Planting – 2021

Our team has recently finished planting the first set of renovated bogs at the Birches property in Tabernacle. 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. This year, though, we decided to experiment a little and try planting a bed using the old conventional propagation methods!

“It’s the first time since we planted Panama #5 that we’ve pressed in vines of any sort instead of using rooted cuttings,” says manager Mike Haines. “At the time, we thought the results were comparable so we just changed over to rooted cuttings completely.”

“This is our first planting at the new Tabernacle farm,” says supervisor Mike Scullion. “We planted approximately 15 acres, and we will be planting another 17 acres this May. In a 1 acre bed, we tried the old style of planting by pressing in cut vines with a skid steer and discs. This is the way bogs used to be planted here years ago, and the style that Wisconsin growers still practice. These plants are the Haines variety which we’ve already had promising results from in other bogs we planted a few years ago.”

“The day before planting, we have to calibrate the tractors and do a test run to make sure the timing is right and their are no other issues,” Scullion says. “With two planting tractors, planting 12 rows each in one pass, we finished planting the 15 acres in 4 days.” The reno team has also made some irrigation changes. “We also have new pop-up sprinklers we used in these beds with a filter at the beginning of the main line. This eliminates the need to clean sprinklers every time we start the pump and eliminates the need to take sprinklers out every winter and reinstall them every spring. So far they are working well.”

Mike Haines is curious to see how the 1 acre bed will grow. “I’m interested to see what happens! In Wisconsin and Quebec it’s their chief method of replanting and they feel it establishes more quickly. We’ve always thought it was comparable, but we’ve made a lot of changes in our program since then, particularly with fertilizers.”

Keep checking back to see how things turn out!

Equipment upgrades

This month the Pine Island team has been doing some experimenting with a new GPS system for use with our existing equipment, and it looks like it’s going to be very useful for a variety of tasks.

“We researched the auto steer five years ago in Wisconsin and everything we found was good,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It’s going to let us flood to a higher level for knocking fruit – water needed to be lower so operator could see the fruit – so this means less time to add water to gather. It also reduces overlap, which means less damage to the vines. We’ve been making many changes to our harvest procedures over the last five years; it was a matter of prioritization. I believe next year we will equip our other two harvest tractors with them so all will operate that way.”

“The harvest part of it is going to be great; we can take the info that it generates and use it to pick over the same spot every year. It uses the real time corrections so it’s pretty accurate,” says Jeremy Fenstermaker. With harvest still a couple of months away, however, the team has been testing the auto steer on other tasks.

“I used it to make straight lines out there while installing irrigation,” Jeremy says. “Normally we put out stakes and try to drive a straight line but with this, if you mark the beginning and end of the line the system will mark it straight so things will be more evenly spaced. Just set it up with auto steer, tell it where you want to go, and it’ll drive you there. The potential here is just tremendous: drainage, irrigation pipe, harvest time . . . anywhere you have to drive the same line year after year.”

“We talked about it for a long time before taking the plunge,” Jeremy says, “and now the more we use it, the more potential we’re realizing.”

Frost 2020

One of the toughest things cranberry growers do is managing springtime frost conditions. In the spring, there is a danger to the crop when the temperature drops. Typically, a cranberry bog is built at a lower level than the land immediately surrounding it and the bog temperature can drop ten to fifteen degrees lower than the uplands. These conditions make monitoring bog temperature a top priority once the winter water comes off. It’s no exaggeration to say there would be no crop if we didn’t watch for frost on the bogs.

The first step is monitoring the temperature. Each bog has a thermometer (usually located in the coldest section) that requires frequent checking throughout the first part of the night. Once the temperature drops to between 33 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the stage of growth), it’s time to turn on the pumps. More than forty years ago we used to flood the bogs to prevent frost damage; we now use sprinklers instead. When the water from the sprinklers freezes on the vines, it controls the temperature well enough to keep them from harm. It’s also necessary to check the surrounding reservoirs and canals to make sure that the water supply is sufficient to supply the pumps. That can take some time, and doesn’t always need to be done all at once. Depending on location and conditions–is the bog surrounded by woods? Where is the wind coming from? Is the sky clear or overcast?–some will be started earlier than others.

