Lakeside Garden Club

This week, Pine Island team members Matt Giberson and Debra Signorelli organized a presentation about cranberries for the Lakeside Garden Club of Cedar Glen Lakes! It’s unusual but very exciting to give a cranberry talk in the middle of July, so we were all looking forward to it!

The Lakeside Garden Club at Cedar Glen Lakes holds monthly meetings that feature a variety of speakers ranging from general interest to garden and environmental issues in the community. They are also a certified “Hummingbird and Butterfly Friendly” community and emphasize preservation of honey bees, so they were a natural fit to hear about some of our year round growing practices.

The presentation began with a brief Haines family history, then Matt took over and walked the group through a typical year in the life of a cranberry grower, listing the various tasks the team performs each season and taking questions as he went along.

“It was a good experience to present in front of this crowd,” Matt says. “It’s interesting for them because they live so close to local growers, they’ve seen cranberry bogs when driving through the area, and now they have a closer look at what we do. It’s always an eye opener!”

“We were privileged to have such a wonderful and informative presentation on the history of the farm and how the bogs run and are maintained,” says club member Carole Nevins, who is also the proud mother of Debra Signorelli. “Our members were blown away to hear about all the different machines used and the long man hours needed to grow cranberries. We are still sharing how interesting the talks were. We all agree, we will never take those little red berries for granted again!”

Big thanks to the Lakeside Garden Club for having us; it was a wonderful chance to chat with some lovely people!

Summer weather

While we continue to keep a weather eye on the…er, weather, Pine Island is fortunate to have been spared the worst of the recent storms.

Over the past month or so, we’ve received an average of about an inch of rain a week, which is a pleasant surprise compared to how the rest of the region has been faring.

Too much rain can have a negative effect on pollination as well as fertilizer application, but so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised; while there was some concern about the bee colonies during the bloom period due to frequent storms, for the most part we got through it. And while there have been a few days when winds or early morning rains have held up fertilizer applications, mostly Downstown has been able to fly.

While we’ve been lucky so far, our team will continue to carefully monitor weather conditions as the growing season progresses, and hope that things dry out well before this year’s harvest.

Dam widening – bog renovation

This article was originally posted July 27, 2018.

This year, one of our long-term ongoing projects is at last near completion: widening our dams and building turnarounds for easier travel during harvest. On a cranberry farm, dams serve two purposes: to detain the water used for irrigation and water management, and for vehicle use. Dam maintenance is highly important for both safety and equipment. Widening dams makes hauling easier, especially since some parts of the operation are quite a distance from our cleaning platform.

Now, instead of several trucks carrying two boxes, we can use a tractor trailer that carries nine and won’t need to use as many trucks. It will be more efficient for both the gathering team and the packing house platform, as well as freeing up team members to be elsewhere if we need them. We’ve planned it out so there’s a route where they can gather the bogs off one dam in order to widen as few turns as possible. It also makes room for new equipment like our bog side cleaners and our Gates Harrow harvesters.

“We’re very close to being done,” says bog renovations manager Steve Manning. “Mostly the gates are all done and we’re just moving dirt for now. It’s a lot easier when we’re doing an active reno because we’re already doing so much redesigning, but we’re trying to get a little ahead of that for future renovations by moving pump houses and shifting some other things around so we don’t have to do it later.” The most difficult part is working with the irrigation, especially in the summertime when heat can be an issue, but this week the weather worked in our favor. “You wouldn’t think this wet weather would help, but we got a lot done.”

“We have Sim Place, the lake, and the west side of 563 all done,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “Now we’re working the middle, which has the most acreage, and is also the most complicated because of all the old bogs and their various shapes.” Back when the farm was founded, the bogs were dug by hand, so many of the older parts of the farm were designed by necessity to work around the topography. “We drove around a lot to look at everything and think about it for a while,” Matt says. “We’ve been working on this final stage over the last year, and should be done by harvest. We’ve tried to time it with the rain so we don’t have to worry about a heat run or irrigation run during gate installation. And we’ve been thinking ahead to when we renovate in 10 or 15 years down the road. We may end up adding some turnaround spots as we go, since during harvest we ideally want to be able to work from any corner we can. But as of right now, we’re looking to be ready by this year’s harvest.”

