Frost 2020

One of the toughest things cranberry growers do is managing springtime frost conditions. In the spring, there is a danger to the crop when the temperature drops. Typically, a cranberry bog is built at a lower level than the land immediately surrounding it and the bog temperature can drop ten to fifteen degrees lower than the uplands. These conditions make monitoring bog temperature a top priority once the winter water comes off. It’s no exaggeration to say there would be no crop if we didn’t watch for frost on the bogs.

The first step is monitoring the temperature. Each bog has a thermometer (usually located in the coldest section) that requires frequent checking throughout the first part of the night. Once the temperature drops to between 33 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the stage of growth), it’s time to turn on the pumps. More than forty years ago we used to flood the bogs to prevent frost damage; we now use sprinklers instead. When the water from the sprinklers freezes on the vines, it controls the temperature well enough to keep them from harm. It’s also necessary to check the surrounding reservoirs and canals to make sure that the water supply is sufficient to supply the pumps. That can take some time, and doesn’t always need to be done all at once. Depending on location and conditions–is the bog surrounded by woods? Where is the wind coming from? Is the sky clear or overcast?–some will be started earlier than others.

“We’ve had five frost nights so far this year,” says manager Matt Giberson. “Last week was the coldest; we hit 22 degrees in a few places and I believe it would have hit 19 or so if we hadn’t started the pumps. We had reflooded a lot of the bogs that we took off in the last week and a half, so we only had about fifteen to twenty pumps to run, which helps.” Although no one on the team is a huge fan of frost, the weather is perfect and exactly how they want it for now. “Being so cold the last two weeks, nothing is moving, which is helping us be more flexible with the number of systems we need to get in,” Matt says. “The sprinkler crews have been doing a great job in hitting the target every day, getting in at least five systems a day. They’ve been doing so well, in fact, that if we get enough in during the week we have the time to take a day and just go back to clean and do repairs. Another benefit of being so cold is even the plants that are still under water aren’t moving. This helps because some years, if it gets really warm in April, as soon as you take off the water you have to start frost protecting. This year allows us thus far to take our time to take water off slowly and get pumps ready in a timely manner.”

water moving to the next bog

In recent years we’ve moved to an automation process to make this easier on our team, with a combination of automated and analog thermometers for optimal monitoring. The automated thermometer gives us the initial indication that the temperature is dropping. When it hits the first threshold, it sends the notification, and that’s when members of the frost team would head out to look at the analog thermometers. This year, we’ve taken that a step further to further increase our efficiency and lower our fuel costs.

“We programmed 4 pumps to turn on when the temperature in the beds they cover went below a certain level, and then off when the temp got up to the level we wanted,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. There have been some minor challenges but nothing the team can’t handle: “2 systems dipped below and came on no problem, and also shut off when temp rose beyond our desired level. With the other two, the thermometers were reading just above the low level so they didn’t come on. We waited 20 minutes and they still didn’t dip below; we were anxious so we turned them on manually. That’s when we learned that if we turn them on manually, they wont shut off automatically when they rise above the upper limit. We have another procedure now if that is the case. Ultimately we will let them come on when the thermometers tell them to, and it won’t be an issue.” They also had some settings mysteriously change from the start of the run to the end, so are trying to figure that out and monitoring it closely. “We need to do more programming to create a mesh of thermometers that will turn a pump on instead of relying on just one or two.”

The program may still have a few bugs, but the team feels confident that things are headed in the right direction!

Water drawdown – 2020

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

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

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

Running the system for a bit also helps the team make sure that any potential engine problems are taken care of by the Facilities/Equipment team. It’s important for this to be done as soon as possible for frost protection. Typically, a cranberry bog is built at a lower level than the land immediately surrounding it and the bog temperature can drop ten to fifteen degrees lower than the uplands. These conditions make monitoring bog temperature a top priority once the winter water comes off, which is why installing sprinklers quickly and efficiently is so important.

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

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

Back in action!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bill’s Desk: Keeping our team safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog anniversary – 2020

Eight years ago today, Pine Island Cranberry launched this website and started a weekly blog about the ins and outs of the New Jersey cranberry harvest, and it’s been another busy year!

