Habitat maintenance visit

This week we had a quick visit from John Parke of New Jersey Audubon to see how things are progressing after this year’s prescribed burning.

Per the New Jersey Forest Fire Service:

The primary purpose of prescribed burning in New Jersey is to reduce the hazardous accumulations of forest fuels. This aids in the prevention of wildfires, reduces the intensity of the fires, and also provides a foundation for safer, more effective fire suppression and protection operations.

“On the one hand fire is bad news, but ecologically it’s a big deal,” John says. “When you think about the history of the pinelands, fire was the system: lightning strikes, et cetera. What’s interesting now is we’re actually doing it in a controlled way. Cranberry growers do this for good water management, but the bonus is that the practice is not only reducing fuel loads for wildfire, but it also makes for a good habitat. The diversity on this site for both animals and plants is amazing, and it’s thanks to good maintenance being done the right way. I’ve seen stuff here that I’ve only seen in books.” On this particular day, John was interested in the location that was the primary quail translocation site, and thought things were looking great, with a good combination of both grasses and tree cover for many varieties of wildlife.

And, of course, no visit from John is complete without stopping to take a closer look at some wildlife! He has a good eye for seeing things while we’re on the move, and yesterday was no exception. This little guy was quickly moved to safety after saying hello!

“Restoration is continual,” John says. “People often forget that you have to maintain an ecosystem, and think in the ‘long term’, and sometimes perform activities that may seem counterproductive in order to have the natural systems function properly for future generations. In a state like New Jersey that has significant pressures placed on an already limited land base it is important to realize that ‘restoration’ is not just a one or two time action, it is a series of science-based actions over a sustained period of time.”

Spring tasks: plant nutrition

We’ve had some unseasonably cold nights but our team has finally been able to start fertilizer application!

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.

The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and the team bases 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.”

Downstown flew for the first time here this year on Wednesday, so it feels like the growing season has officially started now,” says Mike Haines. “They flew in some fertilizer on some young beds, and also applied some slow release fertilizer to some newer plantings that we wanted to give an extra boost to. Besides that, we are expanding our use of the boom this year, and will be using it to apply fertilizer to the Stump beds, which are new Demoranville beds we planted last year. They were built specifically with the boom in mind, 200 feet across. I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes.”

Spring water

It’s been a focused month at Pine Island Cranberry as our team got back to work and finished the annual tasks of removing the winter flood and preparing for frost.

Bog flooded for winter

We’ve said it so often you can probably recite it with us by now: good water management is absolutely critical to growing cranberries. Growers rely on a clean, abundant supply to maintain the bogs year round. The key question, as everyone here knows by heart, is “Where is the water coming from, and where do you want it to go?” For every acre of vines, cranberries require ten acres of water. Therefore it is another one of Pine Island’s top priorities to make sure our surrounding environment is as protected as possible. As we said about removing the winter flood, good water management is not only the crucial part of our work here at Pine Island – it’s essential to the balance of agriculture production with the Pinelands environment.

Reservoir

The Cohansey-Kirkwood aquifers lie beneath the surface of the Pinelands, containing enough water to cover the state of New Jersey six feet deep. Most of the water in the aquifer comes from rain, which also helps fill our reservoirs. When we flood the bogs for the winter, we direct the surface water (using damns, canals, and ditches) to the bogs at the highest elevations. Gravity causes water to flow downhill, so, once the bogs at higher elevations are flooded, we can easily direct it downhill to bogs at the lower levels.

When the warmer weather sets in, the bogs are drained so that the dormant vines awaken for the growing season; while cranberries are most frequently harvested using the “wet pick” method, they do not actually grow under water and thus need to go through the same growing cycle as any other fruit crop. The process, which we call “dumping water”, is deceptively simple: a team member takes a gate hook and removes the boards that have been placed across the gate in the bog. (The boards are removed in a specific pattern to work with gravity and the natural flow of the water.) Once the boards have been pulled and placed on top of the gate, the water moves to the next bog along the ditches. This water returns to the reservoirs and canals in order to be reused for the next part of the cycle.

Gerardo pulling boards

water moving to the next bog

The next stage is frost protection. 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, which is why installing sprinklers quickly and efficiently is so important. Our team worked extra hours in April to make sure it was all done before temperatures started to drop at night.

Ultimately, it is our Pine Island team’s dedication to our land and our surrounding environment that makes us what we are: growers dedicated to doing what we do better every day.

Meet Our Neighbors: The Moore Family

The New Jersey cranberry industry is small, but it is mighty. Welcome to the next installment of our occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers! This week, we spoke with sixth generation grower Sam Moore III of Moore’s Meadow.

1. How long has your family been in the business?

Moore’s Meadow Blueberry And Cranberry Farm LLC is seven generations strong since 1829. My father Samuel R. Moore Jr. has worked on the farm since he was a child with his grandfather Aaron B. Moore. My father and mother purchased a piece of the farm officially in 1977 and took it from there and made the farm what it is today. As money allowed, my father and mother kept purchasing more and more of the farm acreage off other descendants.