“We’ve had five frost nights so far this year,” says manager Matt Giberson. “Last week was the coldest; we hit 22 degrees in a few places and I believe it would have hit 19 or so if we hadn’t started the pumps. We had reflooded a lot of the bogs that we took off in the last week and a half, so we only had about fifteen to twenty pumps to run, which helps.” Although no one on the team is a huge fan of frost, the weather is perfect and exactly how they want it for now. “Being so cold the last two weeks, nothing is moving, which is helping us be more flexible with the number of systems we need to get in,” Matt says. “The sprinkler crews have been doing a great job in hitting the target every day, getting in at least five systems a day. They’ve been doing so well, in fact, that if we get enough in during the week we have the time to take a day and just go back to clean and do repairs. Another benefit of being so cold is even the plants that are still under water aren’t moving. This helps because some years, if it gets really warm in April, as soon as you take off the water you have to start frost protecting. This year allows us thus far to take our time to take water off slowly and get pumps ready in a timely manner.”

water moving to the next bog

In recent years we’ve moved to an automation process to make this easier on our team, with a combination of automated and analog thermometers for optimal monitoring. The automated thermometer gives us the initial indication that the temperature is dropping. When it hits the first threshold, it sends the notification, and that’s when members of the frost team would head out to look at the analog thermometers. This year, we’ve taken that a step further to further increase our efficiency and lower our fuel costs.

“We programmed 4 pumps to turn on when the temperature in the beds they cover went below a certain level, and then off when the temp got up to the level we wanted,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. There have been some minor challenges but nothing the team can’t handle: “2 systems dipped below and came on no problem, and also shut off when temp rose beyond our desired level. With the other two, the thermometers were reading just above the low level so they didn’t come on. We waited 20 minutes and they still didn’t dip below; we were anxious so we turned them on manually. That’s when we learned that if we turn them on manually, they wont shut off automatically when they rise above the upper limit. We have another procedure now if that is the case. Ultimately we will let them come on when the thermometers tell them to, and it won’t be an issue.” They also had some settings mysteriously change from the start of the run to the end, so are trying to figure that out and monitoring it closely. “We need to do more programming to create a mesh of thermometers that will turn a pump on instead of relying on just one or two.”

The program may still have a few bugs, but the team feels confident that things are headed in the right direction!

Blog anniversary – 2020

Eight years ago today, Pine Island Cranberry launched this website and started a weekly blog about the ins and outs of the New Jersey cranberry harvest, and it’s been another busy year!

Not long after our last blog anniversary post, there was a fire in the area that you might have heard about. The local community, of course, turned out in force, as they always do. We remain proud of our team and our neighbors!

Speaking of neighbors, we also launched a new occasional feature where you can meet some of our fellow New Jersey growers! So far we’ve profiled our immediate neighbors in the north (the Lees) and the south (the Sooys, and most recently, had a chance to speak with the Cutts family! This feature is now second only to harvest as a reader (and blogger) favorite, and you can look forward to more in the coming year.

The ACGA also continues to be a source of information and community for New Jersey growers as well; our team members attended meetings (along with researchers from the Marucci Center at Rutgers) in both winter and summer, as usual. In addition, this year it was Pine Island’s turn to host the annual twilight meeting.

In farming, you do what you have to do when you have to do it, and our team continued to make sure that all necessary task were completed as necssary, from prescribed burning to this year’s bog renovation plan. Winter work like sanding, installing swan string, and putting on the winter flood went smoothly, though a bit warmer than they’d like. Last spring and summer they handled taking off the water, frost, and planting, and bees, as well as getting our usual visits from Dr. Joan Davenport and taking her suggestions for plant nutrition. They also spent a considerable amount of time getting everything ready for our biggest season of all.

The annual harvest is everyone’s favorite time of year, from start to finish. Our team did some experimenting with picking methods,a nd had to make some temperature based changes. And of course, we were able to show around some supermarket buyers on the annual Ocean Spray Bog to Bottle tour!

There were also some changes at Ocean Spray that will have a big effect for New Jersey: Dan Schiffhauer retired! Fortunately, he was able to help choose his successor, and our team was very pleased to welcome Lindsay Wells-Hansen back to the area and are looking forward to getting her input during the growing season.