Not long after our last blog anniversary post, there was a fire in the area that you might have heard about. The local community, of course, turned out in force, as they always do. We remain proud of our team and our neighbors!

Speaking of neighbors, we also launched a new occasional feature where you can meet some of our fellow New Jersey growers! So far we’ve profiled our immediate neighbors in the north (the Lees) and the south (the Sooys, and most recently, had a chance to speak with the Cutts family! This feature is now second only to harvest as a reader (and blogger) favorite, and you can look forward to more in the coming year.

The ACGA also continues to be a source of information and community for New Jersey growers as well; our team members attended meetings (along with researchers from the Marucci Center at Rutgers) in both winter and summer, as usual. In addition, this year it was Pine Island’s turn to host the annual twilight meeting.

In farming, you do what you have to do when you have to do it, and our team continued to make sure that all necessary task were completed as necssary, from prescribed burning to this year’s bog renovation plan. Winter work like sanding, installing swan string, and putting on the winter flood went smoothly, though a bit warmer than they’d like. Last spring and summer they handled taking off the water, frost, and planting, and bees, as well as getting our usual visits from Dr. Joan Davenport and taking her suggestions for plant nutrition. They also spent a considerable amount of time getting everything ready for our biggest season of all.

The annual harvest is everyone’s favorite time of year, from start to finish. Our team did some experimenting with picking methods,a nd had to make some temperature based changes. And of course, we were able to show around some supermarket buyers on the annual Ocean Spray Bog to Bottle tour!

There were also some changes at Ocean Spray that will have a big effect for New Jersey: Dan Schiffhauer retired! Fortunately, he was able to help choose his successor, and our team was very pleased to welcome Lindsay Wells-Hansen back to the area and are looking forward to getting her input during the growing season.

The Pine Island team hit some personal milestones since last March! Jorge Morales retired, while Wilfredo Pagan and Emmanuel Colon had significant work anniversaries. Our team has also gone out into the community with a presentation at Lakeside Garden Club, welcomed back Moorestown Friends for another visit, and even saw former CFO Holly Haines receive some service recognition.

Our team also continued to be good sports about the annual Thanksgiving post. (Thank you all.)

We also managed to have a little fun this year. Another new occasional feature is an addition to our Pine Island history tag: some backstory to some of our more colorful bog names!

Last but not least, Pine Island (and the NJ cranberry industry) appeared in several media articles toward the end of the year. Of course, there were some lovely photos by the Burlington County Times, and a fun feature about the weather from Joe Martucci of the Press of Atlantic City. Many of our friends and neighbors were interviewed for a piece that appeared on The Pulse. And best of all, a local fourth grade class is trying to make cranberry juice the New Jersey state beverage!

It’s been an eventful year for Pine Island Cranberry! And we’re going to keep doing what we need to do, now and in the future, to keep bringing you the high quality fruit that our industry – and New Jersey – is known for.

Birches property

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

Pine Island has recently bought back some of the acreage known as the Birches (originally purchased by our founder, Martin L. Haines, in the late 19th century) and this week took a tour with botanist and historian Ted Gordon to chat about the farm’s history.

According to Ted:

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

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

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

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

Meet Our Neighbors: The Cutts 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 fifth generation grower and (ACGA President) Shawn Cutts of Cutts Brothers.

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

Our family has been growing cranberries since at least 1906 when we purchased bogs in Tabernacle. Currently we have bogs in Bass River, Washington, and Tabernacle. We joined the Ocean Spray Cooperative in 1948. Five generations of the family have worked on the bogs including the three generations currently in the business.

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

Harvest is everyone’s favorite season of the year at the bogs. Not only is it the time when all of your hard work is realized, it is also a great time for our family to work together and for visitors and friends to come share in the experience. Of course, a sea of floating red berries on a perfect fall day is a beautiful sight that is difficult to beat.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

There is never a shortage of challenges for cranberry growers. Weather, bugs, weeds, rot, disease, governmental issues, and market uncertainty come to mind. All take turns at the top of our list. Collectively as growers we work hard to address these issues as best we can. We are fortunate to have some of the world’s top cranberry researchers close by at the Rutgers Marucci Cranberry Research Center.

