain the water used for irrigation and water management, and for vehicle use. Dam maintenance is highly important for both safety and equipment. Widening dams makes hauling easier, especially since some parts of the operation are quite a distance from our cleaning platform.

Now, instead of several trucks carrying two boxes, we can use a tractor trailer that carries nine and won’t need to use as many trucks. It will be more efficient for both the gathering team and the packing house platform, as well as freeing up team members to be elsewhere if we need them. We’ve planned it out so there’s a route where they can gather the bogs off one dam in order to widen as few turns as possible. It also makes room for new equipment like our bog side cleaners and our Gates Harrow harvesters.

“We’re very close to being done,” says bog renovations manager Steve Manning. “Mostly the gates are all done and we’re just moving dirt for now. It’s a lot easier when we’re doing an active reno because we’re already doing so much redesigning, but we’re trying to get a little ahead of that for future renovations by moving pump houses and shifting some other things around so we don’t have to do it later.” The most difficult part is working with the irrigation, especially in the summertime when heat can be an issue, but this week the weather worked in our favor. “You wouldn’t think this wet weather would help, but we got a lot done.”

“We have Sim Place, the lake, and the west side of 563 all done,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “Now we’re working the middle, which has the most acreage, and is also the most complicated because of all the old bogs and their various shapes.” Back when the farm was founded, the bogs were dug by hand, so many of the older parts of the farm were designed by necessity to work around the topography. “We drove around a lot to look at everything and think about it for a while,” Matt says. “We’ve been working on this final stage over the last year, and should be done by harvest. We’ve tried to time it with the rain so we don’t have to worry about a heat run or irrigation run during gate installation. And we’ve been thinking ahead to when we renovate in 10 or 15 years down the road. We may end up adding some turnaround spots as we go, since during harvest we ideally want to be able to work from any corner we can. But as of right now, we’re looking to be ready by this year’s harvest.”

Planting – July 2018

Pine Island has finished the planting for the year, and everything went very well! “We planted approximately 25 acres in May and about another 25 at the beginning of July,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “I think that’s going to be about what we currently planned for next year’s planting, as well.”

There are two methods of planting: conventional propagation, which means pressing mowed vines or prunings directly into the bogs to be established; and rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. Pine Island has used both methods in the past, but mainly we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings. Another concern with planting is implementing an irrigation program, both with ground water and sprinklers, that provides moisture for vine growth without causing excessive soil saturation, which can lead to favorable conditions for phytopthora, which in turn can lead to fruit or root rot. Pine Island uses both ditches and sprinklers for irrigation. During the early spring, after the winter flood is removed, irrigation is usually covered by our frost protection program. However, concerns for adequate soil moisture should not be forgotten during frost season. Several warm, sunny days without rain or frost irrigation can result in the need for irrigation. Checking the soil yourself is extremely important; tensiometers are good, but it’s important to learn the hands-on method, as well.

The process remains the same: rooted cuttings are taken from the cart and loaded onto the planter. Team members seated on the planter drop the vines into the carousel and then the vines are distributed into the pre-dug furrow. The planter is followed by other crew members, who make sure that the vines have been placed correctly. Running the planting operation is a true challenge: coordinating everything, getting the right plants at the right time with the right people, constantly adjusting the planters, and identifying problems and how to fix them.

“Planting went really well this year,” Bryan says. “We’re continuing to learn and finding some better ways to do things, as well as making adjustents to try next year.” For instance, instead of dropping the empty plant trays along the route and having someone come along to do clean-up, this year we built a basket for the front of the tractor so when the team done with the trays, they’re all in one place and at the end of the row the trays are removed, which saves the team some time.

Planned changes for next year include working on the irrigation installation. “We continue to struggle with the timing,” Bryan says. “We usually install the Webster valves ahead of time so we can pull them out, plant, and put them back in so we can water the new beds. But it’s inevitable that the planter hits some of them, so next year we’re going to try installing after we finish the planting. That’ll mean more people, though, so we’ll see.”

Other than that, he says, “it was pretty much steady as she goes! Matt Stiles normally manages the planting but this year he had Mike Scullion as a trainee. Going forward, Mike will probably be managing that team, which is a good thing.” The main drawback was the weather, but the team made adjustments as necessary. “It was really tough with the heat,” Bryan says. “We were getting 95 and 96 degree days, so we’d start at 5 and end at 2:30 to beat it a little, but that takes a toll on anyone!”