The Pine Island team hit some personal milestones since last March! Jorge Morales retired, while Wilfredo Pagan and Emmanuel Colon had significant work anniversaries. Our team has also gone out into the community with a presentation at Lakeside Garden Club, welcomed back Moorestown Friends for another visit, and even saw former CFO Holly Haines receive some service recognition.

Our team also continued to be good sports about the annual Thanksgiving post. (Thank you all.)

We also managed to have a little fun this year. Another new occasional feature is an addition to our Pine Island history tag: some backstory to some of our more colorful bog names!

Last but not least, Pine Island (and the NJ cranberry industry) appeared in several media articles toward the end of the year. Of course, there were some lovely photos by the Burlington County Times, and a fun feature about the weather from Joe Martucci of the Press of Atlantic City. Many of our friends and neighbors were interviewed for a piece that appeared on The Pulse. And best of all, a local fourth grade class is trying to make cranberry juice the New Jersey state beverage!

It’s been an eventful year for Pine Island Cranberry! And we’re going to keep doing what we need to do, now and in the future, to keep bringing you the high quality fruit that our industry – and New Jersey – is known for.

Harvest’s end – 2019

Our team picked the final bog for 2019 yesterday, bringing this year’s harvest to a close.

It was a tough season, weather-wise, which meant we had to slow down a lot while waiting for color.

While for the most part, we relied on our bog side cleaners, we did return to the old packing house platform to maximize what fruit we could from the younger beds! We also did some experimenting to improve our equipment: “We experimented with grate spacing on the bog side cleaners to eliminate rot and trash, as well as the brush cleaner at the packing house,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

We made some changes to our process as well! “We also took an assembly line approach for gathering; now that we have four cleaners we were able to send a team to get the bog ready to go ahead of time, which made the cleaning go more quickly,” Bryan says. “We were able to cover a lot of acres that way.”

Bryan is already getting ready for 2020 by working on some new training procedures ahead of next year’s harvest. And in the meantime, the rest of our team is getting ready for the next big task: the winter flood!

Picking methods

In the time since we launched this site, our team has improved many of our processes in the interests of efficiency. The most visible changes, of course, have been to our harvest methods.

Since the 60s, when Bill Haines, Sr. moved entirely to water harvesting, we’ve been using the reel harvesters. Since 2014, however, as our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow. The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as the reel harvesters, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. But there are still older beds in the center of the farm that are easier to pick using the former method.

When it comes to picking with the reels, there’s a lot to think about; it’s not as easy as just putting the machines in the water. There’s a method to it in order to keep from damaging the fruit or the vines. The difficulty fluctuates slightly due to bog size, weeds, and terrain, as well as other variables such as water levels, crop size, and even berry variety. Some berries do not float to the surface as easily and remain under the vine canopy, which is why they stagger machines in the water in order to both maximize yield and minimize damage to the vines. Each bog is picked in a specific pattern according to terrain, and the picking crew has to carefully move their harvesters around stakes which have been arranged for maximum operational efficiency. Following this pattern allows for minimal damage to the vines. The crew leader also needs to stay ahead of his crew and check for ditches, for everyone’s safety.

The Gates Harrow is a simple machine set up to cover more ground. At the front is a rod which holds vines down to the ground; as the tractor moves forward, the berries pop off the stems and roll up over the tines on the rake. It’s not as hard on the plants as our usual method, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. It also picks a lot cleaner; it knocks almost everything off the vines. With the standard reels you’ll still find some berries left here and there. There are also some fuel savings with just one tractor running. It’s also less labor intensive; we typically run a six man picking crew and their target is about 12.5 acres per day. On a more level set of bogs, they can do more than that, but with a Gates Harrow a two-man crew can get through 40 acres. It’s a lot more efficient.

GoPro Gates Harrow from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

With the majority of our older bogs finished, we’re looking to make a strong finish with the harrows in the next week or so!

Planting – Summer 2019

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.

