Joan Davenport – Summer 2018

Our team just finished another productive follow-up visit with soil scientist Dr. Joan Davenport! Joan comes to see us in the spring during the bloom period and again in the height of summer to discuss fertilizer needs for bud set. Joan looks 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.

Additional plant nutrition is necessary because while cranberries have adapted (and thrive) in their native sandy soil, nutrients are taken from the bog through the harvest of fruit. The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This time of year we look for recommendations for bud set fertilizer as we have to make sure the plants have enough to maintain the fruit as it finishes sizing up before harvest, but also that the plants set buds for next year’s crop. With a perennial crop, we’re always thinking about this year and the next; all the years are related.

“At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants to complete the grown season and support next year’s crop,” Joan says. “To do this, I look at the crop load, the presence and quantity of buds, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the color of last growing season’s leaves. This season’s new leaves should be green and the old (last year’s) leaves just starting to turn pale. Larger crop loads indicate higher nitrogen demand. There should be visible buds and few to no uprights actively growing, plus few to no runners present.”

“Joan’s recommendations this time are pretty consistent,” says Mike Haines. “That feels really good, because I think it means we did a good job keeping everything consistent and giving the beds what they needed through the season so that we just need to put the finishing touches on. I’m happy about that; it had looked good, so it’s good to get the confirmation from Joan.”

Pine Island Team Profiles – Justin Ross

This week, we profile one of our newer team members, Justin Ross! Justin came to us from Nebraska last July and has quickly become an important member of our integrated crop management [ICM] program.

“It was interesting how it all came about,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “Justin and his wife were moving to Philly from Nebraska for her education. It comes down to luck and timing; we interviewed Justin and felt he would be a good fit, having a lot of farm experience and willing to do whatever needed to be done. He’s taking over managing the airstrip and most of the applications; he picked it up quickly and is doing well.”

“Running the airstrip is a huge job and it’s where Justin’s going to be spending a huge bulk of his time from now to mid-August,” says Mike Haines. “It’s a hard job, too. He has to be here at the crack of dawn. Some days we can’t fly due to weather conditions, but he still needs to be here in case the fog lifts or the rain stops or whatever else might be going on in case they can get in the air. He’s doing great so far, and the guys from Downstown really like him, too.” While running the airstrip is a big job, Justin is also learning about other other methods of application. “That’s big, because the more people we have doing that the better,” Mike says. “[Matt] Stiles has been doing a lot of it but now we have Justin and our new hire Mike taking on some of that, which is great!”

Justin is also learning topography and bog design, which includes learning about irrigation system design from Jeremy Fenstermaker. “One of his first jobs here was working with me,” Jeremy says. “He’s been learning a lot about design and layout. It’s nice working with him because he has a farming background and brings a fresh perspective. A lot of us can get set in our ways and tend to overly rely on the way that we always do things, but he has a good eye and has given us some great suggestions for improving our efficiency. A lot of stuff I have to do I couldn’t do without his help. And he does what he has to do; when you tell him to do something you never have to follow up to make sure it’s done.”

We’re glad to have another great addition to the best team in the business, and look forward to seeing more of his ideas in action as the growing season progresses.

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!

Joan Davenport – summer 2017

Our team just finished another productive follow-up visit with soil scientist Dr. Joan Davenport! Joan comes to see us in the spring during the bloom period and again in the height of summer to discuss fertilizer needs for bud set. “At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants to complete the grown season and support next year’s crop. To do this, I look at the crop load, the presence and quantity of buds, the length and color of the new upright growth, the color of last growing season’s leaves. This season’s new leaves should be green and the old (last year’s) leaves just starting to turn pale. Larger crop loads indicate higher N[itrogen] demand. There should be visible buds and few to no uprights actively growing, plus few to no runners present,” Joan says.

“In May it’s the beginning of the growing season, so she’s basically helping us make nutrition decisions for the highest demand time of year, bloom and fruit set,” says manager Mike Haines. “She’s here to help make sure we get this crop growing nice and healthy.” For this, Joan looks 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.