2. What’s your favorite aspect of cranberry farming?

My favorite aspect of cranberry farming is the lifestyle and being in nature and the outdoors. There is nothing like being your own boss and having self discipline. Nothing is ever more special than a family working together as a team to get the job done. Farmers as a whole, related or unrelated, are one big family. When in need at the worst or best of times farmers look out and help one another.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge to date is the ever changing weather pattern and climate as a whole. The weather is getting more unpredictable each year. Seems like it does nothing but rain constantly and we’re getting stronger and more fierce storms. The summers here in NJ are more hot and humid which causes cranberries to rot, scald, and not want to ripen too quick! It all works against the industry. Another challenge is a very unpredictable future in the cranberry and blueberry industry with oversupply driving the price down. Not knowing what kind of market there will be in the future for both fruits in order to sustain staying in business. Most money is spent on practices for both commodities prior to picking one berry and getting it sold.

4. What makes your operation unique?

What makes this operation unique is the longevity of the generations. Seven generations strong comprising of fifth, sixth, and seventh generations still actively farming to date. Not many farms date back to seven generations.

5. What’s a legendary story in your family?

A legendary story of Moore’s Meadow dates back to a 20,000 acre wildfire that destroyed all of Moore’s Meadow on July 12, 1954. The whole entire area was burned downed to the mineral sand and not one cranberry bog could be saved on our farm. Only one bog was saved on our cousin’s farm to the south. At the time the cranberry industry was at an all time low. So instead of replanting the bogs the ancestors went more into blueberry production letting the cranberry bogs go back to nature. It wasn’t till 1977 when my father started to renovate the old cranberry bogs one at a time: making them more modern by clearing the trees that had regrown since 1954, then grading them level and putting solid-set irrigation into them. My father and mother put a lot of sweat, tears, and elbow grease into making the farm what it is today.

Moore’s Meadow Quick Facts:

Location:

Moore’s Meadow Blueberry And Cranberry Farm LLC
126 Moore’s Meadow Road Tabernacle, N.J. 08088

Family:

5th Generation – Samuel R. Moore Jr. (73 YO)
6th Generation – Samuel R. Moore III (46 YO)
7th Generation – Samuel R. Moore IV (16 YO) and Matthew C. Moore (14 YO)

Crop Information:

Farm Acreage – 700 + Total
Highbush Blueberries – 40 Acres (Duke and Blue Crop Varieties)
Cranberry – 42 Acres home farm (Moore’s Meadow) (Early Black, Stevens, Haines Variety)
Cranberry – 28 Acres (Butterworth Bog’s) – Purchased in 1995 Separate Farm Never owned by previous family members. (Stevens and Demoranville Varieties)

*Photos courtesy of Samuel Moore III.

Previously: The Cutts Family

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!

Water drawdown – 2020

Spring has arrived and it’s time to start removing the winter flood! We’ve said it so often you can probably recite it with us by now: good water management is absolutely critical to growing cranberries. Growers rely on a clean, abundant supply to maintain the bogs year round. The key question, as everyone here knows by heart, is “Where is the water coming from, and where do you want it to go?”

Once the harvest is over, the bogs are flooded in order to protect the cranberry vines from the winter weather. When the warmer weather sets in, the bogs are drained so that the dormant vines awaken for the growing season; while cranberries are most frequently harvested using the “wet pick” method, they do not actually grow under water and thus need to go through the same growing cycle as any other fruit crop. The process, which we call “dumping water” is deceptively simple: a team member takes a gate hook (pictured below) and removes the boards that have been placed across the gate in the bog. (The boards are removed in a specific pattern to work with gravity and the natural flow of the water.) Once the boards have been pulled and placed on top of the gate, the water moves to the next bog along the ditches. This water returns to the reservoirs and canals in order to be reused for the next part of the cycle. It takes about 24 hours to drain completely.

After the water comes off, a crew will install sprinklers (if they haven’t been installed already) and makes sure the irrigation systems are 100% by turning on the system and letting it run for a while. Then they’ll clean out the nozzles, see where we need to make repairs, and turn the system back on to make sure the repairs worked.

Running the system for a bit also helps the team make sure that any potential engine problems are taken care of by the Facilities/Equipment team. It’s important for this to be done as soon as possible for frost protection. 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, which is why installing sprinklers quickly and efficiently is so important.

“Things are a little different this year with COVID-19,” says manager Matt Giberson. “We had a late start, so we focused on putting systems in and re-flooding. One, to help with frost nights, and two, because a few of the guys on the frost team are delayed due to virus precautions. We usually get five to six systems done in a day but because we were delayed, our team worked late and was able to get eight to thirteen systems in a day to get us back on track. So we’ve been doing a lot more taking off water and putting it back on. We have plenty of water and wells; now we just need to get everything re-flooded within a few days.”

Once it’s all done, everything should be on track for the cold nights still to come!

Back in action!

Spring stops for no one, especially in agriculture, and this week Pine Island’s team went back to work with even more safety precautions in place!

