Harvest time – 2021

It’s once again everyone’s favorite time of year: Pine Island’s cranberry harvest is officially underway!

Our team isn’t going full speed ahead just yet. “We’re picking the three year old beds right now; the canopy’s not as thick so they color sooner and can tend to go south real quick,” says manager Matt Giberson. “We’ve only run two crews so far but in two days we’ve picked 45 acres.” He says the rot percentage is a little higher than we like to see, but that’s to be expected with young beds.

“The four year old beds aren’t not quite there yet, but some of the Crimson Queens at Sim Place are just about ready so we’re going to get them on Monday,” Matt says. “We’ll start with two crews again and possibly start the third at 20 Acre once it’s ready. We’re still waiting on color over there; it’s crazy that one year’s difference can be that much.”

As our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow to knock the berries from the vines. 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. And, of course, we made some upgrades last summer that have made the process even more efficient!

“Getting started has been stressful but getting better,” says Matt. “The quality looks great and the color looks great.”

History roundup

As we look forward to the harvest, we’re also looking back into our past, like this post about our founder, Martin L. Haines:

The first topic for discussion, “Failures in Cranberry Growing and their Cause”, was opened by Capt. Haines, Mr. Budd being absent.

He said he had never failed in cranberry growing and hence was not a good judge.

We’ve also talked about his youngest son, Ralph Haines:

“He had a broad perspective and a lot of insight,” Bill says. “He loved the business and loved that it was a family business, but he was also interested in how it connected to the rest of the world. And I think he passed that on to the succeeding generations. He was the only brother to have children, and it’s his line who kept the business going.”

When talking about various projects around the farm, we frequently refer to the bogs by name, and some of them have interesting backstories!

We also have bogs named for former team members and residents. The best recognized is probably Fred Brown, a section consisting of four bogs located near Brown’s former home on the property. Fred is, of course, most well-known to readers of The Pine Barrens, by John McPhee, and was a highly colorful character, to put it mildly.

The events of this week have brought back some more recent memories, as well. Pine Island remained unscathed this time, but we weren’t so lucky with Isaac. But we were able to get back up and running before harvest!

…our team has risen to the challenge; they are working seven days a week from just about sunup to sundown to get us on track for the harvest and make us better than ever. Junior Colon, a second-generation employee who’s been with us full time for over thirty years, said it best out at Sim Place: “We’re still going. We won’t stop, and we’ll get it done.”

A note about this year’s harvest: while Pine Island Cranberry has never given tours to the public, we do try to keep a list of operations that do offer them. Most operations have suspended them for 2021 but are hoping to return in 2022. In the meantime, please keep checking the tour page: last year Whitesbog offered a wonderful self-directed regional driving tour and Rake Pond Farms offered a U-Pick option that was very popular, and we love to keep our readers informed of similar options as they turn up!

We also field a lot of questions about where people can take photos. We are not able to tell you with any certainty what days the harvest will be visible from the road; our plans can and frequently do change with the weather. But if you do time it right and see our crews harvesting at our roadside bogs, it’s perfectly okay to stop and take pictures! (Phones or cameras only; we do not permit drone photography.) Please remember, however, for our team’s safety and your own, that Pine Island Cranberry is still private property. Pull over somewhere safe, remain next to your vehicle (please do not walk or drive onto the dams to get a closer look), make sure to stay out of any driveways…and make sure to tag us at @picranberry! We love to see the beautiful shots people have taken.

Getting ready for the 2021 harvest!

Harvest is less than a month away and our team is hustling to get everything ready! We’re getting everything sharpened up on the farm right now; the team is working on both the chores that we need to get done and those that we like to get done. It’s always nice to have the farm tidy and ready beforehand.

The ditches surrounding every bog must be kept free of debris in order to ensure adequate water flow for both flooding and drainage. Cleaning the ditches is important for two reasons. First, it helps maintain the proper moisture level in the soil. Second, and most importantly, removing water from the bogs quickly is urgent in case of a big rain event.

