Water drawdown – 2018

Spring finally appears to be hanging in there, which means 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.

“We started the early draw the last week of March, but we decided to put it back on again in some of the Crimson Queen beds,” says Matt Giberson. “We decided we’re going to leave those on later this year, due to issues last year with them getting overripe. But the TAcy was right where it we needed to be so we thought we’d leave the water on to help with rot prevention.” (TAcy is an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry.) The drawdown started in earnest on the first of April. “We’re shooting for 6 to 7 systems a day by the 25th because we’re going to start planting Cedar Swamp on the 23rd,” Matt says. He’s also trying to balance the needs of the frost team: “I’m trying to keep the focus on the home farm and leave Sim Place till last,” he says. “Sim Place is always a cold spot, so if we don’t have to make someone drive over there for frost I feel better. This week we’re working on the center of the home farm and west of Route 563 this week, and from there we’ll hit the systems at Red Road and Caley before we move on to Sim Place.”

After the water comes off, team member Waldy Blanco goes out with his crew to install sprinklers and make 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.

Right now, the weather appears to be cooperating, and everything seems to be on track for the cold nights coming up in the next week or so!

Work anniversary – Jeremy Fenstermaker

Last month another one of our valued team members celebrated a work anniversary: Jeremy Fenstermaker has been here at Pine Island for fifteen years! Jeremy is both versatile and affable, which makes him a valuable resource for everyone at Pine Island from CEO Bill Haines all the way down to your humble blogger.

ICM manager Mike Haines has worked closely with Jeremy since coming on board full time. “I mainly work with Jeremy on growing decisions. The great thing about Jeremy really is his versatility; he’s so knowledgeable about just so many different aspects of the farm, and he’s taught me a lot about growing decisions over the past couple years. He’s got so much experience with building bogs, renovation, water management, harvest . . . he knows a lot. And the great thing is, he has no problem with sharing that knowledge; he genuinely wants to help you learn, and is very willing to work together to teach new guys. When I first started, it was all pretty new to me. I’d worked with cranberries some, but making decisions about fertilizer, for example, was tough at first. A lot of the things we need to look for with plant nutrition are very subtle, so having Jeremy explain using knowledge gained from his own past experience has been hugely informative. He knows exactly what decisions he’s made in the past and the effect those decisions have had: he’s dealt with it, paid attention, learned it really well, and it’s just a big confidence booster to have him says ‘yeah, that sounds about right’ or ‘based on my experience this is what I would do.’ He’s easy to work with, and he’s also just fun, which is great when you’re working long days or in bad weather. It makes days go by quickly and pleasantly.”

While COO Bryan vonHahmann has only been here for four years, he’s impressed with Jeremy’s work. “I think he’s grown with Pine Island both personally and professionally over the time I’ve worked with him,” Bryan says. “He’s a bright guy, very intelligent, and finding the perfect position for his skills and abilities has been good for both Pine Island and him.” There are drawbacks for this, of course: “He’s often wanted for consulting on various things regarding growth and irrigation, among other things, but he already has a lot to do,” Bryan says. “So what we need to do is build that support for him by training other people and let him focus on certain areas. He’s got a tremendous skill set: harvest, designing bogs and irrigation systems, just growing the crop. His main focus now is bog design and irrigation consulting, and it’s been a win-win for both him and for the company.”

“Jeremy’s valuable in a lot of ways,” says Bill Haines. “His knowledge of growing cranberries has been a huge asset to Mike, and particularly valuable, as far as I’m concerned, in his contribution to the growth program. He’s been very creative about redesigning the bogs to make them more efficient for harvest, for use of water, and in general. And his redesign of a lot of our old irrigation systems is making us much more efficient, because we’re using less water but we’re getting better coverage and as a result, better crops. He’s thoughtful, he’s analytical, he’s patient, and an extremely valuable member of the team. And he’s a pretty funny guy, too!”

His main drawback appears to be that he’s a Steelers fan, but nobody’s perfect. Thanks for all of your hard work over the past fifteen years, Jeremy; we appreciate you more than you know!

Quail release – 2018

Exciting stuff: this week, New Jersey Audubon, in partnership with the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, Pine Creek Forestry, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, released another 80 translocated bobwhite quail on our Sim Place property!

This year, a “bonus” year for the study, has a slightly different focus. Per the NJA:

This year’s release has a particular focus on population survival and breeding dynamics in a concentrated area. Unlike previous years of the study (2015-2017), where translocated birds were split into coveys and spread out over the 14,000-acre study site and tracked, all 2018 translocated birds were released in one area to help “boost” the population density in a concentrated area of optimal habitat. This area of optimal habitat has supported quail and their offspring from prior years, releasing all birds into a focal area produces a higher density of birds. That higher density of birds should help overall survival by increasing covey size, mating opportunities, nesting and hatching.