Board of Advisors – June 2018

This week it was once again time for PICC’s quarterly Board of Advisors meeting at our main office! The Board of Advisors meets to review the financials, the operating plan, personnel, and to evaluate strategy. CEO Bill Haines has always tried to incorporate a field trip at every meeting, and this time around, he decided to make it the top agenda item!

The morning started in our meeting room with brief introductory remarks by COO Bryan vonHahmann, who in turn introduced Manager of Operations Matt Giberson to the group. Matt then gave the board a little bit of his background as well as an outline of his typical day, making sure people and equipment need to be where they need to be when they need to be there! Board members took full advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and learn as much as they could about a part of the operation they don’t usually see.

Next on the office program was Jeremy Fenstermaker, who took board members through his office set-up and demonstrated how he maps out and designs irrigation systems.

And after that, it was off to see the rest of our team in action! Bill mapped out a comprehensive route that took our visitors through every stage of our current projects. First, we stopped at some of our new production at different growth stages, where everyone had a chance to listen to Matt Stiles talk about bog design, planting, and early growth, as well the various solutions we’ve tried for drainage.

Then, we went to the latest renovation acreage, where everyone not only got a close-up look at the ongoing work, but was also able to get a spectacular panoramic view as well as see Jeremy’s design in person.

The board then took a quick look at part of our forestry project, took a drive by the Marucci Center where so much great research is being done, and finished the tour in grand style by visiting Pine Island’s latest acquisition!

Pine Island has recently bought back some of the acreage known as the Birches (originally purchased by our founder, Martin L. Haines, in the late 19th century) and plans to do some experimenting with different growing methods! The board visited one of the bogs we’re planning to harvest in the fall, then toured the packing house, which still houses an old-school cranberry sorter.

Then it was back to the office for lunch and to review the financials!

It was a perfect day to be outside, and the board enjoyed themselves. It’s always great to show off our beautiful property, and we’re looking forward to the next meeting!

Bog renovation – spring 2018

Our spring 2018 planting is completed, and our team has already turned their attention to the next acreage in our multiyear bog renovation plan. This year, we plan to renovate over fifty acres at Cedar Swamp and Ben Haines.

Bog renovation is a time-consuming and capital-intensive but necessary project that will increase both yield and quality by improving bog and irrigation design. First, our team redesigns the layout, deciding how to best work with the surrounding water resources for maximum land use efficiency. They reshape some beds, remove the old vines, and do the initial leveling to prep the soil.

As we like to say so often, the three things most important to growing cranberries are water, water, and more water. Currently, the team is hard at work on the irrigation improvements. Effective bed drainage is critical, especially in New Jersey, where the humid climate can provide a favorable environment for Phytophthora cinnamomi, a known cause of root rot. Other improvements to the water system will include new gates, rebuilt ditches, and relocation of pumps, if necessary. As part of our irrigation redesign, and with the redesign of some of the beds, it’s sometimes necessary to make some changes in order to maximize water flow to the pump. Relocation of the pump houses is also helpful for improved access, both for refueling and repairs.

Bog renovation is a key component to maintaining Pine Island’s core values of continuous improvement, continuous growth, and protecting the environment. Increasing production over time through bog renovation and decreasing the time to achieve full production is essential to accomplish our growth objectives.

Blog anniversary: 2018

This week is the six year anniversary of the Pine Island Cranberry website, and it’s certainly been an eventful year!

Our normal yearly workload proceeded much as it usually does, with our annual schedule of bog renovation, frost, planting, and sanding, as well as the yearly harvest.

We had our annual visit from Dr. Joan Davenport, and made some changes to our plant nutrition program, and dealt with the usual seasonal tasks for summer, winter, and spring.

Some team members celebrated some big work anniversaries, and everyone celebrated a couple of safety milestones by getting to go home a little early! We also welcomed two new employees this year on our Facilities and Equipment team and at the office, and are currently looking for someone to join our ICM team!

It’s been a huge year for our stewardship work with New Jersey Audubon and Pine Creek Forestry. The Northern Bobwhite Quail Initiative continues to go well, and even received some national and state recognition! We’re truly honored to be working with such great partners on such an important project.

Harvest continues to be the topic our readers are most interested in, and this year, they got to see a bit more than usual! In addition to our weekly blog posts, we received visits from both Nora Muchanic and Mike Jerrick, as well as several print publications. We’re always glad to tell people about doing what we love, and how our team does whatever it takes to make the prettiest sight in the pines happen, year after year!

