Bees – summer 2017

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.

“This year we have 980 acres in production,” says manager Mike Haines. “We try to bring in 2 colonies per acre, which means we have approximately 1,960 colonies total this year. We brought in the first bees around the first of the month; the Crimson Queen variety over at Oswego was the earliest bloom. Then a couple days ago we brought in the last of the bees for the Early Blacks at Caley and Red Road as well as the Early Blacks at Sim Place, three weeks after the first colonies came in. It’s been really interesting to see the variation in bloom time.” Timing is important; 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. “At the lake it’s almost time to take them out; there’s not a whole lot of flower left and the fruit is sizing up already,” Mike says. “For both our sake as well as the beekeepers, we want to get the colonies out when they’re done working. Without as much to feed on, it’s more stressful for them and they’ll also try to go elsewhere.”

Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA, and so far, even with the rains this week, they’ve been doing very well!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Larry Wedemeyer

Well-maintained, consistently available equipment and facilities that are fully operational are instrumental to Pine Island’s daily efficiency and the success of our operation, and our Facilities and Equipment team is one of the best around! This week, we welcomed a new member of our Equipment team: Larry Wedemeyer stepped up to fill the welder position.

Larry hasn’t worked in agriculture before, but is looking forward to the challenge. “I’m a fabricator by trade; I like to build things with my hands,” he says. “I like being able to make something out of nothing.” He went to school through the military in Aberdeen, Maryland, and got certified through the Navy two years ago. Originally from Freehold and now a resident of Browns Mills, moving to the area has been a bit of a culture shock! (Though we probably can’t sway him to root for the Phillies or the Eagles, we will eventually manage to get him to say “pork roll” instead of “Taylor ham”, and are feeling fairly confident that he too will eventually be ordering “wooder ice”, just like the rest of us.) There’s a lot of work to catch up with, but Larry is ready: “They’re going to have me on anything and everything; whatever they throw at me, I’ll fix.”

Manager Louis Cantafio was impressed with Larry’s commitment to the community as a member of his local fire department. “Any position here is a tough position to have open, and this one’s been open for a while. What I liked about Larry was that even though he was between jobs, he was still volunteering in his community. I know that volunteer departments require a lot of training and a lot of time giving back, and that spoke to his character. And his chief gave him a great recommendation.”

COO Bryan vonHahmann is also pleased to see Larry having a good start. “We clearly saw that he had the talent for welding and he had a lot of enthusiam, so that was all good. When he toured the shop, he looked at the welding area and asked if we minded if he changed some things around for better organization. That was encouraging, because it meant he’s someone who takes pride in what they do and ownership of his work area.” Bryan’s also seen some of his work and says it looks fantastic. “He’s starting with some of the irrigation work, and then we’re going to pick up with some of the harvest equipment. We’re building two new blower tractors, which will require some new design work because they’re a different model.”

We’re looking forward to see what Larry does with them, and will be sure to keep you posted!

Joan Davenport – May 2017

Every year around this time, we get a visit from soil scientist 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.

“I’m still trying to learn about cranberry nutrition myself, so it’s always a good visit,” says manager Mike Haines. “We try to cover the whole farm section by section, accounting for variety, location, if a bed has been sanded this year . . .if it hasn’t been sanded for a while that will affect requirements, as well. We also look at crop size the previous year. We’ll try to cover all of those things and then get her thoughts, as well as go over our decisions that we’ve already made this season. For example, Nadine had a big crop in 2016 and we’ve already made some nitrogen applications, and Joan thought that was the right call.” Conversely, he says, it’s also good to know when she disagrees on a decision and why. “This way, we can apply her advice throughout the rest of the season.” Mike also likes seeing her take on other issues as well. “We had some frost damage so I had some questions about that,” he says. “Do we reduce the amount of fertilizer since theoretically the crop potential has decreased? Because we don’t want to put a lot of fertilizer on just for vegetative growth.”

Joan also took a look at our younger beds. “To evaluate new plantings for fertilizer needs, there are slightly different strategies depending on the age of the planting and whether the planting was made from pressed in vines or using rooted cuttings,” she 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. 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. Using rooted cuttings means that while the plant must still develop a root system in the soil it is planted into, it does not need to utilize the matter stored in the leaves and wood to initiate and grow leaves – this has already occurred. Thus, when rooted cuttings are planted, there is about 1/2 of a growing season “gained”, however it still remains best for focus on roots plus runner development in years 1 & 2. This is an advantage over the use of pressed in vines, where there is a ‘cost’ to the cutting to establish the root system.”