“We target to start planting in early spring to provide more time in the growing season,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “With the amount we plant and the logistics of renovation and the significant draw on resources, we usually have two to three planting periods: early spring, early summer, and mid to late summer to get the yearly renovation planted. These periods coincide with very busy times on the farm, so we work hard to balance all resources.”

This year, as expected, we planted about 50 acres; some with Mullica Queen and some with Haines, both of which have been yielding good results for us.

Joan Davenport – May 2019

It’s once again time for Pine Island’s annual visit with Dr. Joan Davenport! A former researcher for Ocean Spray, Joan works with Pine Island to provide guidance on fertilizer, water, and nutrients, as well as general integrated crop management. “At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants for fruit potential and trying to develop recommendations for applications between bloom and fruit set. To do this, I look at hook, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the amount and color of old leaves, including looking for leaves from two growing seasons ago,” Joan says.

“The general philosophy for management is to focus on root development in the first year, then shoots the following year, and then beginning fruit production in year three,” Joan says. “If the beds are not well established by year three, it is best to maintain practices to minimize fruit set. The reason for this is that fruit production requires many of the plant’s resources (nutrients, water, carbohydrates) and setting a significant crop prior to plant establishment will delay the ability to get to the desired situation where the roots/shoots/fruit are in equilibrium and can sustain long term production.”

“We didn’t have too much this year that’s been different from any other year,” says manager Mike Haines. “We toured a typical representation of the different varieties and different stages of growth in both young and established bogs and made a couple of changes from the usual applications based on what we saw out there. Traditionally, we start with 10 pounds of nitrogen in early bloom, but some of our stuff was really lush and growthy, especially the Stevens we sanded this winter. So Joan recommended lowering that initial application to 5 pounds so it doesn’t grow like crazy. And at Sim Place we have some of those old bogs on that mucky ground that makes growth really lush too, so we might skip the first fertilizer application entirely on some bogs there. Everything else was pretty typical.”

“We’re just starting to see bloom in the Ben Lears,” Mike says. “Everything else is a little behind but should be catching up soon. The Crimson Queen variety usually blooms early but we took the water off late this year. There are a lot of flowers on the young beds, but we typically don’t pick those for harvest. We’ll see how things go as the season progresses!”

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!

ACGA Summer Field Day 2018

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Though Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona was sadly absent due to a conflicting academic commitment, he once again put together an excellent and informative program, and Dr. Nick Vorsa stepped in to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Justin Ross:

“I liked seeing everyone all together. Nick and Jennifer’s calcium study was interesting; that’s something to keep in mind if we were to try liquid fertilizer.”

Mike Scullion:

“My favorite parts of today’s meeting was Nick’s talk on the health benefits of cranberries and how they’re a rich source of phenolic compounds, especially the flavonoids. Also, he mentioned that they are working on a new variety of cranberry that has reduced acid levels. This will be great because you won’t need as much added sugar to make them more palatable. Exciting stuff!”

Matt Stiles:

“I thought Thierry’s talk was really interesting; he’s doing a lot of work. It’s great to have that research, especially for the young bogs, where you have to control weeds early on in order to keep them out of there. So it’s interesting to see what he’s working on and where he thinks it’s going to go. I also always like hearing the latest updates on new varieties, especially the work on fruit rot resistance.”

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It’s always nice to see all the other growers; being able to catch up with them and see if they’re seeing the same effects of the weather, how they’re handling things, get some ideas. I also liked Peter’s update; I like the direction he’s going with regard to fruit quality, seeing what hasn’t worked, taking it a step farther. if you find a way to keep scald from happening, then you take the chance, and it’s exciting to see that work being done. It was also neat to have the the drone to see how we could do it on a larger scale. It’s good that the meeting coincided with the marketing committee, too; we were all able to chat with people from different growing areas.”

Mike Haines:

“It’s cool seeing the progress on everyone’s experiments. One of my favorite talks is always hearing Nick and Jennifer talk about fruit rot resistance breeding, and getting to actually go into into the research bed and see all the trials where they’re mixing resistant low-yield varieties with Crimson Queen to see if they can get a good producer. Hand in hand with that, Jim Polashock’s talk about genomics was interesting; it’s not something I’m overly familiar with, but the way he presented I was able to follow and understand.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.