‘This time of year we’re looking at recommendations for bud set fertilizer,” Mike says. “We have to make sure the plants have enough to maintain the fruit as it finishes sizing up before harvest, but also that the plants set buds for next year’s crop. So at all times, we’re thinking about this year and the next, but that’s it goes with a perennial crop; all the years are related.” A follow-up visit is always useful for the team. “After we start to implement her recommendations, we do adjust as needed based on observation; stuff always happens that we don’t expect. At Sim Place, we sanded a lot of beds this year for the first time ever, and it’s pretty mucky soil out there. The sand seemed to really stimulate growth even more than we would have wanted in some places, so we cut back on fertilizer there. Conversely, on the home farm at Boricua, we have new plants but it’s really sandy. The water drains pretty quickly and there’s not a lot of organic matter in the soil so we added much more fertilizer than we originally planned to there.”

“It’s going to take eyes on the beds,” Joan says. “But here, there are always eyes on the beds.” And as always, our PIICM team is out doing whatever it takes to make sure our growing season gives us good results!

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!

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!

Equipment – Spring 2017

A coyple of weeks ago we outlined Pine Island’s spring targets. This week, we spoke with some members of the equipment team for a little more detail on their particular projects!

“We have the sand screener in this week for preventative maintenance,” says team member Coco Mercado. “We’re checking the bearings and greasing everything, putting in a new screen in because there were holes in the old one…we’re fixing anything major so in the field they don’t have problems with it.” This is important, because the sand we use for this project needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen it before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems. “Since they got a little ahead with the screening, now’s the perfect time to bring it in,” Coco says. “If we work on it now, when they need it again they don’t have to wait, they can just get moving. We’re just waiting for a few parts to come in and it’ll be back out there!”

Other ongoing shop projects include a revamp of the debris trucks that we use in conjunction with our bog side cleaners.

“We had some issues during the last harvest season because the trucks were getting a little top heavy,” says team member Fred Henschel. “We’re going to knock a foot off to help with that. I’m cutting the original ones apart and making them more like the newer ones with the exposed sides and and painting them all to match. Very similar to the original trucks, but a foot shorter in hopes of them being easier to control; there was so much weight hanging off the back that it grew really difficult for the drivers to steer once the trucks filled up. We’re modifying a couple other little things such as changing the way doors are hinged so if something gets stuck, it’ll be easier to access. Whatever we can do to make it easier, better. And in addition to fixing the original four, we’re building three more brand new ones!”

The next phase in our automation program is also underway just in time for the upcoming frost season! Pump automation has been a boon to our operation. Field data is sent wirelessly to a master controller, which continuously communicates with the network of devices, sending commands to turn on engines and pumps when needed. It gives our team a lot more control: the computer actually handles a lot of the start-up and shut-down process, which is what usually takes up a big chunk of the time an operator is out there running water, either during frost or heat. It also helps us reduce our fuel cost and wear and tear on vehicles as well as protecting that most crucial resource for a cranberry operation: water!

Heat – summer 2016

It cannot be said enough: the key to growing cranberries is water. Cranberries need about an inch of water each week during the growing season (either via rain or irrigation), preferably early in the morning or at night, in order to avoid losing it to evaporation. We irrigate for two reasons: first, to keep the vines healthy and productive, and second, to protect them from the heat. Keeping them cool helps protect the bloom, the fruit, and the vines themselves. Once the fruit is formed, it’s important to keep them from what we term “scalding”. Scald occurs when the temperature is high but the dew point (humidity) is low; as Dr. Peter Oudemans likes to say, “When people are comfortable, the cranberries are in trouble.”

When humidity is low, 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.

With the use of thermal imaging cameras, our team has been able to use our irrigation systems much more efficiently when cooling down the fruit. “With the camera, we can get a better indication of when we should run the water,” says manager Mike Haines. “Historically, when the temperature got high enough, we would just turn on the sprinklers and let them run for a while. But it wasn’t always necessary. We could get a day that was only in the high 80s but really dry, which means the fruit’s going to get super hot and break down. That can lead to rot. Conversely, it could be 95 out, but the humidity might be high enough to keep fruit cool. Using a thermal camera is helping us pinpoint temperatures precisely so we run the pumps when we need to rather than guessing.”

Regarding the recent heat wave, “I actually think the plants are liking it,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “Our reservoirs are lower, and we’ve been irrigating every four days as well as paying closer attention to dry areas, but that’s not indicative of the heat wave.. .that’s just because we haven’t had much rain. As far as the growth is concerned, we’re doing okay.” His main worry in this weather is for our team members. “It certainly impacts our people, but we’re taking precautions and keeping an eye out. We’ve been starting work at 5:30 as opposed to 7:00 and leaving early, and that’s helped a little bit. We’re keeping everyone hydrated and making sure the water coolers are readily available. And as the temperature rises we try to rotate people among tasks that keep them out of the sun and in cooler areas as much as possible.”