“There is so much underlying variability inherent in biological systems, which often makes their study difficult through short-term “snapshot” research projects,” said Philip Coppola, University of Delaware Graduate Research Assistant. “This fourth consecutive year of translocations will add essential data to the project, allowing us to more accurately describe the population dynamics of Bobwhite in New Jersey. Increasing our knowledge and understanding of all the elements influencing quail survival and success will increase effectiveness and efficiency during large-scale reintroduction efforts in the future. We will gain perspective on what truly are the limiting factors in bobwhite reintroduction and address the probable causes of their initial functional extirpation within the state; thus, this research also has implications for their national conservation and recovery. Additionally, this fourth year provides field training and development for even more entry-level wildlife biologists in the Mid-Atlantic, who will be instrumental in regional wildlife conservation efforts in the future.”

For our part, as always, we’re pleased to see this fantastic project carry on for another year and are glad our forest stewardship and habitat practices continue to benefit the woods, water, and wildlife!

* Photos courtesy of John Parke.

March storms

Every year, we post an update about looking forward to spring, and it seems like every year, the first week of spring arrives via snowstorm!

The most recent nor’easter to come through this area left us without power for two days, but had the power not come back today, our team was prepared, thanks to the thunderstorms from June 2015!

Our winter storm prep remains basically the same every year: the number one priority is checking the water. The team checks for washouts, makes sure nothing’s too high or too low, and makes sure there’s no water on the dam itself. Team members make sure the main pathways are cleared; in order to do that, we send the front loaders home with some of them, which means once the snow hits, they can plow themselves out and start clearing the main dams. Then the rest of the team are able to go check the water or get to one of our facilities to do indoor work.

That means the Equipment/Facilities team also takes some precautionary measures, making sure those generators are ready to go in case we lose power for an extended amount of time. They also make sure the heat is turned up in any vacant properties onsite, just in case. “We also pack the shop with equipment to work on,” manager Louis Cantafio said last year. “That way, we don’t have to dig it out, or start it in the cold, or fill the shop with melting snow. We go over all the loaders, make sure they’re ready to go before the operators bring them home.” Then, once the storm hits “we have to get all the egresses open and get rid of snow everywhere we need to store incoming deliveries.”

Fortunately, the power outage didn’t last too long this time, and the snow seems to be melting quickly! Could this end of this long winter finally be in sight?

Blog anniversary: 2018

This week is the six year anniversary of the Pine Island Cranberry website, and it’s certainly been an eventful year!

Our normal yearly workload proceeded much as it usually does, with our annual schedule of bog renovation, frost, planting, and sanding, as well as the yearly harvest.

We had our annual visit from Dr. Joan Davenport, and made some changes to our plant nutrition program, and dealt with the usual seasonal tasks for summer, winter, and spring.

Some team members celebrated some big work anniversaries, and everyone celebrated a couple of safety milestones by getting to go home a little early! We also welcomed two new employees this year on our Facilities and Equipment team and at the office, and are currently looking for someone to join our ICM team!

It’s been a huge year for our stewardship work with New Jersey Audubon and Pine Creek Forestry. The Northern Bobwhite Quail Initiative continues to go well, and even received some national and state recognition! We’re truly honored to be working with such great partners on such an important project.

Harvest continues to be the topic our readers are most interested in, and this year, they got to see a bit more than usual! In addition to our weekly blog posts, we received visits from both Nora Muchanic and Mike Jerrick, as well as several print publications. We’re always glad to tell people about doing what we love, and how our team does whatever it takes to make the prettiest sight in the pines happen, year after year!

Last but not least, we got to celebrate at a very special Annual Growers Meeting, which we’re planning on enjoying for quite some time.

We’re so glad you’ve continued following us from “Bog to Bottle” (as one of our favorite people at Ocean Spray likes to say) for the past six years, and we’re looking forward to keeping you updated for many years to come!

Preparing for spring 2018

The weather sure likes to keep things interesting around here! Just two weeks ago we were experiencing an early spring, but this week we ended up shoveling several inches of snow. Nevertheless, spring should actually arrive for real before too long, and our team is getting prepared!

First, though, they have to do some clean-up. “A lot of tree branches came down during those last two storms,” says Matt Giberson. “So we’ve been clearing all that out.” The weather also, unfortunately, put a hold on sanding, but the team is very nearly finished! “We have two, two and a half days left,” Matt says. “We’re taking advantage of the time change to work a little later next week to finish it up. We would have been done today, if the weather had cooperated, but unfortunately it did not!”