It is important to make sure all of the equipment has been properly maintained well in advance of the harvest: the boom, boom reels, harvesters, et cetera. The boom is taken out and checked for any repairs that need to be made, and so is the reel. The harvesters are brought in and serviced at our shop. We also look over and repair as needed the blowers, trucks, and tractors for each harvesting crew and ensure we have all the tools and safety supplies necessary to get us through harvest.

We’ve also been assisting the Ocean Spray receiving station so they can calibrate their equipment; they’re currently getting the lab ready so growers can bring samples in to test for color and firmness. Manager Bob Garatino has retired and longtime employee Alonza Williams is now in charge! Alonza has long been a good friend to local cranberry growers and we’re glad to continue working with him in his new role.

Two months out of the year, the receiving station is cleaning and sizing cranberries. The rest of the year, they make sure our bins are cleaned and prepared for the next season. “Communication with the growers and timing delivery truly is the key,” Alonza says. The receiving station has 12 people on staff during the slower months, but by the time they’re in full swing that number grows to twice as many, and that’s when communication truly becomes essential: “We’ll stay in touch with growers for their start and end times and even Sundays, by request.”

We’re looking forward to the season and to working with Alonza to making it a great one!

ACGA Summer Field Day 2021

This week, the ACGA got to meet in person again for only the second time since last January!

Just as with the twilight meetings, in addition to the importance of new research findings the summer field day is also a great chance for the cranberry community to get together face-to-face. Our team, and the other growers, work with Rutgers all the time, but it’s good to be able to sit down with other growers and find out if they’re having some of the same problems with pests, or fairy ring, or excessive heat.

Dr. Peter Jeranyama of UMass, who gave a talk on frost.

“I thought it was a good meeting,” says Bill Haines. “I really enjoyed all the presentations, and I thought Dr. Jeranyama was a good addition to the line-up.”

The highlight was the presentation made to Dr. Nick Vorsa, who stepped down as director of the center this summer. ACGA President Shawn Cutts, on behalf of the organization, presented a plaque in appreciation of his many years of outstanding service to New Jersey’s cranberry growers:

“Your excellent and steady leadership as director of the Rutgers Phillip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research has established it as one of the state’s and country’s leading agricultural research centers. The ground-breaking work in breeding and genetics to which you have dedicated your career has transformed the entire cranberry industry by providing growers with the next generations of high-yielding, high-quality varieties. Your leadership, expertise, and friendship have made invaluable contributions to our farms and to our industry for which we will always be grateful.”

Many growers as well as long-time friends and co-workers from the Center spoke as well, expressing their own appreciation for everything Nick has done for the growers, the station, and for the cranberry industry as a whole. “He made it look easy,” says Dr. Peter Oudemans, “but he put in a tremendous amount of work to make us what we are today.”

“It was a good meeting!” Joe Darlington says. “We had very good crop growing science, it was good to see everyone together, the food was very good, and it was an excellent award ceremony for Nick!”

Thank you, as always, to Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona, for putting together another informative program!

Jon Lindbergh: 1932-2021

Longtime Pine Island friend, business partner, and absolute legend Jon Lindbergh has passed away, and we are all the richer for having known him.

The son of aviators Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Jon Lindbergh spent a lot of time in the water from a very early age. Among the many accomplishments listed in the New York Times:

Mr. Lindbergh was one of the world’s earliest aquanauts. He explored the ocean depths, pioneered cave diving and participated in daring underwater recovery missions, including one to find a hydrogen bomb that was lost in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain in 1966.

. . . He went west to college, enrolling at Stanford; after a time he lived alone in a tent a few miles from campus to avoid dorm life. He studied marine biology; started mountain climbing, skydiving and cave diving; and joined the Naval Reserve.

. . . He later farmed salmon in Puget Sound and in Chile as part of an emerging aquaculture industry and sold the fish to airlines and restaurants.

Jon was one of the founders of Cranberries Austral Chile. In 1996, Jon and the other founders invited Bill Haines to become a partner in the company. They remained partners for twenty-five years. Jon was an active and engaged shareholder, and one of his most valuable contributions was helping resolve the issues of water supply.

“While we all knew Jon as an intelligent, kind, humble, gentle, great, and good man, I had no idea he had squeezed so much accomplishment and adventure into one life,” Bill says. “I am honored to have called him my friend and shared in his adventures in Chile.”