FIRE!

This week, in our perpetual quest to do everything we do better every day, Pine Island Cranberry held a class with local members of New Jersey Forest Fire Service. Mike Haines, Matt Giberson, Steve Manning, Matt Stiles, Jeremy Fenstermaker, and Tim Bourgeois met Wednesday night with Shawn Judy, Sam Moore III, and Tom Gerber to learn a little more about the history behind prescribed burning in the Pine Barrens as well as some methods and safety awareness.

All of the participants came away with a greater understanding and appreciation for the work involved. “It was really cool to learn about,” says Mike Haines. “Once you start working here [at Pine Island], you see how much actually goes into growing cranberries, and this was the same principle. Shawn and Sammy and Tommy really know their stuff. We learned a lot of the technical stuff as well as a lot of the history. Ultimately the idea is for us to start a regular program here.” Pine Island and other growers have always used prescribed burning as a tool for both forest and crop management, but now we’re trying to get a little bit ahead of the curve, so we brought in the experts to teach our team how to be safe, how to decide on proper timing, and how to recognize the various effects of changes in weather conditions.

Shawn, Sam, and Tom also stressed the importance of communication. “You need to have situational awareness,” says Matt Stiles. “But Shawn also emphasized their reliance on area growers because of their familiarity with the land.” Matt Giberson agrees: “The communication factor there is incalculable. It helps us too; when it comes time to set up a burn we can get out an aerial map and go over everything with those guys to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

The next step is getting some hands-on experience! “We obviously weren’t able to go out and practice,” says Tim Bourgeois. “But we were able to learn how to use the drop torch, and got a close-up tour of the truck and all of the necessary tools and equipment. And we’re going to be able to start riding along in the next couple of weeks to really get some personal experience.” The hands-on knowledge will be highly valuable; as Matt Giberson says, “You can only talk so much about it; you have to do it to understand how it actually works. I can’t read a book and think I can do it tomorrow!”

All of the team members in attendance were especially intrigued by the history aspect. “I didn’t know it was growers who first started it, because they had learned the hard way that cranberry vines are very flammable,” says Matt Giberson. Tim was also impressed with the instruction. “These guys really know their stuff. Especially with Sammy and Tom being able to give us the grower perspective; they’re a valuable resource.”

They are, indeed, a valuable resource. But better than that, they’re great neighbors. Many thanks to Shawn Judy, Sam Moore, and Tom Gerber for coming out and helping our team do whatever it takes to protect our home and our community!

*Photos courtesy Matt Giberson and Bob Williams.

PIICM – Scouting

It’s hard to fit the scope of Pine Island’s integrated crop management program into one blog entry. As our PIICM manager Cristina Tassone said a couple of weeks ago, PIICM “won’t work without the whole thing…everything is related, more and more every day.” Our PIICM program is a comprehensive one, based on managing the relationships between water, soils, weather, disease, insects, and nutrition, constantly evaluating current conditions as well as history and trends in order to help make good decisions with regard to water management, pest control, and other issues. We pride ourselves on using techniques to maintain the balance of natural predators and don’t apply chemicals unless absolutely necessary.

One of our core values here at Pine Island Cranberry is doing what needs to be done when it’s time to do it. A corollary to this, of course, is that if nothing needs to be done, we leave well enough alone. We used to spray on a calendar schedule; now we let nature lead the way.

To that end, one of the most important things we do is scouting. We take a net and sweep a section of bog:

And then we check to see what turns up. In this case, Cristina immediately found a spotted fireworm:

In addition to using nets, Cristina also looks at budding plants to see if the larvae are making a home:

If the count reaches the threshold level, we will do what needs to be done; if the amount is negligible, we leave it alone.

Our PIICM manager also follows up with other scouts in the field. This week, Matt and Jeremy were scouting Turtle bog:

Not everything will be spotted while in the field, so they gather specimens to examine back at the office:

Once the data is analyzed, Cristina will consult with others for the best way to proceed.

PIICM is a season-long process; as the season goes on, we’ll blog about different aspects of the program.