“We returned to work with our top priorities being safety and the current crop, and we’re taking both very seriously,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We’ve trained and are retraining on social distancing; we’re sanitizing all equipment and common tools and areas several times a day, offering rubber gloves and face masks, and providing hand sanitizer at all jobs and at common buildings. We’re also designing the various tasks that are needed in a way that minimizes co-mingling people and maximizes distance between people. If proper distancing of at least six feet cannot be obtained (such as in vehicles, or meetings, providing instruction, et cetera), everyone should wear masks. We are also asking that everyone minimize gatherings, meetings, and personal interactions.”

As far as tasks are concerned, Bryan says: “This week, we worked extended hours to catch up on our water draw and sprinkler install; by the end of today we’ll be caught up. Planting for renovation is being delayed at least one month to reduce close interactions and working through the logistics of getting the plants.”

“We’re no longer meeting at the shop in the morning; instead everyone is to go directly to their job site,” says manager Matt Giberson. “Everone is going to keep all equipment clean; for example, if they’re in a loader, they’re going to clean it first in the morning when they get in, then again after lunch, and once more at the end of the working day. If someone (or a family member) is not feeling good, they’re to call me and not come into work. I’m doing my best to keep people on the same job or at least within the same group to the best of my ability.”

The team has spent this week removing the winter flood and so far are hitting their targets! “Our goal is to take down 106 acres of swan string and to do five irrigation systems per day, with the final target to have all the water off by April 30th,” Matt says.

Our team is working long hours to make sure everything gets done (“We got a lot done this week, even better than I expected,” says CEO Bill Haines) and will be taking a well deserved break over the holiday weekend before going back Monday to start all over again, and everyone will keep looking at ways to make it even better. “This situation will show us new ways to do things,” Bryan says.

Hope all of our readers are continuing to be safe and well!

From Bill’s Desk: Keeping our team safe

One in an occasional series of entries from CEO Bill Haines.

On Monday, March 23, Bill addressed our team about recent world events and how Pine Island has decided to handle the pandemic in the short term.

After giving it a lot of thought, we decided the prudent thing to do was to shut down for at least a week. The management team will meet next Monday and assess what’s going on in the world, and then we’ll decide whether we’re going to work next Tuesday or not. If we decide it’s a no go, we’ll wait another week and assess.

We understand that everyone has families to take care of and bills to pay, so we’re going to make sure everyone gets their weekly paycheck.

We also understand that this is a farm and Mother Nature doesn’t wait. We need to grow the crop and we need to harvest it. We understand this is going to put us behind. Whenever we can come back to work, we’re going to do whatever it takes to catch up. If that means working dark to dark and Saturdays and Sundays, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve never been through a pandemic but we’ve been through plenty of emergencies: in the Labor Day flood of 2012, we had 16 inches of rain in 9 hours that took out all of our reservoirs and many of our interior dams, as well as damaging irrigation systems. And we put all that back together in three weeks and started harvest right on time. So I know that my team can do that; we can do whatever it is we have to do.

I also want to remind everyone to do everything that’s been requested of them in terms of social distancing and washing their hands, etc. This is to keep everyone safe. This is not just time off; this is to keep all of us safe. Stay home, take care of yourselves, and take care of your families.

For our readers: please take care of yourselves and stay safe. We’re all in this together!

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.

Birches property

Now that we are beginning renovations at the Birches in Tabernacle, it seemed like a good time to bring back this post from September 14, 2018 about a little of the property’s history.

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 this week took a tour with botanist and historian Ted Gordon to chat about the farm’s history.

According to Ted:

. . . the first cranberry bogs were set out in wilderness about five miles southeast of the Burlington County village of Tabernacle by Pemberton’s legendary pioneer grower Theodore Budd just prior to 1859. Around 1880, Budd sold these bogs and the nearby Goose Pond to Martin L. Haines of Vincentown, who set out additional bogs. . . On the sudden death of Martin in 1905, management of the Birches and its satellite holdings passed to sons Ernest M. and Ethelbert Haines. In 1920, Ernest became the sole owner and manager, while Ethelbert (Bert) presided over the company’s holdings at Hog Wallow.

“Ernest was a very good carpenter,” Ted says. “He built the house that’s still standing here as a foreman’s house originally.” There are also several buildings still in existence that were moved from other cranberry farms at Burrs Mill and Johnson Place. Ernest died in 1935 and ownership of the Birches passed to his sister, whose children and grandchildren continued to manage the farm until the death of Mary Ann Thompson in 2015.

The Birches’ centerpiece is a 120′ by 40′ cranberry sorting barn, the construction of which began more than a century ago. It is one of only three such buildings in continuous operation in the Burlington County cranberry district.

The Haines family is very pleased to return to the land that gave us our start; it’s wonderful to be able to come full circle. We have a lot of ideas for the Birches, and plan to hold steadfast to our core values while also doing its history justice. In this effort, we have a tremendous advantage: Ted Gordon’s knowledge of local history is exceeded only by his enthusiasm for it, and we are truly grateful for his willingness to share it with us!