Heat wave – 2019

Bloom is almost over, we’re starting to remove the bees, and now our team is looking at the first real stretch of hot days this summer.

Once the fruit is formed, post-bloom, 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 at the Marucci Center likes to say, “When people are comfortable, the cranberries are in trouble.”

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.

When humidity is low, 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. 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 2019

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!

There was some concern that all of the recent rain might have an adverse effect on the colonies, but we were spared the worst of the recent storms and manager Mike Haines isn’t too worried. “I called Dan [Schiffhauer] because I was worried a little about the weather. Yesterday morning it wasn’t raining, but it was warm and humid and I thought they’d be out there. All I saw were bumblebees. But Dan said they’re sensitive to pressure changes from storms coming and in those circumstances might stay close to the colony. By the afternoon they were working like crazy; as long as I see fruit setting, and I have, then they’re doing the work.”

“We’re counting our blessings we didn’t get hit too hard like we have in the past,” Mike says. “As far as the bees go, they’re working when they can; as long as we get a few more good days in there, we’ll do fine as far as pollination is concerned.”

Twilight Meeting 2019

This week, Pine Island Cranberry was glad to host the annual Cranberry Growers Twilight Meeting, run by Cesar Rodriguez-Saona of the Rutgers University Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research. In contrast to the American Cranberry Grower Association’s annual winter meeting, the focus here is less research-oriented and uses a more hands-on approach to addressing timely topics of importance to cranberry growers. Included on the agenda were such topics as troubleshooting cranberry disease problems and working with new cranberry varieties.

In addition to the importance of new research findings, it’s 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. That additional perspective can help us troubleshoot our own applications.

“I thought the meeting overall went really well,” says Matt Giberson. “It was good seeing other growers; we haven’t really been able to get together since the winter meeting.” He got a lot out of the presentations this year, as well. “Peter’s research on the fairy ring was good; I liked the clarification on which briar causes the issue. Now we can target those and really go after them, both in and outside of the bog.” Even better, a lot of the treatment comes from our sustainability practices: “I think a lot of our prescribed burning here has helped kill the green briar, as well as mowing around the pump house and the gates.”

Matt also thought things looked bright for future research. “I enjoyed Jennifer’s talk as well; her research with the new rot resistance varieties sounded promising. We’re doing a test plot for her here and so are the Darlingtons, which will be useful for the industry as a whole.”

Common cranberry challenges

This article was originally posted on June 10, 2016.

This week, our team finished our yearly treatment for fairy ring. Fairy ring is a persistent issue for growers, and we work very closely with researchers to find solutions.

“We start treatment at the roughneck stage,” says Matt Giberson, “and stop once we start seeing a lot of flower out there. It can be a little tricky; we don’t put on an application after a long frost night, or heavy rain, because too much water can stress the soil.” Treatments are planned very carefully. “Mike [Haines] and I go over the top producing bogs that aren’t marked for renovation, and set priorities. We start with Ben Lears first, because they bloom the fastest, and then go into the Stevens bogs. Once we’ve made the plan, we give Blondie, Alejandro, Tito, and Albert the maps and send them out. It takes two crews to get everything done, but they’re really hustling.”

A great deal of our knowledge comes from research being conducted by the Rutgers Marucci Center. Dr. Peter Oudemans has ongoing fairy ring experiments on some of Pine Island’s established beds. “What we’re doing with the experiment is looking at different treatments, especially different rates, to see which ones will control the disease best,” Peter says. “So on the one bog, we’re looking at one specific treatment, and we’re looking at different rates for the treatment and different rates of water. Because the fungus is in the organic layers beneath the sand, we need to figure out how much it takes to move the applications to the right position. We did some studies to look at how much water will it take to get to the correct depth, and what we found out is that .2 gallons per square foot is probably the minimum that we can use. Which is kind of what we found from our soil moisture probes as well. We’re starting to see some control at those levels.” The other bog, he says, is being used to test other treatments. However, he says, “we’re looking at two problems. First: how do you measure success? Because those plots are big and hard to evaluate. So we’re using drones to evaluate the progress. We measure once a month, to see if there’s any change in amount. It’s been pretty useful to measure it that way; we can capture data in fifteen minutes, evaluate progress over time, and capture it through the summer.”