“We’re all kind of learning the nutritional requirements for new Rutgers hybrids along with her,” Mike says. “We’ve been slowly increasing the amount of fertilizer from year to year, which makes sense since the newer varieties were bred to produce a larger crop. For example, with a bed of Early Blacks, we might put 25 lbs of nitrogen per acre, but double that for Crimson Queen.”

Overall, it was another productive visit with Joan, and we’re looking forward to seeing her again this summer!

Planting – May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fertilizer application – spring 2017

Fertilizer applications have begun; it’s officially the growing season! 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”: a uniform application via irrigation system.

However, our team has decided to discontinue the practice for now. “We first tried it two years ago and ramped it up last year,” Mike says. “But with our current irrigation layout, it’s just not a fit at this point.” Instead, we’ll also make our usual applications via the new buggy method introduced last year!

Our team was really pleased with the results last year. We looked at the ones our neighbors were all using, which all have hopper spreaders, and decided we wanted something even more precise. So we added an air system with individual nozzles, and made improvements over the winter based on last year’s performance as well as modifying it for liquid application as well as dry.

Our team is also making sure the conditions are optimal: “We’re going to irrigate tonight, because it’s been so hot and dry,” Mike says. “We want to get that water into the soil so the plants can access those nutrients.”

Spring updates – 2017

The team is keeping very busy this month, as always!

Bog renovation is going well, with the new irrigation going in at Mule Island in preparation for planting. “We’ll be putting in the Mullica Queen variety,” says manager Mike Haines. “It’s a later variety, like the Stevens it’s replacing, so it should be a good fit.” A later variety means they attain their full color later in the season. Per Rutgers, “Mullica Queen offers excellent yield potential with equal or higher color than Stevens,” and while we currently only have one Mullica Queen bed that’s attained full growth, it’s been a highly productive one.

The reno team has also been working on erosion control, which is always an ongoing concern.

Things have been hectic this week with frost, of course, but that should be slowing down a bit. “It’s been a busy frost week, which we knew was coming,” says Matt Giberson. “But it’s looking like that will lighten up for a little while.”

Unfortunately, part of the reason we’re expecting less frost is due to the expected heavy rains this weekend. But our equipment team is making sure the Crisafulli pumps are ready to go if needed, and dam maintenance is ongoing in order to minimize the risk of washouts!

Frost – modernization

Thanks to a warm spring, our team only just had their first full night of frost this season. 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.

“Mike [Haines] does the scouting and gauges each bog based on growth, and we base our temperature threshold on that growth,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. Because many of the plants weren’t so far along, the threshold was a lot lower, so the team didn’t have to run frost much until two nights ago. “I think we got a little rusty, because we haven’t done it in so long. Matt [Giberson] took precautions, though, and started all the systems at 2 the night before to make sure they were still working and everything was good.”

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.

Fortunately, our ongoing automation process is helping make this easier. “We have roughly 50 Joe Lord thermometers out there and probably 80 to 90 analog thermometers,” Bryan says. In some bogs, there is one of each type. “The automated thermometer gives us the initial indication that the temperature is dropping. When it hits the first threshold, it sends the notification, and Matt sends out 3 to 4 guys to look at the analog thermometers. When the 2nd alarm goes off he’s probably calling more people.” We haven’t maximized everything the new system can do for us yet, but as Bryan says, “We’re slowly walking into the technology.” The goal, of course, is to fully automate the system, and we’re getting there! Even with only partial automation we’re already increasing our efficiency as well as saving wear and tear on equipment.

Once the pumps all started, though, the work isn’t over. The next thing is making sure all the sprinklers are working correctly. This means driving around to check they’re running at full capacity. It may also sometimes be necessary to repair the sprinklers, as they won’t run at full capacity if something is blocking the line. This happens more frequently when the systems first start running, and becomes less of an issue after a few cold nights.

“The really interesting thing is seeing how air patterns and flow truly affect temperature,” Bryan says. “One end of a bog could be 34 and the other end at 39, so in some cases we might not start an adjacent system in order to limit water we put on beds to avoid rot. At the same time, though, the beds need the frost protection or we don’t get a crop at all.” It’s a delicate balance and takes some decision making. “Today people are out scouting to check damage; we did get some, but feel the plants will grow out of it. So we’ll work on refining our process, set the threshold at a higher temp as the plants grow and need more protection. A warm spring might have us out of practice, but it’s been good!”

Bog renovation 2017 – updates!