Last but not least, we got to celebrate at a very special Annual Growers Meeting, which we’re planning on enjoying for quite some time.

We’re so glad you’ve continued following us from “Bog to Bottle” (as one of our favorite people at Ocean Spray likes to say) for the past six years, and we’re looking forward to keeping you updated for many years to come!

Autumn tasks

While getting the crop in is our #1 priority at Pine Island every autumn, our team is also hard at work on other important tasks through the harvest season and beyond!

Bog Renovation manager Steve Manning has been busy with the current stages of our reno program. “Most recently we’ve been out working on the next stage at Cedar Swamp,” Steve says. “We got about 3.5 inches of rain over the weekend, so we’ve had to spend some time fixing washouts. But we’re also getting ready to put down the underdrain as well as shoring up the sides of the new dams to help prevent erosion. Next week we’ll start putting gates in again.” With only two harvest crews running, he also has the help of stalwart team members Junior Colon, Wilfredo Pagan, Harry Mick, and Bob Heritage, as well Jeremy Fenstermaker to pitch in with the irrigation layout.

New Production manager Mike Haines is also pretty busy. “We took all the sprinklers out of the new beds a week ago after we got a decent amount of rain,” he says. “The main thing is preparing for all the the post-harvest stuff to improve things for next year.” This mainly means working on drainage improvement; water management, as always, is a top priority for our entire team. “We’ve gotten away from interior ditches in the past couple years and moved to drainage tile, or underdrain,” Mike says. “But last spring we decided to try putting in some trenches, and we’re going to try putting in some more this year. We’ll see if that helps. Trenches help get surface water off a lot more than drain tile did.” He’s expecting a trencher to arrive Monday, and our equipment team is also building one in-house. “I did a survey after the rain, because it was biggest storm all year,” he says. “The young beds generally held up pretty well. A couple of big washouts, which had Steve kind of disappointed. . .but I think it would have been a lot worse without the work he’s already been putting in.”

Other tasks include doing some raking in the bogs that got a little growth, and then working on this year’s sanding plan. And in the meantime, we’re going to finish bringing in those berries!

Planting – May 2017

A couple of weeks ago we mentioned that the team is getting ready to start planting at Mule Island, one of our newly renovated bogs!

As we mentioned then, the team is planting the Mullica Queen variety. Per Rutgers, “Mullica Queen offers excellent yield potential with equal or higher color than Stevens,” and while we currently only have one Mullica Queen bed that’s attained full growth, it’s been a highly productive one.

There are two methods of planting: conventional propagation, which means pressing mowed vines or prunings directly into the bogs to be established; and rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. Pine Island has used both methods in the past, but mainly we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings. Another concern with planting is implementing an irrigation program, both with ground water and sprinklers, that provides moisture for vine growth without causing excessive soil saturation, which can lead to favorable conditions for phytopthora, which in turn can lead to fruit or root rot. Pine Island uses both ditches and sprinklers for irrigation. During the early spring, after the winter flood is removed, irrigation is usually covered by our frost protection program. However, concerns for adequate soil moisture should not be forgotten during frost season. Several warm, sunny days without rain or frost irrigation can result in the need for irrigation. Checking the soil yourself is extremely important; tensiometers are good, but it’s important to learn the hands-on method, as well.

Our team has made some scheduling changes as well; we’ve experimented with timing over the past few years and this year decided to try planting each newly renovated system as soon as it’s complete. “We’re going to put the plants in early, see how they do, then we’re just going to keep going every month,” COO Bryan vonHahmann said back in April. “During our last reno we planted 60 acres in a month, which is a lot of work. Planting in the heat is pretty stressful on the crew, as well, so trying to do it in one week intervals instead as well as moving the timing helps with that, too.”

The process remains the same: rooted cuttings are taken from the cart and loaded onto the planter. Team members seated on the planter drop the vines into the carousel and then the vines are distributed into the pre-dug furrow. The planter is followed by other crew members, who make sure that the vines have been placed correctly.

Running the planting operation is a true challenge: coordinating everything, getting the right plants at the right time with the right people, constantly adjusting the planters, and identifying problems and how to fix them. But Matt Stiles, in his second planting season, is doing very well. The Mule Island system is going to take a little longer than expected due to the rainstorms this week, but if there’s one thing you learn early in agriculture, it’s that you can’t control the weather!