“I was lucky – because of Bill – to have sat with Jon at one of our dinners,” says Pine Island Board of Advisors member Rick Goulding. “We had a wonderful and wandering conversation. The man exuded humility and humanity. He had this natural curiosity about everything. A quintessential American. And a man we’ll all miss.”

Late summer tasks

As we move into the late summer, we are continuing to implement our PIICM program with late fertilizer applications (or, bud set fertilizer), finishing cleaning the ditches for improved water flow, and maintaining the balancing act of keeping vines cool while avoiding oversaturation. At this time of year, we need to be careful for next year’s bud set (initiation of next year’s flower growth). During bud set, we’re more concerned with keeping the vines healthy; nitrogen is needed for both fruit development and production of the next year’s flower bud.

The berries themselves are beginning to size up and attain color. Some varieties color earlier than others, and that is a factor we consider when planning our picking strategy. Ocean Spray likes a consistent color, so we will take samples before harvesting to check color levels. While the humidity gets worse in late summer, the nights tend to get cooler, and this actually improves the color.

Many of our bogs still contain the industry stand-bys: Stevens, Early Black, and Ben Lear. But as we continue with our yearly renovation program, more and more bogs are being planted with the Rutgers varieties.

The Stevens variety used to account for 20% of the berries grown in New Jersey, according to the Cranberry Marketing Committee. A later variety (meaning they attain their full color later in the season), Stevens are usually the last to be harvested and are thus more susceptible to scald and rot, so we need to monitor Stevens bogs carefully. Another interesting fact about Stevens: the majority of the crop in a Stevens bog is located under the canopy (or surface) of the vines.

Early Blacks are one of the oldest and the smallest varieties, but have the most intense color. (Jeremy Fenstermaker likes to think that Early Blacks are the berries appearing in most commercials due to their photogenic quality.) When we harvest an Early Black bog we like to see as many berries as possible; the greater the weight, the greater the yield (one barrel = 100 pounds of cranberries).

Ben Lears are an early variety noted for its size and distinctive shape, with a deep red color about midway between Stevens and Early Blacks. We will usually start our harvest with Ben Lear bogs.

Our team has been pleased with the results of the Haines variety, a mid-season variety which so far has proven to be quite hardy and consistent in color, shape, and firmness (ideal for Craisins!).

Our primary focus as we continue to monitor and scout the bogs is weed control. Dewberry, for example, is a very persistent plant that competes with cranberries for light and interferes with harvest, so removing it is a high priority task.

As always, we continuously monitor weather conditions, especially as hurricane season reaches its peak. And, all of our efforts throughout the growing season are bringing us toward our ultimate goal: a successful harvest.

Equipment – summer 2021

Things have been a little quieter as nutrition applications wind down, but our equipment team is always busy!

“We’ve been building some new things to get ready for harvest,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “We’re doing all the usual organizational things but we’re also building racks for the trailer to carry the things the crew will need for the bogside cleaners. A lot of what we’re doing is polish on the berry pump operations, really; the first couple of years we were learning how to use them, then we we were experimenting with various modifications to customize them for our own operation.”

“Each crew used to carry around all the stuff for the pumps, but racks are going to keep things more organized and more accessible,” Louis says, “but it’s going to be much more efficient when a crew can readily see that they have everything they need.”

Welder Larry Wedemeyer also built a rack to go in Bryan’s truck designed to hold the grates for the bogside cleaners.

Larry is also working on our fourth raker, which represents another extension of our raking fleet!

And last but not least, Louis says, “We’ve also been keeping up with irrigation repairs. There’s going to be a lot of work leading up to harvest, as well, but we’re more than ready!”

Fertilizer applications – summer 2021

Fertilizer applications are wrapping up next week (which means harvest is coming up quickly)! The amount of fertilizer we apply to each bed is determined by variety, soil conditions, and past practices, requiring constant evaluation of current conditions, history, and trends. Nutritional needs are also different for young vines as opposed to established plantings.