Bog renovation has been ongoing since last fall, with 80 acres as our goal for 2017 and 107 acres in 2018.

Our bog renovation team has made some changes to our process this year! “This time, what we’re trying to do is renovate one complete system at a time,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We’re going to complete a whole system, then go on to the next system, complete that one, and so on. We’re trying to structure our completion date with when Abbott can get us plants, as soon as possible.” That means the team should finish the first system, including planting, by mid-May. “We’re going to put the plants in early, see how they do, then we’re just going to keep going every month,” Bryan says. “During our last reno we planted 60 acres in a month, which is a lot of work. Planting in the heat is pretty stressful on the crew, as well, so trying to do it in one week intervals instead as well as moving the timing helps with that, too.”

There have also been some challenges with this year’s project! “Since we tried to do as much renovation through the wintertime as possible, we have problems with reservoirs being high and bogs being flooded around the ones we’re renovating,” Bryan says. “The water comes through dams and gets into bogs we’re trying to work on. We bought a new pump last year, which runs 24/7 just to keep bogs we’re working in drained.”

Another challenge was staffing: many team members take well-deserved time off in the winter, so between vacation schedules and our usual winter sanding going at full steam, our team just did what they could to keep the reno bogs dry. Our team is also building some new tools for renovation, which should help us improve how we install underdrain, “We designed and built a new plow to help us remove dirt and help put underdrain in, which should also help a lot,” Bryan says. “We’re trying to do more of our own stuff instead of using subcontractors.”

One of Pine Island’s strength is that our team doesn’t keep doing something just because that’s the way we’ve always done it, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this new approach to renovation works!

Current growth stages

Things have been a little quiet around Pine Island Cranberry this week, but as CEO Bill Haines says, “That’s the way we like it!”

The last of the water comes off today right on schedule, which means the sprinkler installation will also be done. We’ve also had very little frost so far, which is good, but: “It hasn’t been really warm or sunny either,” Bill says. “Mike [Haines] and his team are out scouting and we’ll start the roughneck fertilizer once the buds break, but nothing’s broken yet.”

“Vanessa, Jeremy, and I have just been walking a lot of the established bogs,” Mike Haines says. “There’s not much to see right now; in most of the beds the buds are just swelling a little bit. There hasn’t been too much growth since the water’s only come off recently.” The Boricua system has the plants that are farthest along: “It’s probably partly the variety–those beds are planted with Crimson Queen and they tend to go a little earlier–and partly that it was the first system where we took the water off.”

The weather has also been cooperative. “It hasn’t rained in a while and that’s okay; we’ve got plenty of water,” Bill says. “We’ve had very little frost so far, which is good. Once the beds start to grow, frost will get more intense, but so far it‘s been a good spring.”

Elsewhere things are also moving along. It’s not time yet for fertilizer, and the shop team is busy making adjustments to the buggy for use in liquid nutrition application. The team is also finding that sanding went well! Sometimes after the water comes off, we discover the sand’s too heavy in some areas, and team members have to use a rake to pull the vines through. But there’s very little of that this year. “It’s opened up the canopy a little, so we’re glad,” Bill says.

In the meantime, the team will continue to scout for growth and wait for the weather to warm up!

Third stage quail release

This month Pine Island Cranberry once again met with John Parke of New Jersey Audubon to release the final group of quail for the last stage of their translocation project!

Per the NJA release:

Led by New Jersey Audubon, with project collaborators Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware, 80 wild birds (40 males and 40 females) were captured in Georgia, translocated, and released, at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. The New Jersey portion of this project has the unique role of releasing only wild quail (translocation). Other partners to the multi-state project are evaluating methods of raising captive bred and parent reared quail, however no captive bred quail will be released in New Jersey. Ultimately, the results of the NJ study will be compared to findings from the other participating states in the initiative.

This year’s release was done over the course of a few days, and Pine Island team members have even spotted the birds out and about near some of the release sites! “I’ve never seen them that close out in the woods,” says Matt Giberson. “It was really cool to see them walking around!”

New Jersey Audubon says there’s even more good news:

The success of the project at Pine Island, combined with years of habitat restoration work lead by NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife in Cumberland County has, for the first time ever in New Jersey, lead to the allocation of federal funding through the USDA-NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Program specifically for quail habitat restoration.

“Landowners and farmers that take advantage of this cost share program will help establish habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function,” says John Parke.

This has been a great chance for Pine Island Cranberry to work with so many organizations who love the pines as much as we do, and it’s wonderful seeing the Bobwhite quail making themselves at home here once again!