“The other problem is, what can we expect from fairy ring control?” he says. “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. But talking with Dan [Schiffhauer] and Joan [Davenport], we came up with some possible treatments for the centers of those rings to help them recover and help with the scarring, such as slow release fertilizers.”

Fairy ring has been a persistent problem in the local cranberry industry for a long time, and it’s been tricky to address, even with all the hard work from researchers. Manager Mike Haines remembers tracking in in 2008 during his summers home from college. “The best thing is not having to deal with it in the first place,” he says. “That’s a huge focus when we assign a bog for renovation. A lot of the time, the beds you’re renovating are the old ones being torn up by fairy ring, so you don’t want that problem to recur. You want to do it all right from the beginning. 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.”

Joan Davenport – May 2019

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

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

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

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

Meet Our Neighbors: The Sooy 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 our immediate neighbors to the south: Peggy Sooy and her sons Steven and Johnny.

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

Stevie: Grandpop used to live at Stormy Hill behind where the Pine Island office is now. Otis gave him the lower track here and they moved over in ’45 or ’46. We’ve been working here ever since.

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

Stevie: I just love the whole growing season. Taking the water off, putting the risers in, bringing in the bees…

Peggy: You’re a farmer and you enjoy what you’re doing!

Stevie: Exactly. Because at the end you’re looking out there at a sea of red, then that last truck heads for the receiving station and blows the horn. I just enjoy the whole thing from beginning to end.

Peggy: You dedicate so much of your life to this and you know, it’s part of you. It’s part of your thinking process. The paperwork will kill you, though.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

Stevie: Getting the bugs under control!

Johnny: Weather.

Stevie: Yeah, that too. Cranberry growers are always calling each other: “What temperature are you getting? This guy’s at 32 already, that guy got hail, what are you looking at?” Everything else we can control, but you can’t control the weather or the insects!

Peggy: There are a lot of ifs. Weather. Surviving the season and meeting expenses. When we had blueberries the issue was getting the help but we have great neighbors!

4. What makes your operation unique?

Peggy: It’s not only a farm, it’s a friendship, it’s family, all of us. Anything we need. What’s so unique with us, unlike a lot of growers, we’re really small. So it’s great to take care of.

Stevie: It’s a big garden in a way. We can look out the window and say “no geese, no swans, we’re okay today!”

Peggy: We have the same strength as so many other growers: we’re family owned and you can depend on your family…which is the three of us at this point!

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

Peggy: I think just how we started out and have managed to keep going, really. Art’s mother and father worked hard and managed to keep the place going. It’s a reward, being able to keep the farm up all these years. That’s our reward.

*Photos courtesy of Peggy, Steven, and Johnny Sooy.

Previously: The Lee Family

Community service: Holly Haines

In 2012, Holly Haines stgepped down from her position as Pine Island CFO to run the Haines Family Foundation full-time. The Foundation, created by Holly and Bill Jr. (under the auspice of Bill Sr.) as a tribute to their mother and her championship of schooling for Burlington County residents, also supports open space and farmland preservation efforts and works closely with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia.

Under Holly’s direction, the Foundation has done a lot of work with the local community, and last month her efforts were recognized by Habitat Philadelphia with the 2019 Patrick Monaghan Good Neighbor Award.

From their website:

We celebrate the commitment that each volunteer makes when they choose to engage with Habitat’s mission. The 2019 Patrick Monaghan Good Neighbor Award goes to Holly Haines for her commitment to Habitat that goes above and beyond the call of duty…We are grateful to Holly for her continued commitment to our work to ensure that every family has a decent place to live.

“The Monaghans were very proud that Holly was the recipient of the Patrick Good Neighbor Award,” says Frank Monaghan of Habitat Philadelphia. “We really appreciate everything the entire Haines family continues to do for our Habitat families.”

“While Holly is still an active cranberry grower with 55 acres of her own, since she’s retired as CFO of Pine Island Cranberry she’s done a great job continuing our father’s legacy of giving back to the community,” says CEO (and big brother) Bill Haines. “The family’s very proud of her, and I’m very proud of her.”