Once that’s finished, though, the team will take advantage of the location. “Once we’re done, we’re going to patch up some dams that need work over at Sim Place, since we’ll have all the equipment we’ll need for that over there already. In the meantime, we’ll bring the sanding barges back and move on to installing gates up at the Cedar Swamp renovation.”

We’ll also be taking off the water before too long! “We’ll have a small crew doing early draw this year,” Matt says. “The plan is to do two to three systems a day to get ahead of that, concentrating on the young beds that we’re not going to frost protect this year. The priority will be getting Cedar Swamp ready to go so we can get the planting started. The earlier we plant, the earlier we get a head start on the growing season.”

As far as the established beds are concerned, the last two days of March the team will be installing the sprinklers before starting to take the rest of the water off the first week of April. “I haven’t done the numbers yet, but we’re shooting for four to five systems a day,” says Matt. “We’re not doing anything too unusual, but we have a lot of work ahead of us!”

The team has a busy spring planned, but there’s no doubt they’ll do whatever it takes to get it all done. And don’t forget, if you want to join them, we’re still looking for an ICM foreman!

February spring

February has definitely been an interesting month for Pine Island. In addition to celebrating a spectacular Super Bowl outcome (the Eagles won the Super Bowl, in case you hadn’t heard) there’s been a patch of unseasonably warm weather.

“Warm weather in February doesn’t affect our crop too much,” says Matt Giberson. “We’re seeing some trees budding, though, and it’s really having an effect on the wildlife. Louis opened all the doors in the shop the other morning, and as Mike, Steve, Jeremy, & I were going over the plan for the day, a big frog hopped in and headed over to us like he owned the place.” Steve apparently sent him on his way, but as of this morning, the frog has yet to send in a completed job application.

In addition to the frogs, there have also been several turtles on the move; they might even get to where they’re going by the time spring actually arrives. And while many birds have become more active, we haven’t seen much of our eagles lately.

(We have, however, been keeping up on our Eagles. Who won the Super Bowl, by the way.)

A warm week with little to no wind has also been a great opportunity for our team to do some prescribed burning, which Mike Haines helped with for the first time and found really interesting. “It’s been kind of wet, but it hasn’t rained for a little while and Matt said that conditions were good,” Mike says. “We started burning some pieces that have been done on a consistent basis so it wouldn’t be too intense, which is a good chance to learn. The fire can get big if it hasn’t been done for a while. We started roadside over by the Turf reservoir and then burned a couple of places in the woods by Weymouth and Bluetta.” While some of this is to control the amount of fuel on the ground in case of wildfire, we also do this kill the briars in this particular section, as they can get into the bogs and carry fairy ring. (Fairy ring is not to be confused with actual jewelry, such as a Super Bowl ring, for example. It’s tough to fight–much like the Eagles defense–and doesn’t always have a happy ending…much like the Dallas post-season for the last twenty years or so.)

It’s already started to cool down considerably, but our team remains on track to finish sanding by March 9th!

And, of course, hope springs eternal that our Phillies might finish the upcoming season over .500.

Work anniversaries!

This month, we celebrate work milestones for two of our team members: Carlos Baez and Jose Cruz-Soto, better known to all of us as Blondie!

Carlos has been back with us full-time for ten years now, but he’s actually been around for what seems like forever, first starting out as a seasonal worker and eventually moving up to Equipment Supervisor. “It’s great to have someone knowledgeable and capable backing me up when I’m not here,” says his manager, Louis Cantafio. “There can’t be interruptions in the service that the shop provides, so it’s important we have someone here to place orders, schedule jobs, and to make sure service calls in the field don’t go unanswered. We have to do what we do every day, and when I’m not here, we can count on Carlos for that. I never have to worry that things won’t get done.” Carlos enjoys being here, as well, Louis says. “I know he likes it here. And he’s here for us, there’s no doubt about that.”

Fellow equipment team member Ernie Waszkiewicz agrees: “He gets done what we need to get done; he’s a good guy.”

CEO Bill Haines also has high praise for Carlos. “Carlos started here I don’t know how many years ago as a seasonal employee with the harvest crew. He came on board as a full time employee helping Mike Guest on facilities, and then when we were kind of in a pinch and shorthanded at the old shop, he stepped in and held the fort for a long time. I’ve always appreciated that. He’ll do anything you ask him to do, even if it’s outside of his duties at the shop. He’ll make trips to the airport to pick up seasonal employees, he’ll come to work in the middle of the night if we need him. He’s always a guy you can count on.”

Blondie’s been with us now for twenty years and is the team early bird! “If I’m not the first one here in the morning, it’s because Blondie is,” Louis says. “He’s here and he’s out back, cleaning out the bus from the day before, or scrubbing out his water jug, getting the ice and the water for his crew set up for the day. While everyone else is getting here and settling in he’s already got 20 minutes in getting stuff ready for his crew. He really looks after his people; he makes sure they have their water, they have their tools, they have ice. He’s good.”

