Tropical storms

Just a couple of weeks ago our team was running sprinklers to make sure the beds were getting water, but this week changed all of that with the arrival of Tropical Storm Fay.

While our team works rain or shine, wet weather can make some tasks more difficult, especially bog renovation, and team members will sometimes move on to something else until things dry out. In the past, we’ve had to switch things around a little because we don’t want to wreck the dams or the bogs we’re renovating. For example, the Hydremas will keep running but but haul less per load, and if needed, the bog renovation team will take the opportunity to move equipment to get ready for the next stage.

“We’re getting it pretty good right now from this storm,” says manager Matt Giberson. “We saw it coming a few days ago, so Louis and his team had all the Crisafullis looked over and the lift pumps checked. We started lowering canals and reservoirs Wednesday to make room for all the rain. So far everything looks good! The great thing about this is it’s raining during the day, not at two in the morning, so we get a better visual of what we are looking at and what we need to make it easier.”

Too much rain can have a negative effect on pollination as well as fertilizer application, so we have to be ready. Farming is all about doing what you have to do when you when it’s time to do it, and our team makes sure to plan for every possible outcome.

July heat

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.

Bees – June 2020

A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality. One of the more important elements in the Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is ensuring adequate pollination; flowers that are not visited by bees rarely produce fruit. To this end, we work with several New Jersey beekeepers to temporarily install hives during the bloom period, usually at the end of May/beginning of June depending on the weather.

Timing is key; our team waits until a bog is at about 20 to 40% bloom so the bees have enough to immediately start pollinating. This is important because cranberries are actually a lot of work for honeybees. On a cranberry plant, the anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the stamen) are shaped very differently from most other flowers, having an opening at the end of the anther, rather than splitting open to expose the pollen. This means getting the pollen out requires extra work by the pollinator. While some believe that honeybees are not as efficient at this task, single visits by pollen foraging honeybees can be enough to elicit fruit, especially in areas where weather during bloom is warm. Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA.

We don’t rely entirely on our hard-working beekeepers; native pollinators such as bumblebees are also valuable to us, and bumblebees will work in wet and/or windy conditions. Bumblebees have other advantages: they work faster, visiting many more flowers per minute. Their large size lets them carry huge pollen loads, allowing longer foraging trips, and achieving better contact with flowers. Larger deposits of pollen promote pollination as well as the formation of more uniform and larger fruit. Perhaps most importantly, bumblebees are naturally attracted to cranberry plants!

“All of the hives have been set up and they’ve been working like crazy,” says CEO Bill Haines. “The weather’s been good, too. It’s been warm with low humidity and we haven’t gotten any really big rain. That means we’re out there watering every day, but so far things are looking good.”

Planting – spring 2020

A couple of weeks ago our team was replanting some bare patches. This week, they’re hard at work on our renovated acreage!

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 we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings entirely. 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 our planting for spring to provide more time in the growing season. With the acreage we need to cover (about 50 acres this year) and how the timing coincides with very busy times on the farm we work hard to balance all resources.

This year we planted our renovated acreage at Sim Place with Demoranville and the new bogs at the home farm with Haines, both of which have been yielding good results for us.

Planning

The Chatsworth area experienced another overnight power outage this week as thunderstorms rolled through the region. If the outage had continued for several days, however, Pine Island Cranberry would have been prepared, thanks to the planning demonstrated in this blog post originally published on June 26, 2015.

The storms that blew through southern New Jersey this week left a lot of the area without electric, and Pine Island was no exception. But our Facilities/Equipment team came through for everyone!

Facilities/Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio says, “When the power went out Tuesday night, we figured it’d be back up sooner rather than later, so we spent Wednesday working on things we could do without electric. By the end of the day, though, we realized we were in it for the long haul; estimates were for power being restored as late as Saturday. So Bill [Haines] called me on his way home and said, we need to put together a plan and make sure everyone has water.” Bill told Louis to assume he’d have whatever resources he needed and to let him know if there were any roadblocks, and the team was off and running.

“The biggest challenge was getting enough generators,” Louis says. “I hit five places and found ten generators. I’d back up, unload, and the guys started unpacking, putting in oil and fuel, staging them at the locations we’d identified along with additional fuel cans, and Mike [Guest] and Emmanuel [Colon] would follow shortly afterward to make sure the wells got powered. It was amazing.” Facilities Supervisor Mike Guest agrees: “This was definitely a team effort, no question. Louis did a great job finding everything we needed, then the shop got them up and running…it couldn’t have been done and done that fast without excellent communication.”

“We did good!” says Equipment Supervisor Carlos Baez. “The generators would arrive, Fred [Henschel] and I started building them, and then Ernie and I started to deliver them while Fred and Coco [Mercado] started filling 5 gallon cans and set them up with every generator. You can do without a lot and keep going, but you can’t do it without water.” Fred adds, “It was a production! But now we’re going to disassemble everything, label it, and then store it in a secured area and add them to the maintenance plan, so we’re ready if it ever happens again.”

For his part, CEO Bill Haines is impressed. “Everyone did a hell of a job,” he says.

Last but not least, of course, some of our intrepid office staff made the rounds Thursday in a Gator, bringing water to everyone who was out working so hard!

So a huge thank you to our Facilities and Equipment team members Louis Cantafio, Mike Guest, Emmanuel Colon, Carlos Baez, Ernie Waskiewicz, Coco Mercado, and Fred Henschel; to our office team members Debra Signorelli and Stacey DeLaurentis, for keeping our hard-working team hydrated; to Matt Giberson and PIICM Manager Cristina Tassone, for keeping the planes moving; and to our neighbors at Lee Brothers, for allowing us to use their wells to fill our own tanks. Our team is second to none in the industry, and that is in no small part due to their willingness to do whatever it takes for both our land and our people.

Replanting

Perennial crops have perennial challenges, and one of our more persistent ones is the disease known as fairy ring.

Treatments are planned very carefully, with team members listing the top producing bogs that aren’t marked for renovation and setting priorities for what remains.

Dr. Peter Oudemans has run several ongoing fairy ring experiments on some of Pine Island’s established beds, looking at different treatments, and using drones to evaluate the progress.

“Fairy ring already messes up the canopy. It kills the edge, but then it leaves the center as a scar on the bed and also reduces yield,” Peter says. There have been some treatments for the centers of those rings to help them recover and help with the scarring, such as slow release fertilizers. And, of course, our team plans renovations carefully. “The best thing is not having to deal with it in the first place,” says manager Mike Haines. “That’s a huge focus when we assign a bog for renovation. Attention to detail in renovation and thinking about it thoroughly and critically are important so you can avoid having to do all this stuff later.”

Unfortunately other things like weather, drainage, and pests can cause problems as well. When it’s feasible, instead of tearing out an entire bog, our team will sometimes hand plant only the sections that have been affected.

Usually the rooted cuttings are trimmed, but currently the nursery does not keep a full staff at all times for social distancing reasons. “That makes the cuttings too long for the planters, but with small patches like these we’d be hand planting anyway,” says Tug Haines. “It also makes it easier for the guys to space themselves out.”

And, of course, as we come into the bloom period, our team will continue to make considered decisions about plant nutrition as well!

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