Additional nutrition is necessary because while cranberries have adapted (and thrive) in their native sandy soil, nutrients are taken from the bog through the harvest of fruit. “We’re at the roughneck stage right now for almost everything, and that means a lot of top growth as well as root growth, which in turn means the extra nutrition is necessary,” says manager Mike Haines. The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and the team based their decisions on tissue samples, and last year’s yield. According to cranberries.org: “Cranberry plant demand for nitrogen is highest during three stages of the lifecycle critical to cranberry development–early growth, fruit set and bud set. Early growth is when the plant grows vegetatively through vining and root growth and produces a flush of new leaves. Fruit set is when the flower becomes pollinated and fruit begin to form. Soon after fruit set comes bud set when nitrogen is needed for both fruit development and production of the next year’s flower bud.”

In addition to aerial methods (as always, expertly done by Downstown Aero Crop Service) our team has also tried “fertigation” in past years: a uniform application via irrigation system.

However, our team decided to discontinue the practice back in 2017. “With our current irrigation layout, it’s just not a fit at this point,” says Mike Haines. Instead we tried our usual applications via a buggy method introduced in 2016, which made for more precise application.

Our team needs to make sure the conditions are optimal, as well: irrigating overnight when it’s hot and dry. “We want to get that water into the soil so the plants can access those nutrients,” Mike says.

Summer irrigation – 2021

As we have mentioned so many times before, the key to growing cranberries is water.

Cranberries need about an inch of water each week during the growing season (either via rain or irrigation), preferably early in the morning or at night, in order to avoid losing it to evaporation. We irrigate for two reasons: first, to keep the vines healthy and productive, and second, to protect them from the heat. Keeping them cool helps protect the bloom, the fruit, and the vines themselves. And while it’s crucial in the hot summer days, cooling may also be necessary in May, before the uprights (short vertical branches) acquire their protective waxy coating.

Once the fruit is formed, it’s important to keep them from what we term “scalding”. Scald occurs when the temperature is high but the dew point (humidity) is low; as Dr. Peter Oudemans likes to say, “When people are comfortable, the cranberries are in trouble.” When humidity is low, the applied water will readily evaporate and cool the fruit. During the day, if temperatures get up to around 95 degrees, we will turn on the irrigation in order to cool the bog down to the 80s. We’ll run the pumps for about an hour or two, depending on variables such as wind, temperature, and humidity.

How we measure soil moisture

There is also a distinct difference between sending water through the root system and keeping the bog cool. The trick is avoiding complications from too much moisture, which can cause conditions that are welcoming to fungi such as phytophthora, which causes root rot. Vines shouldn’t be damp all the time; it’s a balancing act to keep the fruit at optimum growth conditions while avoiding oversaturation. The key to walking the tightrope is constant evaluation and always being aware of bog conditions.

Meet the Researchers: Peter Oudemans

Welcome to the next installment of our latest occasional feature: Meet the Researchers! We’ve spent so much time talking about the excellent work being done at the Rutgers Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research that we thought it was time to learn a little more about the people behind the projects. This week: Dr. Peter Oudemans.

1. What drew you to your field/research focus?

It turns out my great-great-grandfather was a plant pathologist. Although I did not know that when I chose the field, I can’t help thinking it was, in part, genetics. When I first discovered this field I knew it was for me.

2. What do you consider your best accomplishment?

Developing meaningful recommendations that can be used in the field and that I have confidence in is very satisfying to me. It encompasses everything I know about the disease so that we can slow it down and achieve a marketable crop. These are also evolving all the time and as we learn more they change.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

In my bubble it is just the pathogen and host. Somehow we need to interrupt that interaction. Things become challenging when there are new things to consider. For example, MRLs, pollinator health, climate change, or export-qualified fruit are all factors that can influence plant disease that are outside the current recommendations. A simple policy change on one hand can translate into significant crop loss on the other. Navigating these factors can be very challenging.

4. What are your long-term research goals?

Long-term is tricky but I would like to develop tools that will make problem-solving easier. For example, effective bioassays will help identify new chemistries for fruit rot control with a higher throughput than regular field trials. Ultimately, we will start controlling fruit rot in a more specific way and those tools will help tailor the programs.

5. What do you enjoy most about working with the cranberry community?

The place, the people, the crops. It is a beautiful mosaic and I am lucky and grateful to call it home!

Previously: Dr. Thierry Besançon