4. What makes your operation unique?

Perhaps not unique, but certainly uncommon these days is the way we work together as a family. Whenever it is harvest time or there is a big project such as planting, nearly everyone in the family pitches in to help in some way. Whether it is running a picker, driving a tractor, gathering sprinklers, or cooking meals, everyone contributes. Other family members from Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas also come for all or part of the harvest season to help out. Although we are all exhausted by the end of the day, it is gratifying to accomplish the day’s work together as a family.

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

There are many stories. The one that stands out for me took place when I was in middle school. It was an unusually cold frost night and much of the family was away attending a funeral. My dad and grandfather were the only ones left to run the sprinklers for frost. That night it got so cold that the sprinkler heads began to ice over and stop turning. I still remember my mom bursting into my room in the middle of the night and telling me to get dressed immediately to go to the bogs. After racing out there, my mom, my younger brother, and I spent the rest of the night breaking ice off sprinklers. It seemed like it took forever for the sun to rise, but when it finally did we had succeeded in saving the crop. Much to my displeasure, there was still time to make it to school that morning.

*Photos courtesy of Shawn Cutts.

Previously: The Sooy Family


Originally posted on February 22, 2019.

Pine Island Cranberry has been a long-time proponent of prescribed burning and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.”

One species who relies on critical forest maintenance is, of course, the bob white quail. According to the latest from New Jersey Audubon:

The use of prescribed burning on the landscape helps remove built up thatch, dead leaves, twigs, and accumulated plant and organic materials that can impede quail and wildlife movement. Prescribed burning also helps to increase the growth of new and existing plants, which can provide an important food source for wildlife in the form of seeds and insects that the plants may host or provide pollen for. This restoration action of performing prescribed burning is essential to the habitat needs of Northern Bobwhite, ensuring Bobwhite have enough resources come spring and the breeding season. Prescribed burning also helps many other wildlife species of the Pinelands that evolved in this disturbance and fire dependent landscape.

The article goes on to say:

Following this year’s prescribed burn at the Northern Bobwhite study site, NJ Audubon staff were on site and tracked, via telemetry, 12 radio-collared Northern Bobwhite adults, along with 20-25 juvenile birds that revealed themselves to be with the radio-collared quail. As found in previous years of the study, after burning, the birds move into denser cover along the edges of the burn areas.

“Restoration is continual,” said NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Project Director John Parke. “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.”

Cold weather options

We’ve had some cold winters recently, but this one has been comparatively milder. The past couple of days, however, have been a little more chilly. The cold can made our winter tasks more challenging, and in some past instances, we’ve had to alter plans temporarily. The following lists some things we’ve done in the past to keep our team out of the elements as much as possible.

“Our guys dress for the weather, but we really can’t keep our team exposed to the elements when the temperature is this low,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “And when it’s cold, it’s hard to dig, so we’ve had to slow down on that.” A lot of the outdoor bog reno work gets postponed for the moment, as well as the sanding operation. (While we have tried ice sanding in the past, the weather can actually get too cold to even attempt it; low temperatures not only affect the team, but the equipment as well.)

To that end, our team has kept busy by working indoors as much as possible. Some build signs for our property borders, some work on box repairs, and still others assemble sprinklers for the current acreage under renovation as well as repairing old sprinklers: replacing worn out nozzles, springs, and sprinkler heads.

Depending on the day to day forecast, though, some outdoor work is usually possible. “When the wind’s not blowing and the sun is out, we’re able to send a team out to work on the survey lines,” says Bryan. “They’re protected a bit by the trees, so they’re able to go out and post the signs that have been built already.” And when it’s warm enough to run equipment, the team will keep busy disassembling the old wooden gates we’ve recently replaced.

Our team is still doing whatever it takes…but they’re making sure to keep safe and keep warm at the same time!

Land management: prescribed burning

It’s the burning season again in the Pine Barrens! While that might sound frightening, it just means it’s time to start doing some needed forest maintenance via 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.

Pine Island has been a long-time proponent of this method and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.” He understands the concern, but reassures people that all is well: “Weather permitting, people will see many smoke columns rising from the pinelands area in the coming weeks with no cause for alarm.”

With constant communication, our motivated team, and the able assistance of neighboring growers and fire experts, Pine Island is more than ready to keep up the the constant endeavor of caring for the place where we live, work, and grow!