“Blondie also known as Smiley for good reason,” says Matt Giberson. “He’s always ready to work. He usually beats me to the shop by 6:15 and is the first one to greet me in the morning. His great enthusiasm,and ‘whatever it takes’ attitude is exactly what you get every morning no matter what the conditions outside. He never complains, and is always willing to ask questions to make things better here at Pine Island.”

“Blondie is one of those quiet guys that does a lot of thankless work, but it never occurs to me to ask if he’s here or not, because Blondie is always there and always has been, ” Bill says. “I couldn’t ask for a more loyal employee.”

“Pine Island is lucky to have those two on our team,” Bill says. “I’m glad they’ve been here for so long, and I hope it says something about what a good workplace we have here that we have employees like them who commit to us for decades.”

Ocean Spray AGM – 2018

This week, CEO Bill Haines and manager Mike Haines attended the Ocean Spray Annual Growers Meeting (AGM) and a good time was had by all!

…At least, by all of the Eagles fans in attendance!

In all seriousness, the Ocean Spray AGM is always fun, and a great chance to catch up with fellow growers in a lovely, relaxing setting. “It’s always awesome to have the chance to check out new products,” Mike says, “and being able to catch up with growers from other regions is invaluable. I was able to sit with with Cass [Gilmore] and Ben [Richards] and had a good talk with them about fertilizer, for instance. I told them what Jeremy [Fenstermaker] and I learned in Wisconsin, and what they’re doing up in Massachusetts sounded similar; they said they’re getting good results. Cass even sent slides from a grower meeting they had about fertilizing hybrids more heavily and more often; I’ve been thinking about that, so it’s good to see those results.”

There were some good opportunities for leisure time at the beach and dinner with other New Jersey growers, as well as some good-natured football rivalry! “I wore Eagles gear every single day and never took my hat off,” Mike says. “And Peter Dhillon [Chairman of the Board of Directors] lost a bet, so he conducted the meeting while wearing Dad’s hat!” (Bill and neighbor Steve Lee broke out the Eagles polo shirts. Subtle, but effective.)

“It was good to see growers from around the country, and think that despite the pressures facing the industry that it was a positive meeting,” Bill says. “It was great being at Marco Island, it was a great Super Bowl party, it was great to be with the growers. All in all, I think everyone came away feeling positive about Ocean Spray and positive about the future of the industry.”

*Some photos provided by John Parke and Nadine Haines.

Equipment: New sander

Sanding, our biggest winter project, continues this week, but we’ve made some changes since the last batch of ice started melting!

We are currently running two sanding teams, and one of them has begun using the new, larger sander, designed to increase our speed and efficiency! We’ve redesigned our sanding plan a couple of times over the years, as we’re always looking at what are the best practices for the crop, and this new machine will help us reach our targets.

“We started thinking about this a couple of years ago when we wanted to increase our sanding practices and cover about a quarter of the farm every year,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “The wintertime can be tough, not knowing what Mother Nature’s going to do to us. So shortening the time to sand while increasing number of acres was a challenge! Our initial thought was to increase the size of the equipment by fifty percent, taking it from 10 feet to 15 feet, but we were leery of the amount of water that would displace and how much we’d be able to flood the bogs, not to mention the mechanical problems it poses. We settled on going twenty percent bigger; it’s patterned after our existing sanders, but 12 feet wide with a bigger hopper. It’s already a huge improvement; with the old sanders, the excavator could fill them in three swings with two buckets of sand and a partial third. This new one takes three good-size bucket loads, and since that’s still only three swings on the excavator, it takes roughly the same amount of time to load but it’s covering 20% more ground. This gives us a 10% net increase in coverage, with our goal being putting another one in operation before we start sanding next year and get a full 20% increase.”

The team is still thinking of ways to increase speed and efficiency, however. Because the sanders can only come up to the dam to for a fresh load of sand, there’s a distance from the ditches at both the beginning and end of the dam which can be missed. “We’ve also purchased a used side-discharge manure spreader to fill in the gaps,” Bryan says. “We’ve retrofitted it to slow it down, then did a fair amount of experimenting and finally came up with something that seems to be working. What we do is we drive it down the dam and it throws sand out the side, roughly 15 to 20 feet. We’ve only just started using it, and the wind affects it quite a bit; it needs a calm day with no ice on the beds.”

While the machine was not running much this week, thanks to the weather, operator Wilfredo Pagan has been very pleased and is very excited about the increased speed and coverage area. And if the weather cooperates, we’re hoping to get some video so you can see it in action!